41 Tips to Help You Crush Your First Apartment Move

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Graduation has come and gone, and the excitement of venturing out on your own has given way to a curious mix of elation and terror. Congrats, you’re officially an adult! You now need to make your own money, and find and pay for your own place to live. While that can be overwhelming, your first apartment move is a rite of passage. With all the available information, resources and data online, there has never been a better time to locate exactly what you’re looking for in the city where you’ll live, work, and play.

The Nitty-Gritty of Finding Your First Apartment

The best way to break down an overwhelming task like finding your first apartment is to break it up into bite-sized parts. And this transition is no exception, because finding your first apartment goes well beyond locating and securing your pad (although that’s pretty important, too). Once you’ve settled on your first place, you then should figure out how to pay for it, purchase furniture, not to mention pay someone to help you move in. Fear not, young Padawan. We’ve been around the way a few times with helping people plan, prep, and move – and we’ve broken down the process to help you set sail into this big, crazy, wonderful game called “adulting.”

How Much Cash Do You Have for Your First Apartment?

Let’s start with money, as this will dictate what you can and can’t do. If you’ve just finished school, and you’re fresh out on your own, chances are you won’t be taking home a huge paycheck to cover your first apartment move. You’ll need to figure out how to make the most of what will surely feel like a tiny number (they take what out for taxes, exactly?).

The standard rule of thumb for a housing budget has always been 30 percent of take-home pay. In larger cities, and with new jobs, that can be tough – but whatever you do, stay under 50 percent. There are several ways to reduce that amount (distance from hot urban centers, living with roommates), but first you need to build a budget. We know – this is exactly why you didn’t get an account degree! – but this painful process will save you from being heartbroken down the road.

Your best bet is entering your info into an online budget tracker like Mint or the aptly named You Need a Budget. After initial setup, these tools give you a handy glimpse into your spending habits over time. This will help you adjust spending when you realize how much that morning latte habit costs per month, or how much you need to save to pay that pesky internet bill. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not perfect with your spending the first few months. The most important thing is a regular view into how you spend.

Now that you’re confident with a baseline number of what you can afford, it’s time to start the hunt for your new pad.

Budgeting tips:

  • When starting to budget, consider ditching the plastic and using cash only. This makes budgeting pretty simple: you run out of spending cash, you’ve hit your budget limit.
  • Stuff you hadn’t planned for will happen – and when it does, it’s nice to have a small emergency fund. Set aside some cash each month – and if the month comes and goes without an emergency, don’t spend it. Build on the cushion for next month instead.
  • Hit the lights. We all have tons of gear now we need to plug in and charge. Estimate high on your utility costs, and turn off – or unplug – appliances, computers and TVs when you’re not using them.


A Place to Hang your Hat: How to Find the Best Neighborhood for You

For your first apartment, you want to live someplace cool, but also inside the budget. And if you’ve ever watched HGTV, you know how that battle will end. The three annoying rules of real estate are location, location, location – basically, everyone wants to live in the best possible places. So, you have to be willing to make sacrifices – either with high cost and a primo address, or affordability and an “up-and-coming” location. Be sure to do your research to make sure you’re not paying for things you don’t really need. Above all, try to ensure it’s safe. If the only rent you can afford is in a dangerous area, it’s time to rethink your plan.

Apartment hunting tips:

  • Look for proximity to where you’ll work or public transportation that will bring you closeby – no one likes a long commute, no matter the cost savings.
  • Consider the community makeup – are we talking strollers and silent nights, or young professionals and lines out the door at every cool brunch spot?
  • Notice the types of buildings available in your prime locations – are they apartment complexes, smaller landlord-owned units, or mostly single family homes? While a tree-lined neighborhood of houses might sound nice, it might not be the right location for your first apartment.
  • Is the neighborhood flat or on a hill? If you’re hoping to bike to work, or go on runs throughout the neighborhood, this is a big deal.


Finding Roommates You Actually Like (and Who Help Split the Bill)

You may have had your fill of roommates – or, maybe you’ve never had roommates at all. Either way, living with anyone can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s an affordable option, and can provide a regular social spark when you just want to chill in your jammies and binge Netflix. On the other, they can be overly OCD, regularly party till 4am, or be consistently late with their share of the rent and bills.

But let’s focus on the good, shall we? Simple math: Roommates make renting more affordable. And having more money to do cool stuff may be worth their random and sometimes maddening behavior.


  • Before signing a lease together, ask the potential roomie some questions to make sure it will work. Knowing that you have compatible habits will minimize the risk of ending up in a bad situation in the future.
  • Understand your potential roommate’s job situation and schedule. Are they in a similar job with a similar schedule, or do they wait tables until the early morning hours?
  • Agree on a chore schedule. Maybe you hate dishes, but don’t mind cleaning the bathroom and taking out the trash. Try to break up chores into those things each of you will actually do.
  • Have a chat about pet peeves – like finding empty toilet paper rolls or leaving laundry strewn about the house. If the convo starts off funny, it’s less likely to end up sad down the road when things boil over.
  • Write up a roomie agreement. It doesn’t have to be as official as a lease – but it helps clarify roles, obligations, and finances before you get down into the nitty gritty of living together.


