Tips for Apartment Hunting on a College Grad’s Budget
May 10, 2012

With graduation for many college seniors just around the corner, it’s time to start figuring out where you’re going to live—after all, you’re going to need a place to hang that new diploma! And if moving back home with Mom and Dad isn’t an option, finding a place on your own is an often-daunting task, especially with the looming thought that it’ll soon be time to start paying off those loans. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your quest for a place of your own:

1. Set a budget early—and stick to it.

As soon as you can, figure out just how much you can afford—and maybe leave a little left over for those loans, too. First, figure out what you absolutely want in an apartment. Are you willing to spend more for a safer neighborhood? What utilities are you and aren’t you willing to pay for? Is renter’s insurance a must-have? (It probably should be.) Start with how much you make in a month, and factor in money for gas, food and utilities—Once you’ve got everything else figured out, you’ll know how much you can afford for monthly rent payments. If you stick to a tight spending schedule, especially in your first years out in the world as a college graduate, it will not only afford you precious peace of mind, but will allow you to get those loans off your back as soon as possible!

2. Stay organized!

Once you’re on your own, with your own paychecks and minimal—if any—help from mom and dad, it can be pretty hard to balance all of your financial arrangements, whether they be bills, loans, car payments, etc. One of the keys to a relatively stress-free transition into “the real world” when it comes to finances is to stay organized. Find a method that works for you and stick to it, even if it’s simply through Post-It notes! Keeping track of what you owe and who you owe it to at all times will not only keep you from missing any key payments, but will help you stay within your budget.

3. Read the fine print

When searching for an apartment, above all, be thorough. While it may be tempting to agree to the first new and exciting place you find, make sure you do your research.  First and foremost, go on a tour, and try to request a tour of an apartment that’s already being lived in, so you can really get a feel for how the place transforms into an actual home. Try, if you can, to speak with other building tenants. If the place is a bit of a financial squeeze, consider living with a roommate or two. Find out if your potential new pad offers renter’s insurance, and make sure to read over your lease carefully! Apartment hunting is stressful enough, making it tempting to skip over the details when the lease is in your hand—but a close read-through will make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into.

4. Furnish frugally.

Once you’ve got your new place and rent amount locked down, you still have to decorate. However, it’s often surprising the sheer of stuff that goes into making an apartment livable. Some of these you’ll probably figure out as you go along—like discovering you do, in fact, need a blender or a set of knives—so save on the big stuff to leave yourself some leeway for the little things along the way. Look for secondhand furniture or electronics from thrift stores and Craigslist, or ask your friends or family if they have anything they’re looking to get rid of—most people are happy to help a new college grad when they can.

Above all, though, have fun (responsibly) with your new freedom! Living on your own for the first time is daunting and scary at times, but if done with carefulness and organization, it can not only be liberating, but can help free up some room in your budget for getting some headway with those loans.

Happy hunting!


Priya Krishnakumar writes for and attends Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism