How to Move Out on a Shoestring Budget

I admit it – I was a boomerang kid.  It grates on me to admit that, since I boomeranged in 2007, before it was a big thing.  I lived with my parents for about six months post-college before moving closer to my job.  The long commute and close quarters with my family really got to me late in the fall, so I planned and executed my move within a couple months.  I didn’t know nearly as much about personal finance back then, so I had no emergency fund and virtually no savings.


It looks like my younger sister will be moving out of my parents’ house in the near future, so I tried to think of the steps I would recommend she take to properly prepare herself.  She’s never lived out of my parents’ home except during college and will stay in the same area to keep her job.  This post is written with her in mind, but it is adaptable to other types of moves and life transitions.


1) Assess and improve your finances.


Any savings or possibly emergency fund can be used to bridge you to your new place to pay your first month’s rent/security deposit and to buy any items you may need.  If you don’t have much in the way of savings (as I didn’t and my sister doesn’t), start putting money away as fast as possible to prepare.  Cut your lifestyle to the bare essentials and start keeping track of what you really need to spend if you haven’t been already.


2) Research where you will live.


Even if you don’t need to sign a lease immediately, you at least need an idea of what you will pay in rent and utilities.  And if you can find a good rate and lock down a place, go for it!  Renting a room in an already-established roommate-household is a good option, and so is finding like-minded acquaintances who are willing to become roommates.


3) Identify your property and list what you need to buy.


If you are leaving your parents’ house for the first time, it may be ambiguous what belongs to you and what belongs to them.  Will you be taking a car with you (and is it in your name)?  Do you have any furniture that your parents will part with?  Do you own any cooking equipment?  Create two lists: items you need by the time you move and items you will need to buy in time.  Virtually all furniture will be on the second list (even a bed!), whereas buying at least a small amount of cooking equipment early on will save you from eating out once you make your move.


4) Draft a budget.


Try to project what you will be spending a few months after your move, once things have settled down.  Ask your parents to help you estimate your part of some expenses they have been paying for, like utilities, groceries, gas, and car insurance.  Give yourself at least 10% of slack in your budget in case you have forgotten or underestimated some expenses.  Do you make enough money to sustain this budget?  If you don’t, can you pick up more work, ask for a raise, or add some side hustles?


5) When you have enough bridge money, move!


Make sure you have at least a small emergency fund as well as enough savings to cover your direct expenses from moving (trucks if you need them, application fees, deposits, utilities you pay in advance) as well as the purchases you need to make to set up your independent household (don’t forget about stocking a basic pantry!).  If you absolutely have to move by a certain date and haven’t built up your savings enough, see what you can borrow from your family and friends in terms of time and belongings.  Maybe your parents will lend you a car or some old cookware until you can buy your own.  Be creative to find out what you are able to substitute or live without.  Remember, it doesn’t have to be a perfect home from day 1 – you can build that up over time.


What further steps or tips would you provide to someone preparing for a move to their first independent home?  Is there anything you wish you would have done differently when you first moved out?


photo from Meathead Movers


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39 Responses to "How to Move Out on a Shoestring Budget"

  1. Daisy says:

    I was a pretty independent person already when I moved out, so I didn’t really feel like anything needed to be done differently. I did move quite a bit though, so staying in one place for longer woudl have been less expensive.
    Daisy recently posted..Trip Recap: Oregon Coast

  2. Emily too says:

    I was pretty happy with my move out after college, which I made right away because I felt like I had to leave my hometown for job prospects. I know a few people who have thought too big, and then couldn’t come up with enough money to move on those terms in the first place, though.

    For instance, if you’re moving to a place where you’ll be job searching*, don’t look for a year’s lease on an apartment and sublet the other bedrooms! BE a subletter, at least until you have income for a longer term! And don’t make a goal of saving up a year’s middle class wages. A few months’ bare-bones living expenses is important if you don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from. $40K is seriously overkill and is just going to keep you in a job/place you hate.

    *I know it’s ideal to have a job first, but that’s really hard to do if you’re from a rural area and it costs a lot to even get to an area with more job openings for interviews. I, and quite a few of my friends, couldn’t find jobs in a regional city until after we’d moved there, despite efforts to do so before. Having the savings to deal with not having a job is pretty key if you’re in this situation.

    1. Emily says:

      Very good point, I wasn’t thinking about people who have to move without a job. Knowing you only have a few months of living expenses ticking down would be really motivating to find something that pays!

  3. Having a budget and setting up a timeframe is huge!

    So many people think they can wing it.
    Marissa @ Thirty Six Months recently posted..Remember Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian’s wedding?

  4. renee says:

    I wish I had this advice 5 years ago – this is spot on! Also, my move to the east coast wasn’t that well planned either…. could have used it then too. 😉

    I agree – investing money in basic kitchen equipment can save money in the long run. Deciding on the quality of that equipment can be a hard choice (i.e., paper thin teflon pans, anyone?). A few trips to some good thrift stores can yield some pretty fabulous deals on quality kitchen equipment.

    1. Emily says:

      Kyle and I bought bought some thrift store plates back when we were in college that we still use (secondarily)! We basically had all secondhand kitchen stuff until we got married.

  5. Jessica says:

    Those are great tips! I wish I were that organized before I first moved out on my own.
    Jessica recently posted..Quarterly Financial Update-June 2012

  6. Michelle says:

    Moving is a lot of work and there are so many things you never think of until you are out. Do you have a yard? Are you responsible for keeping it? Do you have a lawnmower? Are there HOA fees? Do you own a vacuum cleaner? Silly questions, but a lot of people don’t think of these things. We thought of the ones I listed, but forgot about home maintenance like heating and air conditioning, vent cleaning, chimney cleaning, etc. Most people don’t do those things themselves, so they end up costing a bit to have a professional out. Definitely, if I were moving out today, I would be thinking of these things, but I know they didn’t cross my mind when we first bought this house!
    Michelle recently posted..Take That, Debt Monster!

