How to budget for your first apartment without breaking the bank

by Kaitlyn Thompson
Guest Writer

Photo via

Photo via

While the idea of finally moving out and beginning life as your own independent adult sounds thrilling, a majority of young adults don’t know about many of the costs involved in renting their first apartment.

While living in a dorm on campus, the bills are paid for via the room and board charge on your school account. And if you live with your parents, you also don’t have to worry about many bills associated with housing. You don’t have to worry about a water bill, heating bill or Wi-Fi, which is a luxury taken for granted.

“I never realized the responsibility that comes with living off campus. Bills add up and unless you’re financially stable..., it can get overwhelming,” said Gabe Rellinger, a senior social work major at Rochester College.

Before getting your first apartment, you should sit-down with a trusted financial adviser to budget and gain knowledge for what is expected during the transition.

Cindy Brissette, an RC financial service adviser and verified FAFSA specialist, said if current college students planning on moving off campus should be aware of some strict regulations.

“If you’re planning on utilizing your refund from financial aid, please be aware that the amount for housing that is allowed by the Department of Education for living off campus is not the same amount as living on campus, and you will only get a refund if you have a credit after paying your educational expenses,” she said.

Making the transition from living on campus or with your parents to living on your own can be fun if planned correctly. Here are a few tips if you are thinking about making the transition from dorm life to apartment living.

  • Practicality is key
    Look for a place within your budget. A security deposit and first month’s rent are due before you move in, so if you want an apartment in downtown Rochester, expect to drop a pretty penny within the first month.

    At Rochester College, room and board is $7,160 annually, which includes 19 meals a week. The yearly price comparison of living in a one-bedroom apartment in Michigan varies, but it is roughly $11,400 for rent and food, according to

    Without sticking tightly to a budget, money will seem as if it is disappearing from your bank account.

  • Set aside rent money the second your paycheck hits your bank account
    If you see money sitting in your account waiting to be spent, more likely than not, you will splurge on McDonalds or buy trinkets you do not necessarily need from Amazon. By removing the money and placing it in an account earmarked for bills only, you will unconsciously be practicing self-discipline.

    If you choose to live with roommates, you should all get together and make a plan. “Decide whose name the utilities will be in, as this person will be held financially responsible by the companies for payment, even if the other roommates do not have the money that month,” Brissette said.

  • Coupons are your best friend when it comes to grocery shopping
    Keep in mind that if you go into the grocery store on an empty stomach, you will find yourself filling up the cart with junk food rather than necessities such as eggs and milk. Clip coupons from your local newspaper, download coupons from your grocery store’s app, or use a couponing website. Also, make a list of the items you really need before you browse up and down the aisles.

  • Being ‘cheap’ is not a bad thing
    If your budget is tight, you should decline an invitation for a night on the town. Your friends will understand. Also, keep in mind that you do not have to shop at the finest stores in order to purchase clothing or furniture. “Go to places like Salvation Army and other resell shops in this area in order to get the most for your dollar,” Brissette said.

  • Cook instead of going out to eat
    The point of grocery shopping is to have food readily accessible whenever you get hungry. Not only can you cook yourself a healthy dinner, but you will be saving money by staying in. Search for quick and healthy recipes to make cooking even easier. Also you can swing through the drive-thru occasionally, just do not make it a habit.

  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room
    Electricity Local found that consumers spend $95 monthly on their average electric bill. By remembering to turn off the lights when you leave a room, you can save anywhere from a few pennies to a few dollars. Small habits make a big difference.

“Living off campus has its ups and downs,” Brissette said. “If you are not organized or don’t have a good structure, it is easy to fall behind on bills.”

Rellinger said one factor that outweighs the worry over bills is freedom. “Knowing you have a place to go back to and unwind without worrying about rules or anyone else. You can just relax,” he said.

The initial transition from dorm living to apartment living is quite extensive. You will face a few road bumps along the way but with the proper mindset you can make the journey exciting.

“Your first apartment can be an exciting experience, but just remember to use caution and plan ahead. If you have any questions about how your financial aid works, please come visit our department before you sign any leases,” Brissette said.