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“Why did no one ever teach us this?” is a common question among young people experiencing the grown-up world for the first time.
Being out on your own for the first time can be tough. It comes with a whole suite of new responsibilities, and they all fall on you.
Once you move out of your childhood home and into your own place, there’s no one to pick up your slack. Even if you live with a roommate, you’re still responsible for keeping your space, your finances and yourself healthy and in order. Taking this all on at once can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re not quite sure how to handle a lot of this stuff.
If you’re living alone for the first time and aren’t sure how to cut a potato properly let alone create a budget that allows you to save for your 401(k), fear not. Everyone figures it out eventually, and we’ve got some tips that will help ease the transition.
What to Stock
First things first: there are some items you’ll need to keep on hand if you want to have a successfully-run home or apartment. You know the basics – chairs, tables, a place to sleep – but there are some odds and ends you might not realize are essential.
Because most people who are just starting out on their own usually don’t have a ton of money to furnish a perfectly-stocked apartment, we’ve broken down what you’ll need, organized by the room. Supplement this list with any items you know you can’t live without.
Pots and pans: Get at least two of each, one large and one small
Cooking tools: Some basics to get you started include a chef’s knife, a paring knife, spatulas (both a metal and rubber one), measuring utensils, a mixing bowl, a colander and a can opener.
Spices: Start with salt and pepper. Add others to your collection as recipes call for them.
Tableware and eating utensils: No paper plates and plastic cutlery! Get a dinnerware set that includes plates, bowls and cups. Or you can save money mixing and matching individual pieces from the thrift store. Just make sure they’re in good condition. You don’t need a huge set unless you plan on hosting large dinner parties. But get a few of each so you have some wiggle room when it comes to doing the dishes. Make sure you have a set of forks, knives and spoons as well.
Cookware can be expensive, and if you’re having trouble pulling together the cash for these items, let the people in your life know you’re moving into a new place and see if they’d be willing to donate any stuff they don’t use anymore.
Two sets of sheets: One to go on your bed, one clean and ready to go for when the other set needs to be laundered.
A bed: Not just a mattress on the floor. Not only can placing a mattress directly on the floor be bad for the mattress, it can expose you to dust and other allergens.
Toilet paper: Buy it in bulk. It doesn’t expire and there’s no chance you’re not going to use all of it. In fact, pack it with your belongings and bring it with you on move-in day. You’ll probably need it before you get a chance to run to the store.
Non-slip bath rug: Not only is a colorful bath rug a cheap and easy way to brighten up your bathroom, but if you get one with non-skid treads on the bottom you’ll give yourself a safe place to dry off your feet after a shower. You’ll prevent a slippery and potentially dangerous floor.
Multipurpose cleaner: A spray bottle of cleaning product that works on almost any surface is a must-have for lazy and budget-conscious cleaners alike. Just don’t use it on any surfaces that need special treatment, like wood floors.
Cleaning cloths: You can also use paper towels, but for an eco-friendlier route, buy a pack of reusable microfiber cloths to do your cleaning with.
Basic tools: Having a few commonly-used tools on hand will be helpful for hanging pictures, fixing leaky faucets and the like. For basic projects, get yourself a few different sizes of both slotted and Phillips-head screwdrivers, a hammer, a tape measure, pliers, a utility knife and an adjustable wrench.
Scissors: Easy to forget, but you’ll really feel it when you need a pair and don’t own one.
A step ladder: Don’t climb on kitchen chairs (or worse, rolling desk chairs) and risk hurting yourself when you need to reach something that’s high up.
How to Budget
When you move out on your own for the first time, you’ll likely have to take on a lot of new costs that you aren’t used to having. Between rent, bills, groceries and all the annoying unexpected costs that inevitably come up, you’re going to need to have a plan for how you spend your money.
Thanks to the plethora of budgeting apps available, managing your money is easier than ever. However, you can download as many apps as you want or spend hours painstakingly crafting a personalized budget that accounts for all your expenses, but it won’t help if you don’t actually stick to the plan. That’s why it’s so important to find a budgeting method that works for you.
