Moving out on your own for the first time is an exciting milestone! The freedom to decorate your space however you want, stay up as late as you want, and eat cereal for dinner every night if you so desire. But with great freedom comes great financial responsibility.
When you live alone, you don’t have anyone to split costs with or fall back on if money gets tight. So while you’re riding the high of this new chapter, it’s crucial to financially prepare for living alone. Trust me, future you will thank you down the road. From budgeting wisely to holding yourself accountable, here are some practical ways to financially prepare for and gain confidence in living alone before flying the coop.
Understand the Financial Realities of Living Alone
It's More Expensive Than You Think
It’s important to fully grasp these new financial responsibilities that come with living alone and determine what lifestyle changes need to be made accordingly. For example, you’ll likely need to cut back on discretionary spending and those $5 lattes you’re used to grabbing on the way to work each morning. Keeping up your current spending habits simply won’t be realistic or sustainable when you’re the sole income source in your household. Be prepared to make serious budget cuts.
While this financial reality check may seem daunting at first, try to view it as an opportunity to become more financially savvy. With some practical planning and discipline, you can set yourself up for success living on your own. Think of it as an exciting challenge!
No One Will Notice if You Slip Up
It Can Get Lonely
While nurturing your social life is important, aim to do so in a budget-friendly way like hosting friends for potlucks or game nights at home versus expensive dinners out every weekend. Get creative with free and low-cost local activities like hiking, yoga in the park, book clubs or volunteering. And embrace solo hobbies like reading, writing, crafting or exercising at home. Building these habits wards off needless spending from boredom or loneliness.
Make a Detailed Budget Based on Your New Expenses
Failing to budget is essentially planning to fail, especially when you live alone. To gain control of your finances, you need clarity on where your money is going each month. Make a comprehensive budget that accounts for all your anticipated monthly living expenses like rent, groceries, transportation, utilities, student loan payments, and more. Apps like Mint, You Need A Budget (YNAB), EveryDollar and others can help track spending.
When creating your budget, be sure to include discretionary categories like entertainment, clothing, travel, gifts, and dining out. Allocating a set amount for these variable expenses will help curb overspending. Budget conservatively, and overestimate expenses until you have a good idea of your actual costs living alone. It’s better to have leftover funds than come up short.
Ideally, your necessary monthly expenses shouldn’t exceed 50% of your take-home income. This allows you to put money towards savings, debt repayment, and discretionary spending while still leaving some wiggle room in your budget. If your required expenses are above that 50% threshold, look for areas to trim spending. Downsize housing; reduce utility use, cut cable, lower cell phone bills, and pause discretionary spending until your budget is balanced.
- Build in a buffer for surprise expenses that will inevitably pop up. An extra $100-200 per month can cover unexpected car repairs, medical bills, etc.
- Overestimate variable expenses like groceries, utilities and transportation when planning your initial budget. Adjust as needed once you know your actual costs.
- Plan to spend extra in the first 1-2 months furnishing your place with essentials like cookware, towels, sheets and basic furniture. These startup costs add up.
- If you have credit card debt, pay more than the minimums to quickly pay it down before interest piles up. Don’t let balances linger.
- Use coupons, shop sales, buy generics and cook at home to cut grocery costs. Meal planning helps reduce food waste.
- See if you qualify for any utility assistance programs to lower internet, electric and water bills. Every dollar counts.
Secure Affordable Yet Livable Housing
For most people, housing will be the biggest expense when living alone. While it may be tempting to choose the cheapest studio apartment you can find, you have to weigh affordability with livability and safety.
Make sure to consider commute time to your workplace, proximity to public transportation if you don’t drive, access to grocery stores and other necessities, the general safety of the neighborhood (check crime rates!), management responsiveness, and reviews from current residents before choosing a place. You want to minimize housing costs without compromising quality of life or safety.
If your budget is tight, consider getting a roommate or renting a room in a shared house or apartment to cut costs. This allows you to split rent and utilities. Or look into income-restricted housing apartments that offer discounted rates for seniors, students or low-income renters if you qualify. Just be sure to clearly outline expectations and responsibilities if choosing to live with others.
- If staying with roommates, agree upfront on bill splitting, cleaning duties, overnight guests, noise levels and other house rules to avoid conflict.
- Look for apartments that include some utilities in rent to lower monthly bills. Units with a washer/dryer can also save on laundry costs.
- Ask about move-in specials to get 1-2 months free or reduced rent, waived deposits, gift cards or other incentives that lower overall costs.
