How to Afford an Apartment: Budgeting and Making it Work

March 20, 2021

Moving into a new apartment as a college student is an exciting time. Maybe it’s the new space, having your very own rooms to decorate or the feeling of freedom—whatever you’re most stoked about, it just feels good to make the move. However, the road to finalizing a lease agreement and understanding how to afford an apartment can be tricky, especially for first-timers. You’ll need to do some preparation to ensure you’re ready to take on a larger financial commitment. There are several factors to consider beyond just the rent.

Whether you’re new to campus or in the middle of your collegiate years, these tips on how to afford an apartment in college will help you save some extra cash for your next adventure.

1. Start with a Budget-Tracker (and Be Honest About Your Expenses)

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Our first recommendation is something you likely heard before—create a budget and follow it! It’s not super exciting, but it’s absolutely necessary as you take this first step into adulthood. If you’re not one to write things down with paper and pen, there are various budgeting apps that can do the job.

Before committing to renting an apartment, use an apartment expenses calculator to understand how much money you can invest in your living space. Once you’ve determined your living range, create a weekly budget that ladders up to a larger year-long budget to keep your spending in check. 

How to budget for an apartment with realistic spending guidelines 

This may all sound like a total drag. But you don’t have to be completely strict or give up your favorite things to afford an apartment in college. You just need to follow practices of moderation, i.e., it’s okay to splurge on shoes or weekend getaways, but you have to account for that in your planning.

Experts recommend following the 50/30/20 rule for budgeting and spending guidelines: 

  • 50: Spend 50 percent of your income on your needs like rent, groceries and utilities.
  • 30: Spend 30 percent of your income on wants like vacations, dining out, subscription services or clothing purchases.
  • 20: Save 20 percent of your income to a savings or investment account.

By investing in some smart planning early on, you’ll be better equipped to plan for the expenses that come with living on your own.

Even if you’re taking out student loans to cover your entire semester’s worth of rent or receiving financial help from your family, a budget is still necessary. You want to ensure you allocate the right amount of funds and don’t over-extend yourself. 

2. Turn your Friends into Roommates

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If you’re asking the best possible way to afford an apartment in college, the answer is simple: get yourself some roommates! Living with one, two or even three other friends can significantly decrease your monthly expenses. Not only will you split the rent, but your utilities like gas, electricity, water and internet will be split among the tenants, too. Plus—living with roommates can be a blast and is a big part of the quintessential college experience! 

If you don’t have any friends in the market for an apartment or prefer to try living with new folks, check out some online apartment boards to find options. For example, at EPOCH, we help future residents find apartments with empty rooms or match students together. 

Of course, don’t move in with anyone you don’t know or haven’t been able to vet through friends, family members or trusted sources. Additionally, make sure to meet up with potential roommates a few times before you agree to anything. It’s important to take a vibe check and make sure it “feels right” between you and potential apartment-mates. You want to be comfortable and happy in your home, and who you live with is a big part of that experience.

Check out our article Living with a Roomie 101 for even more tips. 

3. Track and Manage your Subscriptions

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When it comes to figuring out how to budget for an apartment, you need to understand how small expenses add up. Enter: subscription services. The subscription business model is meant to be a small monthly charge that doesn’t seem excessive (so people sign up), but then you hopefully forget about it and just keep paying. And we’re not just talking about Hulu and Netflix. 

Pay close attention to all the recurring charges on your credit card accounts. Take inventory of all regular expenses, think clothing subscriptions, software, magazines, music streaming services, gym memberships or otherwise. These small amounts might seem low-cost, but they add up to represent a significant line item on the ole’ budget over time. 

How to easily keep track of subscriptions with an app 

Instead of ignoring the recurring expenses, consider using a free app to manage your subscriptions. If there’s a product or service you don’t need, cancel it and reallocate that money to your apartment fund. Check out these four apps to manage your subscription expenses:

  • Truebill: Helps you monitor and cancel monthly and recurring subscriptions. Premium subscribers can pay extra to have the app cancel the subscriptions for users instead of having to do it themselves.
  • Trim: Manages your finances and helps you track your spending with a financial dashboard and recurring charges report.
  • Bobby: Tracks your subscriptions and notifies you when bills are due, so you don’t miss a payment.
  • Subby: Creates a log of your subscription services that can be managed through the app with custom icons.

Remember, while monthly costs under $100 may seem small in the grand scheme of things, they add up pretty quickly when you put them together. Each of these tools can help you better understand where your money goes and help you cancel some unnecessary costs.

4. Find Ways to Decrease Utility Usage

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As part of your budget for the apartment, you probably set aside a certain amount of money for gas, water, electricity and internet. While some of these are fixed expenses, there are ways to reduce overall monthly costs on per-consumption utilities. 

Be sure to turn off all electronics when not in use and turn off the lights when you leave each room, for starters. Consider buying LED light bulbs or asking your landlord if this is something they’re able to provide. To decrease your water bill, limit your shower time.

As a bonus, when you reduce utility usage, you’re also limiting your carbon footprint—win-win! 

5. Become a Facebook Marketplace and Thrift Shop Regular

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Decorations and furniture are what make an apartment feel like home, but sometimes, those expenses go far beyond your available budget. When you’re brainstorming how to afford an apartment in college, don’t be afraid of using Facebook Marketplace or thrift stores as a resource. Often, furniture and other items are available at an extremely discounted price—sometimes even free, you just have to pick it up!

