When you have student loans, committing to any recurring expense is difficult. And the biggest expense most people have each month is housing.
Picking a home is a major lifestyle decision and a major budget decision. Before you sign the lease, make sure it will make you happy and fit your budget. Follow these steps for ideas on how to pick an apartment and how to save money on rent.
How to pick an apartment with student loan debt
1. Decide if you need/want a roommate
Some people absolutely want to live alone, while others can’t imagine living without a roommate. This is a personal decision to make, but also a financial one for an important reason: living with a roommate saves money.
While the absolute cost of an apartment goes up as it gets bigger, the cost per person is typically lower when you share it with one, two, or three roommates.
While I was in graduate school working on my MBA, I lived with a roommate in an older house off campus to save on rent. When I finished school, I moved into my own apartment, but took care to find a really inexpensive one.
Saving thousands of dollars on rent while living with a roommate helped me pay off my student loans much faster than if my rent had been nearly twice as much living on my own.
2. Determine your must-haves
Are you a gym rat who could save big by having a gym in your apartment? Gym memberships can be big budget busters and the savings (and convenience) of an in-building gym might be high on your list.
Or maybe you really want your own bathroom because of roommates. If you don’t have any, you might be able to save by renting a studio versus a one-bedroom, depending on your preferences.
Every apartment feature on your list may drive up the cost. Remember to prioritize needs versus wants and be ready to sacrifice some wants to keep costs down while affording the features you want most.
3. Scout locations
What is the most important factor in the cost of real estate? Location, location, location.
A sweet downtown pad might be your dream, but the exact same apartment a few miles away could be half the cost. If you do put location as the top requirement on your list, that could mean sacrificing on size, amenities, or even a parking space. However, a downtown apartment could mean you can live car-free and save big on another part of your budget.
Visit some of the neighborhoods to decide where you want to live in general, then build out your list of apartments by neighborhood so you can most efficiently visit and pick your favorite.
4. Visit apartments you can afford
Don’t tempt yourself into paying more for an apartment than necessary. Look at your income and other monthly expenses, including student loan payments, to really understand what you can afford to spend on an apartment each month. Cross any apartments off your list that are above that range.
Next, call ahead to set up visit times and apartment viewings by neighborhood to make the best use of time. Bring a notepad to take notes of what you like best, what you don’t like, and anything you want to remember for later on.
Each time you visit a new apartment, keep whittling down your list to the top two or three. When you’ve picked your favorite, call the landlord and get the paperwork started.
5. Move in!
Congratulations: you’ve picked an apartment you love and can afford. Get moved in, settled, and enjoy.
The key takeaway here is to nail down your budget, determine exactly what you can afford, then choose the appropriate apartment based on that number. You might have to make some compromises on your wishlist, but the more you can save and pre-pay your student loans, the sooner you will have that debt behind you.
Once those student loans are paid off, you will have hundreds of dollars more each month to save, invest, and use for the eventual home of your dreams.
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