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Living alone is an intimidating thing to think about when you’re young and just getting started. Rising rent prices in many U.S. cities make it hard for many renters to afford living alone — in 2022, in Census survey revealed that more than 19 million American renter households were considered cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their incomes in rent.
This sounds bleak, but don’t be discouraged. The good news is that many young adults jump into the world of living on their own every day. We have a few tips you can use to live a budget-friendly life and enjoy the freedom of living alone.
Here are some of the cheapest ways to live alone and advice on how you can plan ahead.
Cheap Housing Options for Single People
First, you need to consider the cheapest options available to single renters. None of these guidelines are guarantees, but generally, these options can help you avoid overpriced rentals and luxury apartments. Reduce your living expenses with any of the following options:
1. Rent From a Small Landlord
Small-time landlords own 72.5% of single-unit rental properties in the United States. These owners are more likely to own just one or two rental properties. Since these rentals aren’t run by a commercial real estate company, you might find they tend to be more affordable than new developments on the market.
This is highly dependent on the local rental market and the landlord’s approach, of course. Just because a landlord runs a small operation doesn’t mean they’re great to rent from. But if you can find a fixed-up unit in an older home, you’re more likely to score an affordable rental rate in your neighborhood.
2. Rent a Room in a Single-Family Home
Similarly, some homeowners reduce their mortgage expenses by renting out extra space in their home. This may be a single bedroom or something akin to an in-law suite. While you may have to share kitchen or living space, renting out a single room can feel more private than occupying an apartment with roommates.
Renting a room requires careful vetting of the homeowner. Learn how much space you’ll be sharing, whether you get a private entrance, and what the ground rules are for the house. If you can handle the living situation, renting a single room is very affordable.
3. Look for a Move-in Special
Different places will have rental prices, amenities and specials that will catch your eye. You may get a free month with no rent if you sign a six-month lease instead of a 12-month one. Other places could combine the internet and utilities with your rent so you don’t have to pay outside companies.
Move-in specials can be hard to find, but help with saving money each month. When the market is in your favor — as it was in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — specials will be more available for renters.
4. Consider Housing Alternatives
Apartments aren’t your own housing options. Some young people are embracing a more nomadic lifestyle by living in tiny homes or renovated RVs. If you’re a traveler and a DIY-er, saving money to purchase a tiny home might enable you to cheaply live alone.
Do your research here to learn if this is feasible for you. Whether or not a tiny house is affordable depends on your initial costs, where you want to live, and what housing policies look like in the region you move to.
How to Live Cheaply When You Live Alone
1. Pick Your Living Location
Whether or not you can afford to live alone greatly depends on where you live. For example, the cost of living in San Francisco, California differs drastically from the cost of living in many smaller cities in Pennsylvania. If you’re intent on finding a one-bedroom apartment in an expensive metro, the cheapest way to live alone might still be quite expensive.
Flexibility is best if you’re intent on living without roommates. Figure out what different cities have to offer if you don’t know where you want to move. Once you decide on a location or two, you can compare apartment communities and job prospects.
Figure out which places interest you, and make a list of pros and cons for each so you’re aware of all your options.
2. Downsize Your Living Space
You might have your heart set on a one-bedroom apartment, but that could end up being pricier than you first expected. The cheapest way to live alone may require embracing studio living.
Studio apartments get a bad rap because they’re tiny, but you can make them look bigger with a few interior design tricks. Multiuse furniture, tall bookcases and rugs are a few of the things to make your apartment feel like home without cramping the space.
Think about how much living space you really need. Do you require a desk for your home office, a roomy kitchen, or hobby space? What can you sacrifice that’s worth living without roommates? Creating firm requirements can help you avoid the temptation of renting more space than you need.
3. Create a Monthly Budget
The next thing you can do while learning what the cheapest way to live alone? Create a strong monthly budget so you know where your dollars go after they land in your bank account. Add up what you make every month, subtract your bills and you’ll see what’s leftover to put aside for saving and spending.
An important thing to remember is that you may need to adjust your budget occasionally. Your electricity bill could increase during the summer, or you may need to go to the doctor’s office unexpectedly. It’s OK to remain flexible with your budget, as long as it guides your financial decisions.
4. Think About Your Spending
Think about how you spend money at the moment. Do you go shopping as soon as you get paid, or are you into saving? Recognize and list your good and bad money habits. Slowing down your spending during the first month or two of transitioning into your new place will help you cover the bills until you learn what they’ll roughly cost every month.
5. Strategize Your Groceries
You might only get groceries after you’ve emptied your fridge and ordered out a few times. That quickly drains your bank account, so strategize how to lower grocery bills before you need to go to the store. Shopping during sales and comparing prices at different stores can help you eat more and pay less after you start supporting yourself.
6. Browse Thrift Stores
Once you move into your apartment, you’ll need to buy everything to make it a home. That includes furniture, kitchen supplies and decor. Don’t go to big brand stores and panic at the price tags. Browse thrift stores instead. You’ll find incomparable prices on all those things and more without overspending on the necessities.
7. Save on Utilities
You can adopt energy-efficient habits to save on utilities and reduce your monthly expenses. Begin by being conscientious about electricity usage — turn off lights, electronics and appliances when you’re not using them. When feasible, make the switch to energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances, which may have a higher upfront cost but contribute to long-term savings. Unplug chargers and devices that aren’t actively charging to avoid “phantom” energy consumption.
8. Cook at Home
In 2022, Americans spent more money at restaurants than on groceries. By preparing your meals at home you gain greater control over the ingredients, portion sizes, cost and nutritional content. Buying groceries in bulk and planning weekly meals in advance can significantly reduce your overall food expenses. You can also repurpose leftovers and freeze anything you don’t get around to eating.
Find the Cheapest Way to Live Alone
No one has their life figured out when they start living in their first apartment. You’ll need time to get used to fluctuating bills, your income and how to handle your new routine. With these tips, you’ll find the cheapest way to live alone while you discover all that life has to offer.
Original Publish Date 7/30/2021 — Updated 11/13/2023