If You’re a New Grad, Can You Actually Afford to Live Alone?

published May 26, 2018
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(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

You can only have your leftover lo mein eaten by your roommates so many times before you start to curse communal living. And for the legions of recent grads who are moving on from college dorms this spring, living alone may sound like a dream come true. But is it financially feasible?

Locking down a job is the first step to determining your rent budget. Consulting firm Korn Ferry analyzed salaries of 310,000 entry-level positions from nearly 1,000 organizations across the US, and determined those who graduate college in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn an average of $50,390 annually in their first jobs, CNN reports. (If you Liberal Arts majors nearly choked on your lunch at that number, keep in mind that careers in the science, technology, engineering and math-related fields have much higher starting pay. In fact, the average pay for entry-level software developers is $67,236!) I took a look at the average starting salaries in several American cities to see if living in a studio or one-bedroom apartment was financially possible without spending over one-third of a new grad’s monthly salary (the recommended amount to spend on housing). Spoiler alert: It’s not!

To stay totally within your budget, the only big city you can afford a studio apartment by yourself is Dallas, Texas. According to the report, new grads there make an average of $50,743, meaning that, after taxes, they have $958 to spend on rent (if they’re keeping to the one-third guideline). Thankfully, the average studio apartment rents for $915—meaning you have a glorious $43 left over! A one-bedroom is only a little more expensive and only $100 out of budget, at $1,049, if you did want to spend a little more for more space.

Here, some of our favorite listings on Dallas studios on Zillow:
Gables Katy Trail (Between $925 and $1,021 for a studio)
Pinnacle Ridge (Starting at $915 for a studio)
Everwood Apartments (Starting at $880 for a studio)
Clover on Park Lane (Starting at $705 for a studio)
Sylvan Thirty Apartments (Starting at $947 for a studio)

Other less expensive options include Philadelphia, where the average rent for a studio goes for $1,161, according to RentCafe, and Minneapolis, where you can score a studio for $1,015. The average starting salaries for these cities are $54,169 and $53,766, respectively. Though you’ll have to fork over about $100 more dollars a month outside of your budget, these options can still be manageable for new grads that really don’t want to take on a roommate.

Not looking to move to one of these smaller cities? Well, you’re not going to afford to live on your own in Boston, San Francisco, or New York. Here, we break down the math and offer up some more palatable options in the metro area:

Boston: In Boston, the average starting salary is listed at $59,460. According to Smartasset’s take home pay calculator, you’d have $3,000 to work with each month. If you’re only spending one third of your salary on monthly rent, that means you’d have $1,000 per month. While that may have scored you a studio or one-bedroom apartment in Boston just a few years ago, skyrocketing prices mean you’re definitely going to need a roommate (or two) and you’ll probably have to live in more student-oriented neighborhoods.

Alternative: Quincy, Massachusetts: Known as the City of Presidents, Quincy (pronounced kwinn-zee) is a city of around 94,000 residents with plenty going on. Turned off by Boston’s ridiculous real estate prices and attracted to a growing restaurant scene, young professionals are moving in droves to this smaller city just 10 miles outside of Boston. While you’ll still want a roommate to stay within your price range (most studios start just outside of the price range at $1,300), there’s a better chance you’ll get your own bathroom and more room than if you stayed in Boston.

San Francisco: Nobody moves to San Francisco because of the awesome real estate prices. According to the survey, the starting salary for a recent grad in San Francisco is $63,995. It may seem like a lot, but if you can only spend one-third of your monthly income on rent, that would leave you with $1,098. According to RentJungle, a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco rents for an average of $3,262(!) a month. I did a browse on Craigslist for studios under $2,000, but had no luck.

Alternative: Oakland, California: Oakland used to be much more of a bargain, and rents have climbed in recent years. Still, it’s more reasonably priced than across the bay in San Francisco. According to RentCafe, a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland costs $2,321, and a studio goes for $1,676 on average.

New York: Boatloads of recent grads head to New York. And with an average starting salary of $60,972, they can bring home around $3,510 per month. That leaves $1,053 for rent. According to RentJungle, one-bedroom apartments in New York rent for $2,868 a month on average. Point being: Don’t get your hopes up.

Alternative: Jersey City, NJ: You’ll find plenty of young professionals who ditched Manhattan and Brooklyn real estate for greener pastures in Jersey City. While you’ll definitely notice luxury buildings popping up, if you’re lucky, you can find a studio for a little over your budget. Otherwise, many two-bedroom apartments can be found for under $2,000 total!