By Sally Slack of Zillow
The median rent price in the United States is $1,475, not including utilities. Depending on your location and lifestyle, utilities can limit your overall renting budget by hundreds of dollars each month. Before you sign a contract, do a bit of research to gauge the average utility costs for similar properties and ensure you’re receiving the best deals on the following lifestyle accommodations.
1. Renter’s Insurance
Although not always required, renter’s insurance is recommended. The trick to managing insurance expenses is to inventory personal items carefully and purchase only the amount of coverage required to replace everything. Most companies offer up to $25,000 of coverage for specific risks, such as fire, for a monthly expense usually between $12 and $25.
To get the lowest price possible, ask for a deductible of $500. You’ll still have plenty of coverage but, by agreeing to pay more up front in case you have a claim, insurers may give you a break. Gather at least three quotes from insurance brokers (check online companies, too) and ask for the same amount of coverage from each so you can compare costs accordingly.
2. Heat and Air Conditioning
Heating and air conditioning costs are difficult to estimate because of fluctuating heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems as well as your own personal habits to consider. Neither is an evenly-distributed expense; climate plays a huge role in how much you’ll pay each month. Individuals searching for apartments in Dallas, for example, typically save money on heat. However, Dallas lessees should allocate portions of their utility budgets for air conditioning, an indispensable relief from the hot Texas summer. Dallas and other hot climate renters can expect to pay $80 to $90 for eight months out of the year in air conditioning expenses.
The most effective way to estimate these costs is to contact the utility company providing HVAC services. Most should be able to give you an historic average monthly cost for the unit you want to rent. Also consult your new landlord, who can ask previous tenants about their monthly utility fees. To eliminate excess spending and limit your carbon footprint, close vents and doors in rooms you don’t use often. Plug gaps and drafty spots as well to avoid losing heat in the winter or cool air in the summer.
Electricity costs can be excruciatingly high for some renters, although most will pay about $40 per month. Keep in mind that primary uses – and costs – of electricity will come from lighting, gas, heating and cooking.
Keep costs low by replacing incandescent lighting with LED bulbs. If you don’t already, get into the habit of turning off lights in rooms that aren’t being used. To capture heat, weather strip the tiny gaps that tend to form in doorways or windows. Also, you can estimate a steady bill by requesting an annually averaged invoice from your provider. They’ll compile the typical cost of heating your specific rental unit for one year and divide your bill into twelve equal payments. Keep in mind, seasonality will dramatically affect your monthly bill and some months require higher funds.
4. Internet and Cable
Internet is a must-have for most people, but cable is a toss-up due to movie rental websites and online video streaming. In most locations, Internet alone will cost about $30 each month. Cable can bite another $40 or so out of your budget.
When shopping for an Internet provider, carefully watch for the trap door that forces you to roll television, telephone and Internet together in order to get a low monthly bill. Bundling these items together will indeed get you a lower cost on Internet access but you could pay more in the long run for items you never use.
If you’re going with Internet-only, save money by sharing your router with a roommate or splitting WiFi with the apartment next door. That can leave enough cash left over to purchase streaming alternatives to cable, such as Netflix, Hulu or HBO GO. Newer digital televisions include digital antennae capabilities that can access local network channels free of charge.
Don’t allow yourself to go over budget by forgetting to account for utility costs. Although seemingly minor, living expenses add up quickly over the course of the year, and researching beforehand is more likely to eliminate unnecessary incidentals.