Financial Friday: How to Save Money and Budget for the Reality of Off-Campus Living



By Mark Mulkeen

College is undoubtedly a hectic and crazy experience. With so much to focus on during a semester, some important decisions can easily fall to the back burner. One such decision is, “Where will I live next year?”

Pitt students are not guaranteed housing for senior year, so searching for an off-campus apartment is simply a reality of being a Pitt student. So how can you save money on the apartment you rent? The first thing you should do is start early. If you haven’t started searching yet, start now.  Apartment listings go quickly, and the longer you wait, the worse your selection will become. With this in mind, you need to know where to begin searching for apartments.

A good place to start searching for apartments is through the university. Pitt has its own apartment-listing page that can be found on its “Off-Campus Living” page. Classifieds are also a good place to look, especially online. The most common online classified site is Craigslist, and it usually has many listings throughout the city. Websites also exist that are specifically dedicated to finding homes and apartments, such as Zillow, Trulia, and I found my junior-year apartment through Zillow and have the same landlord in my senior year, so it provided a positive experience for me personally. If you have trouble finding an apartment through these avenues, keep a lookout for signs throughout Oakland. Landlords will often post “For Rent” signs on their properties with a phone number to call. Opportunities to view apartments are everywhere; you just need to be willing to look.

Another common way to save on your apartment is to live with roommates. It not only tends to cut down on your individual rent expense, but it can also divide costs on many other expenses, from utilities, to apartment furniture to even basic living expenses. It’s a time-honored way of saving money on one’s living situation because it tends to work. Just make sure you are living with trustworthy roommates who will pay rent and other bills on time.

From here, you need to make budget changes you may not have had to worry about while living on campus. A lot of bills that come along with the average apartment are covered in room and board while on campus. You now need to account for these expenses in you budget. This can include a lot of things, but most often it includes utilities. Gas, electricity and water can be easily taken for granted while on campus since they are included in room and board, and while landlords occasionally cover some of these expenses, they are often considered non-rent expenses that the tenants are responsible for. If you only think of rent when measuring your monthly apartment payment, you may be in for a rude-awakening when you move in, so don’t ignore utilities when searching and budgeting.

However, extra off-campus expenses don’t end at utilities. Internet is basically a necessity for any college student and many students desire cable as well. That monthly bill can rise to over $100 per month, depending on your situation. Pitt provides both of those things in campus housing, so it’s another thing to look out for now. If you decide to ditch your meal plan when you move off campus, groceries take on increased importance in your budget as well. Even basic things – such as a desk, a bed to sleep on or shower curtains, to name a few – are now up to you to provide yourself. Make sure your budget accounts for all of these things.

Living off campus requires a whole new level of preparation that may not have been necessary on campus. Figuring out how to save money and budget for this new arrangement is just a small part of preparing for life off campus, so make sure you start early and be meticulous about what you need. Doing so can go a long way and making your transition off campus a smooth one.

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