I imagine my followers are slightly concerned – considering I haven’t written a post in nearly a month.
I’d like to apologize, but I won’t. Because, if I’d been writing on my blog instead of preparing for my move, I probably wouldn’t be sitting in my very own living room writing this post.
Today, I want to talk to my followers about buying your first apartment – and all of the steps that come along with it – by sharing our experience.
As most of you already know, my fiance (Austin) and I have been together since December of 2014. When we first met, I was staying with my parents during my winter break from college. In January of 2015, I had to go back for my spring semester at NYU. Austin and I had one month to get to know one another – and then I had to leave.
Even though we were six hundred miles apart, we managed to survive the first four months of our relationship without going completely insane (for the most part). We didn’t know when the long distance aspect of our relationship would end, but we were determined to make it work.
I made the decision to move back home in April due to NYU’s rising tuition – a downer for my college education, but a boost in our relationship’s chances of survival. I transferred to MSU. Austin started school at WCC. After I came home to Howell, we decided to gear our lives toward moving in together in the summer of 2016. Austin made the choice to transfer to LCC – and we decided to start looking at apartments in Lansing.
Our search began in January of 2016 – just after we celebrated our first anniversary together. Austin was getting settled at his job as a salesman as Bose Electronics. I was launching my full-time freelance career. We found ourselves in a position to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Our projected move-in date was sometime in July or August.
But, the more we looked, the more we realized we didn’t want to wait. We decided on June – just before my family and I were scheduled to go on vacation to North Carolina for ten days (which happens to be two weeks away now – I can’t wait, you guys!).
Even though we picked a date, we couldn’t find an apartment that fit our needs. We both have a certain lifestyle that we want to uphold, and it was really important to us that our apartment had a clean, spacious kitchen, as well as a comfortable bathroom and plenty of space in both “bedrooms” (I planned on using the second bedroom as my permanent office).
We also wanted a separate dining room for Austin to use as a gaming room – since neither of us liked the idea of conjoining a bedroom or living room with all of his equipment (plus two desks).
After searching through the entirety of East Lansing and Southeast Lansing, we were beat. We were almost resigned to moving into an apartment building with a nice landlord, but not so nice amenities, when we accidentally stumbled into West Lansing.
Our first visit to Ramblewood Apartments only happened because we didn’t want to leave without at least looking. It was a last ditch effort. West Lansing, it seemed, was too far from Austin’s job (at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Howell) and too far from MSU. The complex also seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
Then, we met the landlords (or, should we say, landladies). They are extremely kind, understanding, and professional. It felt like they really cared. We took a look at a two bedroom with a garden view, and we were smitten with the huge kitchen, quality bathroom, spacious living and dining areas, and included car ports and storage units. Plus, laundry rooms in each building. Finally, we were getting somewhere. Not to mention Ramblewood covers all utilities in rent, minus electricity.
We started to fall in love, but we were cautious. Location is everything, and Ramblewood was by, well, nothing. We asked one of the women, and she started laughing. She told us to drive North and turn the corner at the light. She also told us to drive South and look at the entrance ramp to the freeway, which is about three minutes from our front door.
When we drove North and turned right, we found the equivalent of Novi. It was West Saginaw Highway, which holds the Lansing Mall (one of the first place we visited in Lansing). We had already fallen in love with the area, and we felt like fate brought us to the perfect apartment complex right down the street. Minus a few technicalities, we were sold.
Two weeks later, we had our application approved. Two weeks after that, we were supplied with our apartment number and type – a two bedroom with a patio. A patio. Austin could have died. I’ll tell you more about his garden later.
So, that’s the story. That’s how we found our new home. But I also want to share everything in between. I want to share our budget, how we survive on a monthly basis, and what tips we would give to first-time apartment buyers.
First of all, you can find an affordable apartment for two people on a total income of $2000. We like to breakdown the expected budget like this:
Car Insurance: $200
Phone Bills: $100
Those expenses cover just about everything you need in a month, if:
- You share a used vehicle
- One of you (or both of you) commute to work
- Your apartment covers heat and water
- You live in an affordable area
Some tips we would give to first-time apartment buyers?
(1) Share a used vehicle. It makes life much easier, especially if one of you works from home (or nearby). We live in an area with public transportation, so we can figure out days that are a little over complicated with the car. Plus, all of the money you save by not making regular car payments can go toward maintenance on your used vehicle (which shouldn’t be much, if you choose wisely).
(2) Find an apartment that will cover heat and water, or adjust your budget to include those utilities in rent. For example, our budget was originally $600 for an apartment without utilities. We had $200 set aside for monthly utilities. Since Ramblewood covers heat and water for $700 a month in rent, we can afford the other $40 for electricity.
(3) Get cell phones through Straight Talk. It is literally the best service provider out there. You get all of the coverage of Verizon (and unlimited data) for $45 a month. You can even bring your own phone. I’m switching as soon as my contract is up.