One popular method is the 50/20/30 rule, where you allocate 50% of your income to living expenses, 20% to savings and debt and 30% for the things you want but don’t necessarily need. You could also craft a budget that prioritizes paying off debt, or one that puts all your extra money toward investing.
If you’re new to budgeting and doubt your organization abilities, start small. Start tracking your spending and evaluate what types of things your income goes to. Learn about what it means to live within your means. Utilize money-saving tricks, like setting up a direct deposit into your savings account or cutting back on your electricity use. Avoid racking up credit card debt.
The most important thing is that you find a budget that fits your specific needs and goals and is realistic. Budgets are like diets: the best one is the one you can stick to.
Whatever your budget, the two most vital things you should prioritize (if you’re not deeply in high interest debt) are building an emergency savings fund and saving for retirement. For your emergency fund, the goal is to have three to six months of living expenses saved up, so if you run into a big life change such as losing your job, you have time to get yourself back on track without being in immediate financial danger. Retirement, though it may seem far off, is equally important. The earlier you start saving, the longer your money has to grow.
How to Keep Clean
When you live alone, there’s no one else to blame when things get messy. There’s also no one else to blame you, which is why so many people who are out on their own for the first time fall into the habit of letting their place get a little – or a lot – messy.
You shouldn’t let stuff build up just because you or your roommates don’t mind living in a messy space. It’s not super difficult to keep your place tidy if you stay on top of it. Plus, some of the things that come along with a poorly-cleaned house like mold and pests are health hazards that can be a serious pain to get rid of.
The best and easiest way to keep your space neat is to clean as you go. Don’t let stuff pile up for “later” (which we all know really means until I have guests coming over and it’s embarrassing). Wipe down the counter as soon as you’re done cooking. Break down pizza boxes for the recycling as soon as you’ve put away your leftovers. Do your dishes as soon as you finish dinner. Re-hang clothes you try on right away. When you let piles of mess build up, cleaning becomes an even more daunting task, making you want to do it even less.
You don’t have to be perfect. People have busy lives. Sometimes, your place will be messy. If you have trouble keeping tidy, here are our basic cleaning tips for the days (or weeks) where you can only do the bare minimum:
Regularly wipe down the items and surfaces you use every day, disinfecting where necessary (this is where a good multipurpose cleaning spray will come in handy).
Food products need to be stored properly or thrown out. Cooked food shouldn’t be left sitting out for more than two hours, as room temperature is the ideal temperature for bacterial growth (the USDA refers to a temperature range between 40 – 140 degrees as the danger zone for food). Leaving food out can also attract pests. Clean up spills and crumbs right away.
Don’t allow dust to collect for too long, especially if you have a respiratory condition.
At least once a week, set aside some time to put things away. Tackle the pile of outfit rejects in your room, sort the mail and return your shoes to their rack. Get rid of any clutter.
If you don’t have time to do the dishes right away, rinse them off as soon as you go to put them in the sink. If you made something that has a tendency to crust, pour some dish soap on the dish and submerge it in water to soak. This will make doing the dishes a million times easier when you get to them.
While you don’t have to do all the dishes right away, any utensils that were used to prep raw food such as meat should be cleaned as soon as you’re done with them.
How to Stay Safe
If you’re out on your own the first time, you’re likely renting your place, meaning that a lot of your security is left up to the rental community you live in. When you’re first searching for places to live, make sure to inquire about a place’s security features before you sign a lease. Are the areas surrounding the building well-lit? Can anyone enter buildings, or do doors require a key? Do they change the locks when a new renter moves in?
While it’s good to live in a place that provides security for its residents, there are ways you can secure your individual unit against intruders.
If your door has a peephole, use it. If it doesn’t, see about getting one installed. If your lease allows for it, install a deadbolt and chain lock if you don’t already have one. Make sure the locks on the windows are in good condition. Consider investing in renter’s insurance, and get to know your neighbors.
