No roommate no cry, right? It might be a relief to quit sharing space, whether that means you are just out of the college dormitory or exiting some other co-living situation. But living alone (getting the bathroom all to yourself!) does come at a huge premium, according to US News & World Report.
Looked at the other way, a two-bedroom place doesn’t usually cost twice as much as a one-bedroom or studio. Citing median rents in 10 U.S. cities, the article noted savings of almost 44 percent for sharers vs. solos.
Skip a roommate, and you’ll also be responsible for rent/utility deposits, all utilities, and all furnishings and household supplies. Yet plenty of people are sick of roommates or know right out of the gate that they’re simply not suited to sharing.
Done right, the solo life can work. Start by …
1. Learning the rental market
Read the ads for a sense of what places cost in your area. If they generally run between $800 and $1,100, then you’ll know to balk at a one-bedroom for $1,300 and to run toward a $700 studio.
This knowledge also helps your planning: I’ll need X dollars for the security deposit and X dollars more for the last month’s rent in advance. At the rate I’m saving to move out, it will take me X more weeks to pull together what I need.
If you have enough cash socked away, start apartment hunting in earnest. If not, keep squirreling away those dollars (more on that below) and looking for other stuff you’ll need. One way to save money is to …
2. Live at home, briefly
If your folks are OK with you coming back from college/returning home after your latest roommate disaster, this will give you a chance to save for deposits, emergency fund, etc. Share your move-out timeline with them: “In three months I’ll have all that I need plus a financial cushion, so I really appreciate your welcoming me back.” Pitch in cheerfully with household chores, too.
Continue the apartment hunting while you live at home. In the late fall or winter, be sure to …
3. Watch for “move-in specials”
If the market is slow or the weather is lousy, a landlord may offer incentives. I got one month free when I signed six-month leases on my first and second Seattle apartments.
You should also be willing to …
4. Think small
“Don’t be afraid of the studio,” advises Michelle Diamond, who blogs at FitNPoor. She moved from a one-bedroom into a studio that felt comfortable and cozy – and cheaper. If you don’t have a ton of stuff, this might work for you, too.
Can you really afford it?
Conventional wisdom is that rent should take up no more than 25 to 30 percent of your net income. Multiply your net pay by 52 (or 26 if you’re paid biweekly) and determine how much you bring home in a year. Depressing, huh?
Being pretty sure you can afford it isn’t good enough. You’ll need security and/or utility deposits, maybe the last month’s rent in advance, and a bunch of other stuff to make the place your own. That’s why you need to …
5. Track your spending
You might be shocked to find out how much you spend on iTunes and e-books. That’s money that could have gone toward rent. While some folks write down all expenditures and create spreadsheets, it’s easier to use online budgeting sites/apps such as Mint.com or PowerWallet.
Now that you know where your money is going, time to …
6. Create a budget
The 50-30-20 plan is a good template: no more than half of net income for “musts” (like rent!), 30 percent for “wants,” and the rest for savings and debt service.
Organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies can help you get started; often you can get this help for free. (Note: It’s best to check whichever credit counseling group you wind up with through the Better Business Bureau and your state attorney general’s office.)
Living within your means is smart, not onerous. A great way to get started is to …
7. Ask why you buy
Do you really need it? How many hours will you have to work to pay for it? If you absolutely need it, how can you get the best price?
Now, suppose you determine you can manage solo rent on your current earnings if you’re faithful to that new budget. Your next step should be to …
Think beyond next payday
Being able to afford the rent is one thing. Sooner or later, though, you’re going to need something you can’t pay for out of pocket: car repair, a medical deductible, a baby shower gift. That’s why your new budget must include ways to …
8. Build an emergency fund
Your basic budget covers, well, the basics. But sometimes stuff happens. See “18 Ways to Save $100 This Week” for some tips on establishing what I call the “being able to sleep at night” fund.
You should have this even if you’re not living alone. Should there be a fire or even a simpler issue such as a leaky roof that ruins some of your stuff, would you be able to pay for alternate lodging or replace your belongings?
10. Plan an “incidentals” fund
It’s not strictly necessary to buy holiday, birthday or shower gifts. But you still want to, right? If family or friends are getting hitched or having babies in the coming year, figure out how much you can afford to spend and then stick to that number.
Use a price comparison website like PriceGrabber.com or FatWallet.com to get the best deals you can. Set an alert so you’ll get an e-mail when the items you want hit the price point you can afford.
Still wondering if you can afford some of those gifts, especially if they involve trips to a wedding or driving across the state to see your sister’s baby? Maybe it’s time to …
Earn more money
Easier said than done, right? That’s why it’s a good idea to start now, rather than the week before a wedding. Some possibilities:
11. Sell yourself
Donate plasma, sign up for paid medical research — which could be as simple as giving a couple of vials of blood — maybe find a buyer for your hair.
