Budgeting for rent is more of an art than a science. The fact is, you have to learn how to calculate what you can afford in rent, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach. How to budget for rent depends on many variables and there are plenty of expenses to consider.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have re-evaluated where they want to live and how much they can spend each month. Now, many people need space to work from home, while a changing economy forced many people to cut back on their rental budgets despite an overall increase in rental costs

With all these changes in our environment, it’s no surprise that many people are relearning how to budget for renting an apartment. Below, we’ll talk about how much to budget for rent and other key financial considerations to keep in mind before your next move. 

How To Start a Budget for Rent

One of the most common questions among new renters is “how much rent can I afford based on salary?” A common starting point in the budgeting process is to review your total monthly income and work backward to find a rental amount that won’t break the bank. Follow these four steps to figure out how much you can spend each month on rent. 

  1. Determine your monthly income.
  2. Calculate your monthly expenses, including groceries, gas, entertainment, subscriptions, streaming services and utilities.
  3. Subtract your expenses from your income to see what’s left.
  4. Give yourself a small buffer.

There are many budgeting apps that aim to make this process easy, including Mint, PocketGuard, EveryDollar and YNAB (You Need a Budget). Most are directly linked to your bank accounts and can automatically deposit a portion of your income into separate accounts. Some apps can also point out which subscriptions you’re spending on each month and remind you to reevaluate them regularly to see if they’re still worthwhile.

The key to financial success is creating a realistic budget and sticking to it. Understanding and adhering to a budget can mean the difference between a great renting experience and a terrible one. Imagine how stressful it might if you were forced to pick and choose which bills to pay on time because you are stretched so thin, financially. If you can, give yourself a small buffer in your budget each month. Having a buffer will allow you to plan ahead for any unexpected emergencies without getting behind on rent or other bills. 

Other Apartment Expenses to Consider

Your rent isn’t the only apartment-related expense you’ll need to keep in mind when creating your budget. You’ll also need to figure out how much to budget for rent and utilities, combined. Things like electricity, water, gas, trash removal and internet costs should all be factored into your monthly budget. 

How Much To Budget for Rent

Without a doubt, the biggest question when it comes to establishing a monthly budget is: how much rent per month can I afford?

A common starting point in the budgeting process is to calculate 30% of your gross income and use that as your maximum potential rent. So if you earn $4,500 per month before taxes, then you should aim to spend no more than $1,350 per month on rent.

However, the 30% suggestion has been around since the National Housing Act of 1937. That suggestion doesn’t take into account other financial obligations that have come into play since 1937, such as increased student debt, car loans and the rising cost of utilities.

This suggestion also ignores variables like living in a high-priced rental market. Sticking to spending 30% on rent isn’t necessarily feasible in an area like Washington, D.C., where the average rent for an apartment is $2,356 per month

If the 30% strategy doesn’t work for you, there are other ways to figure out how to budget for renting an apartment. Another way to calculate what you can afford in rent is the 50/30/20 method. Under this calculation:

  • 50% of your income would go towards fixed expenses, including rent, utilities, insurance and other recurring bills.
  • 30% of your income would go towards leisure and fun, including eating out, concerts, happy hours, non-essential shopping, etc.
  • 20% of your income would go directly into savings—either a separate savings account or as contributions to your retirement funds.

So if you earn $4,500 per month after taxes, you’d divvy up your paycheck like so:

  • $2,250 for needs
  • $1,350 for wants
  • $900 for savings

NerdWallet has a calculator to help you figure out your 50/30/20 budget.

How To Keep Costs Down

Maybe after all that budgeting, you’ve determined that you cannot afford your desired apartment or location. If you’re unsure how to afford rent on your own, there are a few things you can do to help lower your costs:

  • Choose a studio apartment instead of a one-bedroom. While you’ll compromise slightly on size, you could potentially save several hundred dollars per month. 
  • Choose an apartment located in the suburbs, further from the more expensive city center. Suburban apartments often offer more bang for your buck than those in urban areas, especially when it comes to square footage. 
  • If you do choose to live in the city center, opt to use public transportation so you can eliminate the added expense of a vehicle, gas and insurance.
  • Split the rent with a roommate, family member or significant other.
  • Look for apartment communities with cost-saving perks, occupational discounts, an on-site fitness center (bye-bye expensive gym membership) or an in-unit washer and dryer.
  • Look for rent specials and extended lease options. If you’re willing to sign a longer lease up front, you may save money on your rent each month. Many apartment communities also offer move-in specials during slow periods. 

How To Afford Rent on Your Own

Moving out on your own for the first time can be very daunting, especially in today’s turbulent economy. One of the biggest challenges for anyone moving out on their own is paying rent without additional support. You’ll want to figure out how to afford rent on your own before you start your apartment hunt. 


If you can’t afford a studio or one-bedroom apartment on your own, consider moving into a larger apartment with other people. Moving in with a partner will dramatically reduce living costs if you’re ready to take that step. Not only will you save on rent, but you can also cook together and share other necessities to stretch your combined incomes further. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re fully ready to commit to a long-term relationship before moving in with a partner. 


Another great option is to find roommates to move in with. There are plenty of people looking for roommates in major metropolitan areas, so you should be able to easily find someone you click with. Not only will moving in with a roommate help you save on rental costs, but living with someone else can also make the transition to a new apartment a little easier. 


There are many different ways to find roommates. Reach out to your existing network of family, friends and coworkers to see if they know anyone looking for a roommate. Platforms like Facebook and Craigslist are an easy way to find roommates in your area. When searching for a roommate online, you’ll want to be very discerning to avoid scams or dangerous situations. Always meet in a public place for the first time, and take the time to get to know each other and make sure you’re compatible. 

Southern Management Makes Budgeting Easy

Once you’ve figured out how much to budget for rent and utilities, it’s time to start looking for an apartment community. The easiest way to manage your rental budget is to choose your apartment community wisely. 

If you’re still wondering, “How much rent can I afford based on salary?” Southern Management is here to help. Customer care is our number one priority and the core of all we do. We pride ourselves on the way we treat our residents, and the proof of our uncompromising level of customer service is seen in the long-term relationships we establish with them.

With over 70 apartment communities and more than 25,000 apartment homes, Southern Management knows a thing or two about helping people find beautiful and affordable places to call home. Our apartments come with many cost-saving amenities and floor plans that can accommodate roommates. Our online resident portal, RentCafe, allows you to set up automatic payments, so you can be sure your rent is always paid on time.

To learn more, contact us today.