Since I’ve been living on my own for over a year now, I figure I am the perfect person to give you some tips on how to make the moving-out process a lot easier and less painful. Trust me, I have the experience. Getting ready to live on your own? Headed to college or university? Apartment shopping? This one’s for you!
LIFE IN GENERAL
DO: PAY YOUR BILLS. I cannot stress how important this is. Use a calendar or an app (I use Google calendars) to keep track of when you last paid your bills. Companies are notorious for neglecting to send you bills (and they can also get lost in the mail) so don’t count on them to notify you when you owe money. Even if they send you an e-notification, that can get screwed up too. (I’ve had them mess up my email address before.) Nobody wants their phone/internet service cut off without warning, so keep track of it all! (Hint: ignoring it won’t make it go away, it will only get worse.)
DO: Build good credit. This is the thing that will allow you to get a mortgage (or a car) later on down the road. For example: You need to spend $100 on a vacuum cleaner. Put it on your Visa, and then call the bank (or go there, whatever) and pay it off the next day. Even making small purchases and paying them off promptly shows your credit company that you are trustworthy and that you are responsible enough to handle a big loan.
DON’T: Go in debt. My motto is, “Owe no man nothing.” If you can’t afford it, a good tip is, don’t buy it! I spent a full year with no couch for that reason. I didn’t NEED a couch, so I waited till I could find a cheap used one instead of going in debt for something that really isn’t a necessity.
DO: Pay off debts promptly. Sooner or later, you will have a debt. Whether you decide to buy a car, fix your car if something goes wrong, get a mortgage on a house, or you just need to purchase something big like a washing machine, you will eventually go in debt. Pay it off FAST. If you make only the minimum required payment, you will live with it hanging over your head. Plus the interest will kill you and you’ll end up paying like twice as much as you were originally going to. If you have a $200 debt and the minimum required payment is $18 a month, don’t be afraid to pay $50 or even $100 at a time if you can afford it. The faster you can get rid of that debt, even if you have to pinch pennies, means the less you have to worry about.
DO: Have a backup plan. Always have money in your bank account. One thing I wish I would have known when I first moved out, is that unexpected expenses will crop up everywhere. It’s Murphy’s Law… if something can go wrong, it will. Just when you think you’re getting ahead in life, you’ll either have a flat tire or something will break or go missing or whatever. This is where GOOD credit comes in handy… it’s saved my hide when I had emergency car repairs and a bill that I didn’t know about until it reached $400.
DO: Save money where you can. I am the ultimate Scrooge… I hate spending money on ANYTHING. But being a Scrooge means I’m not constantly broke, which is good. And it means that when you do splurge on a fast-food meal or a new nail polish or that pair of jeans you’ve been eyeing, you’ll feel good about yourself because you know that you don’t have to feel guilty for treating yourself once in a while.
DON’T: Expect your pad to look like something out of Sears catalogue right away. Do expect to sleep on an air mattress and eat off paper plates for a while… all things happen in good time. Just be patient.
DON’T: Buy all new stuff. Go for gently used every time. You can get stuff that’s practically new for a quarter of the price. Coffee table, kitchen table and chairs, bedside stands… go for used.
DO: Buy from people you trust. I’m touchy about couches and mattresses… anything that I’m going to put my face on and that I can’t immerse in soapy water, I want to be clean. These are the two items that I’d recommend buying new if you can afford it… if not, buy from a relative or family friend. At least you’ll know where it came from.
DO: Look for an apartment without carpets, for the same reasons as listed above. Floating floor or hardwood or tile can be cleaned so much more easily, and it doesn’t collect dirt and dampness and bugs and end up stinking like carpets do. Buy area rugs if you want soft flooring.
THE FIRST NIGHT/WEEK
So you’re ready to move in and spend the first night in your new apartment on your own. First, you’ll want to do some shopping. Pick up toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels, hand soap, dish soap, and sponges. Also, if you don’t have a vacuum cleaner, pick up a mop and mop bucket, broom and dustpan. You want to be able to unpack your stuff without worrying… especially if the apartment wasn’t cleaned before you moved in.
