Serial Renter

Serial Renter: Apartment affordability for beginners

By Caren Maio  | November 21, 2011 - 12:58PM

It’s no secret that NYC is one of the most expensive cities in the world. It’s easier to lose control of your cash faster than you can say ‘flat broke.’ I’m far from a financial professional, but on my first move, I experienced my fair share of apartment drama by not taking into account all that would be required of me from a financial standpoint.

For those of you just starting out, I’ve put together a few quick tips I’ve picked up along the way to help you get your apartment-related finances under control.

Tip #1: Get real.

In order to find an apartment with a price tag you can handle, you should figure out the input and output of your expenses and what it would cost to go all-in on your new apartment (including all appropriate fees, deposits).

Take your net income and subtract your regular monthly expenses. What’s left is what you can spend on one-off expenses, going out to dinner, traveling, or other social activities. If there are any one-off, but consistent, charges you know you’ll be making, make sure to include them in your tallied list of expenses. For me, I know I’m going to be traveling at least 2x every year, so I always make sure to include general airfare costs in my expense breakdown.  

If you don’t put yourself on an allowance, it might be a good idea to start budgeting your weekly spend. Sit down, just you and your bank statement, and get acquainted. You’re probably spending more than you think, and it’s a great way to assess if there’s anywhere you can cut costs.  

Tip #2: Stick to a budget.

No matter what. On my first apartment, I really overextended myself financially and opted for an apartment that was a couple hundred dollars over my max spend. While I couldn’t have been happier with the apartment itself, I couldn’t afford to do much more than sit in it all day!

When determining your apartment price range, start with this rule of thumb: rent should be no more than 30% of your gross monthly income. If you find yourself grossly exceeding 30% of your gross monthly income, it might be time to look at different price points or add a roommate to the mix to offset some costs.

If all else fails, you’ll want to revert to tip #1 to determine if there’s something else you can cut back on to increase your rent budget a bit (i.e. make your coffee every morning rather than spend $5 on a latte).

Tip #3: Stay ahead of the curve.

I’ve had friends splurge on items impulsively, completely losing sight of the fact that they’d have to write out a large rent check the following week. Some went into temporary (but steep) credit card debt, while others had to make the hard call to mom and dad to ask for a loan.

 Be mindful of when your rent is due, and make sure you always have enough in your account to cover it.  In fact, at the end of each month, you should already have next month’s rent in your bank account. You don’t want to start playing the catch-up game, and living paycheck to paycheck is the worst.

Bottom line: Never spend more than what you make. Know what you can afford in each area of your life – from rent to furnishings to social activities.  Once you have a good handle on your budget, you’ll be able to settle into an apartment that you can feel great about and maybe even have some change to spare.

Happy hunting,


Caren Maio is the CEO & Co-Founder of Nestio.coma website that makes it easy for renters to collect and organize rental listings from any site. She currently lives downtown in a boutique elevator building that has ten coffee shops in a three-block radius (a feature she claims sealed the deal--but the washer-dryer didn't hurt either). 

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