Welcome to the "Things I Wish I Knew" Series! This series will showcase a few tips, stories, and tricks into things and situations I wish I knew beforehand - but because I didn't, I'll share them with you! And I hope you'll be able to take away something from this series to help you in your own life's journey of firsts.
Moving Into Your First Apartment
I moved into my first apartment several months after graduating college back in 2019. This was the most excited I've been in some time, especially since I commuted all 4 years of college and stayed with my parents as my college campus was only 20 minutes from where we lived. Needless to say, I needed to be out on my own and experience this "real world" professors, teachers, and family members have been warning me about. I got a job offer 2 hours away from my parents, did my research, and was able to secure an apartment in a decent area at a decent monthly cost. It wasn't until after I moved in where I wish there would have been a few warnings as to what I'd be dealing with.
In this, we'll be looking at Budgeting, Apartment Amenities, Location, Pests, Neighbors, and Roommates or No Roommates.
Out of all the bills I pay for, rent is the highest expense I have to account for each month. Affording rent is a commitment, of course, or else you'll be homeless, or in some sticky legal trouble - I've seen my fair share of court hearing letters on the doors of my neighbor's in account of the resident not paying their rent, and the landlord essentially having the right to sue. Regardless if you live by yourself or with roommates, rent is an essential when it comes to living on your own for the first time, you have to be able to afford it and the apartment.
Yes, that one-bedroom apartment with all these utilities looks very nice and is spacious, but if it's out of your budget, settle for that studio. It's smaller but cheaper, and you won't be struggling to pay for rent along with whatever other bills - student loans, utilities, etc. And truth be told, yes the housing market is ridiculous when it comes to renting. Yes, 300-400 square foot studios can go for upwards of $1,000 depending on the location and what's around the complex. But, you also have to be ready to search, do your research, and budget.
- What's included utility-wise?
- Do you have to pay extra for water, heat, AC, electricity? Or is all or some of those included with your monthly rent?
- What extra will you have to pay for if not all utilities are included?
- Is parking free or will you have to invest in a pass?
- If there's a laundry room at the apartment complex, how much is it for laundry? Some complexes have apps to use that connects with a bank card to the washer/dryer or are old fashion and only take coins.
- If rent is this, what will I need to save otherwise to spend on groceries, utilities, bills, etc.?
A good job helps with this and budgeting in general when it comes to splitting your paycheck among rent and bills. Rent is only once a month, so you won't have to worry about using up all your pay each month for one payment. But, still stay wary with what bills you have when rent is due.
Some tips I've found that's helped with budgeting the past two years I've been in my studio apartment.
- Keep a Budgeting journal or planner - this helps with splitting up each paycheck with what needs to be paid off each month, seeing what bills you actually do have, when they are in comparison to when you get paid.
- Living paycheck to paycheck happens, but it is not ideal, SAVE - this happens, and it's hard to avoid when you have a job that doesn't pay enough to keep up with bills and to have a decent amount leftover. Save what you can from each paycheck, even if it's after you've gone grocery shopping, paid your bills; save that extra bit. Every penny counts for a rainy day or unfortunate situation.
- Pay bills in advance (if and when you're able) - if you do have some extra bucks to spare either after a few good tips from your job, a bonus comes through, or a raise happens; paying some bills early can help to save on financial stress when the due date for the bill comes. You don't have to do this, but I've found it's a bit of extra weight off my shoulders when a bill is paid early and when the next paycheck comes through, I can treat myself to something (still within the budget of course!).
Budgeting - do not invest in something if you cannot afford it! My motto: If I can't afford to do it, I won't be doing it at all.
2. Apartment Amenities
When I reference amenities here, I'm going to cover the basics - however - even the basics can be hard to find at a reasonable price. I'll give 2 scenarios in this sense, the first with the assumption you have the money to afford an apartment complex $1,000 + and the other $995 and lower for the rent. Each apartment complex and property is certainly different, but there are some basics I've come to learn that are more of a convenience than a necessity and vise versa.
