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How to Budget for Your First Apartment (Checklist and Tips)

If you are a first-time renter, knowing how to budget for your first apartment is crucial. Following our first apartment budgeting checklist below will help you stay on top of your finances.

First Apartment Budgeting Checklist

When building out your budgeting checklist for your new apartment, don’t forget to include the below essentials.

1. Moving Expenses

Moving is a one-time expense, but an important one to budget for. If you plan to move cross-country, you will likely need to invest in professional movers. You may also want to use a moving company for a local move.

On average, it costs anywhere from $401-$732 to hire movers for a one-bedroom apartment. For a four-bedroom home, it costs an anywhere from $1,230-$4,950. These rates are determined by the amount of hours of labor it takes to complete the move. For long-distance moves, it costs anywhere between $920 - $17,800 depending on the distance of the moves and how much stuff you’re moving.

For a breakdown of expected costs for moving, check out our moving cost guide here.

You also may need to buy furniture for your new place, so factor this into your moving costs as a one-time expense. If it's your first apartment, look into buying cheaper furniture.

2. Rent

Rent will likely take up a large portion of your take-home pay, so make sure you plan accordingly. The 50-30-20 rule is a good starting off point for determining how much money you can afford to spend on rent.

Average rent costs vary per city, state, and season. It’s typically cheaper to rent during off-season, which is in the winter months. Below we’ve listed a few popular cities (Austin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle) and their rent prices for a 1-bedroom vs. 2-bedroom:

CityAverage 1-Bedroom RentAverage 2-Bedroom Rent
Austin, TX$1,718$2,152
Boston, MA$3,193$3,702
Chicago, IL$2,051$2,550
Los Angeles, CA$2,924$3,947
New York, NY$3,805$5,748
Philadelphia, PA$1,721$2,042
San Francisco, CA$3,304$4,493
Seattle, WA$2,325$3,437

Making your monthly rent payments on time is critical, so make sure you have a monthly budget that ensures you can make these payments.

Keep in mind, if you are looking for a short-term lease or month to month rental, your monthly rent will likely be higher!

Finding Cheap Apartments

The rates listed above are the average rent prices for each city. But there's always an opportunity to pay a discounted rate. Sometimes apartments offer move in specials, which is a one-time limited offer, offered during the first month of your lease.

Using Apartment List to Find Deals on Apartments

You can use Apartment List's new feature, Net Effective Rent, to specifically search for rent specials and determine the price you'd be paying each month over the term of your lease. Just download the Apartment List app or begin apartment hunting with our quiz to find rent specials!

3. Electricity

You will likely have to pay for electricity as one of your main utilities. Make sure you call your provider before moving in and get your utilities set up under your name.

There are many ways you can save on your electric bill, so do your research to make sure you are not spending more than you need to. Also, check if you pay for air conditioning as part of your electric bill and budget accordingly for summer months.

CityAverage Electricity Cost
Austin, TX$150.65
Boston, MA$135.20
Chicago, IL$105.67
Los Angeles, CA$120.45
New York, NY$137.40
Philadelphia, PA$142.35
San Francisco, CA$112.93
Seattle, WA$122.28

If you are moving to a new city, make sure to do some research on the average cost of utilities in the area.

4. Heating and Gas

Sometimes heat and natural gas will be covered by your landlord, sometimes you will have to pay this utility. Make sure you check before you move in, and ask your landlord what the expected monthly costs are. Here’s our breakdown for the average gas costs per city:

CityAverage Gas Cost
Austin, TX$31.08
Boston, MA$81.67
Chicago, IL$81.91
Los Angeles, CA$44.16
New York, NY$80.79
Philadelphia, PA$70.93
San Francisco, CA$56.37
Seattle, WA$34.35

Remember, your bill may spike in colder months as you crank up your heat. Curious about how to save on your heating and gas bills, even in the winter months? Check out our tips for lowering your utility bill in winter.

5. Cable/Internet

The average monthly cable bill starts at $45 for basic cable but can be as low as $20 depending on your offer. Any add-ons can cost an extra $70-$80 a month. The most expensive packages are usually over $100 a month.

Wi-Fi

According to NerdWallet, the average monthly internet bill starts at $47.15 for 50 Mbps. You can save on your Wi-Fi costs by bundling your internet service with your cable or cell phone service.

6. Streaming Services (Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Etc.)

Streaming services are oh-so-popular these days, and paying for a streaming service over cable can help you save money in the long run. Just don't forget to factor these costs into your monthly budget.

