29 tactics for living alone without breaking the bank

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29 tactics for living alone without breaking the bank
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Living with roommates is a great way to keep housing costs low. But what if you get sick of sharing a kitchen with dudes who help themselves to your breakfast cereal? Or you get incredibly tired of only having one bathroom and roommates that never clean the tub?

Making the leap from shared living to solo bliss is going to cost you. According to US News & World Report, those who share a domicile will save almost 44% overall. That’s because those who live alone have to pay unshared rent plus all the deposits, utilities and household supplies and furnishings.

Housing should take up no more than 30% (preferably 25%) of your net income. Can you swing that?

Do the math really quickly on how much you make. If paying rent would take more than 30% of your salary then maybe it isn’t time to move out just yet. But if a typical rent is do-able on what you earn, time to start making plans. Here’s how a savvy soloist breaks away from communal living.

Read more: 11 frugal ways to prepare for an emergency

Getting started

Moving out starts long before you pack a single box. A smart plan is essential; the best plans include a lot of working parts. Among them:

1. Clearing your debts.

It’s never a good idea to carry a balance but in this case it really can sandbag you. Plenty of landlords require credit checks. Who would you rent to the guy/gal with zero debt or the guy/gal with a couple of thousand dollars in revolving credit balances?

If you really want to live on your own that means paring personal expenses: Every dollar you don’t spend on shopping trips or nights out is a dollar that gets you closer to your own place. (Bonus: You’ll be surprised how much better you sleep once your debt is gone.)

2. Learning the housing market.

Read the ads regularly to learn the costs, low to high. Once you’ve got the money you’ll know that for the cost of that $1,300 studio you could actually get a one-bedroom with real closets. Knowing the market also helps you figure out how much you’ll need for the application fee, security deposit and utility start-up costs (if applicable).

Which brings us to the next tactic…

3. Save. Save. Then save some more.

Move-out money doesn’t just mean a security deposit. If you don’t have an emergency fund, get going on that right away. Add in the annual cost of renters insurance. Factor in the cost of the actual move; even if you don’t use a professional service you’ll want to treat those helpful friends to pizza and you might need to rent a moving truck.

Add those costs and make that your minimum goal – and again, keep saving. That’s because you also need to…

4. Create a “household items” fund.

Most of us share this stuff with roomies – which means you might need to acquire dishes and cookware, a kitchen trash can (and the trash bags to go with it), staple foods, paper products, cleaning items and many other items. Maybe you already own some of these things, but you’ll still likely need to outfit the new place.

Skip things like area rugs and throw pillows for the time being. Focus on the basics and figure out the most affordable ways to get them. (More on that later.)

How to come up with all that cash?

Does this sound expensive? It should. After all, you’ve been sharing costs with one or more people thus far. But you might still be able to afford the single life, starting with…

5. Finding the money.

The “extra” cash might be in your life right now – you just haven’t been holding on to it. The amount you spend just on iTunes and meals out might surprise you.

Time to start tracking your spending. Go old-school and write it all down, or use online budgeting helpers like Mint or LevelMoney. Once you’ve got a handle on your funds, it’s time to…

6. Build a budget.

The 50-30-20 plan is a good all-around plan: No more than 50% of net income for must-haves (including housing), 30% for wants and the rest for savings and debt service. If you’re not a self-starter, contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies; some people find that an initial consultation is enough to create a plan.

7. Crashing with your folks.

If your parents are amenable to your moving back in, take them up on it. Show off your newfound adult skills by presenting them with a contract for how long you’ll stay and what you’ll do around the house in exchange for a free flop. Then make good on it – following up on promises is another things grownups do.

8. Sell things.

What have you got that you no longer want/need? Clothing, accessories, sports equipment, electronics, collectibles, even unused gift cards – all could find a new home elsewhere. Make sure to stash that extra money into your ‘Place of My Own Fund.’ Use consignment shops, put the word out on social media or even stick up a note on a workplace bulletin board.

You might also be able to…

9. Sell your body.

Not like that! Instead, sign up for paid medical research (it isn’t always about experimental drug-taking), donate plasma, joining a focus group or wild-card stuff like selling your hair.

10. Look for a side hustle.

This can be occasional work vs. a second part-time job. Put it out to the universe that you’ll house-sit, walk dogs, provide child care, detail cars, etc. Ask yourself these two questions:

  • “What skills do I have that people need?” (defragging computers, cleaning and organizing attics or garages)
  • “What do people need done but don’t want/don’t have time to do themselves?” (weeding a garden, walking their pets, etc.)

Or sign up at a “microjob” site like TaskRabbit or Fiverr. Sometimes you’re answering an ad (“Need someone to help me put together IKEA furniture”) and sometimes you’re offering your services (“I will create a logo for your company”). You’d be surprised how many ways there are to make a few extra bucks by capitalizing on brawn and/or brain.

You’ve got the money. Now, stretch it!

Even after you’ve hit the magic move-out number you should be looking for the biggest bang for those hard-won bucks. Such as:

11. Downsizing.

Don’t automatically assume you need a one-bedroom place. Anyone who doesn’t have a lot of belongings may enjoy studio apartments with less square footage to clean, heat and decorate. Minimalism might be a good fit for you.

