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Saving money in your first apartment

Moving into your first apartment is an exciting time. You have the opportunity to decorate in whatever way fits your desire and you can come and go as you please. At the same time, the whole experience can be daunting - there are a lot of things to purchase and budget for. Here are a few ways to save money when doing so:

Shop around for an apartment
The budgeting process starts before you even bring in a single box. Shopping around for the best deal can yield serious savings, and finding an apartment that you can afford is critical. It might seem minor, but a difference as small as $50 every month can add up by the end of the year. Remember, every dollar that you spend on rent is a dollar that you can't spend elsewhere - imagine what you might do with an extra $600 every year!

Be especially wary of hidden fees associated with moving. Some places will require a real estate agent fee, in addition to two months' rent and a security deposit. On the other hand, some large complexes may have reduced rent for the first couple months. When you are figuring out just how much you can afford, don't look just at the monthly spend, but also at any other charges that it will take to move. 

The amount that you can afford changes depending on your salary. Aim to spend about 30 percent of your gross income on housing, including utilities. Note, however, that this is very much dependent on the area in which you live, and the actual numerical value of your salary. When in doubt, err on the side of caution, especially if you have debt. 

You should also feel comfortable negotiating if there is a great place that is just outside of your price range. Even if the landlord can't lower the monthly rent, he or she might be able to waive all or part of the security deposit if you can show that you are likely to be a responsible and low-risk tenant. It almost never hurts to ask, and it could land you a better place than you could get otherwise. 

Choose roommates carefully
Many people choose to board with college or work friends when they move into their first apartment. While this can be fun, it isn't always the wisest financial choice. Before you decide on roommates, make sure that they can afford to contribute their share to the monthly expenses, and are responsibly enough with money that you won't be caught on the hook. If you think you have a great person in mind to live with, take some time to sit down with the potential roomie and discuss their approach to finances and household chores. This simple step can help prevent serious problems down the road. 

If you notice red flags, don't ignore them. It can be tough to tell a friend that you don't want to live together, but it is much harder to do so after you already live together. Being upfront will not only save you a logistical headache and a lot of money, it could also save you a friendship. 

Don't rush to buy all your furniture at once
When you first move, it can be tempting to run out and get all the furnishings you need at the same time. However, this could wind up being a mistake. While it's important to get the most critical items - such as a bed - early on, other things can wait. Live for a little bit in your new place, and figure out which pieces you really need. If you don't ever find yourself cooking, that new full kitchen set can probably wait. Plan on having a lot of guests come in from out of town? Choose a futon or pull-out couch. 

As you do begin to buy furniture, keep an eye out for great deals. Many people will give away items that they no longer need, especially if they are moving themselves. Keep your eyes peeled for these opportunities, and only spend money on those pieces that you can't find elsewhere. Hang out around a few flea markets, and wait for major retailers to have can't-miss sales. 

Reduce your energy use
Cutting back on your energy use is a rare win-win scenario. Not only are you doing something great for the environment, you're also saving money on utility bills.

Start by checking any windows and door for cracks or drafts. Air coming in means that both your heating and cooling are less efficient, which costs you money in the long run. Proper installation is an upfront expenditure that pays for itself many times over. Also, keep your heating and cooling ducts free of furniture. 

When you are not in the room, turn fans off, and unplug appliances that are not in use. See if your utility company has off-peak hours, and if so, use those times to do things like run the dishwasher and do laundry. 

Cook more at home
Cooking at home can save you a ton of cash. Even if you're not a gourmet chef, having a few go-to meals means that you don't have to always eat out, which can quickly add up. If you're an inexperienced cook looking to make the most out of your money, buy a slow cooker. Not only are they easy to use, they also allow you to take less-expensive cuts of meat and turn them into delicious meals. And, even if you're on the go, you can set a timer so you don't have to worry about things overcooking. 

On the weekends, take a few hours to sketch out a menu and prepare some food in bulk. Portion what you make into individual containers, making weeknight dinners and lunches a breeze. Foods like rice, pasta, lasagna and chili are easy to make in bulk and reheat whenever you're feeling peckish. 

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