- Consider micro apartments or studios with Murphy beds and convertible furniture to maximize small spaces. Make the most of every square foot!
- Fully understand the lease terms like rent increases, fees, parking, pets, utilities, termination policy etc. before signing anything.
Build Up a 3-6 Month Emergency Fund
When you live alone, you don’t have the financial safety net of family or a partner to fall back on if you face an unexpected crisis. That’s why it’s crucial to build up a rainy day emergency fund with 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses. This means having $6,000+ saved if your monthly costs are $1,000.
Start small by setting up automatic transfers from each paycheck to a high-yield savings account. Even if it’s only $20 or $50 a month at first, the balance will grow over time. Make it a habit to consistently contribute to your emergency fund until you reach your savings goal. Consider putting bonus money, tax refunds or cash gifts directly into savings.
Having this financial cushion will give you peace of mind if you face an unexpected medical bill, car repairs, temporary job loss, or other unplanned expense that would otherwise throw your finances into chaos. Don’t let an emergency derail all the hard budgeting work you did upfront.
Emergency Fund Tips
- Initially aim for $1000-2000 in emergency savings while aggressively paying down high-interest debt. Then focus on reaching the full 3-6 month goal.
- Keep emergency funds in an easily accessible account like an online, high-yield savings account versus investments that could lose value.
- Avoid the temptation to tap emergency savings for non-emergencies like vacations or luxury purchases. Get in that habit early.
- Set up automatic recurring transfers from checking to savings so contributions happen effortlessly over time. Out of sight, out of mind!
- Bolster your savings by setting money aside from tax refunds, bonuses, gift money or side gig earnings. Let your money work for you.
Explore Insurance Options to Protect Your Finances
In addition to an emergency fund, being properly insured is vital when you live alone. Health insurance is an obvious must to prevent massive medical bills if you get injured or ill. If your employer doesn’t offer health insurance, shop for plans on the healthcare marketplace that fit your budget. Compare out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and co-pays.
Also look into renters insurance, which covers theft or property damage of your belongings. Renter’s insurance also provides liability protection in case someone gets injured in your apartment. Costs are usually under $200 per year. And make sure you have adequate auto insurance if you own a car, reviewing your liability, collision and comprehensive coverage.
When you live solo, you can’t rely on a partner’s income or insurance if something happens. So review your coverage to avoid major out-of-pocket expenses if the unexpected strikes.
- See if you still qualify to stay on a parent’s health insurance plan until age 26. This can provide major savings.
- Compare renters insurance quotes to find the right amount of coverage at the lowest price. Don’t assume policies are equal.
- Bundle auto and renters policies with the same provider for multi-policy discounts. Maximize those savings!
- Consider supplemental short-term disability insurance in case you can’t work due to illness or injury. Don’t risk lost income.
- Document serial numbers and take photos of valuables in case you need to make an insurance claim down the road.
Make a Plan for Managing Student Loan and Credit Card Payments
If you have existing debts like student loans or credit cards, don’t neglect these just because you’re transitioning to living on your own. In fact, managing these debts responsibly is key to staying on track financially as a solo renter.
Make debt repayment an essential line item in your monthly budget. Pay at least the minimums on all debts, and funnel any extra money towards the loan or card with the highest interest rate first. Once that’s paid off, move to the next highest rate. This “debt avalanche” method saves the most on interest costs.
Consolidating multiple debts or refinancing student loans could help lower your monthly payments. But avoid extending loan terms which increases interest paid over the life of the loan.
Avoid relying on credit cards to cover basic living expenses. This slippery slope can quickly lead to accumulated debt that will take ages to pay off. Live within your means and leverage credit cards wisely. Make a plan to pay off card balances in full each month.
Debt Management Tips
- Explore income-driven repayment plans to potentially lower student loan payments to an affordable level based on your income.
- Pay more than the minimums when possible to combat interest and pay debts faster. Even an extra $20-50 per month makes a difference.
- Leave credit cards at home to reduce impulse spending. Consider freezing cards in ice so they take effort to access. Out of sight, out of mind!
- Consolidate multiple credit card balances to a lower rate card or personal loan to save on interest. But avoid racking debt back up.
- Automate extra debt payments so they happen without thinking. Set it and forget it! Stay disciplined.
Hold Yourself Accountable to Financial Goals
Share your budget, spending, financial wins and struggles. Let them look over your bank statements and offer advice. They can serve as an impartial third party to gently nudge you back on track when needed. Having someone help keep you accountable improves your odds of making smart money decisions.
