When it comes to money, there is a lot to know. Whether you're a first-time renter or you're getting ready to buy your first home, one of the most important things you can do is to set up a budget. To get you on the right foot towards budgeting, we asked 16 financial experts to share their best budgeting tips and tricks. Use this budgeting advice to help establish healthy financial habits — your future self will thank you.
1. Decide what kind of renter you are
According to Katie, from Money with Katie, if you're looking to buy a house and want to save while renting, consider the following: "If you're a renter who's hoping to save to buy, it can be useful to assess how much your potential (future) home purchase will cost on a monthly basis. Maybe your rent is $1,000, but your mortgage, taxes, insurance and maintenance would be $1,500. To prepare for that, set aside the difference (in this example, $500) each month as though it's being 'spent' on housing to make sure that you're comfortable with that commitment. Double whammy: You understand if that price is comfortable for you, and you can put the $500 per month toward the down payment."
However, if you're happy renting but want to save, Katie says: "My best strategy for finding affordable housing in great neighborhoods is identifying the apartment buildings that are smaller. Then actually going into the leasing office to talk to the person working there. Ask if they have any specials available to share for a tenant who's ready to move quickly. I've gotten a lot of great deals that way."
2. Prioritize savings and debt pay-downs
"As with any expense, albeit housing expenses such as rent tend to be a large portion of someone's overall expenses, it's key to first "back into" what you can spend on a monthly basis based on your income and savings rates. The key is to always prioritize healthy savings, debt paydown and/or investment rate FIRST, and then determine what will allow for living and housing expenses such as rent. While there isn't a magic number to place on a healthy savings/debt paydown/investment rates, we tend to see anything north of 15 or really 20 percent tends to lead to a strong long-term financial plan," says Levi from Millennial Wealth.
3. Take inventory of your life
Michael Outar, the founder and author at Savebly shares his top four budgeting tips and tricks for renters that can make a huge impact on helping your budget go further:
- Choose to rent near your job or public transportation: If you are looking to rent then it's best to choose a place that is close to your job, grocery stores, etc. so you can easily get around without a car. If you can't find somewhere close by, then choose a place with access to public transportation. This way you can get rid of your car for now to save a lot of money. You will have to calculate the cost of owning a car versus a place that is close to your job or public transportation to see which one is more cost-efficient.
- Buy used furniture: When you are renting, you shouldn't pay $1,000's of dollars to furnish your place. Yes, you should be comfortable and make your place feel like home but it's best not to break the bank or go into debt furnishing your place. Check out Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, Craigslist, etc. for used items that are in good condition that you can get for a great price.
- Practice delayed gratification: If you want to save more money, whether it's for a house, retirement, etc. it's best to practice delayed gratification. Delayed gratification is simply the act of cutting back on purchases now in order to get more valuable rewards later on. Cut back on eating out, vacations, clothes, etc. to save money. This will help you get into a better financial standing.
- Live a minimalist life: Minimalism is simply the act of living a life with less stuff and often times people are happier. Material items usually don't make us happier. Maybe temporarily but in the long run you might find yourself purchasing something else to make you happy. Try living on less. Your mental state and your bank account will thank you.
4. Consider living where you don't need a car
"Renters should aim to keep their rent to less than 25 percent of their monthly take-home pay. This is often very challenging for young professionals just starting their careers. Especially those who may live in expensive cities like Boston or New York. In those cases having roommates can help to hit that target. Also, if you live and work in a city with public transportation, you may not need a car. If you don't have a car payment and the insurance and fuel costs that come with it, this helps free up extra funds for rent, in which case you could bring that 25 percent target up to 30 or 35 percent. The main thing is knowing what your monthly expenses are before agreeing to rent an apartment you can't afford," says owner and investment advisor Brian Bond from the Leverage Financial Advisory.
5. Automate, automate, automate!
"One of my favorite budgeting tips and tricks to save for anything, whether it's a downpayment on a home, retirement, a wedding or new car, is automation! Automate your saving and investing! First set up the appropriate saving and investing accounts. These might be a bank savings account, a 401k retirement account or an investment brokerage account. Then choose the best account for the goal, bank savings account for goals three years away, retirement account for long term retirement savings and investment brokerage account for any type of investing where you'll need the money in seven or more years," says Barbara Friedberg, investment expert at Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance.
"Finally, set up an auto-transfer from your checking account or paycheck into the appropriate account(s). Spend the rest, as you know your saving and investing goals are covered."
6. Move to the suburbs for more affordability
"I've always focused on minimizing my rent whenever possible (I would aim for 25-30 percent of my net monthly income). It is usually the biggest monthly expense in a budget. When living in a big city, rather than living in the city center where rents are usually high, I have often chosen accommodation in the suburbs or further out, but with good public transport or road connections to the city center. This allows you to have more space for a similar price as you would pay for a smaller apartment in the city, or you can be frugal and choose a smaller apartment in the suburbs and pay very little rent!" says Jonny, founder and content creator from Millennials with Money.
