How to Find an Affordable Apartment When You’re on a Budget

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So, you’re ready to move into a new place. Whether you’re leaving the nest for the first time, just graduating college or looking for a change, you’re in need of a home — and quick!

Apartment searching can feel overwhelming. You might’ve noticed just how expensive monthly rent can be. And then there’s the logistics and expenses of the move. It’s a lot, mentally and financially.

The good news is you can find a space that fits your budget and makes you happy. Here’s what you need to know.

How much rent can you afford?

Affordability is relative. When it comes to figuring out how much you can afford to pay every month, you need to take a good look at your finances. 

A good rule of thumb to follow is to not spend no more than 30% of your monthly income on housing. In reality, Americans currently spend about 39% of their pay on rent. Other people pay even more if they’re in a competitive market.

Keep in mind you’ll also need to qualify to be a tenant. This means filling out an application (and paying a fee) to hopefully get approved to rent the property. Generally, landlords will require you to make at least three times the amount of rent every month in order to qualify for the rental. (For example, if the monthly rent is $1,500 per month, then the tenant should make at least $4,500.) If you don’t make enough, you may be asked to get a guarantor in order to get approved.

Once you’ve figured out how much you will qualify for, then figure out how much you will be spending on expenses. Take into account any new bills that you will now be responsible for, like electricity, gas, and internet. Will you need to pay for public transportation or a parking garage? Will you be buying new furniture and decor? Review your budget to accommodate these expenses. If you’ve never been one to budget, this is the perfect time to start.

How to save money on rent

Now that you have an idea of how much you can spend, how do you find an affordable place to live, especially in places like New York City, Los Angeles or Miami? Here are some ideas to help you snag a deal on a rental.

Search Airbnb for long-term rentals

Airbnb is a great place to start if you're wondering how to find an affordable apartment on a short-term basis. The best approach is to reach out to people on Airbnb to see if they would be willing to accommodate you for a couple of weeks or months.

There are spots on Airbnb as low as $20 a night, which is about $600 every month. That's much better than sky-high rents in the downtown of any city. On top of that, there is no need to pay for utilities, Wi-Fi, and cable. Many Airbnb locations include a kitchen, too.

Get a roommate

Another more traditional way if you're looking for how to find an affordable apartment is to find roommates to live with. Start by asking friends or family, and then move on to looking for outside connections. Social media can help you connect with friends of friends, so you don’t have to live with complete strangers. Facebook groups are another great place to search. 

Work in exchange for rent

Believe it or not, you can live rent-free. There are several ways to accomplish this.

You can go the home-sharing route and move into an intergenerational home and help out in exchange for a place to stay. Similarly, you can become a nanny for a family. 

If you’re a student, you can get free housing as a Resident Assistant. As a bonus, you wouldn’t have to worry about driving through traffic to get to class. 

You may also be able to find a job at a hotel, hostel or even on a ranch in exchange for working at the property. 

List your new apartment on Airbnb

If you love company and playing host, renting out your apartment is a great way to get money back every month. Airbnb hosts are making over $900 a month!

Before you get too excited, be sure to check the terms of your lease. Your landlord may not allow it or may require permission. You may also need to apply for a permit in your city.

Go remote

Don’t need to be in the office? Try moving to a less expensive city and working from there instead. 

It may sound crazy, but the benefits of remote work is becoming more mainstream and accepted. You don’t have to be freelance either. Companies are hiring talent from all over the country. In 2017, 30% of San Francisco’s and 60% of Austin’s tech job offers went to candidates outside of the cities.


If you're wondering how to find an affordable apartment, we feel you. It's hard but definitely not impossible. Even in a major city. It just requires a good amount of time, patience, and a little perseverance. 

(Updated by Cristy S. Lynch)

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