12. Sell your stuff
Drop off clothes or accessories at a consignment shop. Sell the electronics you thought were a great idea but turned out to be somewhat extraneous. If you have specific knowledge about vintage Fiesta ware or pre-Mattel American Girl dolls, keep an eye out when shopping yard sales, thrift shops and Craigslist. For more info, see “Where to Sell Your Stuff for Top Dollar.”
13. Get a side gig
It doesn’t have to be a second part-time job; some people make good money from occasional work. Let it be known you’re available to walk a dog, house-sit, fix a computer, clean and organize a garage, baby-sit on a Saturday night, be the sign-waving guy dressed as the Statue of Liberty outside a tax-preparation joint.
Or head to a quick-gigs site like Fiverr or TaskRabbit. Someone might be willing to pay you to sing “Happy Birthday To You” in Klingon or break down and recycle boxes. For more possibilities, see “20 Odd Ways to Make Extra Money.”
Setting up on the cheap
You’ve saved up your deposits, built an emergency fund and planned for contingencies. But if you’re moving straight from college to single living then you might be shocked at how much you’ll need to set up housekeeping.
Your childhood home had a lot of stuff in it that you took for granted: dishes, cookware, baking soda, measuring spoons, laundry detergent. Or maybe you lived with roommates for years and someone else provided niceties like a sofa or a dining table and chairs.
Even just a few basics could cost you a lot, right when you’re trying to conserve. Try these tips to outfit yourself affordably:
Not everything there is a good deal. But you can’t beat a one-buck mop bucket.
15. Put it out in the universe
Need a table, a bookshelf, a lamp? Let it be known! A relative or friend, or someone known to a relative or friend, might be looking to sell such stuff cheaply. You might even …
16. Get it for free
Someone who’s moving or combining households might want to get rid of that table vs. having to pay to dispose of it. Keep checking Freecycle and the “free” section of Craigslist, too. I’ve seen some pretty nice furniture up for grabs. To avoid bringing home bedbugs, follow the tips in “How to Avoid Bedbugs – and How to Get Rid of Them.”
That’s not the only way to get freebies, though. Two more tactics:
17. Shop “curb mart”
That is, keep an eye on what neighbors put out on trash day or by the dumpster when they move. I’ve gotten stuff like bookshelves, a floor lamp, straight-back chairs, picture frames and a still-in-the-box computer mouse this way.
18. Let students buy it for you
Live in a college town? Find out when school lets out for the summer and also where students dump their stuff. You’ll be astonished at what people throw out because replacement is cheaper than shipping or storage.
Can’t get stuff for free? Maybe you could …
19. Get it secondhand
Yard sales can yield treasure on the cheap. Thrift stores vary in quality and selection, but you can usually find dishes, cookware, food-storage containers, lamps and other necessities.
Solo renters can’t rely on roommates to help subsidize the cost of lights, heat and water, or to kick in for Internet bills. Take a hard look at these costs.
20. Cut the cable
Plenty of people get by with stuff like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Instant Video. For best practices, see “How to Choose the Right Cord-Cutting TV Service.”
21. Get a better phone deal
Smartphones are becoming extensions of self. But you need not overpay to stay connected. Check out these Money Talks News pieces:
- “Secret Cell Plans: Savings Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Don’t Want You to Know About“
- “How to Get Free Cellphone Service“
- “Smarter Smartphones: How to Get Free Talk, Texts and Data“
- “7 Smart Ways to Save on the Latest Smartphones“
22. Shop around for Internet
The cost of getting online just keeps going up. When it’s bundled with phone and/or cable service it can be hard to decide to switch. Set aside a few hours to run the numbers for deals among the providers in your area.
Think about cutting the cable (see above) if it makes sense and running your phone and Internet separately. Finally, consider FreedomPop’s rechargeable wireless hotspot device; to learn more, see “How to Keep Free Internet in Your Pocket or Purse.”
23. Skip the dryer
You can hang most items vs. paying $1.50 per load to dry them. Besides, the dryer takes years off your duds with its heat and tumbling. If the washer/dryer is in your apartment (lucky you!), the dryer will make your place a lot hotter in the summer.
24. Cut back on A.C.
“5 Strange Ways to Stay Cool Without Air Conditioning” has tips that will help you raise the central-air setting or resist turning on the window unit. You might also try making this DIY air cooler for a cost about about $8.
25. Ignore the thermostat
Don’t turn the heat up five degrees every time you get a chill. Instead, take a tip (or a lot of them) from “Fighting Over the Thermostat in Your House? Here’s How to Win.”
26. Plug the leaks
Put rolled-up towels at door bottoms to keep cold air from leaking in. Ask the landlord if you can add caulk and weather stripping to the windows and foam gaskets to electrical outlets and switches. (Ask the landlord to pay for these, too.)
