Apartment Hunting on a Budget

Mid-20s, early 20s, recent grads, late 20s, early 30s, and even older adults are all feeling the clench of the ever vanishing paycheck. Student loans are designed to kick in just when recent grads land their first “real job,” (figuring of course, that there are any out there, these elusive things called jobs.) and they are all but unforgiving.

Sure, there are always the great deferment forms, which for some out there become almost a habit, a nice reminder every couple of months, that sure, one day, hopefully in the next five years, thousands of dollars will magically make themselves back to paying a student loan.

The nationwide pandemic of starving yet half-sufficient growing adults spreading out and trying to flap their wings out of debt is common nowadays. Rising from the ashes of families basements and staring at the face of independence should be a fun experience instead of a unhealthy realization that living on your own might not be completely what you had hoped for in your youth.


1. Setting a Budget

Once federal, state, health insurance, social security all take bids on how much they are going to take from you, you might be left with some money. Hopefully. Ideally, you should only be spending about 30% on rent. Essentially, multiply your rent by three and that should match your monthly income number. For some starting off, that number might be low but it’s important to face reality at the start of the hunt instead of touring luxury apartments with English butlers that offer free beverages by the pool. It will end in heartbreak. Setting a budget sets you up for success. It allows other important aspects such as groceries (you might be able to survive on ramen in college but as a growing adult you really need to reconsider sodium intake) monthly bills and gas money to be part of your life. Don’t say to yourself, ‘oh, I’ll just eat salad every day’ in order to afford an apartment that will squeeze your savings away. It’s not bad if you need to spend 40% or even 45% on rent, just make sure that you’ll have enough left over to cover monthly expenses.

2. Basement or Roommate

You might be sick of having roommates coming out of college. You might be yearning to cook pasta in your underwear while singing to Lady Gaga at the top of your lungs. Or you just want to own five reptiles without anyone being upset when they escape. Living by yourself will automatically be more expensive but it’s not impossible. You might not have 900 sqft. to yourself but you might find a very small cottage or guest house on some land. The common refurbished basement or the roommate that travels a lot so it feels like no one is there half the time.

Be honest with yourself. Are you prepared to share common living space? Ready for late-night parties out of the blue or would you rather live with an older person who leads a more relaxed lifestyle. Does cutting back on some Starbucks necessary in order to provide emotional strength if you’d rather live alone.

Roommates are people too. When responding to listings, ask questions. If you enjoy Netflix binges, ask if they have a lot of company on weekdays or weekends. If you plan on using the kitchen and have more gadgets than you should, are they okay with you invading their counter space?

Nothing is impossible without some realistic expectations.

3.Amenities and Fees

Caution for the weary and easily impressed. Some apartments or condo’s list themselves with a decent budget but that’s before you calculate ‘home associated fees,’ you might be expected to give up to $200 monthly to the local association for ground maintenance or “security” purposes. Some places have them, some places don’t, but it’s important to really read every single little line in a lease before signing.

Never sign before reading! This isn’t a ‘scroll down to the bottom of the page so that the highlighted Terms and Conditions lights up so you can proceed to the next section,’ kind of situation.

If you are looking at property management owned apartments, make sure you know all the fees associated with the unit. Some have garbage valet fees (that aren’t negotiable even if the garbage disposal is right in front of your door) parking passes, pool fees, ‘move-in fee’, and many more. Sure, the initial value for the apartment might seem appealing but once you start adding fees, it can get pretty crazy really fast.

4. Location, location, location

Are you commuting? Are you ready to train for the next Ironman competition and therefore are prepared to bike to your job everyday? Do you own a car? Tolls on the way home? Did you check crime statistics for your neighborhood yet? Sex offenders are real!

Gas adds up. Commuting time adds up. If you have a brand new toll that has to be paid everyday on your way to work, that adds up. Set a chart or an alert on sites such as Trulia or Zillow that alert you when new listings for zip codes you are interested in are recently available. Keeping an eye on a certain location narrows your search down and allows you to be more thorough in your research. Sanity is important. Instead of searching for any available apartment that fits your budget, you can just look at three zip codes and go from there.

Security. As in physical security. More square footage isn’t worth your life. Do you enjoy late happy hour sessions, will you be returning to your abode in the late DARK hours of the evening? Do you prefer to throw the trash out in the day because walking down a couple of townhouses to the dumpster at night terrifies you and you end up sprinting your way back? We might not be living in Beverly Hills but feeling safe should never be overlooked. If you aren’t familiar with the neighborhood ask around, call the local police department and ask about crime statistics.

5. Reviews

Word of current residents are golden gems. Sure, some people aren’t really reliable (looking at you Mr. White truck who gets in a fuss every time someone else parks in his spot even though there are eight empty spots in the parking lot) and might be a bit difficult than others. Especially when looking at property management owned apartments, reviews are the best way to get the behind-the-scenes look at some of the current resident experiences.

Don’t be afraid to ask coworkers or anyone you might know to give you recommendations. Or stake out your future place (without looking too sketchy) and see if anyone walking by is open to talking to you about the area and the property. A good, nice smile around early evening should do it. Approaching people during your stakeouts at midnight might not work well for you.


Don’t panic. Everyone starts off small and grows from there. Just know that you are a great, capable, self-motivated individual and you can only go up from here.



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