How to afford an apartment with thrifty ways 😉

For the apartment hunter that’s itching for new furniture at discounted prices, here are a few tips on winning with Facebook Marketplace:

  • Do your research: Vet the seller’s profile to make sure they seem like a legitimate user. If you have any common connections, reach out to those contacts to verify their profile.
  • Be smart with your payment: Never pay before receiving the item for sale, and pay in cash where possible. This limits the chances that you’ll be scammed and allows you to look at the furniture before buying.
  • Meet in public spaces: While someone may seem friendly, it’s always best to exchange the item for your cash in a public space. This protects the safety of both people!
  • Check the listings daily: Items go fast on the Marketplace. Check the listings daily to discover new items available—and reach out quickly to ensure you’re first in line to buy.

If you’re nervous about using Facebook Marketplace, thrift stores often carry a variety of used furniture and goods that can be used to decorate your space, with the hassle of coordinating a pick-up or exchange.

Read our guide for more college apartment decorating ideas. 

6. Prioritize Location to Minimize Expenses

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Where you live can have a huge impact on your outside expenses. For example, if you live close to campus, you may be able to walk to classes instead of using your car or paying for parking or transportation. Another example might be living close to a grocery store so you can walk to get your weekly shopping list instead of taking the bus or driving. Prioritizing location to help minimize your budgets in other areas. 

For instance, at EPOCH, we offer a shuttle to take students to campus, into downtown Clemson and to game days—that’s one less expense to worry about! 

8. Pay Off or Consolidate Your Debt

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Debt is one of the number one barriers to maintaining a healthy budget. While it might not be possible to pay off your student loans (especially since you’re likely still accumulating them!), look for other monthly payments in your budget. This could include a car loan, car insurance, credit card debt or buy-now-pay-later agreements.

The idea is to prioritize paying off debts (the ones that charge you interest) to free up money in your budget or save for an apartment in the upcoming school year. Even if you’re an incoming freshman or figuring out how to afford an apartment in a couple of years—start working on your financials now! You can make a serious dent in your debt over just one summer vacation with a part-time job

How to consolidate debt to better afford your apartment 

If you do have debts, consider consolidating accounts to help you afford your general apartment costs. Not sure which option is best for you? Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Debt payoff: This is the straightforward process of paying down your debt. Focus your efforts on paying the debt with the highest interest rate first. If possible, pay more than the minimum.
  • Debt consolidation: If you’re having a hard time paying each account, consider consolidating with an outside organization so that you have just one payment per month. Be sure to do your research ahead of time if you’d like to look into consolidation; you need to find a reputable organization with low rates before engaging in a contract. Your goal should be to secure a lower interest rate than you currently have so that you can save money in the long run. 

By paying off even one of your loans, you might open up $100 each month that can go to your rent or other monthly expenses. 

9. Take Advantage of Move-in Specials

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When you’re working out how to afford an apartment in college, you need to account for the upfront costs. Moving into an apartment typically requires a deposit and sometimes more than one month’s rent. To reduce that large lump sum needed to secure a spot, look for move-in specials. 

Apartment communities sometimes offer special deals dependent on things like your move-in date or the number of people in the space. While it’s not something you can always count on, it is something to factor into your search process.

10. Build an Extra Source of Income.

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If you’re still not feeling super comfortable with the cost of an apartment, there are other ways to develop extra income to support your budget. Some potential opportunities to capture extra cash could include:

  • UberEats: Want to limit contact with others, but make a little cash on the side? UberEats, and other delivery services, can be a great way to increase your income on a flexible schedule.
  • Taskrabbit: If you’re not sold on delivering food, Taskrabbit is a tool where users perform a variety of jobs, from assembling furniture to patching a hole in the wall. If you’re good at DIY, this might be the perfect app for you to showcase your talent and earn some cash.
  • Campus jobs: Colleges always offer part-time work and internships to students. Some may require special skills or qualifications, while others will train you on the job. Read our blog post on summer internships and jobs for more info. 
  • Freelance creative work: Are you a talented photographer, graphic designer or writer? These skills can be put to use in the freelance market and make a good side-hustle. If you’re not sure how to get started, consider using a platform like UpWork to source new projects.

Additional income sources are a great way to afford your apartment, build a savings or pay-off debt, but it’s still extremely important to live within your means. If you’re new to leasing an apartment, start with a smaller space and after your agreement is complete, move to a larger apartment if you’re ready. Don’t feel like you need to compete with your peers; it’s your space to make home!

How to Afford an Apartment in College—the Right Way 

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The process of learning how to afford and budget for an apartment can feel overwhelming, but if you do the proper preparation, you’ll be able to move in comfortably (and with peace of mind). For those that might have dozed off in the middle of this article, here are the primary takeaways to remember:

  1. Budget consciously and correctly: Create a way to track your expenses, including your essential needs, wants and the amount of money you want to save.
  2. Connect with friends to cheapen costs: Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network to find new roommates. Having built-in friends can be fun, and it significantly lowers your monthly costs for rent and utilities.
  3. Track your expenses over time, and spend wisely: Whether you’re using an app to manage subscriptions, becoming a professional thrift shopper or paying off your debt, it’s important to keep track of your ongoing expenses to make sure you can always afford your rent budget.

College is an exciting time to be on your own. Take pride and ownership in the space you choose to live in! No matter where you live, this will be a place where you, your friends and even your roommates will make memories that you’ll remember for a lifetime. 

Good luck with your apartment search!