It can be a big transition to go from living in a dorm room and having an unlimited meal plan, to having a monthly rent payment and (gasp!) going grocery shopping. If this is you this Fall, you’re not the only one who feels like their budget is taking a hit.

Here are the Do’s and Don’ts of living off campus so you can save some money!

1) Don’t pick the most expensive apartment.
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re feeling like your money is going to run out by the time December hits, it’s probably because you’re paying too much for rent. You may have already signed a year lease on an overly priced pad, but it’s not too late to start looking for more affordable options for next year. Most 2019-20 housing contracts will open up late this winter, so it’s never too early to start looking at other places with your roommates. Yes, a 3 bedroom apartment on Lincoln Way is convenient, close to campus, has a pool, etc. but it can cost you upwards of $700/month. There are cheaper apartments in West Ames that are a fraction of that price, usually between $350-$400/month per person so keep your options open!

2) Do create a budget for off campus bills.
Depending on your lease, you may also be juggling other bills in addition to your rent payment, such as utilities, parking, trash, etc. The amounts can vary depending on the utility type. Maybe you signed a lease on an older house close to campus, and you are prepared to pay that expensive heat bill in the winter, or maybe you’re not! (Brrrrr…) Either way, make sure you’re not blindsided when those utility bills come in the mail, or if your landlord expects you to pay them separately. Track them every month to get an idea for how much they cost, and discuss with your roomies how you plan to split everything. A part time job during the school year is a great way to earn some extra cash to help pay those off campus bills and keep your budget on track.

3) Don’t furnish your new pad with expensive stuff.
Are you seeing the trend here? The words off campus + expensive should not mix. :) That especially applies to buying furniture! You don’t need a fancy new bedroom set from Homemakers that will cost you an arm and a leg. Try buying your new furnishings second hand, or renovate your own from swap sites like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. Another tip: Be on the lookout this summer when other students will be throwing out their old and busted furniture to the curb when they move out. Don’t be afraid to dumpster dive, kids! Just kidding. Or are we? :)

4) Do go grocery shopping.
Take it from us, ISU dining meal plans and going out to eat for lunch gets expensive real quick. While there is nothing wrong with surviving off ramen noodles, mac & cheese, and frozen pizza, think about learning how to cook and do a little meal prep before each week. Aldis is a great grocery store option since they can offer cheaper prices than what you’ll find at other supermarkets. They may have a smaller selection with minimal name brands, but your wallet will thank you. Invest in a nice cooler so you can take sack lunches with you to class so you’re not tempted to stop at Fuzzy Tacos on the way home!

5) Don’t get stuck paying two rents.
This one is also a simple no-brainer but is a common off campus problem for students. If you’re going to be taking off this summer for an internship but you signed a year lease until August 2019, make sure you advertise early that you’ll be subleasing your room, or find a friend to take your spot. It would be a bad financial move to try and pay rent at two places, or even worse, having your roomies make up the difference. Plan ahead to make sure you don’t get stuck in this dilemma. Talk with your property owner to explore options for subleasing, and get the word out there!

6) Do talk with your roommates.
If you’re feeling the financial pressures of living in an expensive off campus arrangement, chances are your roommates are feeling them too. You and your friends may have been so stoked to move off campus that you never truly considered the overall cost, or maybe you weren’t sure what you were signing up for. If no one wants to move except you and you feel stuck, refer back to point #1. It’s never too early to start looking at other housing options (or roommates) for next year!

7) Don’t live by yourself.
Unless you’re living in the basement of your grandma’s 2nd cousin’s house for dirt cheap, don’t live by yourself. In Ames, this can be a costly decision. Usually students justify living by themselves in college because they “don’t like roommates,” or they “have pets.” Speaking of which, having pets in college should be another ‘don’t’ on this list but we’ll save that one for another time. One bedroom apartments are not cheap in Ames, so try and save money by finding a roommate or two! You can live by yourself when you graduate and are able to make more money to pay for the one bedroom.

Well, guys, that’s all for now. If you need help creating an off campus budget, we can help with that. Schedule your budgeting appointment through ISUappointments today!