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9 Unexpected Housing Expenses College Students Should Budget For

Moving out of your parents’ home or the dorm is an exciting milestone, but it’s easy to overlook some of the new responsibilities you’ll be facing. If you’re taking the leap into becoming a first-time renter, having realistic expectations when it comes to your budget is essential. 
According to uAspire, a nonprofit organization that focuses on college affordability, one in five full-time students attending community college in California had difficulty affording their rent off campus or couldn’t pay all their utility bills even after receiving financial aid and grant payouts. Don’t get caught off guard — whether you’re looking at a one-time charge or ongoing expense, budgeting for your apartment means more than setting aside money for rent.

5 One-Time, Move-in Expenses You Need to Save For

Security deposit

When renting — whether a private room or an apartment unit — you’ll need to pay a security deposit. These funds are used at the end of your lease agreement to pay for damage to the property or unpaid rent. You might receive some, all, or none of your security deposit back, depending on the condition of your rental unit when you leave and whether you’re up-to-date on your rent.

This amount is separate from your monthly rental payment. The security deposit amount is determined by your landlord but is typically equivalent to one or two months of rent. 

If you don’t have a solid credit history or are still working towards building your credit, you might be asked to pay a larger security deposit or more rent upfront. One way around this is getting a cosigner, like a parent with strong credit, on your rental lease agreement.

Last month’s rent

In addition to a security deposit, paying your last month’s rent is a preliminary move-in cost that not all students anticipate. The last month’s rent gives landlords financial protection if you don’t pay up — or underpay — on your final rent payment after submitting your 30-day notice to end your lease. It’s another contingency for the landlord if you choose not to commit to your renter responsibilities.

According to Apartment Guide’s September 2021 Rent Report, the national average rent for a one-bedroom apartment unit is $1,663. Considering your last month’s rent is typically paid in addition to your first month’s rent, you could be looking at a more than $3,000 lump sum payment immediately upon or even before moving in.

Pet fees

Some landlords and management companies ask for an upfront pet fee if you plan on keeping a furry companion in your rental. This fee can range from as low as $50 to as high as $500 or more, depending on your location and your pet’s size.

Broker fees

If you used a broker to find your apartment, you might be charged a one-time broker fee. A broker fee is essentially a finder’s fee and is paid to the person or entity that sourced your new place for you and communicated with the landlord on your behalf.

Fees for rental brokers are typically a percentage of your annual rent amount. On average, you can expect to pay a one-time fee of 12% to 15% of the annual rent for your first year. This is a steep expense so hunt for your own apartment whenever possible.

Furniture

Sure, your apartment can be sparsely furnished — sans bed frame with a mattress on the floor and a thrifted bean bag that doubles as your couch. But having a comfortable space to live, eat, sleep, and study can help you be a more effective student, too.

According to the National Retail Federation, dorm and apartment furnishing are among the top three spending categories anticipated for the back-to-college season, at $9.7 billion in expected sales

Furniture costs are highly variable depending on where you live, whether you stick to essential furnishings or add decorative items, and if you choose to shop for new or used furniture. So make sure to include core furniture pieces, like a bed, desk, and chair, into your moving budget.

Note: You can learn how to furnish your rental on a budget in our guide here.

4 Ongoing Expenses to Build Into Your Monthly Budget

Renters insurance

Having a renters insurance policy can protect your belongings in the event of damage or theft or if visitors experience an injury in your rental space. This coverage can be handy if your place is broken into and essential, high-cost items, like a laptop, are stolen.

The amount you’ll pay depends on your personal property, where you live, the size of your space, and your policy coverage options, but the national average remains low at only $19 per month. A minimal expense, especially if it’s split among roommates.

Utilities and internet

In addition to your monthly rent and rental insurance, you’ll have to pay utilities and internet bills. These necessary costs cover utility services like electricity, water, and gas. Of course, as a digitally connected student, you’ll need Wi-Fi access in your apartment — whether for virtual Zoom class sessions, accessing email, or conducting online research for a paper.

According to RentCafe, the average electricity bill for a one-bedroom apartment if you live alone is $94 per month; the average water bill is $39 per month. And these estimates don’t include other utilities mentioned above, like gas and the internet. Plan on budgeting approximately $300 per month, depending on your location.

Transportation 

Living away from school means you’ll need to commute to classes and campus activities. If you live in an apartment that’s not within walking distance from campus, you’ll need to bake transportation costs into your monthly budget. 

You can choose to take public transportation, which is a more affordable option compared to buying a car. A 30-day bus pass, for example, might cost less than $100 per month, and some cities offer a student discount with proof of a student ID.  

More like this: What is Subletting? The Extensive Guide to Subletting Your Rental

If you decide to buy a car, expect to pay significantly more to purchase and maintain it. Underlying costs of car ownership include the price of the vehicle, car insurance, routine maintenance, and repairs. Some landlords also only provide a parking space for an additional fee. And, don’t forget — you’ll likely need to pay for an annual campus parking permit if you can’t find free street parking, too.

Food 

As a newfound renter, you won’t be able to rely on your school’s dining hall for your daily sustenance. You’ll need to fend for yourself when it comes to food, which means additional weekly or monthly out-of-pocket expenses. 

The average monthly cost for food prepared at home is $352. However, if you’re not careful about spending while dining out, your food expenses can balloon to an average of $597 per month. 

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