- Laundry Areas - whether this references a laundry room in the basement of the complex, or an in-unit washer and dryer, I've found that this is very much a convenience. Most complexes will have laundry rooms within the complex or on the property. In my experience, laundromats outside of the property cost a lot more than the laundry room on the property of my current complex. This of course can vary per area, apartment property, and local laundromats, however, I will disclose that I live in an urban area - so it makes a sort of sense for the laundromat to be a bit more expensive. BUT, if you have the money to afford an apartment at $1,000 + month, then very much consider in-unit washers and dryers. I always say the moment I get an apartment with in-unit washers and dryers, is the moment I'm not moving for a long time!
- Central Heating/AC vs. Baseboard Heating/AC Units - I currently have an AC unit and baseboard heating, which is great because I can control either at any time of the year (plus, my heat is included in my rent). However, a close friend had central heating and AC and as fall came around, the AC in her complex was shut off. A few days later, temperatures got up into the 80s, and she had no AC. I cannot remember if both were included in her rent or not, she's since moved to another apartment. Both are a necessity, however, I would recommend the AC units and baseboard heating as you can personally control each within your individual apartment.
- Pet-Friendly - If you have any intention of having a pet, you must make sure to check with the apartment complex if they are and what are their limitations. Some complexes only allow pets under a specific weight (to avoid large dogs), or are only cat friendly, or are not pet-friendly at all. Having pets usually means you'll be paying an extra expense a month with your rent with a deposit - also make sure you're able to afford this. Usually, unknown pets in your apartment will result in a sort of penalty fee, if they're discovered. From experience, I have two guinea pigs in a cage, in which these kinds of pets are usually allowed and free to live without extra expenses.
- Gyms, Recreational Areas, Pools, Assigned Parking, Etc. - These are all extra and usual amenities that can be found on properties with higher rent and are completely up to the renter to include in their search for apartments. My current apartment complex does not have these, parking is free, however, being that my location is in a more urban area, there are plenty of places to walk to and walking trails nearby.
- Electricity and Internet - These are amenities/utilities that you usually have to pay extra for. Most complexes are cable-ready for the internet, in which you'll then have to purchase a router and service. Some (if all) locations and complexes have particular services they recommend as those providers are local to the area in terms of actual service towers. It's important to check this little detail as well when searching for your first apartment, this can be done by asking the landlord or property. The same goes for your electricity, you'll have to set up with a local provider and make sure everything's good to go the day you move in. The process for this is very similar to setting up your internet provider.
Amenities, in the end, are all about preference. Do you prefer a dishwasher, or are you alright washing things by hand. In-unit washer and dryer, or complex laundry room. AC units or central air. Assigned parking or not. Pools, walking paths, gyms, or not. In the end, these extra amenities will also show in the monthly rent as well and will usually bump that rent up to well above the $1,000 mark. If you can afford it, go for it! If you have a specific budget for rent, be smart and definitely consider your location, what's around, and your options.
Location, location, location. It's a mantra for those who are looking to buy houses, purchase time-shares, and rent their first apartment. It's especially important to consider location if you're moving somewhere for a job or other personal reasons that has you out in the world and away from home. Location will depend on the rent price, this is probably one of the most important factors that decide this as well. If there are parks, shopping centers, transportation, restaurants, social activities; then rent will probably be a little more than what you'd find if half of those attributes were available. But, it's also important to make sure you find a location that works for you in terms of why you're moving out on your own in the first place.
All that I had mentioned above is good to have nearby: grocery stores, markets, gas stations, car garages (for oil changes, tire repairs, inspections, etc.), transportation; these are all that I've experienced to be the absolute necessities to have nearby. Other things like walking trails, parks, gyms, shopping centers/malls, restaurants, are preferable to each person and your social life, daily activities, and routines.