Learning to Commute: Love it or Loathe It

Like moving, commuting sucks. If you’re lucky to live in a city with great public transportation, congratulations – you’ve found a unicorn city. If, like many of us, you have to hack together a mix of buses, trains, and Lyfts to get to work and back, you’re going to want to focus on minimizing your commute time. Sure, the closer you live to work, the more expensive it often is – but that doesn’t mean you can’t walk or ride a bike if it’s somewhat flat and the route is safe. Get creative, do your research, and get familiar with the realities of your commute. It’s going to be regular part of your life – just how painful it will be is up to you.


  • Consider the year-round weather where you live and the distances you have to walk or bike to reach public transportation and work.
  • Check with work to see if they subsidize commuter passes, offer bike storage, or provide rideshare reimbursement for late-night shifts.
  • Think about taking public transport that allows you the room to get online, do work, or just zone out to some Instagram feeds.
  • Consider going car-free to reduce your expenses if driving to work isn’t an option.
  • Take care of your feet and buy some comfy shoes. Fashion isn’t everything during the commute, so if you can’t bear the look, pack the stylish kicks in your backpack.
  • Ditch the shoulder bag. Buy a solid, supportive backpack that won’t kill your shoulders.


Getting to Know the Local Nightlife

Working is just a way to help pay for the cool things you actually want to do – so it helps to live near where the cool stuff happens. When looking for your first apartment, consider proximity to coffee shops, bars, restaurants, music venues, theaters, bookstores, and other cultural centers. If you think you’ll just jump on a thirty-minute train, or have no problem changing buses to reach the cool part of town, you’re likely to change your tune when it’s pouring rain, or 18 degrees and snowing.


  • Be wary of living near city centers that become cultural graveyards at night. You want to live where other people live, not where they work.
  • Diverse areas tend to have a diversity of exciting options for food and entertainment; whereas living in the new apartment complex above the national, big-box chain stores may prove a bit drab.
  • Research local newsletters or neighborhood groups like Nextdoor for insider tips on what’s good, bad, and shady.
  • Check out neighborhood-specific blogs for a deeper dive on the local scene.


Planning Apartment Visits – First Dates with the Places You’ll Live (and Maybe Love)

Seeing apartments for the first time is a lot like going on a first date – everyone is on their best behavior and showing their most polished side. But just as there may be obvious flaws beneath the surface, you may find an apartments more endearing qualities will keep you from a quick break up. When visiting apartments for the first time, be thorough, ask a lot of questions, and don’t be too visibly excited (it could hurt your chances to negotiate the final rent).


  • Note things like stains, smells, ancient appliances, or water damage around windows. Ask about recent repairs and renovations.
  • Keep your ears open – can you hear the neighbors? Try to visit places when neighbors might be home so you can get a good sense of the noise.
  • Check out the security of the unit. Are you on the third floor, or directly on the street level with access to a bedroom window?
  • Double check amenities. Staffed lobbies and mailrooms, gyms and pools, or even laundry pickup and drop-off can all save you time and money.
  • Will it be easy to move into? Does it have an elevator or is it a fourth-floor walk-up apartment? This will increase moving costs and generally can make day-to-day living more difficult.
  • Ready to apply for the place you love? Triple check your credit to ensure you’ll qualify – or whether you need to deal with any errors or issues.


The Legalese of Leases – Reading the Fine Print Before Signing a Lease

You’re renting something, after all – and that means it’s not yours. Typically, that also means the person lending it to you in exchange for money has a few rules about how you’re allowed to use it and what happens if you misbehave. There’s a fair bit you need to know before signing your first lease, but don’t be overwhelmed. A law degree isn’t required, just a thorough read.


  • Read the lease a few times and don’t be afraid to ask about anything that seems odd or overly vague about community rules, decorating and maintenance, breaking your lease, or even rules for eviction.
  • Be wary of any place that doesn’t have maintenance or some other person you can call if there is an emergency like a fire, a power outage, or a busted water line that floods your living room from the place above.
  • Pay special attention to the lease’s rules on visitors (and how long they’re allowed to stay) and pets. While you may be dreaming of adopting an apartment-friendly dog, your lease may stipulate that the most exciting pet you can have is a fish (although fish and smaller pets can be pretty cool, too!).
  • Triple check rules and processes for rent payment and late fees – know them now so you’re not unpleasantly surprised later.
  • If they offer an auto pay option, jump on it. Setting and forgetting rent will save you a major headache at the end of each month.


Plan for a Painless Move-In (Yes, it’s Possible!)

