Housing and Utilities

Housing and Utilities

Temporary HousingTemporary or Emergency Housing

You need an address to do almost anything, from applying for jobs to getting needed documents, and, of course, for shelter. So if you are moving, finding a place to stay is a priority. Often it is easier to find temporary housing—a place where you can stay for a while until you settle basic questions like where you will work or study and how much money you have to live on.

If you can plan ahead, try to arrange a place to stay before you leave. If you
  • must leave in a hurry, or
  • must keep your departure a secret, or
  • have no contact with the outside world,
you may not be able to plan ahead where you will stay.

Here are some options for temporary housing.

Staying with Family or Friends

A friend or family member who can take you in for even a night or two is a major resource. Family and friends may understand more than you realize about what happened to you and — even though harsh words might have been exchanged between you — may be glad to help now that you have left the group.
Ex-members have found that even families who explicitly cut them off would have been ready to help had they known of the need. In that situation, try a phone call. You might say something like this:

“Hi, [name of person]. This is [your name]. I want you to know that I’ve left [or “I’m planning to leave”] [name of the group]. I need a place to stay; and I wondered if, despite everything, you could take me in for a couple of nights?”

Keep to the point and try to get your news out immediately (before your family member has a chance to hang up). Explanations and apologies can wait—preferably until you see her in person, but certainly until you know what kind of reception you will get.
If you are with friends or family members, you will have a breathing space to think about the next steps. It’s important to discuss with your hosts just how long you might need to stay, and whether that length of stay is OK with them. You might want to prepare for this conversation by asking yourself:
  • How long will it take to get missing documents, like a Social Security card or the birth certificate that I need for a photo ID?
  • Do I have a health condition that will prevent me from working right now?
  • [If you don’t have a job] What job skills do I have? Are jobs using those skills available in the area where I’m staying? And, vice versa, what jobs are available that I can do? (See Jobs and Careers for more about this.)
  • [If you already have a job, or once you get a job] How long will it take to save enough money to get my own place?
It’s important to be as realistic as you can. But “realistic” doesn’t mean “pessimistic.” It means picking the most likely possibility, not the best or worst. For example, if the Social Security office tells you that your card will come in two to six weeks, but these days it usually takes four weeks, figure that you will get your card in four to six weeks.

Your hosts will want to be supportive. Encourage them to be realistic, too. Sleeping on the sofa for a few nights is not the same as moving in for three months. Everybody needs to think and talk about it.
You may be better off if you
  • find transitional housing—a longer-term but still temporary arrangement; or
  • find another friend or family member you can stay with for longer.
Fitting in. It’s a good idea to talk things over with your hosts and find out what will make your stay as easy as possible for all of you. For instance,
  • What do your hosts need from you as a guest?
    • Do they need you to be out of—or in—the house daily by a given time?
    • Are they vegetarians who don’t want meat in the house?
    • Do you need to be quiet after a certain hour at night so they can get to sleep?
    • Are there times when someone else must have use of the bathroom?
  • What do you need for this arrangement to work?
    • Will you be dependent on them for transportation?
    • Are you a vegetarian who finds the odor of meat offensive? And, if so, how will you get along with your meat-eating hosts?
    • Will they expect you to go to church with them, even if at present you are very uncomfortable in church?
  • If they need to ask you to leave, how much notice will they give you?
You probably won’t cover all the issues in one conversation; but if you set the tone of openness and honesty right at the start, it will be easier to raise issues later during your stay.