One great way to ensure your safety when you’re living on your own is to cultivate a local support system, especially if you don’t have a roommate and are living away from your family and friends. Making friends with a trustworthy neighbor can be invaluable. They can keep an extra set of your keys in case of an emergency and keep an eye out for any suspicious activity while you’re out of town.
When you live alone, it’s important that you keep the people in your life updated on what you’re up to so they know to check in when they haven’t heard from you. If you don’t have anyone in your life you care to share those details with, make friends with a local and make a deal to check in on each other regularly or to let each other know when you’re going somewhere outside of your usual routine.
Be sure you’re staying safe inside your home as well and watch out for common household hazards. Check regularly that your fire and carbon monoxide alarms are working, keep a first aid kit on hand and avoid creating tripping hazards.
Make sure you’re observing basic kitchen safety rules when cooking. Never leave cooking food unattended and know how to use a fire extinguisher. Also, use oven mitts and wash your hands frequently, especially after handling raw meat. Finally, double check that you turned off the burners or stove after you’ve finished cooking.
How to Stay Healthy
This may be one of the more difficult aspects of living alone for the first time, because the only person you’re accountable to on this is yourself. But just because you can get away with neglecting your health doesn’t mean you should.
Visit your doctor at least once a year for a physical. Visit the dentist twice a year. See the eye doctor every one or two years. If you’re at risk for any specific conditions, make sure you’re getting screened as often as is recommended.
At the very least, don’t put off calling and making an appointment when something is wrong. Waiting for an ailment to get better on its own can end badly. By being proactive, you could be saving yourself lengthy and costly treatment, or you could very well be saving your own life.
Educate yourself on how to eat a balanced diet – cooking healthy and affordable meals for one isn’t easy. While conventional wisdom states that it’s generally cheaper to cook your meals than get them at a restaurant, that truth is a little more complicated for single diners who face challenges shopping and cooking for one person when very little food is sold in single-servings. Making unique and healthy meals each day can actually become quite expensive.
To work around these challenges and save money, try cooking one big meal once a week and portioning it out into individual containers for a daily meal. If you need more variety, plan out your weekly meals using recipes with similar requirements. For example, one week you could plan to make mostly chicken-based dishes, using different spices, sauces and sides to have a different dish each night.
Another way to keep your food costs down while eating healthy is to stock your freezer with some basic meal components, like chicken and bagged vegetables, and thaw individual servings as needed. Always keep staples like pasta, beans and rice on hand.
Who to Call
Being the boss of your own household can be a great feeling, but it also means you’re the one who has to step up when everything hits the fan.
From pest infestations to burst pipes and life-threatening emergencies, adult life offers all kinds of unexpected and stressful situations that will pop up when you’re least expecting it. The key is to be prepared and know how to deal with it ahead of time. This is often a matter of having the right phone number.
If you live in an apartment, you already have a great resource when it comes to many of these situations: your landlord or management office. If you’re ever dealing with a non-emergency apartment issue, give them a call and they’ll likely send out their handyman to fix it. If it requires a service not provided for in your lease, they can still let you know who can help you with your issue, and might even be able to provide recommendations.
If you own your home or have a less-than-helpful landlord, you may be stuck dealing with problems on your own. If it’s a simple repair or issue, try using the internet to educate yourself on how to fix it. Or, get some recommendations for a repair professional who can help you (yet another reason to build a local support system – they can give you the lowdown on the best repairmen and mechanics in your area).
Keep any phone numbers you need close by. This includes any numbers you received upon move-in, which will likely tell you who to call if you have repair issues. Get a number for someone you can call for after-hour issues. You probably know to call 911 in an emergency, but find out your locality’s number for reporting non-emergencies, such as a burglary that has already happened, as well.
What to Do When You’re Scared/Lonely/Overwhelmed
When you move out on your own, you become responsible not just for your logistics of living, but for making yourself feel better when you’re not doing well emotionally.