    1. Emily says:

      These are great question – definitely more in line with a first-time homeowner than a first-time renter, though. I have never bought a vacuum cleaner, actually! The first place I rented was all hardwood floors so we swept, and subsequently my roommates always had vacuum cleaners. 🙂

  7. Jason says:

    If I could do it all over again I’d tell somebody to go cheap instead of going for the “nicer” place. Of course you want to be safe but renting (or buying) well under your budget is only going to help.
    Jason recently posted..Challenge the Norm – Consider Lowering Your Housing Costs

    1. Emily says:

      I totally agree. Particularly when you are on your own for the first time you don’t really know how your expenses are going to shake out and what you can afford, so go for a bit less. Same with a car! So many of my grad school friends financed new cars right when they started, and they’ll probably get their PhDs before they pay off those vehicles! I bought a used car and structured the loan to be paid in less than two years.

  8. After college I moved back home, although it was kind of stretch to say I ever left in the first place. I went to school only 30 miles away and was home every break and at least one weekend a month throughout all of college. For my final semester, I just commuted. I didn’t move out till I got married at 29. I frankly never understood the big deal.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..May Net Worth Update

    1. Emily says:

      I found that I get along MUCH better with my parents when I don’t live with them. I do think it’s important to become an adult before getting married, and part of being an adult is being financially and domestically independent from parents (in American culture).

      1. As we discussed in one of your previous posts, I have an interdependent marriage, which is the kind of relationship I’ve had with my mother ever since college.
        Edward Antrobus recently posted..Needs Vs Wants

  9. I wish I had someone to guide me through life when I first moved out and got my own credit card. I had no idea how to make a budget. I only make budgets when you have a real job. Well, by the time I had a real job, I wished I started budgeting and saving sooner!

    The earlier you start financial planning, the more you get experience. By the time you graduate college and have finances to manage – you’ll do well. I gotta pound this into my younger siblings so they can start off on the right foot.

    1. Emily says:

      I think you’re right on. I had a tiny bit of experience managing my money in college and that was really valuable. I’ve tried to help my sister get started while she’s still dependent on my parents and she really seems to have taken to Mint and is aggressively paying down her student loans. I hope she can continue to apply what she’s learned when she moves out.

  10. laura says:

    Its good advice, I moved out 4 years ago with a little inherited money behind me but after a few reckless years and stupidity I had to move back into the family home broke, I wish I had taken more care and thought more about what I was doing. Starting over again is so hard and also depressing!
    laura recently posted..

    1. Emily says:

      Not managing your new moved-out life well is a little different from what I discussed here, but I hope the post is useful to you the next time around. Good luck developing a sustainable plan!

  11. Leigh says:

    Very good advice for your sister!

    I moved in with my parents for about two months between finishing undergrad and moving to start my job. It was a bit of an interesting experience since they mostly treated me like an adult, but they didn’t charge me rent since I wasn’t making money nor costing them that much and they were super super happy to have me there, but then really sad when I left since I was gone for “good”, not like when I went off to college!

    When I moved out for good after college, I had money set aside to cover my first month of expenses (I had set up a budget) and then some more money scattered around in savings accounts that I could have tapped if necessary.

    I’d actually never kept a budget before – my expenses were pretty minimal and all fairly variable while in college. So making a list of all the bills that I was expecting to see each month and estimating them was a huge help and that developed into what I use as my spending plan still today, a few years later!

    I hope your sister’s move goes smoothly 🙂
    Leigh recently posted..Not All Details Matter: Spending

    1. Emily says:

      Sounds like you had it all under control, as usual! The bigger the savings buffer you have, the less rigorous you have to be with what I outlined – but you may end up wasting some money. I kind of can’t believe that I moved out with nothing but a credit card for an emergency fund, but thankfully everything went smoothly.

  12. eemusings says:

    Just don’t go crazy buying stuff because you want to furnish your home beautifully and with only the best stuff. Buy stuff as you need it and accumulate over time! We’ve hardly paid for anything in our house – lots of it it hand me downs from friends or family, been free online through Freecycle/message boards or bought really cheaply secondhand.
    eemusings recently posted..Adventures in the kitchen: Thai green curry

    1. Emily says:

      We took the same strategy independently before we were married to slowly furnish our apartments. We are students and we live like students – Craigslist furniture and all!

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  18. Do you know how much it will cost in groceries? Here’s a quick way to find out. Look up the U.S. Department of Agriculture “Cost of Food at Home Study.” It’s updated every month.
    You should plan on your food bills (not including paper products / cleaning supplies) to be around “thrifty” range on that chart. It works out to $160 a month for a single woman, $180 a month for a single man. If you have to build a kitchen inventory entirely from scratch, it may cost a bit more for the first couple of months. But it will be difficult to get lower when you are living on your own for the first time. You’re not ready at that stage for money-saving tricks such as backyard garden or a deep freezer filled with bulk purchase meat.
    Monroe on a Budget recently posted..Dollhouse diaries: Customizing the dollhouse furniture

    1. Emily says:

      Great suggestion! Though I guess there is regional variation as well. It seems my husband and I are around that “thrifty” range or a bit below. I wish we could have a garden or deep freezer but I think that will have to wait until we are homeowners!

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