Getting out on your own for the first time can be a fun and exciting time, from finding a place to live to that gratifying feeling of independence. It can also be challenging, though, if you’re not fully prepared.
While you’re still living at home, it can be difficult to make a solid roadmap for a smooth transition in your new home. Making sure that you are ready, financially and emotionally, will set you up for success. Following these seven steps will take the stress out of your big leap.
1. Make a Budget
Draw up a list of what you'll need for basic expenses—this should include rent, heat, gas, utilities, food, and transportation. You'll also need to be clear about exactly what your income is. If it fluctuates, account for that by budgeting with the minimum you earn to avoid shortfalls. You can look at your online banking account to help determine your typical monthly income and purchases, but be sure to include the cost of things that previously were covered by living with your parents.
Besides basic living expenses, you’ll want to budget for non-essentials, such as going out for coffee, a movie or buying clothes. Remember that you can always adjust your budget and these costs can be cut to meet your needs.
2. Build a Contingency Fund
Saving for unexpected events, such as major car repairs or losing your job will keep you from having to move back in with your parents if you can’t make it on your own. In general, experts recommend calculating an emergency fund and creating one that can cover about three months' worth of expenses.
At least start out with a $500 to $800 reserve to cover minor emergencies and unforeseen problems, but be sure to add to it along the way. Consider that if you don’t, you could wind up taking on debt to cover unexpected costs—and you’ll want to avoid that financial burden.
3. Establish Good Credit
Building up good credit is an essential part of becoming financially independent. Find out what determines your credit score, and use an online free resource to see what your three-digit score is. Be sure to correct any errors on the report (you can find out how to do this on most credit score reporting sites, like Experian or TransUnion). Landlords will be checking your score to judge your ability to pay the rent before you're approved for an apartment, so make sure to inquire about what the credit score requirements are for apartments you're considering. If you are buying a home, mortgage lenders look at the score in deciding whether they should risk giving you a loan.
One way to build credit is to use a credit card responsibly by paying off balances on time, in full, each month if at all possible. If you can’t get approved for a credit card, check into getting a secured credit card, a co-signed card, or ask your parents or another person to let you be an authorized user on their card.
4. Test Drive Your Plan
While you’re still living with your parents, try out your budget for a month or two and see how it works. Pay rent to your parents or have them put that amount aside for your security deposit and first and last months’ rent for your new apartment.
You can use a budgeting app to help you stay on track, or, consider using cash or a debit card to keep within your budget and avoid credit card debt with crippling interest charges.
Along with all of this, test out buying your own food and practicing cooking at home (dramatically less expensive than eating out). Use a budget calculator and find out how much you can save simply by making your own coffee rather than patronizing coffee shops.
5. Find Your New Place
Location and price are two major factors in choosing a place that is safe and feels right for you. A widely held recommendation is that your housing, including utilities, Internet and cable, should be no more than 30% of your take-home pay.
Consider how the location affects the time and cost involved in commuting to work. You will need to balance the location with your priorities for apartment features such as laundry facilities, a dishwasher, parking (if needed) and air conditioning. If it’s difficult to find a place that suits your needs as well as your budget, think about getting a roommate to share expenses.
Remember to budget for moving expenses, such as truck rental or moving company services—or at least pizza for friends and family who may be helping you. Make a budget for home essentials such as curtains, silverware, rugs, and cleaning products that you’ll need when you move in.
6. Strive to Get Rid of Debt
It’s ideal to get out of debt or at least have a manageable plan for debt reduction before moving out on your own. First target high-interest debt, such as your credit card balances, so they don’t balloon into a huge burden for years. Look at refinancing student loan debt, but if you already have low-interest debt such as this, you can likely pay the minimum—just be sure to include it in your budget for getting established in your new place.
7. Plan with Your Parents and Thank Them, Too
Talk with your parents about your plans and goals for moving out. They'll appreciate your efforts to handle the move responsibly, and it’s wise to respect their guidance on the matter. After all, they’ve been through this before, and this is what they’ve been preparing you for all along the way.
Making the leap to living on your own is an emotional step as well as a financial one. Acknowledge what your parents have done for you and come up with a plan for staying in touch with them. You’ll feel a sense of maturity that will be satisfying and it will set the stage for a healthy, lifelong relationship.
Striking out on your own may seem daunting, but by following these seven steps, you’ll have created a solid plan. This will give you a foundation for your new start, so you can feel the exhilaration of getting out into the world, truly on your own, for the first time.