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The subject of renting versus owning a home or apartment is a very hot topic. There are definitely some great perks for both options, but renting is often the simplest solution. It gives you flexibility, amenities, access to maintenance services, and much more. I’m certainly a fan of all of these benefits. I’ve been renting for about seven years now, and I’m truly comfortable with it.
The only downside is that renting a home or apartment can be quite expensive in some areas. According to ABODO.com, the U.S. average rent by bedroom varies from $1,093 (studio apartment) to $3,546 (five bedroom apartment) per month. Those numbers are a bit startling! Fortunately, renting an apartment on a budget is very doable. Below I’ve shared eight tips that will help you find a rental unit that’s affordable and accommodating.
1. Determine Your Rental Budget
Before you begin apartment hunting, you need to know how much you can afford to spend. There are two simple rules I’ve read for determining how much you should spend on your monthly rent. Here are those two rules along with examples:
- Example 1 – Spend no more than one-third of your monthly income on rent. Personally, I use net income instead of gross income for this example. Let’s say you earn $1,800 per month after taxes. According to this guideline, you should spend no more than $600 per month on rent.
- Example 2 – Divide your annual salary by 40. Again, I prefer to use net income for formulas like this. Let’s say that you earn $33,000 per year after taxes. If you follow this guideline, $825 per month is the maximum amount you should spend on rent.
TheSpruce.com also features helpful rent calculators from three resources. The calculators all use different factors to calculate how much you should spend. You may want to take all of your results and find the average amount. Alternatively, you can choose the lowest price per month to stick to a frugal budget.
2. Consider Other Rental Costs
It’s crucial to remember that there are other fees associated with renting an apartment. It’s easy to forget about the cost of these things, but they quickly add up. In some cases, utility costs like water, sewer, and trash may be included in your monthly rent. However, you’ll still have other expenses to factor in. Some examples include:
- Pet fees
- Parking fees
Additionally, don’t forget about your non-rental expenses. From credit card payments to grocery bills, make sure you know precisely how much you spend per month. Take some time to write down every single expense you have – even little things like toiletries. If you don’t already have set budgets for each expense, consider using a tool like Mint.com for help. Mint has helped me stick to a frugal budget with very little effort.
3. Explore Income Based Housing Programs
In some instances, your income may make you eligible for housing programs. This typically means that you pay a small amount of monthly rent based on how much you earn. However, the specific details of each program vary by state and county. These assistance programs are available nationwide. The following list offers resources and information on income-based housing programs:
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
- HUD.gov Rental Assistance
- HUD.gov Housing Choice Voucher Program Section 8
- Finding Your Local Housing and Urban Development Office
- What is Section 8? – GoSection8.com
- Low Income Housing and Apartments Search – Affordable Housing Online
Use these resources to determine if low-income housing is an option for you. It’s important to note that not everyone is eligible for these types of programs. However, it’s certainly worth looking into if your income is tight and you need rental assistance.
4. Check Out Different Location Options
If you live in a medium or large-sized city, your location can have a drastic impact on the amount of rent that you pay. There are certain areas that are hot spots and considered prime real estate. These apartments may cost hundreds or thousands of dollars more per month, but they’re usually no different than any other place. It’s all about the location. I’ll use two examples to illustrate this – Kansas City and New York City:
- Kansas City – A studio I rented in Midtown Kansas City years ago cost $740 per month. That’s for a 12-month lease. For a six-month lease, you’d pay $1,065 per month. I did a bit of searching to find a comparable studio in North Kansas City – about 20 minutes away from Midtown. I found one that costs $550 per month for a 12-month lease. The location difference cost $190 per month or $2,280 per year – yikes!
- Brooklyn, New York City – The numbers I got for this example come from Curbed.com. The median cost of a one bedroom apartment in Williamsburg is $3,300 per month. Flatbush is three suburbs away, and the median cost for a one bedroom is $1,600 per month. That’s a startling difference of $1,700 per month or $20,400 per year.
As you can see, the location you choose in a city has a huge impact on the rent you pay. If you’re flexible with the area you live in, you can save a lot of money. I do suggest using a tool like Gas Buddy Trip Cost Calculator to factor in the cost of transportation from home to work. If public transportation is an option in your area, look into the costs of that as well. It may factor into your final decision.