However, let me point out maybe one thing people usually don't think of when they look at locations for their first apartment. This also depends on where you live and what's the worst the weather can get in your area or in the area you're moving to. Do or will you be living somewhere where it's flat and tornados are a common occurrence or warning? Powerful storms that tend to knock out the power all the time? Blizzards with bad roads that tend to cause accidents when not plowed or icy? Or, the weather occurrence that got me, flooding from a tropical storm. I do live on the east coast, however, I'm far from the ocean. It was the flooding of a major river that runs not even half a mile from my current apartment complex from a hurricane turn tropical storm. The property flooded - under about 8-10 feet of water - took cars, and flooded the basement of my complex where apartments were as well as the laundry room, garbage disposal, and elevator. But, it happens, that's Mother Nature and location has to be taken into consideration. I never expected that from my location. I knew the river to be there, but I never would have expected a tropical storm to flood it so much.
Consider every aspect of a location as you're looking for a new apartment.
4. Pests (Warning! Bugs & Rodents Ahead!)
Pests, let's be honest, are going to come with every shared living space. Hotels, motels, college dorms, apartment complexes, it just all depends on how well pests are taken care of and how often to avoid a serious infestation. But, they will most likely still happen, and you'll most likely still deal with a pest or two no matter how clean you keep your space.
From mice and rats, roaches, ants, spiders, fruit flies, and gnats, even a stink bug here and there (those things just bumble about without a care in the world); each has to be treated differently to keep from multiplying and giving you the chills every time you see one. Most of the time, the property should be taking care of infestations - if the situation is, unfortunately, bad enough - in that case, they'll either take care of it themselves or bring in an exterminator.
In my case, it's been roaches. There are a few questionable apartments in my building that could be the sole cause of the little pests seen all over the place. Even as I've kept my own place clean, the exterminator is always there to reassure me that my apartment is certainly not the cause. However, even after living in my complex for almost 2 years now, I still can't stand the sight of one.
Here are some tricks I've learned to keep the pests mostly at bay within my own apartment:
- Don't leave food lying out - this is a beacon for pests of all sorts. Always put food away in containers, in cupboards, or in the fridge. Close all lids and seal all bags.
- Keep up with your trash! - it's simple and silly, but effective! Especially if you've thrown out old fruits or vegetables, those are a gnat's favorite, even so, if you've kept them in your trash for days at a time (and do not have access to a compost).
- Invest in a pest repellent or spray - because I have guinea pigs, I bought a spray to kill roaches but is also safe to use around both pets and humans. There are also roach "traps" that have a bait in them that the pests take back with them to their nests and it kills all within the nest.
- For gnats, vinegar traps - there's a trap you can make for gnats that involved apple cider vinegar, dish soap, and a paper funnel in a glass or cup. The gnats are attracted to the sweetness of the apple cider vinegar and they become trapped once inside the funnel. I put sugar in the mix as well, especially if you don't have apple cider vinegar.
- Keep your apartment clean! - again, this is also a simple one but effective; especially if you have pets. Pets can leave messes, so it's important to keep up with your pets as well as any other mess that can accumulate over time. Keep your carpet vacuumed and clean, or if you have hardwood flooring, keep the hardwood/vinyl flooring mopped and clean. Clean up messes after making food, dust, dirt, and grim that can pile up over time. Roaches especially like warm, wet, and dark environments; so it's best to keep all the nooks in your apartment dry and clean!
- Citrus keeps the roaches away - it's an odd one, but citrus anything (oils, sprays, etc.) seem to deter roaches. I've used it a few times around my apartment and have seen multiple outcomes. In some places, it seems to work and in others, it doesn't, so this one is more of a preference.
Not all of these tricks work, and some may do better than others. But, it's a start to help keep your place clean and/or to get control over any potential infestation you may have.
No matter where you've grown up, you've probably had neighbors at one point. Even for the majority of those who lived on campus in college and have had the experience of being in a dorm, neighbors are going to live around you on all four corners - unless you live on the top floor of a complex, of course. Going into my first apartment, I knew having neighbors was something I'd have to deal with daily. Luckily for me, when I did first move in, there was an older man across the hall, another man in his 40s-50s across the hall on the left, and an empty apartment to my left with a gap on the right where the walls of our apartments aren't quite close enough to where I'd hear them - that or they're just very quiet.
