Budget Tips for First-Apartment Dwellers



A good, well-thought-out personal budget is like having a map of your financial future – it takes into account where you are right now and gives you clear direction to what’s ahead.

“A lot of people don’t budget, either because they don’t know how to or don’t take the time,” says Anthony D. Criscuolo, a certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Yet when you’re getting ready to rent your first apartment on your own, figuring out a budget is crucial.

“You may think you have a great salary and can easily afford two thousand dollars a month for an apartment, but rent isn’t your only debit,” Criscuolo says. If you’re a first-timer, you’ll be shocked at the long list of expenses you’ve typically got to cover, including:

• rent

• utilities (electricity, heat)

• cable

• internet

• phone

• auto loan and insurance, or public transportation

• medical insurance

• renter’s insurance

• school loans

Besides those fixed expenses, you’ll have other debts, such as groceries (estimate how much you’ll spend in a month and add it to the budget), going out with friends (add a line for entertainment) and gas and parking. Then there are occasional or unforeseen expenses like gifts, shopping and medical bills.

Some expenses, like a gym membership or utilities, may be included in your rental agreement, so Criscuolo suggests you find out what’s included and what’s not before signing.

Here are some other important tips:

• Ignore the common guideline equating your rent with your income.

“I don’t like general rules of thumb” – like your income should be three times your rent –“because everyone’s budget and cost of living are different,” Criscuolo says. “Two people could live in the same city but one may have student loans and a car payment and someone else may have neither of those.”

• Allocate money in your budget to a savings account.

This is where you should stash money for long-term goals such as a house or car. It’s also the place where you can set aside funds for those one-time expenses (gifts, medical bills) as well as quarterly or yearly charges like car insurance.

• Figure out if you need renter’s insurance.

If you’re young and don’t own much, you may not need renter’s insurance, Criscuolo says. But typically many millennials own a lot of high-priced electronics such as a gaming system, large-screen TV, laptop and smartphone. If these were stolen, would it be a hardship for you to replace them? If so, get renter’s insurance, which is pretty affordable these days.

• Set up an emergency fund.

An emergency fund should cover six to 12 months of living expenses. “If you lost your job, you would have time to find a new one and get back on your feet,” Criscuolo says. “Typically, though, when people start saving that money, they’ll use it instead for what they consider an emergency – their air conditioning broke or they have to replace their car’s transmission.” But while those situations can be considered emergencies, the funds should be earmarked to cover bills should you find yourself between jobs. “You don’t want to hurt your credit by missing a rent or car payment,” he says. “You want enough of a cushion.”

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