Staying Accountable Tips
- Write down your financial goals and tape them somewhere visible like your bathroom mirror or fridge as a constant reminder. Out of sight, out of mind!
- Celebrate financial milestones by treating yourself to something inexpensive yet meaningful like a book, hike or museum visit. Positive reinforcement works!
- Join a money management support group to share struggles and celebrate wins with likeminded individuals. Find strength in numbers!
- Use budget tracking and net worth apps to visualize your progress over time. Numbers don’t lie! Visually track your money.
- If you slip up, get right back on track instead of giving up. Persistence is key to financial success. Don’t beat yourself up over missteps.
Additional Financial Preparation Tips
Pick up basic home repair skills to avoid calling costly handymen. Meal prep on weekends to save money and eat healthier. Build healthy money habits.
Learn Basic Home Repairs
When you own or rent your own place, you can’t call the landlord or parents to fix every little thing. Watch YouTube tutorials to learn basic home repairs like unclogging sinks and toilets, patching holes, replacing appliances and more. Stock your closet with essential tools and supplies so you can tackle minor issues yourself and avoid calling in expensive handymen whenever possible. Over time you’ll develop DIY skills that save cash.
Meal Plan and Prep
Preparing meals at home rather than dining out or buying takeout will save you a ton of money living alone. Make a weekly meal plan based on grocery store sales and coupons. Do bulk meal prep on weekends to have grab and go breakfasts, lunches and heat up dinners ready for busy workdays. Pack leftovers for easy work lunches. Meal prep leads to better eating habits while saving cash.
Develop Healthy Sleep Habits
Living alone for the first time often means staying up late binge-watching shows since no one will tell you to go to bed. But burning the midnight oil leaves you groggy and unproductive the next day, hurting work and fitness goals. Stick to a regular sleep schedule and wind down pre-bedtime routine. Your mental and physical health (and wallet) will thank you.
Start an Affordable At-Home Hobby
Between work, commuting, and chores, solo living can feel lonely if you don’t make time for fun. Find a hobby that fulfills you creatively and socially. Ideas include journaling, learning an instrument, painting, exercising at home, reading, gardening and more. Building these habits wards off needless spending from boredom or loneliness.
Learn to Love Leftovers
When cooking for one, you’ll likely have leftovers. Resist the urge to toss them! Portion out leftovers into individual containers to reheat for easy lunches and dinners later in the week. Soups, stews, casseroles, roasted veggies and grains generally reheated well. You can eat affordably while still enjoying a variety of meals. Waste not, want not!
Additional Budget Saving Tips
Here are more great tips and strategies for reducing expenses and staying on budget when living alone:
Buy Generic Food Brands
Opt for store brand and generic labels rather than name brands. You’ll often save 30-50% on basics like canned goods, cereal, pasta, frozen foods and more. Taste and nutrition are usually comparable.
Cook Large Batch Meals
Making a big pot of chili, soup, pasta dish, or casserole allows you to eat multiple meals from one cooking session. Portion out leftovers into individual containers to freeze or refrigerate. Bulk cooking saves time and money.
Cancel Unused Subscriptions
Audit your recurring expenses for things you no longer use like gym memberships, streaming services, subscription boxes, cloud storage plans, etc. Cut out anything you don’t regularly utilize to free up cash. Those small unused fees add up.
Buy Used Furniture
Furnishing an entire place alone gets pricey. Save substantially by shopping used furniture from thrift stores, garage sales, Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. You can often find quality pieces at a fraction of retail price if you patiently hunt for deals.
Learn to DIY Simple Home Repairs
Instead of calling a handyman for every little thing, watch some YouTube tutorials and tackle basic repairs like fixing leaks, squeaky hinges, clogged drains or garage door openers yourself. Invest in some basic tools and supplies for minor DIY fixes.
Buy Smart Kitchen Staples
Build your pantry with versatile ingredients like eggs, beans, rice, oats, pasta, frozen vegetables, chicken breasts, and other basics to assemble easy, affordable meals at home. Meal plan around what’s on sale or already in your kitchen.
Moving out on your own is an priceless growing experience. But flying solo also means taking full responsibility for your finances. From budgeting to insurance to debt management, take the time to thoughtfully put protections and healthy money habits in place. Your future independent self will thank you!
Second Star Financial has years of experience helping people settle debt and achieve financial freedom. Our proven debt settlement program can assist you in taking control of high-interest, unmanageable debts. Contact us for a free consultation to review your situation and see if our program is right for you. Let us guide you on your journey to becoming debt-free.