Regardless, I had quiet neighbors starting out and I'd barely see them in the hallway as well. For an introvert, it was ideal. However, recently, the old man across the hall had - unfortunately - passed away with an older woman moving in instead, and the apartment to my left became occupied by a young couple with a baby and a puppy. The puppy and baby, luckily, have been quiet - although - I will say the couple themselves are loud with the TV turned up a good bit, just enough for me to hear it through the wall and the constant banging of their door as they leave to take the dog out a good several times a day. I don't understand why people feel they need to slam their doors, one apartment on my floor taking to slamming their door shut a couple of times in a row as if they're always arguing with someone on the other side and do it out of spite. Or the kid who used to live 2 doors down from me who'd be playing the drums into the wee hours of the morning.
Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't. But, you have to be prepared for anything regardless.
There are a few things I'll warn about when it comes to neighbors and just living in apartment complexes in general.
1. Your mail and/or packages will get stolen at some point, especially if you're not home all the time and/or work during the day. I've had a couple of packages stolen, some with clothes, some with makeup - it really sucks, but usually, companies are good at working with you to get a refund if you explain the situation.
2. There will always be that one loud neighbor. For me, it was the kid with the drums. When he moved, now it's my neighbors to my left who slam their door and blast their TV. Good headphones do the trick, and it also helps if you are out of the apartment a good bit with school, or work, or whatever it is that you do during the day out in the world.
3. You will have both rude and kind neighbors. There's an older man at my complex who likes to stand outside and get some fresh air, however, if he's walking out and you're walking in with arms full of groceries, he will not hold the door for you. Meanwhile, while there's always that one rude neighbor, there's a good several that are the kindest people. The old lady who likes to leave early for breakfast who happens to be leaving when you do for work, and you strike up conversations as you both walk to your cars. Or the lady on your floor who always compliments your hair and calls you "red" since you dye is as such. Those are the neighbors worth getting to know.
Neighbors are a given when it comes to apartment living, there's no way to pick your neighbor or even predict what your neighbor is going to be like. Rude, kind, helpful, friendly? The only way to know is to get to know them, and maybe someone will help to spare some laundry detergent in a pinch.
5. Roommates or No Roommates
Roommates, or no roommates - that is the eternal question. Roommates can have their advantages and certainly their disadvantages. They can become life-long friends, or a thorn in your side and a pain in your ass. Of course, those who've grown up with siblings or are going through/went through college with roommates and dorm-mates, know for sure what it's like sharing the same room and space with another person. But, this can also determine what kind of apartment you get, how many rooms, and the location for it to cater not only yourself but your roommates as well.
I will disclose: I have not lived with roommates, nor - as I've mentioned before - have I had the experience of living in a dorm. So, as I list a few advantages and disadvantages of both having and not having a roommate, the not having will be based on my experiences, and having will be based on my sister's and friend's experiences with roommates.
- Split Rent! - This reason is probably the sole reason most times why roommates are chosen and preferred when it comes to living in an apartment. You can get a larger apartment at a potentially higher rent rate a month while splitting the cost with however many roommates you do end up having. $1,100 two-bedroom apartment, that's only $550 each. A $2,500 three-bedroom apartment, that's about $833 each. As long as you can afford it, and have trustworthy, responsible roommates; it's worth to split rent.
- Split Chores - Again, this is something that's completely worth it if you have responsible roommates - splitting chores. I know as a single person in my apartment, I will admit I let the dishes sit for longer than reasonable (don't have a dishwasher), and the motivation to do some chores as such is far and few between. Having responsible roommates helps when it comes to splitting up the chores between how many people you have living in the space. Get creative with it and put together a special calendar where each person can interact with and check off when their chore is complete. Keep each chore consistent with each person, or mix it up now and then so the same person who does dishes gets to vacuum or dust now and then.
