Living On Your Own
Living on your own for the first time can be empowering. It means having independence and all the things that come with it. Some of those things—like not having to share a bathroom—are wonderful. Others—like killing spiders yourself—are not so fun. And leading the pack in the not-so-fun category: bills.
Are you ready to make the big move? View our handy cheat-sheet for key questions to ask before you sign a lease. But there’s more to it than paying rent—living on your own creates new expenses that you may not have considered, such as rental insurance, commuting expenses and furnishing your new place. Here are a number of things to consider as you plan for your big move.
Build a budget
You will need a budget before you move. It’s the only way to understand what you can afford, and it will help you make sense of all the expenses that come with your new independence. If you’re just starting out, a spending ratio, like the one below, can help you evaluate your spending habits and understand what you can and can’t afford.
– Housing – 30%
– Food – 15%
– Transportation – 15%
– Leisure – 10%
– Clothing – 8%
– Personal – 10%
– Savings – 7%
– Debt – 5%
Spending ratios are a general guide. Categories can be added to better reflect your personal situation. For example, students will need to factor tuition and textbooks into their spending ratio.
How much rent can you afford?
Using the sample ratio above as a starting point, you can do a quick calculation to see what’s in your price range.
Calculate your housing spending ratio:
Add up your regular household expenses
$750 (rent) + $15 (renter’s insurance) + $180 (electricity, utilities, Internet, parking space) = $945 (expenses will vary, depending on the apartment—be as accurate as possible)
Divide the result by your monthly net income:
$945 (household expenses) divided by $3,200 (monthly income – after tax) = 30% (ideally, your housing expenses should be 30%, or less, of your net monthly income)
First apartment reality check
What happens when you find an apartment you love, but it’s way outside your spending ratio?
– Increase your income Is the apartment you found worth taking on a second job or working longer hours?
– Reconsider your “must-haves” Be realistic about your expectations, especially if it’s your first time living on your own; compare many different apartments to understand how much more that extra square footage or that view will cost you
– Reduce other spending areas In some cases, you can justify a higher housing spending ratio if it reduces (or eliminates) another spending category; for example, an apartment near work or school can reduce your monthly transportation costs
– Share the space Taking on a roommate can give you access to that dream apartment for less money
– Look in a different location Rental rates vary widely across the country; check out the pricing in nearby suburbs and cities to see if a move would make sense in the long run
Average rent across the country
Housing costs in certain geographic areas, such as the San Francisco Bay Area and New York, are very high. If your spending ratio is a few percentage points above 30 for housing, you’re OK. But when it starts climbing over 45%, you should probably re-evaluate where you live, consider living with a roommate or look at saving in other areas, such as transportation. For instance, you may be able to do without owning a car in a dense urban area.
– Charlotte – $789
– Cincinnati – $717
– Indianapolis – $680
– Jacksonville – $774
– Kansas City – $707
– Las Vegas – $805
– Manhattan – $2,902
– San Antonio – $725
– San Francisco – $1,901
– Tucson – $652
Across the country, rents are rising. Here’s a sampling of 2014 rent rates for a one-bedroom apartment in the downtown core in 10 metropolitan areas throughout the United States. Rent will be cheaper in the suburbs and rural areas.
More than just the rent check
When taking your total housing costs into consideration, be sure to look past your rent payment. Here are a few items to take into consideration. Depending on your situation, there may be other expenses to consider.
– First & last month’s rent
– Packing materials
– Moving expenses
– Starter furniture
– Cable, telephone & Internet
– Renter’s insurance
– Security monitoring
– Household items
Save up before making the leap
Just because you have a steady job and your housing spending ratio is in line, that doesn’t mean you’re done just yet. You will need to have a few thousand dollars saved up prior to making the final leap to renting your first apartment.
Sources: Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Forbes, MyFirstApartment.com.
Living On Your Own And “Bill Time”
Bills tend to sneak up on us because they don’t fit nicely into a routine. They all have different due dates, some are delivered to your mailbox and others to your inbox, some need to be paid monthly and others yearly, and some have amounts that fluctuate. It takes a lot of wrangling to get them all under control.