(4) Find an internet provider that meets your needs. You’ll need about 25mbsp, for normal internet usage. Also, if you never use the internet or cable, don’t buy them. That’s money you can seriously use in your budget.
(5) Stay a month ahead, at least. You should have your monthly expenses for the following month collected before the 1st. For example, we should have our July budget completed by June 30th. It won’t always be exact, but being ahead will ensure that you aren’t caught off guard.
(6) Don’t move until you have enough money set aside. We waited until we had $10,000 between the two of us. This covered about $6,000 in upfront moving expenses (renter’s insurance through State Farm for a year, our security deposit, our first month of rent and expenses, furniture, electronics, supplies, kitchen appliances / tools, decorative materials, and more), as well as $4,000 in savings.
(7) Leave yourself between $3,000 and $4,000 in emergency funds – especially if you have a used car. You’ll be grateful you did, when something comes up. And add to that emergency fund whenever you exceed your monthly budget and have a surplus of money.
(8) Shop at Walmart. We get it – you don’t want to support the establishment. But it just makes financial sense when you’re moving. I’ll be posting pictures in a few minutes, and you’ll see the furniture we were able to get by shopping at Walmart. You can also shop at Target for kitchen supplies (NOT furniture) – and Kroger is great for groceries, since you earn gas points.
(9) Remember that you don’t need to buy everything right away. Only buy what you need, or what you can afford within your budget. You don’t want to dip into your savings during your first month.
(10) Have fun with it! You’re never going to get this opportunity again. You’re moving into your first apartment. Enjoy the process. Oh, and keep a binder to organize everything. You’ll be thankful that you did – I promise.
This is a very long blog post already, but I’m going to add some pictures now. After four days (and a lot of hard work), we finally have our apartment organized and ready to show off. Maybe I can add some more tips as I go.
Oh, and stay tuned after this post. You’ll be reading about our adventures at the Potter Park Zoo and Royal Scot Golf and Bowl during the Tourist in Your Own Town event.
Our Front Door
Our welcome mat. We bought it for $15 at Walmart. Austin didn’t originally want one, but everyone else on our floor had one, and we felt left out.
Living Room / Dining Room
Our living room and dining room area. The blinds open to our back patio, but it was too dark for pictures. The AC unit is brand new and works really well. We’ll see how the electric bill turns out.
Our dining room table. We struggled to find affordable chairs. The table was $180 at IKEA, but the chairs were $35 EACH at Target. We love the high-top look though.
This is our couch. We have more wall stickers coming (the walls in the hallway and Austin’s office are painfully bare) – but this is our favorite so far. The couch itself is really soft and cost about $350 at Art Van.
This is our entertainment center – kind of. We got the center shelving unit for $65 at IKEA and the two bookshelves for $30 each at Walmart. We filled the shelves with books and board games. The result was much cheaper than buying an actual entertainment center with surrounding shelves. We’re pretty happy with the result.
Our television was hung on the wall thanks to the hard work of my father and sister. We are officially hooked up to Xfinity through Comcast. We get 50 channels and 75 mbsp (internet) for $64.99 a month. Austin has his Bose speaker system hooked up – we have Bose speakers all over the apartment. Our TV was $300 at Walmart, and the wall mount was a $10 steal at a garage sale.
I think we had the most fun with our kitchen. We had it fully stocked on the second day – groceries included. We got the wall sticker at Target on clearance. Our microwave was $60 at Walmart. We haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but we’re happy with how it all looks. We have another sticker on the way for above the sink.
Our stove looked brand new when we moved in. We got an affordable knife set for $50 at Target. The utensil holder, towel holder, and space rack were all from Walmart. The spice rack came with twelve premium spices with free refills for five years for just $20.
This is our dish cupboard. We got our fancy dish set for $65 at Target. We got our not-so-fancy dish set at Kroger for about $15.
Our bedroom. We have a bird-theme when it comes to wall stickers throughout the apartment. And we found a home for all of our stuffed animals in the corner.
A picture in our room. We won it at an auction at the Relay for Life in Fowlerville last year. It was locally hand painted.
A bigger shot of our bedroom. I’ve stocked up my nightstand with memories from my childhood. Austin hasn’t had a chance yet.
My office. Austin hooked me up with an additional monitor. We got my desk and the matching printer table for about $250 at Staples. The printer itself was $150. We got ourselves enrolled with HP ink – so we get new ink shipped to us whenever we get low for just $5 a month!
The wall opposite my desk. Mom supplied the bench, Austin supplied the guitar, my parents supplied the table, and I saved the sticker from an untimely death in a previous move.
Storage in my office. I didn’t even end up using the floor space. We have a huge linen closet in the hallway, plus a coat closet. With all that storage, we didn’t even need to touch our storage unit.
Austin’s office area. We sacrificed a full dining room space so he could have his gaming center. He’s even got a magic cupboard in the corner. He made an L-shaped desk with my old desk and his desk put together.
That’s it for now. Enjoy the 2000 word post.