7. Provide a service for discounted rent
"If you're handy or you enjoy gardening — approach your landlord and ask to exchange chores or general property maintenance for a lower rent. If they agree, one of the best budgeting tips and tricks is to direct the difference between the new rent and what you negotiated with the landlord into a savings account every month," says Michael from Wealth of Geeks.
8. Opt for renters insurance
"Make sure you sign up for renters insurance. If something is to happen to your home while you are renting it — such as fire, flood or robbery — your landlord is not required to replace damaged belongings or pay for you to stay in a hotel. With a small monthly or annual fee, renters insurance will protect you and your belongings and make sure that you don't go broke trying to make yourself whole after an incident," says Maggie Germano, CEO and founder of Maggie Germano Financial coaching and the host of The Money Circle podcast.
9. Deep dive into educational YouTube videos
According to Alvis Carlos (CFP®, CFA) from District Capital Management, there are plenty of budgeting tips and tricks to implement on a regular basis:
- Give yourself a monthly allowance that's within your budget.
- Consider using a separate card for fun purchases (like going out to dinner), so it's easier to track miscellaneous expenses.
- Actively review your actual spending versus your budget every month. If you go over budget, change your spending behavior. Or see where you can cut additional costs for the next month.
- Watch educational YouTube or TikTok videos of certified financial planners — this can help motivate you and increase your financial literacy on a regular basis.
10. Shop around
"Ask yourself if your rent is too high. If so, increase your income or downsize," says Bola Sokunbi, author, founder and CEO of Clever Girl Finance. "If your rent is costing you more than 25-30 percent of your monthly net take-home pay, you may find it difficult to keep up with household bills, save, invest and pay off any debts you may have. Consider increasing your income (getting a part-time job, side hustle, selling things you own but no longer need) or downsizing (getting a roommate, moving to a cheaper neighborhood) to give yourself enough wiggle room to do more than just paying rent each month.
Additionally, Sokunbi recommends shopping around and regularly reviewing your utility bills as one of the helpful budgeting tips and tricks, "Negotiate for deals with your utility providers and leverage your customer loyalty to see if you can get discounts and deals on your current utility bills."
11. Establish a relationship with your landlord
"Create a friendly relationship with your leasing agent or landlord. This will save you money in the long run. It's easier to have repairs and replacements approved when your landlord knows that you're a good tenant. We have had a screen door installed, fresh paint and carpet replacements at no charge just by maintaining that friendly relationship. Being nice goes a long way," says financial aid counselor, blogger and freelance writer Kamika from the Well Balanced Wallet.
12. Get the most out of your apartment amenities
"To make the most of your budget and finances, I recommend using all of the benefits that come with the place you rent. For example, my apartment complex allowed renters to use entertainment spaces and host parties for free. This saved money on renting out a function room. Consider living where amenities factor into your rent, like a gym," says blogger Julie Berninger from the Millennial Boss.
13. Don't let miscellaneous expenses creep up on you
"An effective frugal hack to save money while renting is to keep a very close eye on monthly recurring expenses — especially those seemingly 'minor' costs like the $2 or $5 monthly phone app. So often, the small, monthly expenses can creep up on our budget without our knowledge. This can cost us thousands per year in unnecessary spending. As the saying goes, 'a small leak will sink a great ship.' The trick is being honest with yourself when determining where to cut off the excess," says Fiona Smith, the founder of the Millennial Money Woman.
14. Stay on top of your credit
William Huston, AIF®, AIFA®, the founder and CEO of Baystreet Capital Holdings, recommends knowing where you stand with credit, "Make sure to pull your credit report to make sure all personal information is correct. When you're looking it over, review it for possible fraudulent activities. If in doubt of any account, call the merchant to get clarification. Additionally, keep track of your credit score. If it's not ideal, try to improve it."
Want to improve your credit score while renting? Huston shared, "Some credit reports will track on-time utility payments as a record of positive payment history. If you want to improve your credit while renting, consider a credit monitoring system. This will give you credit for these sorts of good habits."
15. Find a side hustle
"Diversifying your income sources is a helpful way to increase your monthly cash flow. So, consider taking on a side job. A side job could be anything from becoming a virtual assistant to joining a focus group to bartending. It could be short-term, like dog-sitting for the weekend or driving for Postmates, Uber or Lyft at night. Additionally, if you are looking to make extra money, I always recommend selling things you no longer need. eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, second-hand stores and Etsy make it easy to make extra money," says blogger and writer Michelle Schroeder-Gardner of MakingSenseofCents.com.
16. Always proactively budget for the future
"Here at Women's Personal Finance, we're fans of planning for life's realities. So, we recommend planning for and budgeting for future moves, even if you don't have a future move in mind. Consider a sinking fund in a high yield savings account to cover first/last and deposit on a new place as well as moving costs like rental trucks and movers. Worst case, it's a backup emergency fund or the beginnings of future downpayment savings!" says Dr. Regina Moore, co-founder of Women's Personal Finance.
Practice these budgeting tips and tricks today, save tomorrow!
Whether you're saving for a wedding, a new car, retirement or a house of your own — the earlier you start, the better off you will be towards reaching your financial goals.