Philadelphia Apartment Advice? Part 3
May 28, 2018 12:54 PM   Subscribe

1st time apartment renter here. I signed a lease recently for a place at the western edge of UPenn's campus, but it's above my ideal budget. School funding will cover rent in the fall, but I'll have to work more during school to cover food costs plus saving. Should I stay or seek a cheaper apartment for the fall and spring semesters? It'll be another chunk of money to do an apartment search and move again, but it'd save money and energy for 8 months.

In case anyone is curious, here is a link to my recent, related post:

Some of you may have commented on my past posts about Philly and I really appreciate it! Note: For privacy, I have estimated the location and price of my apartment.

As a note, I'm an online grad student without much money or a cosigner, which definitely complicates things, but I do have school funding, though not every apartment recognizes that as income. I did get an apartment recently, at the western edge of Penn's campus, not far from the 40th MFL station (Market Frankford Line for non-PA readers). Perhaps I should have posted to AskMeFi before I officially signed my lease.

It is my first time doing this, and I felt so anxious signing it, because it is above my ideal budget. It's over $900/mo + 1 utility for a studio. (I get $1100/mo funding from school beginning in the fall, to cover housing and food/ 'room and board'). I actually found cheaper studios in Center City, though. But once I was offered this apartment right after touring and applying, and told that they couldn't hold it for me while I considered other apartments (although I had paid the deposit), I feared if I left this opportunity to continue applying for cheaper ones, I might not be accepted for the others and could lose out.

My grad school funding for summer is minimal, and because the apartment I got had a very low move-in cost, I was able to save more towards next month's rent and other costs. Less expensive apartments with 3-month move-in costs would have wiped out my summer funding more in the short-term. Short term it's ok, and I only have two classes this summer, so I plan to work full-time. I'd have to work FT even with a cheaper place.

But in the fall, though my funding is higher, I'll still probably need to work more than is beneficial to cover food costs and have savings for after school. It is a nice area, and an ok apartment. I'm still having second thoughts. Moving to Philly felt right; but I still don't feel sure about staying here.

My priority is working the least amount possible so I perform well in school (and give my body rest). I'm thinking to get a subletter (or someone to take the lease) if I have to for the fall and spring. Over $900 out of my $1100/mo funding for room and board leaves little room for food after utilities and internet are taken out, and a $750 apartment for example would leave more room for food costs to be covered.

I know it would be cheaper to find roommates. I have a chronic illness, so it's really important for me to have my own space, and be able to rest, cook, and work at any hour that my health permits and requires. My health is very poor, I’m the only person taking care of myself and I’m overextended, so I really have to make my environment revolve around my needs, which doesn’t happen when I live with others. Also, it's hard for me to work full-time continually, so it's important that I minimize costs so I can save money for relocating after school. I plan to move abroad after getting my master's to a country with cheaper living costs.

Should I just try to work a ton this summer while I have a light course load with school, and save the extra money I'll need for food during the year, while staying in the same over $900 apartment? Or work a ton this summer, save money to help me get a cheaper apartment in the fall, and have my funding cover everything, so that most money I make during the fall and spring goes toward savings? Regardless, I need to work full time this summer, even though it's not good for my health. It's better to do it now, vs. when I have a full load of classes starting in the fall. Unfortunately, I don't have another option at this time.

I feel really foolish for signing a lease out of fear that I wouldn't get another place soon enough. I'm new at this completely-on-my-own thing, and am struggling. I'd really appreciate input and advice! Thank you in advance.
posted by dancer4life to Travel & Transportation around Philadelphia, PA (8 answers total)
Very few people are saving during grad school. I think it's fine if you don't.

Can you switch to physical grad school? Build connections, get paid for doing a thing related to your studies? I think that helps in your long-term financial situation a lot more than 200 a month on rent. Especially given your health situation, I question online grad school vs physical school or working with the degree you have.
posted by Kalmya at 1:34 PM on May 28, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you Kalmya. Unfortunately, I have to save during grad school, because I have basically no money and no suitable support. If I don't save during school, I'm homeless after school. I majored in Communications Studies & media production, which hasn't afforded me any directly related jobs, and definitely not any jobs suitable for my current situation, not being able to sustain working full-time. I can work a lot for a short time period, but my body will burn out and my health becomes worse each time I do, for the past 2 years. Online school seems less strenuous on my health, considering hiking around campus and attending classes on a more rigid schedule will take a lot out of me. If my goal is working full time at $12-18/hour, I've had lots of jobs that paid that, and none were really related to my major. I should have been wiser and majored in something practical, but I had no idea, back then, of course, that my health would lead to this situation.
posted by dancer4life at 1:43 PM on May 28, 2018

It doesn't really sound like you can afford to move at the end of summer, so the question seems moot.

$1100/month is well below the income limit for SNAP for a one person household. Grad students are something of an edge case when it comes to public assistance and whether your qualify may depend on the exact nature of your funding (and whether it counts as "work"). You want to try to get connected with an organization adept at navigating public assistance in Philadelphia (this knowledge is almost certainly not available from your school, even if it is local).
posted by hoyland at 3:42 PM on May 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

hoyland: I do know that as a welfare clerk (at the office covering that exact neighborhood in West Philly) I got plenty of applications from grad students for food stamps. It's absolutely worth applying, and the worst that can come of it is a "no."

If you do apply, dancer4life, make sure you have all your documents in order: proof of income, signed lease for your rent expenses, bank statements (not a printout of your balance, the actual statements), and—of course—identification.
posted by SansPoint at 5:12 PM on May 28, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the advice. I will look into applying for the food stamps, definitely.
posted by dancer4life at 6:26 PM on May 28, 2018

To be honest with you, unless it's a luxury apartment, that price is high for a studio in that part of Philadelphia. I live west of there, in a neighborhood I really like, and have a good size one-bedroom for $850. 40th and Market is heavy with students, but if you go west there's more of a neighborhood feel with lots of neat stuff going on. Of course, I get that you've signed the lease and don't want you to feel bad about it. However, just something to keep in mind if you want to move later.
posted by bearette at 6:41 PM on May 28, 2018

You have signed a lease but not moved in yet? It’s not too late to back out and find another unit. Also, is this a private landlord or a company? If it’s a company they may let you switch to a cheaper unit with no penalty.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:31 PM on May 28, 2018

Response by poster: Bearette: Thank you, yes I had a feeling the $900-1000 range is getting more in the luxury field, from the places I've seen so far. I do feel bad haha, but only because I regret not being wiser. I'm totally set on doing whatever I need to, whether it be move or make it work here. Lesson learned. I was won over by the low move-in costs and the company catering to students, where some cheaper apartments wouldn't qualify me without a cosigner. But long-term it's still not the best fit.

To DoubleLune: I have signed the lease and moved in, so I am stuck in the lease now. It's a company. Thank you, I hadn't thought of that. I will consider that when I ask them what my options are. So far all I was aware of was getting a subletter, or finding someone willing to take the lease. I'm not sure what their policy is on breaking a lease, so I have to ask that too. Maybe it's more lenient since the application process was lenient and student-oriented.

Thank you again for the input everyone! It really helps and I really appreciate it, since I've been pretty alone dealing with all of this. I do love Philly though, I've already made a couple of friends and I do have one contact from college here.
posted by dancer4life at 9:13 PM on May 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

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