Living on your own, especially if you don’t have a roommate, can feel really great and freeing, but it can also be overwhelming and lonely, particularly when you first move in.
Know that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed or even scared. You will adjust, even if it takes a little while. Eventually, you’ll get into a routine that works for you. You’ll get used to the strange noises your home occasionally makes. You’ll feel confident in caring for yourself.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Don’t let geographical distance get to you. Your friends and family, even those who live far away, are really never more than a phone call or video chat away.
Consider talking to a therapist. Moving out on your own is a big transition, and dealing with the emotions that come with that – both positive and negative – can be overwhelming. A mental health professional can help you sort out your feelings of fear, anxiety or loneliness.
Make sure you’re getting out of the house regularly. Even the most introverted homebodies can start to feel isolated if they only ever leave to go to work or the grocery store. Make sure you’re inviting others over every so often as well. It will feel good to host friends in your space, whether it’s for an elaborate dinner party or a chill movie night.
Most importantly, remember to relish in the freedom of living on your own. If you want to eat dessert for dinner occasionally, no one is there to judge you. If you want to throw a one-person dance party, dance away. Celebrate your independence.
Maybe you’ve lost your job. Maybe your partner is suffering through a costly illness. Maybe you’ve run up so much credit card debt that you can barely keep up with your minimum monthly payment.
You’re in the middle of a financial crisis. But what can you do to work your way out of it? And how can you do this without destroying your credit?
Here are some tips for how to survive a financial crisis and what to do to prevent one in the future.
Prioritize Your Payments
Ideally, you’ll pay all your bills on time each month. This might not be possible in a financial crisis, meaning that you might have to prioritize. Certain bills are more important than others.
You need a place to live, so do whatever you can to stay current on your mortgage or rent payments. You don’t want to risk losing your home. Mortgage payments are especially important as paying this bill more than 30 days late will cause your three-digit credit score to fall by 100 points or more.
You also need to spend money on the essentials, such as your home’s power and groceries.
You should pay your credit cards on time, too. Your credit card payments are also reported to the three national credit bureaus of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. If you pay these more than 30 days late, your credit score will again fall. The same holds true for your auto loan and student loan payments. However, if you can’t pay all of your bills, remember that it’s possible to rebuild a credit score, so prioritize paying for the essentials.
Owe Money? Don’t Hide
If you owe money that you can’t pay, your first inclination might be to hide. You’ll avoid opening mail from your creditors. You won’t pick up the phone when these creditors call.
But Karen Ford, a financial coach, public speaker and author based in Fairmont, West Virginia, said that you should take the opposite approach: Instead of hiding from those you owe money to, you should reach out to explain your financial emergency. Your creditors might be willing to renegotiate your repayment schedule to leave you with monthly payments you can afford.
For instance, your mortgage lender might agree to lower your interest rate, lowering your monthly payment at the same time. Some lenders might even rework the terms of your loan, perhaps turning your 15-year loan into a longer-term 30-year one, again lowering your monthly payments.
“Contact your debtors and explain the situation,” Ford said. “Whether you’ve had an illness, hospitalization or job loss, be honest with them. Then explain to them that you will pay them what you owe, but it may be smaller payments than they would normally receive.”
Slow Your Spending
The next step is to curb any spending you can, Ford said. This could include such simple steps as decreasing the heat in your home by two degrees before you leave for work. As Ford says, this can save you about $20 a month.
That doesn’t seem like much, especially when you’re struggling to pay the bills, but by taking a series of these smaller steps, you can reduce your monthly costs significantly.
Some more obvious areas to cut spending include gym memberships, cable subscriptions, eating out and entertainment. If you’re in a financial crisis, focus, again, on spending only on the essentials.
Try to Negotiate Your Credit Card Debt
If it’s your credit card debt that is causing your financial crisis, don’t be shy about calling the issuers of your cards. Carla Dearing, chief executive officer of online financial wellness site Sum180, suggests asking if they’ll lower the interest rate they’re charging you. If this rate falls, your credit card debt won’t grow as quickly and your minimum required monthly payment will drop.