12. Watching for “move-in specials.”

In a renter’s market the landlords sometimes offer deals like “one month free when you sign a six-month lease.” Suppose you find the perfect place but are aware that plenty of vacancies exist in your town. Say something like, “You know, I’ve looked at half a dozen places that were pretty great. But I’d sign a lease right now if you could offer me some kind of incentive.” It doesn’t hurt to ask.

13. Furnishing for less.

Use your social network to let family, friends and colleagues know you’re looking for a table, bookcase, cookware or whatever. Surely you know somebody who’d love to get a few things out of the garage or attic. Check Freecycle or the “free” section of Craigslist, too.

14. Save big at “curb mart.”

In other words, watch what people leave on the curb with “free” signs or set out by the dumpster on trash day.

15. Shop at the university mall.

If you live in or near a college town, check the academic calendar to find out when spring semester ends. It’s amazing what people will throw out because it’s cheaper to replace than to ship.

16. Drop in at the dollar store.

Not everything there is the best price. But seriously, how much do you want to spend on a colander or a bucket?

17. Go secondhand.

Thrift shops can yield some real treasures on dishes, cookware and storage. Ask at the front desk about upcoming sales – yes, thrift stores really do cut their already-low prices from time to time.

18. Follow a coupon blogger.

All those things you shared with roommates – spices, cleaning supplies, laundry soap and paper products must now be bought again. Having to do it all at once can be a shock to the budget. Sites like CouponMom.com and AFullCup.com can hook you up by matching coupons to deals each week. The coupons are often printable or can be downloaded to your store loyalty card, and every week you’ll find ways to get items absolutely free.

19. Tweak the utilities

Your heat and water costs might actually go down now that you’re no longer sharing a pad with the ‘Queen of the Long Shower’ or the ‘Dude Who Leaves the TV on All Day.’ However, you no longer have one or more roomies to help you pay for Internet or cable.

Time for some hacks:

20. Nix the cable.

Options like Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime Instant Video might be enough to keep you entertained. So might watching shows on network sites; some of them go up as soon as they’ve aired. Binge-watch new programs by getting full seasons for free from the library. For more tips, see “10 Ways to Watch Awesome TV Without a Cable Bill.”

21. Rethink your phone.

If you can’t get a better deal you probably aren’t trying hard enough. Republic Wireless and Cricket are lower-priced providers, and FreedomPop will give you a certain quantity of free service if you already own a Sprint phone. Check out “7 Free or Cheap Cellphone Plans For People Who Don’t Need a Lot of Data” for more options.

22. Get a better price on Internet.

Maybe in the past you’ve bundled it with phone and/or cable. Take an hour per week to call all providers in your region and take the best deal. Or cut the cable, as noted above, and get phone and Internet separately. You might even be able to get free Wi-Fi with products like FreedomPop’s rechargeable wireless hotspot.

23. Forget the dryer.

Consider hanging some (or all) items vs. paying a couple of bucks per load to dry them. Bonus: Your stuff will last longer because the heat and tumbling of a dryer takes years off your fabrics.

24. Cool it, naturally.

Look for ways to stay comfortable vs. turning on the air conditioner the first time the mercury hits 75 degrees. “9 Air Conditioning Alternatives” is a great way to start.

25. Stay cozy for less.

Got a little chill? Stay away from the thermostat! Instead, see “49 Cold Weather Hacks to Keep You Warm and Save You Money.”

All moved in? Keep watching those dollars

Congratulations on your new apartment! But what about having a life? Now that more of your salary is going toward rent, you’ll need to get creative about funding a night out with friends or a holiday celebration. That’s why savvy solo singles use techniques like:

26. Learning to cook.

Do not cop out by saying “Oh, I’m terrible in the kitchen.” If you can read, you can cook. Go online to search for simple recipes. Part of being an adult is tackling new skills, and food is the budget item with the most wiggle room.

27. Having an “incidentals” fund.

You might already have budgeted for Christmas and birthdays. But what about other celebrations? Take a look at your family and social circle and start planning for things like shower gifts and baby presents. Be realistic about how much you can afford; for example, if it’s a destination wedding you might have to send regrets rather than buying a plane ticket that costs too much. Use a price comparison website like PriceGrabber.com to get the most out of your giving dollars.

28. Entertaining at home.

Potlucks, game nights, book club or watching the big game. Whatever floats your boat! Bonus: If you host, you might wind up with some leftover snacks, meals or wine.

29. Creating a “supper club.”

Find a couple of friends and take turns cooking for one another. It’s a night off from the kitchen and a chance to catch up.

Living with others can have lots of benefits, including financial perks. But that desire to have your own place isn’t something to be dismissed. You can do it if you work hard and save. Hopefully these tips can help you reach that goal!

Read more: Essential health care resources to know about if you’re broke

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Author placeholder image About the author:
Donna Freedman created the Smart Spending and Frugal Nation blogs for MSN Money and has written for dozens of other blogs, newspapers and magazines. She is the author of Your Playbook For Tough Times: Living Large On Small Change, For The Short Term Or The Long Haul. Donna writes about money ...Read more
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