Living on your own for the first time is a new and exciting way to assert your independence. Moving out for good, or away for college, is a big step, but there’s no doubt that it can be costly. Don’t worry! If you commit to some monthly planning for cost-effective spending, there’s no reason you can’t have fun — without going broke.
Here are seven tips for navigating the costs of independent living, and categories you can use to create a monthly budget:
Rent and utilities
If you’re living on your own, chances are you’re paying your own rent and utilities. While this is a sign of independence, it’s also a huge responsibility which needs to be at the top of your list of priorities. Budget out your rent and utilities from your monthly income right away, to avoid a pile up of bills and overdue rent. If you have roommates, sit down and figure out a system for making sure rent and bills are paid on time and distributed fairly.
Books on the cheap
If you’re still a college student, don’t fall for the campus bookstore trap unless absolutely necessary. The school bookstore, even for used books, can be overpriced and unnecessary. There are plenty of places to get cheap and gently used textbooks that will get the job done without emptying your wallet. Try websites like Amazon, Abe Books, or Chegg. You’ll be amazed at how much money you can save. Sometimes, also, you might not have to buy the newest edition of a textbook. Talk to the professor to see if the newest edition is a total necessity.
Whether it’s gas money, a bus pass or tickets for the train, you’ve got to get around somehow. Transportation is an absolute necessity, no matter where you live. Set aside a decent amount of cash for weekly gas. If it’s available, consider monthly public transportation passes; they save you money in the long run. Gas prices and public transportation costs vary around the country, so figure out which is the best option near you.
Grocery lists and smart shopping
When it comes to grocery shopping, go in prepared and on a full stomach. Shopping while running on empty can convince you that you need one of everything. Make a list of the necessities and choose practical and healthy foods that can be repurposed for multiple meals. If you go in without a list or a budget in mind, you could end up overspending on things you don’t necessarily need. I spend $35 a week, but prices may vary depending on what you like to eat and where you live. Instead of going to the first grocery store you come to, do some research to find the grocery store near you with the best prices. In my area, Trader Joe’s is my go-to, but there are plenty of places where you can find cheap groceries if you look hard enough.
Good eats and cutting loose
Set aside a reasonable amount of money for a typical night out with friends. Have fun, but within reason, and don’t forget to limit yourself. For example, make a mental note to spend no more than $30 on food. If you’re of age and going to buy beer or cocktails, decide how many you’re going to buy before you go out. If you want to go dancing or hit the bars with friends, think about how much you might spend. A fun night out can get costly if you don’t plan it out in advance. Lots of dance clubs will charge more than double if you pay at the door, so go on the website and buy your ticket in advance to avoid overpaying.
Don’t forget special occasions!
In your group of friends, birthdays and holiday gift exchanges are bound to happen. You don’t want to be caught unprepared when the special days roll around. Do yourself a favor and keep a calendar filled with the birthdays and special occasions you celebrate. Decide how much you want to spend on gifts and celebratory outings in advance, and save up a little money each week so you don’t find yourself shoveling out mounds of cash all at once, then eating ramen for a week straight afterwards. Suggest a price limit on holiday gift exchanges, like $25 per person. Your wallet and your friends will be grateful.
Staying fit on a dime
You may have a gym at your disposal, either at your university or in your apartment building, but if that’s not the case, or you’re not satisfied with your current fitness options, there are affordable choices out there. Local recreation centers are usually equipped with a gym, which you can use for a low fee. It might not be state of the art or full of classes, but it’ll get the job done. There are also places like Planet Fitness that offer $10 memberships and no contract. However, keep in mind that the low cost means no fitness classes are available. If these options still sound too expensive, there’s also the old fashioned way — find a park and go for a run, kick a ball, play catch or jump rope. You also could invest in an inexpensive yoga mat and use free fitness applications on smart phones that will walk you through a full workout.
It may all seem a little overwhelming at first, but don’t fret. Venturing out on your own for the first time almost always means tightening your budget, but it’s also a major milestone, and signals your first steps towards true adulthood. Be proud of yourself and the huge step you’re taking!
Check out more helpful resources like this one in our Dorm Room Care Package.