5. Narrow Down Or Eliminate Expenses
As I’ve rented over the years, I’ve definitely learned what expenses I can cut out or reduce. Every dollar counts, especially when it comes to paying your rent. We all have unique expenses, so there’s no “one size fits all” list for narrowing them down. The following examples are simply based on real changes I’ve made to narrow or eliminate expenses.
- The average cable TV bill is $103 per month. Opt for Netflix or Hulu instead. I have both and pay a total of $17.98 per month. That saves me $85.02 per month.
- Unplug electronic devices when you’re not using them. Even when electronic devices aren’t in use, they have a ‘phantom charge’ going. It can save you about 5 to 10 percent on your electric bill. My last electric bill was about $75, so unplugging electronics saved me about $3.50 to $7.50 in a month. It doesn’t sound like much, but that adds up to $42 to $90 per year – not bad!
- Cook your own meals at home, and take your lunches to work. I recently read an article that states the average American spends $1,200 per year on fast food. You can drastically reduce or eliminate that cost by avoiding the drive-thru.
- Cut down your grocery bill. According to Gallup.com, the average American spends $151 per week on groceries. I suggest reading the Frugal For Less article 40 Best Ways On How To Save Money On Groceries. If you can trim just $15 off your weekly food bill, you’ll save $780 per year.
These are just four examples, but surely you get the gist of it. Take a look at the list of all of your expenses. See where you can cut corners or get rid of costs altogether. Doing so will help you rent your next apartment with a better budget.
6. Think About Finding Roommates
Living with roommates is certainly one of the easiest ways to save on rent. This option is not for everyone, but it’s certainly worth considering. By living with others, I’ve been able to pay 50% less or more each month. That’s hundreds of dollars in saving each month or more depending on where you live.
If you don’t know anyone who’s looking for a roommate, you still have other options. There are several resources for finding roommates online. Here are some websites designed specifically for locating roommates:
These sites are considered reputable overall, but doing your own research is always a good idea. Meet up with potential roommates in person for coffee to see if you get along well. This also gives you each an opportunity to ask each other questions. You may just find an ideal roommate and save a lot of money on your monthly rent!
7. Ask About Pricing For Different Level Units
A few years ago, I rented an apartment in a building with three levels. All of the units were identical, but units on the 2nd level were about $50 more expensive per month. This location was considered more desirable than the basement apartments or 3rd floor-apartments. I saved $600 per year by choosing a basement apartment.
This trend is very common; certain levels, building, and units may be considered more desirable than others. Because of this, landlords and property managers may increase the prices. In reality, there often isn’t a big difference or any difference between the different units. Why pay more for a minor change in location?
When you begin your apartment search, ask about the pricing for different units on the property. In some cases, the price difference may be only $30 to $50 per month. In other instances, the price difference may be $100 or more per month. Get up to date information on all of the pricing options, and choose a unit that suits your needs and your budget.
8. Review Necessary Amenities Versus Luxuries
When you visit the websites of apartment communities, you’ll often see two links. These usually say something along the lines of “community amenities” and “apartment amenities”. Community amenities are things such as:
- Gym access
- Pool access
- Laundry facilities
- Fitness areas
Apartment amenities are things such as:
- Central air conditioning
- Balcony or patio access
- Free Internet access
- Walk-in closets
- Microwaves and other appliances
Before you apartment hunt, make two lists. One list should contain what you consider necessary amenities. For example, central air conditioning is a must have for many people. The second list should contain luxury amenities that you don’t deem necessary. This may include things like clubhouse or gym access.
Doing this can help you stay grounded when you begin touring apartments. It’s common for leasing agents and property managers to showcase luxury amenities. Additionally, communities with lots of luxury amenities may have higher prices. While these are nice, they shouldn’t be a deciding factor for you. Create your “needs” list to ensure you stay as frugal as possible during your search.
Conclusion: Rent Comfortably While Maintaining Your Budget
Overall, there’s no need to overspend when renting an apartment. The cost of living may be high in your area, but there are ways to make things work. Follow these tips as you search for your new apartment. You’ll save money while finding a quality place to call home. Thanks for reading and happy frugaling!