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Can You Comfortably Afford to Rent? Find Out Here

I grew up in a household with five other people. I shared a room with my parents until I was nine years old and then shared a room with my sister until I left for college at the age of 17. In college, I had a roommate for all four years. Needless to say, I always looked forward to the day when I could have a space that belonged to me and me alone.

As soon as I graduated from college, I immediately starting looking for an apartment to rent. Despite my desire to live on my own instantly, I instead moved back home and lived with my parents for one year before renting my first apartment. It took me a year to leave because I didn’t want to be someone who moved out, only to return back home soon after with my tail between my legs, because I couldn’t make it on my own.

The most important thing for me was being to able to live comfortably. I didn’t want rent to be so high that I couldn’t handle any financial emergency or enjoy life itself. No matter where you live, cars will still need maintenance; birthday gifts, wedding gifts, baby shower gifts, bridal shower gifts and Christmas presents will still need to be purchased. (Sometimes it feels like they all need to be purchased in the same month!)

I still wanted to travel, buy clothes, get my hair done and also save while renting. Essentially, I wanted to flourish and not just survive in an apartment. I employed the following tactics to set myself up for success after leaving the nest:

Test if you can comfortably afford the payment by putting the estimated amount to the side for a few months. Doing this will reveal if you can afford more than, less than or exactly what you think you can on rent. For example, if you think that you can afford to spend $1,500 a month on rent, put $1,500 a month into a savings account for at least three months. If you don’t need to touch the cash for one thing or another during the three months, then it may be an amount that you can truly afford. If you find yourself withdrawing $300 a month for each of the three months, then $1,200 is probably the amount that you can actually afford.

Consider the costs after the initial move-in. You need enough money to pay for the security deposit and first month’s rent, but the cost of renting does not end there. What good is it to rent a space only to have nothing in it except space (i.e., no furniture, no silverware, no plates, no bed, etc)? In addition to your monthly rent, you may also be responsible for utilities. If the apartment is unfurnished, then furniture and appliances may also be an additional cost. Other monthly costs to consider are groceries, toiletries, transportation expenses (if your commute is longer), parking fees and pet fees. Include these amounts in your monthly test run.

Here’s how it all came together for me. I decided that I wanted an unfurnished apartment that already had appliances. I also wanted an apartment that came with an assigned parking spot and where the only utilities that I had to pay for were heat and hot water. So I went online, specifically to the Bob’s Discount Furniture website, to get the estimated cost of furniture. Then, I went on the Comcast website to see the cost of cable and internet plans. While these were not my exact numbers, I came up with an estimate similar to this: Rent $1,250 (including heat and hot water) Internet 95 Groceries 150 Total monthly costs 1,495 Bedroom set 750 Mattress 700 Sofa 400 Love seat 350 Dining set 500 Plates, cups, pots & silverware 300 1st Month’s rent 1,250 Security deposit 1,875 (one and half month’s rent) Total one-time costs 6,125

Based on the above, I needed to put aside at least $1,495 a month during my test run, without spending it, to see if I could realistically afford to spend that much each month. In addition, I needed to save a total of $6,125 to be able to move in and have my apartment fully furnished.

Since I planned to stay at my parents’ house for one year, I could potentially save $17,940 (i.e., $1,495 x 12 months). Of that $17,940, I would only need to keep $6,125 to furnish my apartment, leaving an additional $11,815 for me to use towards paying down student loans, building an emergency fund, saving for travel, etc. instead of paying a landlord during the 12-month test run.

Also, if I wanted to move out earlier and do my test run for only six months, I would have saved a total of $8,970 (i.e., $1,495 x 6 months). Of that $8,970, I would only need to keep $6,125 to furnish my apartment, leaving an additional $2,845 for me to use for whatever I wanted.

Planning for my move in advance allowed me to learn what I was truly able to afford in a safe space and without the fear of viction. When I finally moved out, I felt capable of taking care of myself on my own. I was ready for the financial responsibilities that came along with renting, and I had a reserve for financial emergencies.

Zikora is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) by day. When not assisting and advising clients, she can be found writing, singing, songwriting, exercising, cooking, and or plotting her next move. She is a sounding board for friends and family and enjoys showing people that they can indeed do things that they believe to be difficult or impossible.

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