Sense & Centsibility Blog

How to Prepare For Your First Apartment

We're flashing back this Friday to Mary Ellen's post about being prepared for your first apartment. Read on for some great tips!

My 23 year old daughter just moved into her first apartment with friends. As they were looking at and considering apartments, she asked for advice on various aspects of the process. I wasn’t much help because I haven’t moved in 35 years!  (I bought my house when I was 12!) So, I learned with them about renting an apartment.



  • You and your roommates will be equally liable for the whole rent, not just your portion. Are your prospective roommates employed? Dependable?
  • Choose roommates with a similar lifestyle. Are you an early riser and your roommates night owls?
  • What about smoking or drinking?
  • Frequent guests?
  • How will you resolve conflicts?


The typical rule of thumb is to keep housing expense at 30% of your income. But, this is just a guideline and not necessarily the best measure of affordability. If you have a decent income, the remaining 70% of your income can be substantial. If you are earning minimum wage, the remaining 70% isn’t much. Spend some time on your budget. Know your monthly net income and recurring expenses (phone, transportation, insurance, etc.). Then track spending on food and entertainment.  Can you cut some expenses to afford rent? Or, consider a different neighborhood?


Most landlords use a screening service for prospective tenants which includes your credit and your rental history and criminal background. They may have credit score thresholds to be considered for a rental. Be proactive by getting your free credit reports to check for errors and other issues that could drag your score down before you pay the application fee to the landlord. (If you are denied a lease based on what is in your screening report, you have a right to get a free copy of the report.) Need help reading your credit report? We can help! Learn more.


  • Is the apartment convenient to work or school?
  • Do you need public transportation?
  • Off street parking?  (Off street parking in Minnesota is especially nice in winter with frequent snow emergencies.)
  • What are the utility expenses?
  • Is the building secure?
  • Where can you lock up your bike?
  • Do you like houseplants?  How is the natural light?


Is the lease month-to-month, 6 months, a year?  A lease is a contract you are legally obligated to fulfill. Breaking a lease can end up on your rental record making it very difficult to rent in the future.  Your landlord may report the unpaid rent to the credit bureaus, ruining your credit. Also, you can also be sued for the unpaid rent, which may lead to wage garnishment and much misery.

It is wise to inspect the apartment thoroughly before signing a lease so make a list of any issues.  Better yet - take photographs, too.  Have the landlord sign the list and keep a copy for yourself to avoid disputes later on.


Your first apartment is an exciting milestone of young adulthood and knowledge can reduce the painful pitfalls. Much of this good advice comes from the Minnesota Attorney General’s website.  (Don’t live in Minnesota? Check with your state’s Attorney General’s office for tenant/landlord information.) Enjoy your new space!  And, invite your mother to dinner! 

Mary EllenAuthor Mary Ellen Kaluza is a Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling. Visit our website for more information to help you conquer your debt and achieve your financial goals.