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Common Expenses

Up-front costs

Even though your lease will not start until sometime in the future, there are a number of up-front costs that you will need to prepare for now. These common costs include:

  • Application Fees, Processing Fees & Credit Check Fees: Most landlords will run a credit check and will pass that cost on to you. Additional processing charges may also be added; you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $150.
  • First Month's Rent: You should be prepared to pay at least your first month's rent at the time you sign your lease. Some landlords require first and last month's rent payments at the time of lease signing.
  • Security Deposit: Your security deposit can be as much as 1.5 times your monthly rent. You should get your security deposit back with interest at the end of your lease if there are no damages in your apartment for which you are responsible.
  • Move-in Fees: In some apartment complexes, landlords will charge a move-in fee to use freight elevators and to protect common areas from damage. Other landlords will charge a larger move-in fee in place of a security deposit. In either case, move-in fees are usually non-refundable. Be sure to ask your prospective landlord.

Bills & household necessities

When you live on-campus, all of your bills are combined into your statement from Northwestern. In the dorms, the electricity is already turned on and the internet is already there and ready for use. Moving off-campus means that you will be responsible for these and other bills separately. This can mean a wide range of variables, which can have a large impact on your monthly and quarterly budget. It's important to plan ahead so you can set a realistic budget.

Renters insurance

Renters insurance is important! It covers losses to your personal property due to theft, fire, damage, etc., and can also protect you if someone is injured at your apartment. Some policies also cover your belongings when you travel. Many students are able to find a policy for as low as $10 per month, although many plans do require a lump sum payment up front. This expense is worth every penny. Check with your parents about bundling with their home or auto insurance policies, and check with your insurance provider to see if you need to purchase any special coverage for specific items, such as jewelry, laptops, or electronics.


When you are searching for your apartment, it is important to know what utilities are included; this information may be included in your lease. If your apartment has radiator heat, the cost of heat is usually included in your rent; if it's central/furnace heat, you will probably have a separate bill for heating gas, which can really add up in Chicago winters. (Keep in mind that an apartment with radiator heat may still require you to pay for cooking gas, so this is another important question to ask when you are looking at apartments.)

It is your responsibility to either schedule the utilities to be turned on, or switched into your name. You should contact the utility companies at least two weeks prior to the start of your lease to schedule this. Internet and cable set up often schedule the farthest out, and you may need a physical installation appointment. Give yourself ample time to schedule this appointment so it can work around your schedule.


Furniture can be a huge expense or a minimal expense, depending if you are buying new or used. This is another area to coordinate with your roommate as well. Common areas will have some shared items, so it is important to decide ahead of time who is responsible for supplying what furniture.

Household necessities

Many of these unexpected purchases are for household necessities, and are not glamorous. As unexciting as toilet paper and is to buy, it is a necessity and is another expense for you and your roommate(s) to plan into your budget. It is also important to build a buffer into your budget. Even with careful planning, once you are in your new apartment you will have unexpected purchases.

Kitchen supplies

With a full kitchen in your apartment, you have the option to cook all of your meals. Preparing meals at home is easily less expensive than eating out or using a campus meal plan, but it also requires time, planning, and discipline to regularly eat meals prepared at home.

Set realistic expectations for yourself. For example, if you will be on campus all day during the week, you may consider getting the 6 meal plan or budgeting for meal packs, especially if you will have to walk or commute far to campus. Bringing a bologna sandwich for lunch is only less expensive if you remember to pack it and don't end up eating out as a tastier backup plan that's outside of your budget.

If you do plan to cook at home, remember that you will need to purchase the necessary kitchen equipment, like pots, pans, and cooking utensils. On the other hand, if you do not plan to do much cooking, save your budget and do not purchase a nice set of cookware – you might be able to get by with some cheaper or second-hand items, or just some microwave-safe dishes. In addition to the tools to cook, you will need to schedule time to prepare food for your day or week. Taking time to plan this out in advance will save you time and money in the long run.