Leslie’s Guide to Moving: Part 1 – Determining What You Can Afford

Leslie’s Guide to Moving: Part 1 – Determining What You Can Afford


I am putting together a moving guide to chronicle my most recent move to a new apartment. The guide will include finding a new apartment, moving cheaply & efficiently, and adapting to a new lifestyle.

Before you can start looking for a new place to live, you need to determine what you can afford. You may desire to live in a certain part of town, style of apt, or have your own place, but before you can even get started looking, you should make a realistic budget to keep you within your means.

Signing the lease on an apartment then realizing the rent makes your comfort of living tighter than you’d like, is a recipe for credit card debt.

Yes, this entire guide will involve apartments – I’m just not ready for mortgages yet.

The 30% Rule

Take your current budget, or create a new one if you don’t already have one (but you should!) and start plugging in a few increased rent numbers. It helps if your budget can show you the percentage of your income.

The “golden rule” is that your rent should be no more than 30% of your monthly income. Start with that.

Put in a rent amount that equals 30% of your income into the budget. Now look at the rent prices for your desired living situation and see how that matches up. Higher? Lower?

Keep in mind that your lifestyle may change as well. If you move to an area with a lot entertainment options, restaurants, or 24 hour places, you may find yourself spending more on eating out than you are used to. Try to factor this into your budget!

Moving to a Higher Cost of Living

I have been working in New York City for the past year commuting an hour and twenty minutes from central New Jersey paying 13% of my income on commuting.

I decided in the beginning of the year that I wanted to move closer to or directly to the city. However, I also knew that there would be a huge difference in rent.

I immediately began toying around with numbers on spreadsheets, comparing living on my own to living with roommates.

Living Sans Car

The most important factor I had to keep in mind with this type of move, is that I would not need a car. So, the first change I made was to take my current budget (from January) and add up my car expenses.

EZ Pass: $25 (not monthly)
Car Gas: $120
Insurance: $154

That alone is almost $300 without factoring in any car repair/maintenance. That extra money can go towards my rent without noticing much of a difference.

Moving closer to work means commuting will be cheaper. Moving into the city will reduce my commuting cost by at least $200.

That is $500/month saved simply by moving closer to work and selling my car.

Living With Roommates

Budget 1000/month in rent

In January, my rent was $535/month. Putting all of the car savings into this means I can easily afford $1,000/month rent. This is a reasonable rent price in nyc with roommates.

Even though it brings my rent percentage to 37% of my monthly income, it allows me to put over 10% into my emergency fund and meet my goals of adding to a travel and entertainment fund as well.





Living On My Own

Playing with the numbers some more, let’s see if I could comfortably afford my own apartment.

Budget 1500/month in rent

Jumping up to $1,500 rent (55%) of my income puts me into the red by $150. If I really wanted to try to make it work I have a few options: stop going to therapy, don’t put any money into savings, or stop paying my student loan (I am paid ahead).

Really though, that might be a bit unrealistic. I would worry about cutting into my savings when going over my entertainment budget or buying clothes. Also, this does not allow for any travel fund savings.




Budget 1350/month in rent

Now let’s try another 1BR option, a little bit cheaper to put me right at 50% and just barely above the line with $2.00 left at the end of the month. This includes putting 5% into the emergency fund every month, and not into any other saving fund. This is do-able though would not leave much wiggle room. However, privacy is definitely a worthy bonus.   







Go Get Started

Now that you have mocked up some budgets, you have an idea of what price range you can and cannot afford for rents. This will keep your apartment hunting in the realistic realm.

Readers, what do you think?

How much of your income could you comfortably spend on rent? What types of sacrifices would you make to be in your ideal living situation? To live in a highly desirable area, how much of the 30% rule should be thrown out the window? Would you sacrifice adding money to savings or paying a bill to live in your perfect place?

If you’re curious what I decided, subscribe to my feed so you can read part 2 of my Ultimate Moving Guide as soon as it is posted!


10 Replies to “Leslie’s Guide to Moving: Part 1 – Determining What You Can Afford”

  1. I love this post, Leslie! Especially because I’ve been weighing my options as I plan to move.
    Right now, I pay 36 percent of my take-home pay on rent (that’s after taxes, health insurance and 401k contributions are taken out). I live alone in a 1-bedroom, which has been important to me.

    I, however, would like to reduce my monthly rent costs so that I can save more to replace my car and travel. That means, pretty much, not living alone anymore. I think it’s harder for single ladies to go cheap on housing than it is for say, couples or men. Why? We can’t live in shady neighborhoods because it may be too dangerous to be worth it. I also am very cautious about roommates and co-ed living situations (like a big house with 6 bedrooms each rented out). If there are 4 guys and 1 girl in the house, I’m not renting that 6th bedroom, even if it would be super cheap.

    So that has been tricky for me as I try to cut my housing costs (I already live in a cheaper area) without putting myself at risk.

    1. Glad to help Dee! See, I have always lived with roommates for as long as I have lived on my own. The largest apt I have lived in was a 4BR and I that was a bit too much. A 3BR, living with 2 other people, seems pretty reasonable. Since I have lived with roommates for so long, the thought of living alone is a little bit overwhelming to me; partly for the safety aspect.

      Good luck with your move! I hope the rest of my guide will be beneficial to you as well.

  2. Very interesting post for planning a move! I never thought about it, but it makes sense to limit oneself to the guideline of 30% of income for rent expenses, since there are so many other expenses associated with moving out on your own. I am a recent college graduate and I struggle with balancing my finances, so I will definitely make us of your budgeting sheet. Thanks for sharing! Hope you get to move to your perfect place :) even if it means making 10% of sacrifices in other areas….!

  3. I feel like the 30% rule is for people who have cars to maintain. Personally, I’m comfortable spending more in rent because it means I can bike to work, and even pubic transportation is under $80/month.

    As for roomies or no roomies…tough call. I’m not particularly good at living with other people, so most roomies are not a good option for me.

    My situation is unique. I live with my fiance and his little sister, and they are both students. The rent for the three of us is almost what I bring home in a month, but my share of the rent is 36% of my income. It’s all family though so in a way, the money is our money, not my money. Wacky stuff.

    Can’t wait to hear what route you went!

    1. You are right Sarah. The 30% rule mainly makes sense if you also have car expenses. However, seeing 50% of my income going to rent looks odd at first!

  4. As close to 30% is the best way to go. My mortgage is 32% of my take home pay. This works great as it is best to not spend all your money on a place to live.

  5. Hey! I just started reading your blog and love it! I’m planning to use your budget template. I have an issue with this 30% rule. I do agree that rent/mortgage should be around this. However, I feel this is completely unrealistic for people who live in NYC. Honestly I feel as if you keep it at around 50% that’s awesome. Of course, anything under than that would be great. Our rents are not cheap. Finding something at or below $1,100 is like winning the lottery. Although you’ll have to see where that price takes you…usually at least an hour commute from the city proper. On top of that, you’ll probably have utilities to pay for. I do love your budgets for moving though. How about budgeting the broker’s fee?

    1. Thanks! And you are right, 50% of income when not owning a car makes sense. For budgeting a broker’s fee, I would put that into “misc move” expenses.

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