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How To: Budgeting For Your First Apartment Made Easy

How To: Budgeting For Your First Apartment Made Easy

The idea of getting your first apartment can be both exciting and nerve wrecking. It can feel liberating having a space to call your own and decorate however you want. On the other hand, getting an apartment comes with a lot of expenses and responsibilities that can pile up if you aren’t prepared. First time renters typically have an idea of what they want out of an apartment. The problem is that they may not know what to expect. Some good questions to ask yourself might be: How much money is too much/little to pay for an apartment? What utilities are included? What utilities have a flat fee?  Can I afford this apartment? What steps can I take to cover the costs?


Apartment leases

All apartments require you to put down a security deposit upon signing the lease. This can go as high as $1350 if you’re staying on or near the NIU Campus. A security deposit is needed in order to cover any damages you might make to the apartment. If any are found at the end of your lease, the cost to repair those damages comes from your security deposit. Don’t worry about this though! Majority of students get it back as long as they take care of the space. Some property owners have their security deposit equal a dollar less than one month’s rent, but this all depends on where you decide to stay. It is also common for property owners to have their tenants pay for a certain number of months rent in advance. This is typically the first and last month’s rent. Other landlords have their tenants pay for the first 2-4 months of rent prior to moving in. In these cases you would stop paying rent the last 2-4 months that you are actually living in the apartment. These things can get pretty confusing and can be pretty startling for first time renters.  It’s important to ask your potential leaser to all these questions in order to budget effectively.

Other Expenses to Keep in Mind

Heat, Water, Gas & Electric   Utilities such as gas and electric may vary depending on how much you consume. Some landlords choose to include water and heat within their monthly rent. Other properties  have a service fee for an initial amount of water and start charging their tenants after a certain unit is used. The city of DeKalb has more insight on this, as well as information on garbage and sewage rates here. If you choose to live alone, plan to budget around $80/per month on utilities. It might seem like overkill, but it’s better to over budget than under budget. Maybe one day you forget to turn off a light… It’s better to be prepared for that occasional accident!

Cable & Wifi These utilities are optional. These days most college students will invest in Wifi but not cable. Wifi is usually $35 per month. Streaming services,  such as Netflix and Hulu, make it easy for students to watch a large variety of their favorite TV shows. If you prefer to watch your favorite shows live, looking into a cable package is worth the investment. 

Parking Stickers

Some students consider having a car on campus a luxury because it enables them to go wherever they want without having to rely on the bus route to pick/drop them off. If you are one of these people, definitely look into getting a parking pass. Some property owners do not make you pay for a pass, but do require you to have one anyways so you can avoid getting towed. Property owners that do make you pay for a pass will have you pay between $20 to $40 for an annual pass. If your apartment is off campus and you want to drive to your class buildings, you will need to get a yellow student permit in addition to your regular parking pass. These passes are between $70 to $90. You also have the option of purchasing a reserved space for a heavier fee. For more information on NIU parking passes and the lots you can park in, click here.  AIMS Parking can provide you with more details on the price.

Earning & Saving Money

Living with roommates  Although you have to share some common spaces, you can save a pretty penny living with a friend or two. The cost of utilities can be split up between however many people you decide to live with. The space you get for this amount is also a pretty great deal. (Living with multiple roommates? Check out this place for a great price and plenty of space!) This is especially awesome if you feel overwhelmed keeping track of the utility expenses. A common method a lot of college students use is assigning every roommate with a different utility bill. Each roommate is in charge of notifying the others about a bill coming up and collecting the money from them. This tactic is beneficial in keeping accounts separate and avoids putting all the bills in one person’s name.

Summer Jobs Having a summer job can also be very helpful in alleviating some of your financial worries. A great rule of thumb is to invest 25% of your weekly paycheck into a savings account. Not only is this a great method for financial security; it also helps you practice working with a “weekly budget.”

Savings Account Did you know that some banks provide college checking accounts? Here’s how it works. Usually banks require you to have a minimum amount of dollars in your checking account or else they charge you a service fee. From our perspective it’s crazy for banks to be mad at college students for not having x amount of dollars in their bank account because they solve that problem by taking more money out of the account. Pretty ridiculous, right? Luckily, banks like Chase and Bank of America, offer perks such as cashback on groceries, reward programs and dollar bonuses. These little hacks can help save you money in the long run!


Huskie Bucks & Flex Dollars This is a good avenue to invest in if you are looking to utilize NIU’s AnywherePrints option. A number of local restaurants on and near campus also accept Huskie Bucks in replacement of actual dollars. An easy way to identify which restaurants take Huskie Bucks is by a small NIU Huskie sticker displayed in/by the front door or near the cash register. For a full list of vendors that accept these payments click here. One of the great things about Huskie Bucks is that they roll over to the next year – so don’t worry about meeting a deadline! One thing to keep in mind is that Flex Dollars DO NOT roll over to the next school year. Besides that, the only  difference between Huskie Bucks and Flex Dollars is that Flex Dollars can only be used at restaurants affiliated with NIU. This includes Three Sons Cafe in Barsema, The Dog Pound Deli in the Stevenson dorms, and Caribou Coffee & Einstein Bros. Bagels located in the Founders Memorial Library. A full list of these restaurants can be found here.


Here is a breakdown of all the costs to consider when budgeting for an apartment. Keep in mind that they costs vary depending on where you decide to stay!

Object- Fixed Costs, Utilities, Amenities Average Cost (per month)
Apartment Lease $385-$650 Per Person
Security Deposit Typically $1 less than one month’s rent
Heating/Air Conditioning
  • Varies depending on usage
  • Plan for $30
  • (can be included)
  • Varies depending on usage
  • Plan for $44/month
  • (can be included)
  • Varies depending on usage
  • Plan for $20/month
  • Plan for $40/month
Cable (optional)
  • Varies depending on package
  • Plan $70/month
Parking Passes
  • $15/Year for Tenant Parking
  • $5/3 Day Guest Pass
  • Yellow Commuter Pass: $70- $90


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