You might think credit card companies would be unwilling to do this, but you’ll never know if you don’t call.
“Many credit card issuers would rather lower your rate than have you transfer to another company,” Dearing said. “It’s worth asking.”
Dearing also recommends that you use as much as 50% of your monthly savings to pay down your credit card debt. Reducing this debt as quickly as possible will help ease your financial pain. The high interest rates that come with cards means that your credit card debt can grow quickly each month if you don’t pay it off in full.
Tap Your Home’s Equity
If you own a home, you might also consider applying for a home equity loan or home equity line of credit to pay off your credit card debt. There is one catch here: You can only take out one of these loans if you’ve built up equity in your home. Equity is the difference between what your home is worth and what you owe on your mortgage. If your home is worth $200,000 and you owe $150,000 on your mortgage, you have $50,000 in equity.
You can then borrow against that equity. The benefit of home equity loans or lines of credit is that the interest rates that come with them are so much lower than those attached to credit cards. If you can borrow money at a lower rate, you can then use it to pay off the credit card debt that is causing your financial emergency. (Note: Quicken Loans does not offer home equity lines of credit.)
“By paying off the credit card and moving that balance to a home equity line of credit, you’ve reduced the amount of interest that will stack up, and you will be able to pay off the debt more quickly,” Dearing said.
An alternative to a home equity line of credit could be a cash-out refinance. Much like a home equity loan, a cash-out refinance uses the equity you’ve built up in your home, but instead of taking out another loan, this refinances your primary mortgage.
Refinance Your Student Loans
Student loan payments are another burden that often leads people into financial crisis. This is especially true for those paying off private, versus federal, student loans.
One way to reduce the financial burden of these loans is to refinance them, Dearing said. When you refinance a student loan, you’re left with one consolidated loan with a single monthly payment and a lower interest rate, Dearing said.
That lower interest rate is important, Dearing says, because it means that more of each payment goes toward paying down the balance of your loans.
You must do your research before refinancing, though, Dearing said. Search for a reputable bank and compare interest rates. There are plenty of companies operating in this space that will overcharge for refinancing student loans.
“Steer clear of companies charging high upfront fees to help you consolidate your student loans or that claim to be ‘approved’ or ‘exclusive’ servicers to ‘special programs,'” Dearing said.
The Ultimate Step: Declaring Bankruptcy
If your debts are too much to handle, it might be time to declare bankruptcy. This, though, should only be considered as a last resort.
There are two types of bankruptcy you can declare: Chapter 7, in which most of your debts are forgiven but you’ll lose your most valuable assets, and Chapter 13, in which a bankruptcy judge works out a plan allowing you to repay all or some of the debt on a monthly schedule you can afford.
Bankruptcy will give you a chance to start over financially, but it comes with a cost. Declaring bankruptcy will devastate your credit score. Chapter 7 will remain on your credit reports for 10 years, while Chapter 13 will stick on them for seven.
If your financial crisis is so severe that you can’t work through it on your own, bankruptcy might be a choice. But only use this tool as a last resort.
Preventing Another Financial Crisis
Once you work your way out of your current financial crisis, it’s important to develop the financial habits that will help you avoid another one.
You can’t prevent every financial crisis, but you can lower the odds that you’ll fall into money problems again. Olga Kirshenbaum, financial coach and owner of New York City–based Rags to Riches Consulting, said that the key lies in not spending more than you earn each month.
To live this way, you’ll have to create a household budget. This budget should list the money that comes into your home each month and the money you spend. Expenses include fixed costs such as your mortgage, rent or car payment and those that fluctuate each month, including your utility bills and transportation costs. You should also provide a monthly estimate for how much you spend on groceries, eating out and entertainment.
Once you’ve created this budget, you can determine how much you can spend each month, Kirshenbaum said.
“Many people don’t have a working budget and can’t tell you if they are living within their means,” Kirshenbaum said. “Once they see that they are spending more than they are making, mindful spending begins to kick in.”
