We are famous!
Earlier this week, the Science Scholars Podcast released an episode where the poscasters (is that a word?) interviewed me about Money and Megabytes. The podcast is run by a couple graduate students and longtime friends who break down key topics in science into nice, digestible episodes. You can check out their podcasts, including the episode in which I was interviewed (#48), on their website or basically anywhere else you listen to podcasts (iTunes, Google Play, etc.). Enjoy!
Today, we tackle what for many of us is our biggest living expense: our living expense (aka rent). This post will focus on renting, rather than buying, since that is where my experience lies. And lest you think that renting is somehow inferior to buying, educate yourself here (Thanks, JL Collins!) and in the articles linked at the bottom before locking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in a non-appreciating asset. Am I saying that renting is definitely better than buying? Absolutely not. There are definitely situations where buying is the better choice. But in the US we tend to greatly over-emphasize buying. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to ask whether it’s time to buy, it’s probably not time to buy.
As I said, rent is likely your largest monthly expense, which means that there’s plenty of room for optimization in this area of spending that can greatly influence your ability to achieve financial independence. It’s also an area where a little thought and effort can result in huge savings with no loss in quality of life. With those things in mind…
How to Rent an Apartment
- Put some effort into your housing search. Several months before you plan on moving, start browsing Craigslist1In the areas I’ve lived, this has been the best resource. I’m not sure if this is true across the country, so feel free to browse elsewhere (Zillow, others) as well. for available units. Use the filters on the left to narrow things down. It’s especially useful to use the “minimum” price filter along with the “maximum” price filter in order to eliminate scam listings. And speaking of scam, never email somebody your social security number, in case that wasn’t obvious. Check Craigslist regularly, as new places become available all the time and great deals don’t last long. When you see something promising, send an email or make a call and try to schedule an appointment to see the place. As nice as the pictures might look, there’s no substitute for the real thing. I cannot overemphasize the regular browsing of potential options. Finding a good deal that suits your needs takes some work on the front end.
- Avoid luxury apartments. Honestly, I find these things to be a little silly. Here’s the typical setup: small to medium sized units, really fancy lobbies, and almost always empty gyms featuring refrigerated towels and FREE water bottles. Free except for the extra 200% you pay on rent. Seriously, tiny studio apartments in these buildings often rent for more than the price Joe, myself, and the Third Roommate Who Shall Not Be Named split for our spacious, 3 bedroom place. And if you’re really craving “luxury”, stick your own towel in your own fridge before going on a run on the single treadmill in your building. It’ll be available just like all 16 of the treadmills at the luxury place. Or just run outside :).
- Live close to work. In case you forgot, driving costs more than 50 cents a mile. If at all possible, try to live within biking distance from work. You avoid the ridiculous cost of driving AND you don’t have to pay for parking. OR, look for a place with easy access to public transportation. And if you think it’s impossible to find an affordable place with these restrictions, check out point #1. You can do it!
- Roommates. Roommates. Roommates. If you are single, live with other people. In our city, the price of a studio or one bedroom apartment of similar quality2But obviously much smaller to our place can be almost double what each of us pay. For some reason, certain people think that living with roommates is just this scary nightmare of daily fighting or passive aggressiveness. In reality, I see my roommates probably less than an hour a day and our lives are pretty much completely non-interfering (other than occasionally having to wait for the stove or oven for 10 minutes). In fact, I didn’t even know Joe3We had briefly met 2 or 3 times before we started living together, and now we’ve produced this entire website together! If you don’t have a family, you can live with a roommate. Find someone you know/trust4Or not, if you’re like Joe and I 🙂, and make it happen.
- Negotiate prices. Not a whole lot to explain here. Rent prices are often not set in stone. Our readers are smart, responsible adults who make good tenants. Play that up, especially if you’re renewing a lease. This also happens to be a great time for price negotiation, since having a place empty for a month can be costly to the owners.
- Reassess your options at the end of your lease. Don’t just blindly renew. Go through step #1 and see what else is out there. Moving is a pain, but it’s a very brief, temporary pain that can result in huge savings for a long time. Additionally, what you find can be used as a negotiation tool.
- Don’t settle. Kind of related to point #1, don’t just settle on an OK place that’s a little pricey because it’s “easier”. The three of us live in a building with a 24 hour doorman, a covered parking spot, a small gym (always empty), a pool, a brand new smoker5I was nearly drooling as they were installing this. It’s awesome!, washer/dryer in the unit, hardwood floors, a nice view from the 8th floor, south facing windows to keep us warm in the winter without any heat6More on this later!, and a rent so cheap it makes people’s jaw drop when they find out what it is. And we just renewed for a second year at the same rent7step #5 came in handy here. And also it’s 1.5 miles from work and right next to a free shuttle just in case we’re too lazy to ride bikes to work. Was it easy to find this place? No. Is it perfect? No, we’ve needed multiple repairs. But it suits our needs, the price is more than reasonable, and I can honestly say I enjoy living there. Of course, having awesome roommates really helps.
Got any tips to add? Let us know in the comments!