Streaming services range in price, but they tend to be under $15 a month:

  • Netflix: $8.99 - $17.99
  • Disney+: $7.99 - $12.99
  • Hulu: $5.99 - $11.99
  • Apple TV+: $4.99 - $15.99
  • HBO Max: $15

7. Other Utilities

Double-check if there are any other utilities you need to cover before you move in. Some places you have to pay for trash or an amenities fee. Trash rates are determined at the city or county level, so it varies per place on how much you’ll be spending.

8. Car Payments and Car Loans

If you own a car, you most likely have to make car payments on a monthly basis, or at least pay your car insurance. This can add up, so have it on your budget checklist.

9. Parking

Some places come with free parking, some apartments require you to pay for a parking spot. You may find you need parking but your apartment building doesn’t offer it, so you need to pay for a spot in a nearby garage. Parking for work may also be something you have to pay for, so make sure to factor this into your budget.

10. Other Transportation Expenses

Are you taking the bus to work every day or commuting via train? Perhaps you ride city bikes on a regular basis. Public transportation may be cheaper than owning or using your car, but still costs money, so factor this into your monthly spending.

11. Groceries and Food

If you are living on your own, you also have to feed yourself. Think about how often you plan to grocery shop versus eat out, and factor in your monthly food costs. Here’s the amount you’ll be spending for a meal at an inexpensive restaraunt in the following cities:

CityAverage Meal Cost
Austin, TX$15
Boston, MA$20
Chicago, IL$15.50
Los Angeles, CA$20
New York, NY$20
Philadelphia, PA$16.12
San Francisco, CA$20
Seattle, WA$20

12. Phone Bill

Whether it is your cell phone or a landline, you have to pay to use your phone every month. Currently, the average cell phone bill sits at $144 per month, which generally includes the cost of leasing a device.

13. Credit Card Payments

If you use a credit card, make sure you pay off at least the minimum amount monthly. Paying your credit card is a critical component to building up a good credit score, which, in turn, impacts your ability to rent and get loans later in life. As a rule of thumb, renters should only use their credit cards as a means to increase their credit score and establish a credit history or in the event of an emergency.

14. Student Loan Payments

There is a good chance that if you are getting your first apartment, you may have just graduated from college. If you are like many Americans, this also means you have monthly student loan payments. As the average student loan debt rose to an astounding $38,792 per individual, your monthly payments are likely going to eat up a huge chunk of your income.

15. Health Insurance

Some people have health insurance covered by their work, others have to figure it out on their own. Make sure you budget accordingly.

Keep in mind that single employees pay an average of $1,243 annually toward their health insurance premiums, which translates to $103.58 monthly. However, these costs vary greatly depending on your health history, location, plan type, and more.

Even if your work covers health insurance, take some time to look through your coverage. Understand what co-pays, i.e. the portion you pay before insurance covers the rest, you will have for any medical costs.

16. Renter's Insurance

While not mandatory for most rentals, having renter's insurance is a really good idea. Most renters can find solid coverage for under $20 per month. You’ll appreciate your renter’s insurance policy in the event of a break-in or a home accident.

17. Gym Membership

Do you love spin class? Belong to a gym? Spend money every week on your favorite fitness class? These costs add up, so make sure you include them in your budgeting process. Here’s the costs of gym memberships by city:

CityAverage Gym Membership
Austin, TX$46.64
Boston, MA$71.86
Chicago, IL$54.44
Los Angeles, CA$44.81
New York, NY$105.71
Philadelphia, PA$37.91
San Francisco, CA$93.12
Seattle, WA$54.63

If a gym membership is too costly as you get set up in your first apartment, check out our tips for setting up a home gym.

18. Other Subscriptions

Subscriptions can range from your Audible account to a wine club you belong to. Make sure you take stock of all your monthly payments and include them in your budget. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to review these monthly costs regularly because they can increase without you noticing.

19. Entertainment

Give yourself a budget for fun. Take a look at your spending habits and figure out how much money you need to set aside in order to entertain yourself with movies, fancy dinners, outings, and other activities. This is how much you should expect to spend at a movie theater in these cities:

CityAverage Movie Ticket
Austin, TX$13
Boston, MA$14
Chicago, IL$13.50
Los Angeles, CA$15
New York, NY$17.50
Philadelphia, PA$13.50
San Francisco, CA$15
Seattle, WA$14

Apartment Budgeting Tips

Knowing what to budget for is step one. But knowing how to budget is equally important. Here are some of our top tips on how to budget for an apartment.

