A first apartment is like a first relationship– a pretty big personal step that’s exciting, exhilarating, and pretty terrifying. If you’ve already hunted for apartments, found your new place, and scheduled a date for the move-in with your landlord, you probably have an inkling of how it feels to have your own apartment. If you are still looking, don’t get overwhelmed by the search. If you stay organized, and follow these foolproof do’s and don’ts, you’ll keep calm and organized while moving into your first apartment:

Do Know Your Budget

Since this is your first time venturing out on your own, it is important to know exactly how much space you need – and more importantly, how much space you can afford. With application fees, security deposits, utility connection fees and moving costs, budgeting for your first apartment can get a little tricky if you haven’t anticipated these things up front.

If you won’t be sharing your new place and splitting the bills, it is best to keep your living costs around 30% of your net income. (Your net income is what you take home after all taxes have been deducted.) If utilities are included, you might feel comfortable paying as much as 40%. However, try not to go over 50% of your income. Remember, rent is just the beginning of being out on your own. When Mom and Dad aren’t paying for things any longer, money can get very tight, very quick.

In order to keep your budget straight, try using an online budgeting app or budget tracker. A budgeting app will help you keep track of both monthly and daily expenses, and will help you adjust your spending so that you never are faced with anything unexpected.

Budgeting Tips:

Ditch the plastic. Until you get the swing of things, try working with cash only. Using credit cards tends to get people in trouble – especially when they’re first venturing out on their own. It can be tempting to spend more than you have, which can result in debt. The last thing you want is to start out on the wrong foot financially.
Have an emergency fund. Let’s face it – stuff happens sometimes that is beyond our control; And when it does, you want to be prepared. Make space in your budget for an emergency fund to cover those unexpected expenses.
Conserve Energy. Utility bills can get expensive, especially in the summer months. To keep costs down, try making it a habit to turn lights off after you leave a room, set the thermostat up a few degrees when you won’t be home, and unplug your appliances, television(s) and computer when you aren’t using them. It will not only help save money in the long run, but you’ll be helping out the environment at the same time by not wasting electricity.

Do Choose the Right Location

Location, location, location. Where you decide to move to can have a pretty significant impact on your budget and your everyday life, so make sure you consider things like:
Proximity to work: Will you be walking to work, driving or taking the bus/train? Make sure your daily commute will be manageable given the distance and the time it will take for you to get to work, and get home after work.
Availability of Public Transportation: If you plan on using public transportation, or want the option to, try to find a place that is a comfortable distance from the nearest bus stop or train station. You don’t want to find yourself walking too far in the extreme heat, cold or rain.
Landscape features: Are you in a hilly spot, or is it flat? This could be important if you plan on riding a bike to get around, have to walk a pet, or simply enjoy exercising around your complex.
Neighborhood: Take the time to scope out the surrounding neighborhoods. It can also be a good idea to check the crime rates, as well. Have there been many break-ins in the area? Muggings? Bear in mind, you’ll be in your new place for at least a year. Don’t get stuck somewhere you don’t feel safe.

Do Be Aware of Sights and Smells During Viewings

When going on apartment visits, it is important to be mindful and thorough. Apartments that are primed and ready for move-in may be hiding little imperfections that you might not notice if you’re not actually looking for them. Here are some expert tips when viewing potential apartments:

Be on the lookout for old or outdated appliances, water damage around the windows, strange smells and stains on the carpet. If you find any of these, but you are in love with the apartment otherwise, make sure to carefully document them on your walk-in inspection. Take pictures. You don’t want to be charged for these things when you eventually move out.
Listen hard. Can you hear your neighbors? Will they be able to hear you? If the walls are paper-thin and you plan to be studying at home, you might want to consider a different place.
Check the security of the apartment. Is it a ground floor apartment with easy window access for break-ins? Is the neighborhood safe enough to feel comfortable on the ground floor?
Consider the moving process. Are there many stairs that will become a tedious nightmare during move-in and move-out, and when making trips with heavy groceries?
Inquire about amenities. On-site laundry services and gyms can save you a lot of time and money in the end, if these things fit your lifestyle.

