College is a time to learn a ton—not just about Chaucer and how to speak Mandarin Chinese, but how to make it without parents hovering nearby. And, while there are classes for just about everything, learning how to live out from under mom and dad’s roof? Well, that’s often a trial-and-error process that could lead to some doozy slip-ups along the way.
In an effort to help you avoid becoming a cautionary tale, we’ve put together this College Student’s Guide to Living on Your Own, a series showing you how to find an apartment you can afford, roommates who won’t drive you nuts, a college-friendly credit card and more, to put you well on the path to acing Adulthood 101.
In this final installment, we show you five things you’ll learn only by living on your own—and how to tackle these milestones with ease. Read on and also look back at our entire series to get yourself up to speed on the fine art of Adulting!
1. The right way to change a lightbulb
You simply unscrew the old bulb, head to the hardware store, and pick up a new one, right?
Today there are more types of bulbs than ever, and with the need for energy efficiency at a premium, you need to have a good handle on what you’re screwing into your fixtures. There are three main styles: halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
Halogen incandescents are almost always the cheapest, but they’re also the least energy-efficient bulbs on the market. (A regular incandescent bulb’s life span is a meager 1,200 hours.) CFLs are like the long fluorescent tube lights you might see in an office or garage, but in a curly, compact “pig’s tail” version—and they use about 75% less energy, while lasting about 10 times longer. However, the gold standard is the LED, a type of semiconductor that converts electricity into light.
Residential LEDs, especially Energy Star-rated products (a demarcation for energy-efficient products created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy) use at least 75% less energy, and last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs (the average life span of an LED is 50,000 hours).
2. How to keep your home and belongings safe
Growing up, your parents might have had a security system or self-monitoring security equipment to protect the house from intruders, but now it’s your turn to watch over your domain.
Since you’re on a college student’s budget, you probably can’t afford a big, fancy security system, but there are simple steps you can take to protect your house. Here are good safety habits to follow:
- Lock up when you’re out of the house. The U.S. Justice Department reports that more than 40% of break-ins happen without the use of force. Read: Make sure you lock all doors and windows when you leave the house.
- Get reliable locks. Ask your landlord to install deadbolt locks on all exterior doors.
- Don’t advertise your vacations on social media. Want to share the news that you’re about to take a trip? Don’t do it on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media, where burglars can find the information and target your home.
- Don’t hide spare keys. Share a spare with a neighbor or someone you trust instead. Criminals know how to check the obvious places, like under the doormat or flower pot.
- Check windows and screens. Generally, window screens are designed to be removed from the interior of the home, but if they’re installed backward—a surprisingly common mistake—they can make an easy entry point for thieves.
3. How to deal with a lousy landlord
Some landlords are good, but some, unfortunately, take advantage of their tenants. But “Don’t let your landlord push you around just because you’re young,” says Nora Bradbury-Haehl, co-author of “The Freshman Survival Guide: Soulful Advice for Studying, Socializing, and Everything In Between.”
Let’s say the dishwasher breaks, but your landlord has gone MIA. Your best approach is to call and email daily—it’s annoying, but it will likely get his attention. Or, since you have to send a rent check every month, include a letter, pictures, or other evidence that details your problem with that check. If and when the check gets cashed, you’ll know your landlord received your complaints.
Have a dispute with your landlord that you can’t resolve on your own? Get help—many states have tenants’ rights centers or landlord-tenant law offices that offer free advice to renters.
4. How to handle a noisy neighbor
Can’t sleep at night because the dude next door is blasting music at 4 a.m.? First, try to resolve the issue with him or her directly. (A polite knock and calm conversation might be all you need. Maybe.) If the problem persists, talk to the non-offending neighbors—they probably share your concerns. This gives support should you decide to go to your landlord. Also, most cities have noise ordinances, some tied to decibel levels; you can use this to plead your case.
If the situation is dire—say, you’re hearing violent fights or you feel threatened in any way—don’t hesitate to call the police, who can keep your identity secret if you wish. With bad neighbors, there’s no need to suffer in silence, since the law’s on your side.
5. How to live on a budget
As a college student, you’ll have to live frugally—and that means making some tough tradeoffs sometimes.
One of the biggest mistake you can make? Running up credit card debt. As a general rule, credit experts say you should use up to no more than 30% of your available credit—and try your best to pay off your balance every month. You’ll also want to learn how to discern needs from wants. Food is a need, but dinners out is a want. Learning how to cook a few meals at home is a must.
Tightening your belt is just a fact of life, a skill that can help you establish a good credit history that will pay off well into your future. Who knows? One day, the responsibilities you rack up now will help you achieve other goals, like buying a home. That may seem far off, but time flies when you’re having fun! Make sure to read the rest of our college guide to make sure you’re sitting pretty later.
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