Tuesday, October 18, 2011

decisions, decisions

When I was 16, the most important thing about graduating high school was that I would move out of my parents' house. It was assumed I would go to college, and I did. It was assumed I would live in the dorms, and I did. It wasn't until after these decisions were made that I realized I even had options, so today I want to talk about the many different options you have for living arrangements outside of your parents' house.

Your options will depend on what you plan to do. If you're going to college, dorms have typically been the first choice, but aren't always best and usually cost more. If you're going to work, you'll need to save a pretty hefty chunk of change before you can move out on your own. It may be that your housing is already set up for you and you don't even have to worry about it, but it's always good to explore your options.

If you go to college, you will be expected to do a number of things on your own for the first time. Living in a dorm can help cut down on your responsibility and saves you from having to buy furniture and fixtures. It usually comes with some kind of meal plan, which is helpful when you're cramming for mid-terms and have zero free time to do things like buy food, shower, and sleep. It's a great way to meet new people, sure, but  sharing a bathroom doesn't always bring out the best in people.
You might have extra rules like a curfew or no unaccompanied members of the opposite sex.

Your home is your castle, make it easy to do what you love. This comes pretty naturally - if you like to be outside, you'll look for a place with a yard, if you like to cook, you'll search for a nice kitchen. Don't fall prey to the extras, the "amenities," like a pool or a workout room. Unless you're already swimming and working out enough to warrant these things, it will just end up being a huge expense.
Speaking of expenses...apartments will often include utilities (water, electricity, and gas) in the monthly rent. This is abbreviated ABP for all bills paid. This can be extremely helpful - your bill never changes - but first find out how much they charge. When I lived alone, my electricity bill was usually around $75 (though it tips $100 in the summer), gas would be around $40, and water generally around $30 (although last month it was $70...still trying to figure that one out!). If they are charging much more than this, move on.
If you're in a bigger city, you'll probably be able to get free apartment locating. This is a great service, especially if you don't know the town. They drive you around to all sorts of different spots, and they don't get paid until you pick one. This is a much better option than CraigsList.

In all the housing I've had, duplexes are my favorite. You have a yard and a front door, neighbors are friendlier, you have a bit of privacy, and you can really make it a home. The downside? They are twice as expensive as apartments. You pretty much have to get a roommate and that is never an easy task.

Tips for Finding a Roommate:
1. Never live with your best friend. Trust me, you're similarities will drive each other crazy.
2. It's good to live with someone who has known you for a few years. Even if you're just acquaintances or old classmates, this is better than a total stranger.
3. Living with a member of the opposite sex is actually a lot easier than parents may make it seem. (Just choose someone you aren't attracted to.)
4. Craigslist is a terrible plan 99% of the time. If you DO decide to go this route, be extremely picky. Pickier than you've ever been. You will see the worst side of humanity while meeting these candidates. Prepare yourself.

If you're moving to a college town, you may be able to convince your parents to buy a house there. Seem outrageous? Hear me out... If they buy a house, you can live there, paying rent every month of course. Having this tie will help them feel more connected to you. And when you mail them the rent, you can send it in a little greeting card or with a note about something that happened to you recently. Trust me, moms LOVE this. After you graduate or move out, you can help find new tenants and your parents can go on making money off this investment for as long as the school is open.
Before you talk to your parents about it, research prices for housing in the area. Just do a Google search for real estate in that city, collect information about a few houses near campus, and prepare the numbers before you go to your parents. (Don't show them anything above $200,000).

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