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By Alexa von Tobel
June 7, 2016
Illustration by Gary Neill for Money

Your home is probably the biggest chunk of your monthly budget—so a miscalculation here can have a larger impact on your overall cash flow than, say, your grocery tab. The classic mistake: Many first-time buyers plan for their new mortgage but don’t add in the other homeownership expenses that can blow up a financial game plan. If you’re eyeing a new place, be sure to manage all of these costs:


When my husband and I bought our first apartment last year, we knew the extra space would boost our energy bills, but we failed to predict just how much. Oops. Our cable costs would have risen too if we had added boxes to more rooms. (We ultimately didn’t.)

How to save: Get a better forecast by having your agent ask the sellers for recent utility statements. Then cut costs by using a power strip to turn off “vampire” speakers, TVs, and other gadgets and keep them from sucking power while you sleep. On the entertainment front, check selection and prices for streaming services like Netflix or HBO Go. You may be able to save and still watch the shows you want.



Moving farther from work to get a cheaper place? Remember to add up new transportation costs: a pricier rail trip, perhaps, or a second car. The average worker spends $2,600 annually on commuting, a Citi-commissioned survey found last year.

How to save: Employers may let you set aside up to $255 a month in a pretax account to cover public transit and/or parking. The savings can top $100 a month for someone in the 28% tax bracket.


Longtime renters may fail to plan for paint touch-ups, carpet cleaning, and other repairs. But upkeep runs up to $3,500 annually on average, says online real estate site Zillow.

How to save: Small periodic tune-ups (checking HVAC filters, for instance) can preserve the lives of costly major appliances. Meanwhile, put aside cash for bigger projects so that you don’t need to dip into emergency savings or, worse, rack up credit card debt. Replacing a washer or dryer, for instance, could cost $1,000 or more.


Before we even closed on our new place, I began envisioning all of the beautiful new furniture and lighting I was going to put in. Reality check: Just because you’re moving doesn’t mean you need all new things.

How to save: Bring as much from your old home as possible, giving yourself six months to settle in. At that point, you can determine what new items you actually need.

Columnist Alexa von Tobel is the founder of LearnVest.