I sat at my spreadsheet and punched in the numbers.
How much rent could I afford?
Not much, not if I wanted to continue to save as much money as possible -- including saving for my big birthday trip this year.
Rent ranges in the D.C. metro area were anything from $750 to $2,200 for rooms in people's basements, in their houses, efficiencies, studios and 1-bedroom apartments.
I split rent with my guy -- $450 is my share each month. That enabled me to pretty much save most of what I had been spending on my car loan and credit card payments. I figured I could spend MAXIMUM $1,050 (i.e. my current rent payment plus the $600 I was putting on my credit card when I was in debt). So I settled on a price range on $800 to $1,000.
That proved to be a challenge.
One family was renting their basement for $850/month, but the space was little more than a hole under the floorboards. And the guy who lived there previously lived there for two years! Under the floor in a hole?! He was getting ripped off. I mean, I could hardly stand up straight without bumping my head on the ceiling!
I saw a nice apartment in my price range in the sketchiest neighborhood imaginable. I'm sorry, but the place looked like a crime scene waiting to happen.
I saw a studio apartment in a decent location for $875, including utilities. It kinda made me think of a dorm room. It was also on the first floor by the parking lot. So everyone strolling from the front street or their cars would stroll past my big window. Ew. Still, so far, it was the winner.
The lowest rent, the nicest amenities and the most convenient location I came across was a room that was, in fact, in a DORM. Yes, university apartments. A girl was moving out because she got a dog and pets were not allowed. It was $750 a month to take over her lease. Washer and dryer in the apartment. Fully equipped kitchen. 24-hour security at the front desk. Parking garage. A short walk to public transportation. Fully equipped gym in the building. Mail room. TV rooms. Pool tables. But I had to live with three children (As far as I'm concerned, college students are children, ok? I'm old school like that). Naw. But, I won't lie, for a few hours I SERIOUSLY considered it!
For the first time in a long time, I started lying in bed, anxiously thinking about money. Besides the rent, there was the cost of actually getting an apartment. There are rental application fees. Turning on cable & Internet and MOVING AGAIN (y'all know how much I HATE moving), all costs money and lots of it.
I looked at my e-fund, about $10,000 spread over four accounts (yeah, that was not on purpose. I was chasing interest rates back then and this is where I ended up). I will have to dip into it, at least to get through the transition. I also haven't done my taxes yet and I think I'm going to owe Uncle Sam this year... no, not excited about that.
I kept looking. I saw the apartment I wanted on the third day of my search. Balcony with big windows and loads of natural light into a 1-bedroom with a kitchen WITH a breakfast nook. $1125, utilities included (not cable and Internet). Yipe.
I went back to my budget and moved numbers, slashed budgets on other categories and found a way to do it. It just wouldn't be easy. I flashed back to my previous days of squeezing blood from stones to make sure I could pour the most money into my debt as possible without me completely losing my mind. I haven't tightened my belt like that for more than six months. Did I want to do it again?
Duh. I had no choice. I needed a place and with the economy in the toilet (yet finding deeper, lower toilets every day), I was going to need to tighten my belt no matter what.
I went back to apply for the apartment. But I asked if the rent was negotiable. I figured these days, everything is negotiable. The rental manager wouldn't budge, but he showed me another apartment, the same layout as the first, without the balcony. It faced the back of the building, so there was a little less natural light but all else was the same. $1,015, utilities included.
I agonized over it for two days. It was still the top of my price range (higher, really), but it was less than a block to the Metro (a big plus for me), I was familiar with the neighborhood, it was on a big and busy, but quiet street and there was an elevator.
I applied for it. I got it. And I will take it. I sign the lease on Friday. Perhaps, you're thinking I should have shopped around some more. Maybe you think I'm nuts for renting when it's a buyer's market in housing. Perhaps you're right. But I did what felt best to me at that time. And I did do the math (a smarter me than years ago).
I am excited about a new space! I'm already thinking about decorating and having people over to entertain! All on a shoestring budget, of course. :-)
First thing this year, I pledged to invest in myself. I consider this an investment. Believe me, I'd rather keep the cash! But I need to do this and that's what the money is for. I won't go into debt (hell naw!) and I CAN do this because I'm NOT in debt! I built that $10G once, I will do it again and go beyond it.