1. Download Your Bank’s Mobile Application

It’s important you have immediate access to your bank accounts so you know exactly how much money you have in your checking and savings accounts. If you have a credit card with the bank, you can check your spending and credit limit as well.

With the ability to constantly check your balance, you’ll always know whether or not you can splurge on that $60 pillow from Urban Outfitters or if you should look for your bedding decor at a store like Target.

You can download some of the popular banking apps for iPhone here:

You can download some of the popular banking apps for Android here:

2. Use a Spreadsheet

One of the most basic, but most effective, ways to keep a budget is to write it all down on paper. Whether you use Google Docs or Excel, mapping out your monthly spending and financial goals in a spreadsheet will benefit you in a few different ways.

First, you have the ability to decide how much you’d like to spend on certain expenses based on your monthly income, which is helpful because it will instill a more conscious effort to keep your spending in check.

Second, you’ll be able to compare what you’ve budgeted per expense to what you’re actually spending per expense. This will tell you where you might need to cut back or where you have the flexibility to spend a little more and still hit your financial goals.

A spreadsheet can be particularly helpful in the first few months of moving into your first place, as many additional expenses pop up that you may not think about when financially planning for your new place. Spreadsheet budgets give you a way to see how all of your money is moving in one, simplified place.

3. Use a Budgeting App

You might find writing down every single purchase and expense a little tedious. There are budgeting apps that were created to make budgeting simple.

Apps like Clarity and Mint help keep track of your spending by connecting to your bank account and credit cards, and organizing your monthly expenses into standard spending categories like bills, entertainment, and groceries. You can also set financial goals such as saving up for a rainy day or paying down debt.

With these apps, you’ll be able to see real-time updates on your spending as well as create alerts for when you’ve overspent in a specific category. A small catch of using an app over a spreadsheet is that sometimes the apps don’t properly categorize certain purchases. However, you always have the ability to go in and categorize an expense if need be.

4. Stick to the 50/30/20 Rule

The 50-30-20 rule is a budgeting rule that advises budgeters to set aside 50% of their post-tax income for needs, 30% for wants, and 20% towards savings.

Needs are pretty easy to identify. These expenses related to your necessary bills, food, and housing costs. Taking the time to identify your budget needs is an easy way to ensure that you have enough to cover all your necessary expenses.

Once you’ve set aside cash for essentials, you’re safe to use up to 30% of your income towards your wants. These “wants” are also easy to define; they aren’t essential, but they generally improve your quality of life in some way.

Getting drinks with friends after work, splurging on multiple subscriptions, and treating yourself to a new computer falls under the 30% category.

Finally, you’ll want to set aside at least 20% of your post-tax income as savings. The phrase being at least. The more you can save the better!

5. Review Your Monthly Budget

Review, review, review! The only way a budget works is if you keep on top of it. It’s easy to miss a few bills increasing or allow your 30% spending to balloon to 50%.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to review your budget with the plethora of budgeting apps on the market, advanced budgeting tools within banking apps, and paperless statements for on-the-go reviewing.

You’ll also be able to take stock of your expenses and make informed choices regarding where you can afford to cut costs or whether you’re able to comfortably make a large purchase.

6. Build an Emergency Fund

The rule of thumb for emergency funds advises savers to build a three-month buffer. However, there are a few stages to building an emergency fund. In short, walk, before you run. Start with a goal of building a one-month buffer and work your way up.

Some folks take a more specific budgeting approach when it comes to saving. Each month, you can set aside funds for car repairs, home repairs, a rainy day, or other major expenses that could cause a significant financial issue if you aren’t prepared for it.

Final Thoughts

It's never too early to start creating a financial nest egg for emergency funds, and even think about retirement savings. Both your peace of mind and your bank account will thank you for taking the time to organize your personal finances. Plus, when you know your money is in order, you will enjoy your first apartment stress-free!

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AUTHOR
Stephanie is Director of Growth and Content Marketing at Apartment List. She has a MA in Communications from Stanford, and previously worked in international economic development. Read More
AUTHOR
Nicole is a Marketing Specialist and contributing author at Apartment List where she writes content on rental life and trends. Nicole previously worked in sales at HubSpot and Forrester and has a BA in Marketing from Bryant University. Read More
AUTHOR
Kimi is a Content Associate and contributing author at Apartment List, helping renters find a new place to call home. Kimi earned her BA in Organizational Studies, Economics from Scripps College. Read More
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