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What I Wish I Knew Before I Moved Out on My Own

Andrew Littlefield
Keys to an apartment for someone moving out on their own for the first time.

After graduating with my masters degree and scoring my first “adult” job, I made the decision to leave roommates behind and rent a studio apartment of my own. Looking back, there are a few things I wish I knew before I made that big life choice.

But don’t worry, this article isn’t trying to talk you out of living alone—on the contrary! Moving into my own place was one of the best decisions I ever made. But there are definitely some headaches I could’ve avoided with the hindsight I now have. 

Moving out on your own is a thrilling adventure filled with newfound freedom and independence. However, it also comes with its fair share of challenges and responsibilities. Here are some insights and stories from my experience to help you prepare for this exciting journey.

Financial Responsibilities

Obviously, this is the biggest consideration when looking to move out on your own. Here’s what I found to be the most important bits.

Budgeting is key: When I got my first career-oriented job, that first paycheck felt like winning the lottery. The problem was, I underestimated how quickly expenses could add up. Of course, I had paid bills in college, but they really have a way of ramping up when you start adulthood. There are always unexpected expenses that seem to pop up, especially when you’re moving. Turns out you need such-and-such insurance policy, you need to buy a bunch of new furniture (or do you?) cleaning supplies, the list goes on. Plus, adulthood comes with some lifestyle changes that cost money as well. Dates, happy hours—all these things add up.

Emergency fund: Out of college, I drove a hunk of junk car. It was a 1996 VW Jetta and it broke down constantly and was always insanely expensive to fix. My budget really should’ve accounted more for an emergency cash fund. This would have saved me from some uncomfortable credit card bills (more on that later).

I find it helpful to put my bill paying money (including savings/emergency funds) into a separate account of some kind with direct deposit. That way, I don’t even see the money. It goes into the bill account and those bills are set up on auto-payment. For me personally, seeing my paycheck hit and then quickly get drained by bills was stressful.

Credit score: Credit scores can be such a mystery. And at the risk of sounding like an old man (“BACK IN MY DAY!”), it was even worse back when I first moved out. Back then, you couldn’t even check what your credit score was without going through a special application process.

Now, most banking apps let you check it anytime. And while I would caution against obsessing over every tiny movement of your credit score, I also believe in the maxim “you improve what you measure.” Keeping an eye on your credit score will help you learn what hurts it and what helps it.

This is most important to pay attention BEFORE you start applying for apartments, as most landlords will want to check your credit. Keeping it healthy will improve your odds of getting the home you want.

Finding the Right Place

Obviously, where you live matters. Housing is dictated pretty much by just three factors: location, size, and cost. Like most things in life, you can have two but not all three.

You want to live in the center of the city but not pay too much? You’ll be looking at small places.

Want a big place and be in the center of the city? Be prepared to pay high rent.

You get the idea.

Location: Choosing the right neighborhood is pretty important, but I will say this—be open to areas you maybe hadn’t previously considered. In most big cities, you can find hidden gems that are maybe not in the trendiest spot.

Most importantly, consider your commute. All commutes are NOT created equal. When I first moved out on my own, I had a 45 minute commute by car. The problem was, that commute could turn into multiple hours if traffic backed up on the interstate (which, being in Atlanta, it always did). Besides taking away from my free time, it was also incredibly stressful.

Now I live in New York City. My commute is still 45 minutes, but I bike instead. I don’t have to worry about traffic and I quite enjoy getting some light exercise in to start and finish my day. I actually look forward to my commute now!

Studio apartment with hi-tech murphy bed

Managing Household Chores

Chores are a mixed bag with roommates. You have more people to split the work with, but you also have to contend with people whose cleanliness habits maybe don’t align with your own.

Cleaning: Living on your own can make it easy to let cleaning go by the wayside. After all, you’ve only got yourself for accountability. When I moved out on my own, I found cleaning schedules to be quite helpful. "There are plenty of templates out there, but I use the app Sweepy to remind me when to clean."

Cooking: Cooking when I lived with roommates was relatively easy. A typical recipe was plenty to feed all three of us and we could split duties throughout the week. 

When I moved out on my own, things became a bit more challenging. Cooking for one person can be difficult and I found myself falling back on take out (which wrecked my budget) or frozen meals (not the healthiest choice).

Personal Safety and Security

As a male, I have some privileges in regard to personal safety and security living on my own that others may not enjoy. But your first few nights living on your own can be a bit of a spooky experience.

Meet your neighbors: It’s good to have people who can look out for you! It may feel corny or old school, but knocking on the neighbor’s door when you move in and introducing yourself is a huge advantage when it comes to safety. When I first moved out, my next door neighbors were a middle aged married couple who always had my back. I knew if I ever needed anything, they would be more than willing to assist.

Locks and keys: Security tech has come a long way since I first moved out on my own. Smart locks, wi-fi cameras, all of these things can be purchased for a relatively low price and set up in minutes. If they help you sleep better at night, I say go for it.

Insurance: Many apartments will require you to carry renter’s insurance. When I first moved out, it was something I considered cutting to save some money, but in the end I’m glad I got a policy. Renter’s insurance policies are typically very, very cheap and offer some nice peace of mind in case of an accident. Plus, many policies cover things like bike theft, which is far more likely than a building fire. 

Social Life and Relationships

Perhaps the hardest adjustment of leaving roommates behind is adjusting to a new reality in your social life. Your built-in hangout friends are no longer there. It’s very easy to fall into being a hermit when living alone and you’ll find you need to actively seek out social opportunities in order to meet new people and maintain existing relationships.

Making new friends: Moving to a new place meant starting fresh and making new friends. I joined a local networking group that not only helped my career, but also provided me with some opportunities to meet people on a social level as well.

Setting boundaries for myself: Living on my own has taught me the importance of setting boundaries with myself. For me, that boundary was not staying home too much. For you, maybe it’s not going out too much. Be honest with yourself about your weaknesses and set those boundaries accordingly.

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