Eat to live (alone)
“Food” is the budget area with the most wiggle room. You probably can’t negotiate your rent or your car payment downward, but you can …
27. Learn to cook
Did you know how to set up a smartphone or put together a bookcase before you read the instructions? Get yourself a cookbook or go online for bonehead-simple recipes. Challenge yourself to recreate your favorite restaurant dishes.
28. Embrace “speed scratch”
Not every meal has to be hands-on. Buying a rotisserie chicken, a bag of salad greens and some baking potatoes to throw in the microwave is still cheaper than going out to eat. (Bonus: Leftovers!)
29. Get a slow cooker
We’ve gone way beyond casseroles made with cream of mushroom soup. Search the Internet for “slow cooker gourmet” and you’ll be amazed.
30. Batch cook
Spend one Saturday a month cooking a bunch of dishes and freeze them in you-sized portions.
31. Shop the bakery outlet
No, it doesn’t mean “stale bread.” We shop there regularly and get baked goods four or five (or more) days before their sell-by dates. Why pay $3.50 for a loaf of multigrain bread when you can pay $1.50?
32. Use coupons
Supermarkets and drugstores let you download Qs to your store loyalty card. Coupons + sales + in-store rebates = more money to throw against the rent.
33. Start a supper club
Got friends who like to cook? Make plans to cook for one another one night a month (or a week). Or do a lunch club if you have friends at work.
34. Eat what you want!
Some days you just don’t feel like cooking. When you live alone you can have a bowl of cereal for supper or eat ramen straight from the saucepan without your roommate(s) staring judgmentally at your food choice. Anyone who’s ever had a roomie go full-on vegan/gluten-free/Paleo and lecture everyone else nonstop will appreciate this option. While this isn’t healthy in the long term, it won’t hurt you now and then to eat a sliced tomato and a package of cheese crackers for supper.
Invite everyone over
Once you’re all moved in, it’s time to show off the new place. Entertaining at home solves two potential problems: If you’re bored and maybe a little bit blue, you might overspend to cheer yourself up, and it also keeps the “fun” section of your budget under control.
But isn’t entertaining expensive? Not necessarily. Try these frugal-fun tips:
35. BYOB wine tasting
Each friend brings an interesting yet still affordable plonk. You provide cheese and crackers or some other nibbly bits.
36. Game night
Board games. Online games. Charades. Improv. Whatev.
37. Host a potluck
Give just enough direction to make sure everyone doesn’t bring a salad, or chips and salsa.
38. Have a dinner party
It doesn’t have to be fancy! Make it a chili feed, cook a batch of spaghetti sauce, celebrate the summer with the freshest salad greens and ripest tomatoes you can find.
39. Binge watching
Got Netflix or Hulu? Watch as much of a favorite show as your guests can stand. Or borrow an entire season’s worth from the library. Provide snacks.
40. Sports night
Some friends, some chips and beer, your favorite sporting event – can’t get much easier.
41. Spa night
Invite a couple of BFFs for DIY beauty regimens – tons of tips exist online for facials, manicures, deep conditioners and the like. Talking about boys is optional.
Out on the (affordable) town
Getting out of the apartment now and then is good for you. Keep the entertainment section of your budget low by getting creative:
42. Gallery openings
Lots of cities have a “First Friday” or “Art Walk” event, wherein local galleries/museums schedule openings on the same night. Take a couple of pals to one or more of the openings. Bonus: You’ll probably get fed, since these events tend to feature hors d’oeuvres and maybe even wine.
43. Free museums
It’s often possible to beat those pesky fees at museums and also zoos and aquariums. For strategies, see “Free Admission to More Than 1,500 Museums, Aquariums and Zoos.”
44. Pay-what-you-can night
Some theater companies and comedy troupes offer “whatever you can afford to give” performances. Look for them in your area.
45. Free movies
Catch summer blockbusters and art films alike without paying. For specifics, see “7 Ways to Go to the Movies For Free.”
46. Social buying vouchers
Groupon, Living Social and others offer discounts – sometimes deep ones – to restaurants, shows and attractions. Keep your eyes peeled.
47. Discounted social buying vouchers
Sites like CoupFlip.com and CoupRecoup.com sell unwanted Groupons et al. at often-steep discounts. The cheapest one I ever saw was for a Chicago restaurant: $40 worth of tapas for $1.71.
48. Discounted gift cards
Want to go to a movie, eat at a chain restaurant, hit the links, bowl a few games? Go to the aggregator site GiftCardGranny.com and look for discounted gift cards for the places you want to be. I routinely get 20 percent off movie gift cards this way.
Not everyone can (or wants to) use all 48 frugal hacks. But unless you’re paid very well, then you’ll have to make some sacrifices if you want to live alone. Every dollar you can save on basics and frivolities alike is a dollar that can support your desire for peace and privacy.
What are your tips for living alone without breaking the bank?