Steve Harper
Where can I afford to live

Like a home mortgage, monthly rent is a serious financial commitment. Before you get in over your head, you need to understand where you can afford to live. Follow these simple steps to calculate how much rent you can afford before you sign the lease.

What's coming in

What you make each month will be the biggest factor in what you can afford. As a rule of thumb, you should be paying no more than 28 percent of your income to rent.

More on making the most of your budget:


What's going out

These numbers can be harder to keep track of, especially if you don't yet have a budget. First, get down on paper all of your fixed expenses. Those will include your current rent, deposits, and fees. Be sure to have on hand all current monthly loan payments, including car loan and credit cards and totals for child care, health insurance (if not deducted from salary), membership dues, phone, internet, and cable service. Determine a fixed number for things like savings, clothing purchases, charitable donations, and money to help other family members.

For variable expenses, gather invoices and receipts of your medical, dental, utility, food, gasoline, car repair, and entertainment expenses from the last 12 months. (If you bank online, you can check expenses through your online account.) This will give you an average of your monthly expenditures. You will also need records of annual or semi-annual payments such as car insurance and taxes. Be sure to set aside an estimate of what an emergency car repair, ER visit or last-minute plane ticket might cost as well. The goal is to calculate a budget that's as accurate as possible.

Balance the numbers

Once you've got a total for income and expenses, subtract the latter from the former. Ideally, you want to come out with a 10 percent margin in your favor. If your income and expense numbers are too close, go through your expenses and figure out where you can cut. Shopping for cheaper utilities, insurance, cable, credit card rates, and phone plans is a great place to start.

The right rent fit

Once you have a rent range in mind, start apartment hunting and see what's out there in terms of neighborhood, space, and amenities. Perhaps you'll discover your wants and your finances are in sync with each other.

If you aren’t coming up with many or any choices, make adjustments either in your apartment expectations or your other monthly expenses. Keep realistically fine-tuning your apartment hopes with the money you have to work with until you have reached a good compromise that (ideally) will leave you some wiggle room each month.

Looking for an apartment can be stressful, especially if it's your first time. But if you are detailed and accurate in calculating your monthly income and expenses, you can surely find an apartment that you can comfortably afford.

More on how to become a budgeting expert:

Top Budgeting Resources for 20-Somethings
Has a Move Changed Your Budget Plan?
That's No Hole in Your Wallet: College Students' Spending Habits

Photo by Sasha • Stories on Unsplash



About The Author

Steve Harper enjoys seeking out and writing about topics that matter to renters for the Apartment Guide Blog. He hails from Atlanta, Georgia. Find Steve on Google.