Breaking down the dream

Moving out comes with some hefty bills

Moving out comes with some hefty bills

October 14, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Did you ever think about what it will be like to live on your own? To come and go as you please? To do your own grocery shopping? And to pay all your own bills?

"I've thought about it a lot," says Jeston Clopein, 17, of Hagerstown.

It's all about freedom, he and other Washington County teenagers say. But freedom comes with a price tag: Rent, utilities, car payments and insurance, phone bills, food costs and entertainment fun money.

"I'll like being able to say when I come and go - but you have to have enough money to pay for it," says Luke Andrews, 17, of Hagers-town.


Teens typically underestimate the cost of living on their own, says Kathy Seay of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, a Baltimore-based organization that trains and sends speakers into local high schools each year to talk to freshmen about the importance of planning now for the future. The program is called Achievement Counts.

"(Teens) are also unaware of the number of things they will have to pay for - utilities, car upkeep, health insurance, etc.," Seay says. "What surprises them most is that the government gets a significant portion of their pay."

If you make $10 an hour - say, as an experienced cashier - you'll earn about $1,760 a month. But you'll take home about $1,230 a month after taxes. Or if you make about $20 an hour as an entry-level systems analyist, you'll earn about $3,520 per month - and the government will take about $1,050 of your earnings.

Reality check.

It costs an average of about $2,100 a month to live on your own in Maryland - including about $600 to rent a small apartment, $300 for a car payment, $400 for car insurance and upkeep, $200 for phone, gas and electric, $400 for food and $200 for entertainment, according to information from Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.

Of course, an apartment can be found for less in Hagers-town and the Tri-State area, but it won't be the best on most blocks.

You can cut costs by taking the bus, eating less, saving money on entertainment, making fewer long-distance phone calls, and getting a roommate - but it's still going to cost more to live on your own than at your folks' place.

"At the beginning of the class, most of the kids say they can't wait to move out on their own," says Gidget Maffitt, a local professional who has talked to teens for Achievement Counts in Washington County for the past three years. "At the end of the class, a lot of them say they'll be living at home longer."

Luke Andrews is counting on a starting salary of $25,000 to $30,000 as a law enforcement officer, he says. And he might consider having a roommate to help pay for his monthly living expenses, including his estimated $500 for rent, $600 for car costs, $100 each for utilities and phone and about $200 each for food and entertainment.

"I know it's going to cost a lot," says Erin Lessner, 16, of Hagers-town. She figures she'll make about $40,000 per year as a labor and delivery nurse - enough to cover her estimated $2,100 per month in living expenses.

Amber Ross, 17, of Cearfoss, won't have any problem covering her monthly bills - which she thinks will run her about $1,650 a month - if she earns the $250,000 per year she expects to make as a doctor. Of course, paying back those school loans will be tough. But Amber plans to work at a hospital that will foot the bill for her undergraduate degree, she says. And her future husband's income will help keep some of her paycheck in her pocket, Amber adds.

Carrie Miller also has high hopes for her salary in the medical field. She thinks she'll make about $150,000 a year as an equine veterinary technician. She doesn't foresee any problems paying an anticipated $600 in monthly rent, $250 for utilities, $100 for phone, $200 for food, $100 for entertainment and $80 for car-related expenses, says Carrie, 17, of Boonsboro.

Entertainment, food and rent will rank high on Tabitha Williams' budget, she says.

"I want something roomy, and I want to eat out all the time," says Tabitha, 17, of Hagers-town.

She'll be able to afford a big apartment and restaurant dinners if she owns a beauty salon and "makes some mad money," she says. Tabitha plans to save cash on car- and phone-related expenses because she already owns a car and has a cell phone, she says.

Tabitha's cosmetology classmates at Washington County Technical High School in Hagerstown, Ashley Knable and Samantha Jackson, have lower expectations.

"I'm livin' off Oodles of Noodles," says Ashley, 16, of Clear Spring. She expects to pay a total of about $1,140 in monthly living expenses - including $600 for rent, $300 for utilities, $70 for food, $50 for her cell phone and $20 for car insurance - out of her estimated $25,000 annual salary.

Samantha thinks her monthly bills will be a bit higher than Ashley's - up to $700 for rent, $100 for food, $200 for phone and $500 for her car payment and insurance, she says. But the cost will be worth the freedom, says Samantha, 17, of Hagerstown.

"No rules," she says, "and nobody to boss me around."

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