[ The Money Side of Lifeā„¢ ]

Fly The Coop: Living on your own for the first time

By Bryan Taylor on May 1st, 2011 •

There comes a time in every bird's life when it must leave the nest. But just flapping your wings (or lips) won't get you very far. Living independently requires the knowhow to budget, save, live and spend, so you don't end up back in the nest before you can say "regurgitated worms."


It's time to spread your wings, but before looking around for a new place to roost, set up a budget. Creating, maintaining and sticking to a budget is key when you're on your own. Rent is just one of the many bills that need to be paid every month. Having never gone solo before, it's hard to tell how much rent and bills will cost each month, so have your parents or an experienced friend help map out a sample budget.
(Revise these estimates once bills start coming in.)

Also, be prepared to pay an application fee, security deposit (usually refundable), and first and last month's rent when getting a place to live. Add in furniture, cookware and food, and the expenses can add up quickly, so make sure to have the cash before soaring off solo.


You may want to get out as quickly as possible, but a lost job or an unexpected expense like car repairs or an injury could be all it takes to send you back home. That's why it's best to pay off debt and build an emergency fund of three to six months' living expenses before heading out. When surviving on your own, it can be hard to set aside money for anything else. Living paycheck to paycheck, it only takes one unexpected incident to poke a hole in your wing. When you leave, a savings safety net will help make it permanent.

It's also a good idea to begin saving for the future. The earlier you start, the more you'll have. Common methods include Roth IRAs or employer-sponsored 401(k)s, both of which have tax advantages. (For more info on building a nest egg, read the article Investing Information at brassmagazine.com.)


Cosigner & roommates. Once your finances are in order, it's time to find a place to live. If you don't have a rental history, most property owners will require a cosigner--someone who agrees to pay if you don't--to ensure they get paid. If this is the case, make sure to pay the rent on time because it affects not only you, but the cosigner as well. If you come up short for even a studio apartment, it's time to look for a roommate.

There are different schools of thought on choosing a roommate. Living with someone you know can help avoid surprises, but it can also backfire and ruin a friendship. Whoever it is, be picky. Living with a terrible roommate can scare you into moving anywhere--even back home. So don't move in without considering the kind of person he/she is and discussing what roommate-hood might be like.

Rental agreement. When you do find a place, make sure to carefully read the fine print in the lease or rental agreement.

  • What charges apply when moving in or out? Security deposits are common, but will you have to pay to change the locks?
  • What charges apply if you break the lease? It could cost thousands if either you or a roommate has to move halfway through the year. A short-term or month-to-month lease can help mitigate this risk.
  • Before signing, take a tour of the place with the landlord and document all damage. It will reveal any deal breakers before moving in, and help avoid being held responsible for preexisting damages when moving out.

Moving out. The day has finally come. You found a place and it's time to move in. To make the move (relatively) painless:

  • Ask friends and relatives for help moving well in advance. Many hands make light work (and many hands work faster with free pizza after the work is finished).
  • Change your permanent address at moversguide.usps.com or at the post office, and update it at financial institutions and for bills and magazines.
  • Make sure all nonessentials are boxed up the night before the move. Don't scramble at the last minute.
  • If you're moving to a different state, research license plate and driver's license requirements.

Now that there is a place to call home, you'll probably need some household items. Before picking up a 75" LCD TV and browsing antique boutiques for that perfect mahogany coffee table, look at the budget to see what's affordable.

  • Start with the essentials. You can live without an Xbox but probably not without forks and plates.
  • No one expects that first place to be a palace. Ask family for hand-me-downs, check out thrift stores and garage sales, and find items on Craigslist. You can always upgrade later.
  • Avoid signing up for credit cards or financing options. The best bet is to pay using cash or with a credit card you already own and can easily pay off.
The Bottom Line

About 40% of people in their 20s move back in with their parents at least once. Living on your own is exciting, but it's easy to get caught up in your newfound independence and forget about covering the basics. Sticking to your budget and following these suggestions should keep you from landing beak first.