Getting your own place (whether with a roommate or not) versus living on campus or with Mom and Dad is a major rite of passage. But not only does it signal a new level of independence, it can also take a big bite out of your budget.
To get the most for your money, especially in a competitive market, it can be wise to try a variety of techniques, from using little-known apps to searching smarter. These tricks can help you snag a good deal.
Here, you’ll learn some of the top ways to find affordable housing and enjoy your own space.
How to Find a Cheap Place to Live
Check out our 25 strategies for sussing out a space you can not only afford but actually want to live in.
1. Searching Craigslist
Craigslist may be an oldie, but it can still be a goodie for finding affordable housing options. You can filter your search by putting in your maximum price on the left-hand side of the screen. You may also want to check out the “rooms & shares” category to find a place with roommates.
2. Browsing Zillow
Zillow isn’t just for home-buyers; it can also be a great resource for renters. You may want to download the app and also sign-up to get alerts on apartments in your area that are in your price range.
3. Asking Your Friends
Digital listings aren’t the only way to look for a great new place. Your friends can also be a great resource for figuring out where the best apartments are, especially if you know they’re not spending an arm and a leg on their living situation.
4. Asking your Friends to Ask Their Friends
You can expand your word-of-mouth circle exponentially by asking your friends to ask their friends for intel on available and affordable housing. You might also be able to find folks who are actively looking for a roommate or someone to take over their lease.
5. Checking PadMapper
PadMapper ’s tagline — “Making Apartment Hunting Suck Less” — is on point. Searches on this site are quick and easy, and their verification feature can also help you avoid too-good-to-be-true housing scams, which can be a problem on some other sites.
6. Teaming up with a Pal
If you find out that a friend is also on the hunt for new digs, you may want to consider joining forces and finding a place together. You’ll not only be able to split the rent, but also the cost of food, supplies, and furnishings.
7. Hitting the Pavement
Whether it’s by car, bike, or even on foot, you can often learn a lot about the local rental market by touring the neighborhood. You might spot an appealing apartment complex you never noticed before, or see a “For Rent” sign on a multi-family house or single-family house that has a room, mother-in-law suite, or garage for rent.
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8. Keeping an Eye on Apartments.com
Apartments.com is a comprehensive apartment rental resource. In addition to helping you find a rental, you may also be able to use the site to sign your lease and even pay your rent. That can help simplify your money management.
9. Keeping an Ear out at Work
Your coworkers might have insight into where the best local housing rentals are, or even know of someone who is looking for a roommate. You may, however, want to proceed with caution before moving in with a coworker (depending on your roles, living with a colleague could potentially cause awkwardness at work).
10. Using Bungalow
If you’re open to sharing a living space, along with expenses, you may want to check out Bungalow. The platform, which is devoted to helping people find affordable co-living arrangements, can help match you with roommates who have similar living preferences.
11. Moving to a Cheaper City
If you live in an expensive city and your work allows you to relocate or you’re on the hunt for a new job and a change of pace, you might consider moving to one of the more affordable cities in the U.S. A cheaper city may not only have lower rents, but also a lower cost of living in general.
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12. Searching Rentable
Rentable (formerly ABODO) is now available in over 300 cities and makes it easy to search local housing options in your price range. In addition to price, you can apply a wide range of other search filters to help you hone in options that might work well for you.
13. Looking in a Less Trendy Neighborhood
Another way to find affordable housing is to cast a somewhat wider net. Even if you want to stay put in your current locale, even moving a mile or two can make a big difference when it comes to your monthly rent. While you might not be as close to your favorite bars and restaurants, you could end up having more money to actually spend in those places. The cost of living could be lower due to school district divisions or other factors.
14. Hopping on Hotpads
In addition to helping you find rentals in your preferred location, HotPads will also suggest options in other, similar neighborhoods that you may want to consider. This can potentially yield deals you wouldn’t have looked for, or found, on your own.
15. Checking out Local Bulletin Boards
Yes, bulletin boards are still a thing, even in the digital age. Next time you’re at a local coffee shop or other popular hangouts, you may want to poke around and see if there is a corkboard. You never know what you might find being advertised, including an affordable place to live that will help you stay on budget.
16. Poking Around on Reddit
With all the social media options these days, it can be easy to forget about Reddit. But it might be worthwhile to go to the subreddit for your city. You may be able to write a post asking if anyone has tips on where to look for nice, affordable apartments. (You may want to first check the rules in the sidebar to make sure such posts are allowed — every Reddit community has its own guidelines.)
17. Reaching out to Facebook Communities
Your favorite local Facebook community might be able to provide some insight on where to find the best affordable housing. If the group is focused on a shared interest, you might also be able to find a potential (and like-minded) roommate within the community to split expenses with.
18. Looking During the Winter
Moving in cold, miserable weather may not be ideal. However, you might be able to score a more affordable apartment during the winter months, when there is typically less competition for apartments.
19. Trying Trulia
With dozens of search filters, Trulia is another apartment search site that is worth checking out, especially if you’re a pet owner. The site highlights whether or not a rental is pet-friendly right on the listing’s thumbnail.
20. Considering a Job that Comes with Housing
One affordable way to live in the city of your choice is to find a job that offers free or reduced-priced accommodation, such as being a building manager/superintendent, park ranger, hotel worker, groundskeeper, nanny, or live-in caregiver.
Recommended: Ways Employers Can Help Employees Buy New Homes
21. Accessing Apartment List
Here’s another idea for finding an affordable place to live: Apartment List not only lists apartments for rent in all 50 states, but also offers a handy “rent calculator.” You can input where you’re moving, how many bedrooms you need, and your monthly gross income (before taxes), and the site will help you find apartments for rent in your area that will work with your budget.
22. Checking Walk Score (Especially if You Don’t Have a Car)
Walk Score can be a valuable resource for renters who don’t have a car. The platform gives every property listing a “Walk Score” to make it easy for people to evaluate walkability and access to transportation when choosing where to live. If you move to a very walkable location, you may be able to avoid owning a vehicle or have more time to save up for a car.
23. Posting Your Own Classified
Prefer to be in the driver’s seat? Rather than just responding to ads, you might want to consider placing one on a free platform like Craigslist. You can give potential landlords or roommates more information about yourself up front, which could lead to a more fitting (and affordable) living scenario.
24. Considering a Sublet
If you’re looking for a short-term rental, or you’re not averse to potentially having to move again, you may want to consider a sublet. Going this route could help you find a nice place at below market-value rent, since the owner or original renter may be under the gun to find a replacement.
25. Getting out of Town
If you live in or near a major city and you’re committed to a more affordable living situation, you may want to consider heading to a more rural area. Housing can be substantially cheaper in, say, South Dakota than it is in San Diego or at the farther reaches of a commuter zone around the city you’re targeting. The rise of flexible and remote work is making escaping the city more achievable.
Worth noting: If you want to buy your own place, you might qualify for a USDA loan in some rural areas, potentially making homeownership more affordable.)
Finding a nice, yet affordable place to live isn’t always easy. To increase your odds of success, you may want to use multiple online rental platforms, network with friends and coworkers, be open to different locations, and even walk the streets of your target neighborhoods to scout out opportunities.
As you search for hidden gems, you may also want to start saving money to cover your start-up expenses, which could include the first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit. That way, when a great deal comes your way, you can jump on it. A high-interest, fee-free bank account can be a good option.
Photo credit: iStock/KTStock
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