The importance of “bill time”
Bills may not stick to a routine, but you sure can. No matter how you keep track of your bills, you still need to take the time to manage them. It can be as simple as 15 minutes, once a week. “Bill time” lets you:
– Gather up any bills received that week (especially the ones that like hiding under your junk mail)
– Locate and/or print out any e-bills received that week
– Input the bill totals and their due dates into your calendar (or notebook, or spreadsheet, or budgeting app)
– See what bills need to be paid that day
– Pay those bills (this could be a combination of paying them online and/or writing out checks and addressing envelopes)
– Mark those bills as paid (and revel in your self-satisfaction)
– Look ahead to see what your payment schedule looks like the following week and month
Sticking to the same day and time for “bill time” is important:
– It creates a routine that’s easy to follow
– It saves time by allowing you to tackle several payments at once
– It keeps you organized and aware of your payment schedule
– It’s the best way to eliminate the “out of sight, out of mind” problem that so many of us have with our bills
So, you have your regularly scheduled “bill time” and you have a stack of bills. Now you need a system to keep track of it all. Luckily, there are so many ways to manage your bills that it’s easy to customize a system that works well for you.
Dedicated personal finance apps
If your smartphone is basically an extension of your body, using an app might be the best way to manage your bills. Although there are several stand-alone bill payment apps to choose from, you might also consider looking into more comprehensive budgeting apps that include bill management as a feature. If the apps are free, download a bunch of them and take a quick tour to see which one you like best. If you have to pay for an app, do some research to understand the extent of its features before you buy it.
These questions may help you in your search:
– Is it a calendar-based, spreadsheet-based or list-based app?
– Can you pay bills from within the app?
– Does the app use a notification system to remind you of upcoming bills? Can you customize those notifications?
– Is the app secure? (This is especially important if you need to input your personal or banking information.)
– Is the app supported by your financial institution?
– Is the app compatible with other apps you use (e.g., your digital calendar)?
Personal finance apps can be helpful, but when it comes down to it, a generic calendar app is enough to help you stay on track. If you’re already a calendar app user, consider creating a sub-calendar with your bill payment schedule. Or, if you don’t like the idea of mixing “bill time” with leisure time, you can use a completely separate calendar app to manage your finances.
Spreadsheets are typically more of a laptop or desktop solution than a smartphone solution (although some software packages let you access your spreadsheets from anywhere). Most top budgeting programs include custom-designed spreadsheets, but there are also tons of free spreadsheet templates available for download that work with your default spreadsheet software—even Pinterest is full of them!
A reliable reminder app can give your bill management system a powerful boost. If your bill payment app is lacking when it comes to notification options, a dedicated reminder app can make up for it. If you prefer organizing your finances on paper, you can still set up digital alerts to make sure you stay on track. And don’t forget to set up a recurring reminder for your weekly “bill time”!
Using pen and paper to manage your bills might sound completely old school—especially when there are so many digital alternatives available—but some people have much more success creating a payment schedule the analog way. There’s just something about writing things down and physically ticking items off a list that can make the process feel more “real” and tangible than doing the digital equivalent on your phone or laptop. So if you find yourself slipping on your payments no matter how many apps you download, give paper a try.
If you’re a visual person, a calendar system is a great way to go. Wall calendars and agenda-style calendars work equally well (the dollar store and free printable templates are the cheapest way to get started). Mark down your paydays and your bills in your calendar, and come up with a consistent way to note when bills have been paid (like highlighting them).
Some people feel more organized if they have their spreadsheets printed out and sorted in a binder or notebook. A quick search on Google or Pinterest will connect you with tons of free, beautifully designed and printable spreadsheets that you can use to build your bill payment system.
No matter what system you end up using, this tip can help you avoid getting hit with a late fee. If you’re using a calendar-based system, write down your bills and their due date on the day on which you plan to pay them (not on their actual due date). It helps you stay ahead of the game and buys you a little extra time if you do happen to slip up.