Once your budget is set, it’s time to build an emergency fund. This fund contains dollars that you can tap should an unexpected financial emergency pop up, anything from a furnace that conks out during the winter to a car with a blown transmission. With an emergency fund, you can pay for these emergencies with cash instead of using your credit card and building up more debt.
How big should this emergency fund be? Financial advisors say it should have from three months to a year of daily living expenses.
“This number depends on each person and their situation,” Kirshenbaum said. “How significant are your monthly costs, and how likely are you to find a job right away to get back on your feet? Whatever it is you decide to put away each month, that number needs to go into your budget.”
by Aja McClanahan, September 27, 2018 in Credit & Debt
Credit cards can have many practical uses. You might be using credit cards to maximize rewards or simply to have convenient access to borrowed funds. The reasons to have and use a credit card can vary, but everyone should follow some basic rules when it comes to using a credit card efficiently.
If you misuse your credit cards, it could affect your credit score and overall financial health. Let’s take a look at the common mistakes many people make with credit cards so you can avoid making them yourself!
Paying the Minimum Payment
Your goal might simply be to preserve your credit score, so perhaps you just pay the minimum on time and as agreed. Meanwhile, interest racks up and compounds on your balance and you go into debt.
Paying interest on borrowed money can be a necessary evil, but it’s not ideal. Credit card interest is often the highest out there. Aim to pay off your credit card, in full, each month so that you can use your hard-earned money to save, invest or pay down debt.
You should also be aware that having a high balance on your credit card could affect your credit utilization ratio and negatively impact your credit score.
Not Paying Attention to Your Billing Statements
One of the great things about using a credit card is that the monthly statement gives you a way to review your spending each month. Use this to your advantage!
Take the opportunity to review all the charges you made during the month. If something doesn’t look familiar, investigate and dispute unauthorized charges as needed.
You may be paying for errors and getting overcharged in ways you’re not even aware of. Taking a few minutes each month to double check your bill to avoid fraudulent charges, unused subscriptions or overpayments is a good use of time. This will only save you more money in the long run.
Getting Too Close to the Maximum Spending Limit on Your Card
When you spend the maximum or even get close to the limit of your credit card, you’re affecting your credit utilization ratio. It may seem harmless because you don’t actually hit your limit, but your credit score can be adversely affected by a high credit utilization ratio.
There are a couple of ways to avoid this issue. The simplest one is to spend less on your credit card. It may be easier said than done, but hopefully, you have other methods of spending besides your credit cards.
Another way to avoid getting too close to your limit, is by getting approved for a higher limit on your card. The key is to not increase your spending as your credit limit increases.
You can also just leave unused credit cards open in order to keep your total available credit limit higher. Another way to maintain a good credit utilization ratio is to pay your balance off each month (early, if possible). Most credit card issuers submit your balance to credit bureaus once a month. They submit the balance of your account at the time of reporting. If you pay your card balance off earlier, then the credit card issuer will report a lower amount than your actual spending for the month.
Making Late Payments
When you pay any of your bills late, you’re penalized. A late credit card payment is not any different. Not only can you incur late fees by your card issuers, your credit score can be affected.
Even just one or two missed payments can create a ding in your credit report. The blemishes on your record can lead to a decrease in your credit score. The simple solution is to make your payments on time. It may help to put payments on autopay so you can set it and forget it in time each month.
Closing Credit Cards
Many of us have unused credit cards that take up space in our wallets. While it would be convenient to close the accounts and get rid of the cards, it would likely negatively affect your credit score.
The unused cards still have credit limits, even when you’re not actively using them. These unused cards add to your total spending limit, which can lead to a lower utilization ratio. Your credit score is positively impacted by a lower utilization ratio, so it could be worth it to keep these “inactive” cards open.
The only exception is when you’re paying a high annual fee. If you cannot justify the annual fee with great benefits like rewards or perks, it may be best to close the card. Your credit score may dip temporarily, but it should recover as you continue to practice good credit habits over the long term.