The breaking point for my parents was the 15 minutes of pounding on their door at 2 a.m. I was 25, fresh off a terrible breakup that required a move back home, and a night out with a girlfriend that somehow ended with a lost wallet. Since cab drivers don’t like to work for free, I had to remedy the situation by waking up my dad and using his credit card to pay the fare.
Let’s just say it wasn’t his proudest moment as a father. His response in the kindest, most understanding voice he could muster: “You have to move out.”
He was right - and I wanted nothing more than to feel like a fully functioning, financially capable adult.
Luckily I funneled all of my post-breakup emotions into finding a new job, which meant my income was higher than what it was when I first moved back home. But I knew the financial pressures of moving out would be greater this time around. Being single and completely uninterested in finding a roommate, every financial responsibility would be on my shoulders.
Given my tendency to be financially conservative and overly prepared before I take a leap, I went to work prepping my finances and getting to the bottom of what I could afford to take on.
Whether your parents are ready to be empty nesters or you're wishing for freedom, here are a few steps to help you get your financial ducks in a row.
Step 1: Get Clear About Your Roadblocks
My financial situation when I was living with my parents was fairly straightforward. I owned my car free and clear, I didn’t have student loan debt, and I had successfully steered clear of consumer debt. And while my income was dismal when I first moved in, my new job had cleared that roadblock from my path.
My remaining roadblocks weren’t financial, they were emotional. I was terrified of not being able to live a comfortable life. Being deep in an emotional struggle after the end of an 8-year relationship left me in search of outside comfort. I wanted to be able to say yes to experiences that could lift me up and to have an environment that I actually felt at home in. This was what my parents had always offered me, and I was afraid I couldn’t recreate it on my own. I was afraid of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been afraid of being down to my last dollar. This made me save nearly everything collected from summer jobs and even the money I received for high school graduation. I saved before I had anything to save for, so the idea of depleting that gave me intense anxiety.
Maybe the roadblocks you face are more financial in nature:
- You have a large debt burden
- You're stuck in a low-paying job
- You haven’t established the financial habits to make living on your own a possibility
Whatever your roadblocks are, get crystal clear about where they are and what they look like. Without an idea of what’s holding you back, solutions and a plan of action can’t be established.
Step 2: Put Numbers To Your Situation
In my case, the two main roadblocks I needed to contend with had one simple solution: get clear about my financial numbers. In other words, go from emotional thinking to logical thinking.
Before moving out, these are the two things I considered:
Knowing how much I actually had to work with each month was an obvious first step. But this also included ensuring this income was stable. I had become accustomed to constant talks of layoffs and buyouts at my previous employer, so stability was at the forefront of my mind.
Current financial responsibilities
This laundry list included things like:
- Car insurance
- Food (groceries and meals out)
I also included savings on this list because I was accustomed to treating this as a bill.
- Potential future responsibilities
By moving out sans roommate, I would be committing to paying 100% of all house-related expenses. While I was already paying some of this at my parent’s house, I needed to be fully prepared to take it ALL on. This would include:
- Water/sewage/trash (unless this was bundled in the rent)
- Utilities (electricity, heat, air conditioning)
- Household necessities (toilet paper, cleaning supplies)
Once my numbers were calculated, the emotional fears were easily put to rest. I knew I had the financial means to live comfortably on my own without jeopardizing my savings in the process.
What picture do your numbers paint? Is there breathing room between your financial responsibilities (current and future) and your income? While there might be opportunities to lower your spending (like selecting a new insurance carrier or cutting food costs), it’s important to know the numbers as they stand now. This will help you determine what you can afford as well as a timeline for moving.
Step 3: Determine What You Can Comfortably Afford
This is the part of the process where I was reminded of my toxic relationship with guilt and fear.
I started my search at the very low end of my budget, compromising everything I wanted in a rental: parking, a safe neighborhood, a washer and dryer. I even looked at a few ground level units with rank smells and bars on the window.
Then I inched up a little higher. Safety was better, but I would still need to make the trek to my parent’s house to wash my clothes.
Finally, I allowed myself to look at a unit that was still firmly in my price range, but closer to the top. Let’s just say the difference was noticeable.
I had secure, covered parking and the safety that goes with it. I had workout equipment and no need for a gym membership. I had plenty of space for one. In the end, this was what was best for me. I just needed to weigh all the benefits and drawbacks of each unit instead of honing in on rent alone.
Before deciding on a rental, here are a few steps to follow.
Decide on a price range
Make your lowest number and your highest number reasonable. Don’t ignore all of your wants and needs, but don’t make yourself “house poor” either. Your top number should still leave room for your other financial necessities (including saving).
Make a list of your necessities and your wants
You might not get everything on your list, but a little clarity can help you get at least some of it. Just make sure to prioritize what’s important and what you can do without.
Select a few neighborhoods to look at
Pair down your list by looking at the basics: safety, price, transportation, and neighborhood amenities.
Start at the bottom and work your way up
It’s hard to come back down once you’ve looked at a unit at the very top of your budget. Instead, start at the bottom, see what you can get, and work your way back up.
Consider more than the cost of rent
Some rentals include the cost of utilities. Other rentals require you pay monthly for parking. Make sure you take into consideration all of the extras that are included or aren’t included before making your final decision.
Step 4: Set a Timeline and Stick To It
Before the cab debacle, I didn’t have a timeline for leaving my parent’s house. (Saying that now makes me cringe.)
If I would have trusted my ability to save and properly manage my finances, a good timeline for my situation would have been around three months after the start of my new job. That would have allowed me time to settle in and get a grasp on my financial situation with a higher income.
Your timeline might be impacted by a few different factors like your current debt load or job situation. But even if there are a few external circumstances that need to shift before moving out, there’s something powerful about deciding on a date.
Things to consider when selecting a move-out date:
Select a date that is reasonable (but it can still be a bit of a stretch)
Plaster it everywhere you can see it. This will be your motivating factor every time you make a decision that can impact your finances.
Decide what needs to be accomplished before this date
Maybe you need to pay off a credit card. Or maybe you need to secure a roommate. Reflect back on your roadblocks to moving out and decide which ones need to have actions attached.
Work backward from your target date
If your move out date is December 1st, maybe you need to have a roommate by October 15th. Or your final credit card bill in the mail by November 1st. By working back from your target date, you can have a clear timeline of everything you’ll need to accomplish beforehand.
Taking the Leap
When I finally carried the last box out of my parent’s house, I think they were just as relieved as I was. No more 2 a.m. wake-up calls for them, and plenty of freedom for me. And all that additional financial pressure? It was totally worth it.