Planning your first apartment move is exciting and stressful – but the physical labor of moving your things from one place to another sucks. Before moving, research different types of moving services, apartment moving checklists, and costs and be sure you’re clear on all the things you need to think about in in the days and weeks leading up to move day. Seriously consider hiring a pro. It reduces stress, potential for injury, and ensures your stuff arrives in one piece.


  • Don’t wait until the last minute to book a mover – especially during the more expensive summer months – and be sure to get a guaranteed price quote.
  • Confirm the service conducting your first apartment move has insurance coverage in case they break your stuff.
  • Make sure you know how to get in touch with your movers before and during the move.
  • Consider moving with minimal stuff and adding additional pieces over time. You don’t need to have your first place fully furnished on day one.
  • Check with your landlord or building about booking time to move or use special elevators, stairways etc.
  • If you’re looking to save some money, consider moving the smaller stuff (like boxes and suitcases) yourself, and using Dolly to move your big furniture items.


Want to take the stress out of moving? Download the Dolly app, get a guaranteed quote, and relax while our fully vetted Helpers take care of all the heavy lifting. 

What to Buy, and Avoid, When Moving into Your First Apartment

Your apartment is a place to keep your stuff – so you need some stuff. A lot of guidance and checklists out there will tell you all you need to buy – but when it comes to what you need for your first apartment, we recommend starting with the basics. Take some time to get to know what you need, and how you live in the apartment before splurging at IKEA with your credit card in tow. Be conscious of the space you have to work with – and research designing for small spaces. Think about hitting up secondhand stores, dollar stores and other discount retailers for basics, and stretching out your purchasing for a few months while you figure out your flow.


  • To get a good night’s sleep, you need a good place to sleep, so don’t skimp on a bed and decent bedding.
  • You may need some furniture for the room where you’ll hang out with friends – but think comfy, not big. If you feel the space with huge couches and overstuffed chairs, it will make your first apartment look as tiny is it is.
  • If you’re on a budget, you’ll need to consider eating at home. Buy the basic kitchen gear you need to make a simple meal – think pots and pans, strainers, and some kitchen tools – and leave the overpriced spiralizer you’re sure you’ll use for a later date.
  • Lastly, your lease probably requires you keep the place clean, so have some basic cleaning equipment and cleaners on hand. Remember, you can order almost anything online these days and receive within 48 hours – so you can always supplement.


Shopping and Chefing like a Pro: Your First Apartment Grocery List

You can save a ton of money by cooking your own food. There are tons of services out that that can help you learn to cook for the first time – and if you’re not that handy, at least follow the directions to make a great meal. It helps, at least, to start with a first apartment grocery list to help get some basics in the fridge and pantry – items that will help you make different, interesting foods and don’t cost a ton. Rule of thumb at grocery stores, is that if it’s mostly made for you ahead of time – think freezer meals – it’s either more expensive or tastes like cardboard with tomato sauce. Shop smart, keep it simple, and save more cash for your entertainment budget.


  • Make sure you have some time on the day after your first apartment move to hit the grocery store for a pantry stock-up. While living off pizza and beer sounds fun now, it will get old fast.
  • Jump on Pinterest for some meal-planning inspiration. When you plan and shop for what you’ll eat all week – you can save yourself money, and from making bad decisions at the local Super Burrito.
  • Supplement your cooking with a meal service. Most average between 10-12 bucks per meal, which is amazing considering the cool, sometimes exotic, ingredients used.
  • If you’re new to cooking and don’t know where to start, consider a meal kit service like HelloFresh or Blue Apron. They’ll send you weekly kits with the exact amount of ingredients you need, so you don’t have endless leftovers, and instructions that help you make a simple meal and teach you some basic cooking skills.
  • Check out Community Supported Agriculture options near you, where you can get fruit and produce delivered directly and affordably.


Planning Your First Housewarming Party

We’re not talking about a raging kegger with Jaeger ice luge, but you should pause for a moment to celebrate. You’re doing your best to “adult” now, which calls for a casual gathering of friends (plan a separate one for your family) to help christen your first apartment. This is a great time to stock the bar and fridge (or ask your friends to BYOB to help stock it instead!), and has the overlooked side benefit of forcing you to clean up and organize after your first apartment move. Keep the hours minimal, the times early – and move the party to the local dive bar for all the late-night tomfoolery.

Enjoying the Ride

If you’ve read this entire piece, you’re likely the type of person who likes to be prepared. That said, you’re still going to forget stuff. Moving never gets any easier, and even seasoned vets of apartment moves forget stuff in the tumult that is relocation. Prepare as much as possible, realize that unforeseen chaos will occasionally rear its ugly head, and enjoy the ride. Moving into your first apartment is one of life’s most exciting moments – so don’t get too wrapped up in the details to enjoy it (and, ahem, to start planning your housewarming party). Too overwhelmed and need help sorting out the details of your move? Give us a buzz. We make moving easier, cheaper, and less painless than you’ve always feared it was.

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