Do Read Your Lease

When the time comes to sign a lease, make sure to read it – and then re-read it. Make notes and ask questions about anything that doesn’t make sense to you.

Pay close attention to pet policies, visitor policies and parking policies. Are you allowed to have a small dog in the future, or is the complex cats only? Can your guests park conveniently close to your apartment, or will they be walking halfway across the complex to avoid being booted or towed? What is the policy for rent payments and late rent? Try not to get too swept up in the excitement of your first place and make a mistake you might regret later. Be sure you check all of these things before signing.

Remember, a lease is a legally binding agreement; Don’t get into something that has hidden costs and fees.

Do Know Your New Apartments Layout

If you’ve already found a place and signed a lease, it’s likely that you have some idea of what it looks like (ideally, you’ve been able to see it in person). A walk-through isn’t just important for deciding whether you like a place and the neighborhood or not– it’s also an important step in the moving process.

In order to know what you can and can’t bring, you have to know your new apartments layout, as well as a few important dimensions. If possible, get into the apartment again to take pictures, measure the windows (for curtains), as well as any areas you’ll need to fit furniture, shelving, and decor.
If you live out of town, a lot of this will be guesswork, but see if your landlord or a friend or family member could go in and take a few good pictures and some measurements for you.

Don’t Put Off Packing

Packing isn’t fun– almost everybody agrees. But one of the key ways to stay organized (and sane) while preparing for your first big move is to pack early. If you start a few weeks before moving day, you’ll be able to pack almost all of the nonessentials (like out-of-season clothes, linens, kitchen and bathroom supplies, etc.), and then you can shift your focus to the more essential stuff during the days leading up to the move.

Do Read the Rules

Does your new place have an elevator deposit or moving fees? Are you expected to move within a two-hour time frame? Should you use the freight elevator? Read your lease or talk to your landlord before the move so that you know exactly where to go and who to talk to when you arrive on moving day with a truck full of furniture.

Don’t Discount Organization

There are a lot of things you have to keep track of when making a big move. What you have already, what you don’t have and need, what you don’t have and want, should you hire movers, when to pick up the keys, when to pick up the moving truck, what time slot you’ll be able to move in, the list goes on. That’s why getting (and staying) organized is crucial toward making the move to your first apartment successful.
The best way to stay organized is to keep all of the information about your move in one place. There are a few ways you can do that: First, try a basic spreadsheet– include any contact information for your future landlord, the moving truck company, a local Pizza Hut (believe me, you’ll need that number while you’re unpacking), and so on.

Or, you could download a moving app. Try Moving List or Moving Planner, depending on whether you have an iPhone or an Android.

Do Coordinate Deliveries

Since this is your first apartment, it’s not likely you have all of the big-ticket items you need already. So, you may have to order things like a couch, bed, mattress set, TV, and more, and have them all delivered once you’re moved in.

Some apartment buildings are strict about big deliveries, so aim to have everything brought over during the time you’re moving in– that way, the delivery people can just bring the furniture straight up.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Moving is not an easy task, and it’s certainly not something you should expect to handle by yourself. Enlist your friends and family members throughout the process to make everything a bit easier and a great deal more fun. Have friends help you pack and see if your parents can help you pick up the truck or hit Target and Ikea with you.

Don’t Forget the Basics

If you’re moving away from your parents’ house, there are a number of basics that you may not have and might not realize you even need. Things like a vacuum cleaner, for example. Or dish towels. These items are all important parts of living alone, so check out apartment checklists to make sure you aren’t forgetting anything essential.

Do Have Fun With It

Sure, moving can be stressful– especially to your first apartment– but try not to let the stress overtake the excitement. This is your first apartment and that’s no small thing. So, have fun! Consider having a housewarming party to commemorate – and celebrate – your transition into adulthood. Congratulations – you deserve it!

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