Moving out for the first time is an exhilarating experience… and that initial taste of independence can make some of us a little too eager to spend money.
From throwing parties every weekend (been there) to grabbing takeout every night to avoid cooking (done that), the temptation to revel in your newfound freedom can put a serious dent in your finances.
And you don’t want to come up short when the end of the month rolls around, and it’s time to pay rent.
I made a ton of mistakes when I moved into my first apartment. Here are nine traps to avoid so you can stick to your budget and pay your bills.
1. Trying Out All Those HGTV Ideas
When my friend Julianna and I decided to get our first apartment together, we had only one thing on our minds: interior design.
But between us and our dream bachelorette pad stood two sisters, who had been living in the apartment for several years before our arrival. Out of respect to them, we pledged to leave the living room untouched by our decorating craze.
And thank goodness we did. While the orange walls, amateur landscape photography and a tablecloth that looked like it was swiped from an Italian restaurant weren’t my favorites, I’d already managed to spend more than $200 on decor for my 11-by-10-foot bedroom.
Over time, I realized having flawless white walls and trendy pillows didn’t actually matter as much as I’d thought.
Looking back, I have to thank the sisters for showing me — whether I liked it or not — that those lavish bedroom accessories (including a ceramic cat that’s now gathering dust on my bookshelf) weren’t entirely necessary.
2. Being the Host With the Most
Once we took care of interior design, Julianna and I had a new priority: house parties. A lot of them.
To throw a respectable rager, we felt obligated to purchase a number of items: food, Bluetooth speakers, candles, shot glasses, red Solo cups, a beer pong table and, of course, ever-flowing booze.
In retrospect, we definitely had one thing right: Celebrating Saturday night at home is almost always more economical than hitting the bars. But rather than spending a ton of cash to impress your guests, stick to a rational minimum.
Speakers are good, but buy them used. If beer pong is a must, a kitchen or coffee table works just as well (and possibly to your advantage). Finally, make it clear that your party is BYOB, so your guests contribute to the fun.
3. Getting Fit at an Actual Gym
Miraculously, my first apartment came with its own workout facility. Sure, the treadmill was wobbly and the weight machines were covered in century-old rust, but heck, it was free and super convenient.
If your place doesn’t have a fitness center, you can easily build a cheap home gym with just a few pieces of equipment. A yoga mat, some dumbbells and a pair of running shoes will do the trick.
Or check out YouTube videos from any number of fitness experts and yoga teachers.
If you’re still in college, check whether your school has a free gym. This could be the perfect excuse to hang out with that cutie from your chemistry class outside the lab.
4. Grabbing Takeout Every Night
Working a real job every day meant I was way too tired to make dinner for myself every night, so I understand the struggle. Takeout is just so easy.
But when I switched to making my own meals every night, there was no denying the cash I saved in just one week. Yep, I really liked having that extra $60 in my bank account.
The key to surviving on a budget is planning; mindlessly strolling around the supermarket can be dangerous (especially on an empty stomach). My dad actually writes his grocery list in the order of his route around the store.
Although I’m not quite on his level, sitting down with a notepad and my Publix digital coupons app works just as well.
5. Using Luxurious Amounts of Water
I enjoy a long, hot shower as much as the next energy-sucking debauchee. During my freshman year of college, the sustainability club and its pesky, plastic hourglasses challenged me to cut my shower time to five minutes.
The sake of our planet wasn’t an incentive for me at the time, but a monthly water bill certainly is.
Small steps like shortening my showers, turning on the dishwasher only when it’s completely full and using cold water for my laundry (which also preserves my clothing’s color) help me be more financially and environmentally responsible. Wouldn’t the sustainability club be proud of me now?
6. Keeping Your Cool
Coming home to a perfectly cool home is nice… but the bill at the end of the month won’t be.
It’s a common misconception that the best way to save money on your air conditioner is to leave it running at a steady temperature all day.
However, turning it down or completely off while you’re gone actually saves more cash, Jennifer Thorne Amann, buildings program director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, told Organic Life.
Other easy tricks? Keep blinds closed to keep hot sunshine from creeping in and turn off ceiling fans when you’re not in the house — “fans cool people, not rooms,” advises Florida’s Duke Energy.
7. Signing up for a Giant Cable Package
Nothing sounds more retro than spending $130 a month to watch some guy with hair plugs talk about the rain while chatting with a buddy on your landline.
Stick to your smartphone, and get a Hulu and/or Netflix account for your entertainment needs. Split your subscriptions with a roommate and your guilty pleasures just got twice as sweet. (Or use this trick to get Netflix for free!)
8. Living Alone
It’s no secret that the best way to save on rent is to share your space. When I moved into my first apartment, I had not one, not two, but three roommates.
Living with three other humans did mean a few sleepless nights (who insists on chatting with their friend in the living room about horses until 3 a.m.?!), but it also meant three extra sets of hands to clean the dishes, vacuum the carpet and split essentials like paper towels and toilet paper.
If you’re prepared to take it to the next level, why not share your bedroom with yet another roommate? Hey, if you survived your freshman dorm once, you can do it again.
9. Becoming a (Pet) Parent
Nothing compares to coming home to a fluffy friend after a long day at the office. Who could judge you for craving the warm embrace of a pair of paws?
That’s exactly what I thought when my friend Lexy indulged herself by adopting two kittens. But between the cat food, the vet visits and the litter, it didn’t take long for her to realize that being a young parent — even to two innocent cats — wasn’t going to be cheap.
Anticipating the kittens’ financial impact before welcoming them home would have helped, but once it was too late, Lexy couldn’t dream of letting them go. Instead, she had to accept that the cat-mom life would call for some sacrifices.
If animals are your thing, they might be worth the sacrifices to you, too. But if you’d rather spend that extra cash on clothes and cocktails, again, no judgement here. It’s all about priorities, man.
Your Turn: Did you make any of these mistakes when you moved out on your own for the first time?
Sofia Harris is a recent college grad navigating her way through the world of “adulting.” She hasn’t found a killer deal on Dom Pérignon yet, but she’ll write a really cool article about it when she does.