- Communal Meals - This is something I definitely wish I had - the opportunity to try and make different meals among a group of roommates. Whether they come from different cultures, backgrounds, etc. it's always fun to try new things, especially when it comes to meals and food. There have been many occasions where I'll make a new recipe, thinks it comes out great, but then have no one to share it with. Or, the off chance that my sister or best friend make a meal while they visit me, and it's the sense of sitting down with someone else, having the company, and enjoying food together made by either of us. If you have roommates or find roommates who share a love of food, incorporate it into your daily routines - the simple idea of a meal can bring a lot of different people together.
- Friends/Social Life - Now, I'm not saying that I don't have a social life as someone who lives by themselves with no roommates, but I have learned from my sister and best friend who both have roommates, that they tend to do a little more than I do in a social sense. If you become really good friends with your roommates (which is ideal right?) there's an opportunity there and a reassurance that you have friends to go out with on Friday nights. Me being an introvert - and a bit socially anxious - it takes a bit for me to want to go out by myself either to the mall or for dinner. If I had friends living with me, or just in my area, I'd want to go out with them as often as we could. I love listening to my sister talk about going out or even staying in, and doing things with her roommates. It all sounds like fun! If you're able to do it, do it!
- Irresponsible Roommates - This is something, if you really have no control over when choosing your roommates, that can be tricky. This can also range from everything I mentioned above in the Advantages, but the opposite. Roommates who don't pay their portion of the rent on time or not at all, who don't help with chores or upkeep around the apartment, etc. This can be a rather general issue that can affect you persoanlly if the roommate is inconsiderate of your schedule - i.e. bringing company over and being loud really late on a Tuesday night when you have to work the next morning - and so on. These are just examples, but actual situations I've heard of from my best friend and sister while they currently live and have lived with roommates.
- Less Personal/Private Time - I feel as if this disadvantage depends on the apartment space first and foremost. My sister is lucky enough for her and her 4 roommates to have their own rooms within their shared 5-bedroom apartment on her college campus. So, she has her own private space where she can close her door and have that separation. And while they do have a large kitchen, living room, and shared bathrooms; there's still space for her and her alone. I have heard of friends who do live in apartments and spaces where there isn't as distinct of an area for them to personally have a closed off space that is their own. While this isn't a specific roommate disadvantage, it is something that comes with the territory of having roommates.
- More Stuff, Less Space - This is something, again, I feel depends on the apartment space itself and the type of roommates you have. Unless you are a person, individually, who has a lot of stuff; you're already aware that you are going to have less space for things. Add another person in there, their stuff is also going to take up more space. If you and your roommate are both clean and organized with your belongings, this might not be an issue and can make things work in whatever apartment you're in. With my experience in my current 300 sq. ft. of space, I feel it would be impossible to include someone else, and I would say I'm fairly organized with my belonings - and I feel as if I'm getting clostrophophic after 2 years in my current apartment. Keep your environment in mind if you have the choice!
There are many, many things I wish I would have known before moving into my first apartment. I had recieved a job offer 2 hours away from home that allowed me, for the first time, to move out on my own. I don't regret any of it now that I'm out on my own and living a life I've always wanted to start for myself. I've learned a lot about myself as well and how to overcome obstacles that life tends to - quite rudely - dish out sometimes. But now, I have the exciting event of moving again, at the end of 2021, into a bigger apartment closer to work. And while the rent will be a bit more, I feel I'm certainly a bit more prepared about what to expect. Finances, budgeting, upkeep on your personal space and belongings, taking care of yourself - and pets! It's all a learning experience but if anyone is able to take anything from this, I hope it'll ease your journey just a little bit, and prepare you for this exciting - and sometimes well awaited - step in life.
Keep an eye out for more within this "Things I Wish I Knew" series!
About the Creator
Young, living - thriving? Writing every emotion, idea, or dream that intrigues me enough to put into a long string of words for others to absorb - in the hopes that someone relates, understands, and appreciates.