Make sure you buy a shower curtain and a toilet plunger. These are essentials.
Bath towels, facecloths, dish cloths, and dish towels are also a must. And you’ll want to grab a laundry basket, or designate a bag for this purpose. Also buy laundry detergent. And dryer sheets.
If you don’t have blinds and you haven’t had time to buy curtains (or make them, if you’re inclined thataway) a sheet or towel and a few thumbtacks works wonders.
Make sure you have Drano or Liquid Plumber on hand… clogged sinks are nasty.
I’m going to assume you have a fridge and stove, since most apartments have them, so let’s jump right into what you should stock your kitchen with. You can use plastic utensils until you get a set of dishes, and buy paper (not Styrofoam) cups and plates. Styrofoam will melt in the microwave, and you don’t want that, do you?
Unless you’re a big eater, assume that a lot of stuff will spoil when you’re the only person eating. I buy a lot of canned fruit, because it’s healthy and keeps forever in the cupboard. I also buy individual-sized, ready-made salads instead of buying all the separate ingredients. (Unless you want to eat salad three times a day; in that case, go to town.)
Regardless of what you think of canned food, keep at least a few canned soups, stews, tuna or chicken or ham flakes, noodle soup cups, instant oatmeal packets, and Kraft dinner cups in the cupboards for those times that you’re too tired/sick/broke/lazy to cook. Microwave dinners aren’t all that healthy and they’re packed with salt, but they’re better than starving. Do make an effort to eat healthy though!
Keep wieners and hot dog buns, hamburger patties and hamburger buns, chicken fingers/nuggets, pierogis, English muffins and pepperoni (for mini pizzas) and maybe chicken wings or the like, in your freezer. They make great emergency meals.
For starters, you’ll want to stock your fridge with drinks and some condiments. Great starters are ketchup, mustard, relish, mayonnaise (if you like it on sandwiches or burgers), plum sauce (if you like it on chicken fingers), soya sauce (this is good on rice), etc. This will vary according to taste, of course.
Also make sure you have salt and pepper on hand.
I buy butter in sticks (4 to a box) because I find it spoils too quickly otherwise. Store your butter in the freeze and just thaw a stick or however much you need for a week. You can buy a block of butter and cut it up and separate it into containers, but why go through all that trouble?
Other fridge staples for me are cheese, eggs, and milk.
Cupboard staples may include bread, cereal, rice, crackers, and sandwich spreads like peanut butter, honey, molasses, or whatever you prefer.
NOTE that the above lists will vary according to taste and preference; this is just to give you some ideas of what you may not want to be without.
Try to have at least a toaster and kettle on hand. Get a microwave as soon as you can. And please, PLEASE buy a slow cooker. It will change your life. Seriously.
For dirty dishes: If you have a dishwasher, give yourself a high five, a pat on the back, do a dance, get down on your knees, say an Our Father, whatever. You just got lucky.
If you have a double sink: do all of the above. You’re still lucky.
If you have a single sink, buy a dish drying rack and drying mat. You can either run hot water over your soapy dishes to rinse them (although this will fill up your sink quickly) or you can buy a dish pan and fill it with clean hot water to rinse your dishes. Speaking of dishes, make sure that any dirty dishes containing cheese, egg, or oatmeal, are put in the sink to soak, or else they will dry like cement. I kid you not, these are the worst three food items to clean.
Also, NEVER put anything metal, like forks or knives, in the microwave. Just in case you didn’t know ;) And also, never use steel wool or any kind of harsh scrubber on a non-stick pan. Also in case you didn’t know. ;)
Just a tip, I use rubber gloves to wash dishes. Why dry out your skin, ruin your manicure, and touch icky bits of food when you don’t have to?
By all means, this isn’t a complete list, but I think it covers some of the more important areas!