Chores. In the group, you may have spent your entire day doing menial household duties—cleaning, cooking, laundry—for others. Or, as a former member of an elite segment of the group, you may be accustomed to having others do all these chores. In mainstream society, everyone is expected to pitch in. This makes the chores less dreary all round and also reflects the mainstream view that such chores are not demeaning. No matter how long or short your stay, it is important to assist your hosts with a reasonable share of routine tasks like
  • cleaning,
  • cooking, and
  • other family chores, such as shopping, babysitting, lawn mowing, or snow shoveling.
What is a reasonable share of household chores? Each household has its own habits and ways of doing things. You might start by noticing what these are.
  • In one home, for instance, jobs may be specifically assigned. One person may always clear the dirty dishes, another wash the pots, and so on.
  • In another family, each member of the household may do his or her own clearing and washing up.
  • In yet another, duties may rotate, with each person taking a turn at every chore.
You can fit yourself into this pattern by offering to help, and by paying attention to responses to your offers. This doesn’t mean that you should take on everything you can possibly do. You can look for
  • tasks that are easier or more convenient for you than others, or
  • that fit your schedule more comfortably, or
  • that are more difficult for other household members to accomplish than for you.
You may notice chores that go undone, such as cleaning the garage or washing the car, because no one else has the time to do them. (It’s important, in this case, to check first. If the family members don’t care about this particular task, they may not appreciate your doing it.) Other considerations are the amount of time and effort you put into this activity.
  • Chore time should fit into your schedule and conform to your needs, as well as your hosts’ needs.
  • You’re not expected to
    • spend hours every day on household chores, nor to
    • take on a major responsibility.
  • If your hosts ask you to take on a chore you strongly dislike, you can say so, and request a different assignment.

Men may not do housework where you came from; but in mainstream America, most do, especially house guests. Men do traditional chores such as
  • mowing the lawn and
  • carrying out the trash.
But they also
  • wash dishes,
  • do the laundry, and
  • help with shopping, cleaning, and cooking.
Your hosts will welcome your assistance.

Sharing the costs. You can show that you’re mindful of the costs of the hospitality:
  • If you can, pay something toward the household costs—food, gas, and so forth—of your stay.
  • You can chip in by buying groceries or gas, or some needed household item.
  • If your stay is long, you can arrange to make a regular payment, even if you can afford only a small amount.

Emergency Shelters

Emergency shelters are free sleeping places that local governments or private charities provide. Checking into a “homeless” shelter may seem demeaning, or even frightening, but it’s usually preferable to sleeping on the street. Although some shelters are better run than others, many offer support services to help you get back on your feet in addition to a place to sleep and shower. Some shelters take all comers; others are more selective and provide services only to specific groups, such as women with children.
  • If you do not have a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” you are officially “homeless,” a status that entitles you to stay in a shelter.
  • Many shelters will not admit you if you have a friend or family member who could take you in; so if you have been staying with someone, you must make it clear that you are no longer able to stay there.
  • Rural areas have few shelters; so if you need a shelter, get to or near a city.
Most shelters offer
  • a bed for the night,
  • showers, and
  • laundry facilities.
Some shelters offer breakfast or other meals. Those that do not can tell you where to find soup kitchens that provide meals for homeless people.

There are different kinds of shelters:
  • Some take only men or only women without children.
  • Some take women with children.
  • Some take both men and women, but do not take children.
  • If you are under eighteen, or in your early twenties, there are shelters specifically for you. See Teenagers on Their Own for more information.
  • Some shelters offer support services that will help you get medical care or find a job.
  • Some will allow you to leave your things there during the day. Others require you to take everything with you each morning.
  • Most will help you find a daytime center where you can stay while the night shelter is closed. Often, day centers will also provide meals and support services, like help in finding a job or registering for public assistance.
  • Some shelters have rules about how long you may stay.
  • Some have waiting lists, so you must check in frequently to find out whether a bed is open for you.
  • Some shelters are not well-supervised. If you feel unsafe, or if there’s a lot of noise and disorder at night, try a different shelter.
  • There will be rules about residents’ conduct. Violators may be expelled from the program.
To find shelters in your area, google “Emergency shelter,” plus the name of your city or county.

The shelter may be far from comfortable. But you will have a place to sleep and an address you can use to get a photo ID (you will need to get a form from the shelter staff), and to apply for a job or other assistance, such as food stamps or transitional housing.

Domestic Violence Shelters

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you are eligible for a shelter especially designed to assist you.
  • Domestic violence shelters
    • offer a higher level of safety than other shelters, and
    • keep their locations confidential.
  • They may help you get a protective order to keep the offender away from you and your family.
  • Most domestic violence shelters also offer counseling in addition to the usual services.
To find a domestic violence shelter in your area, google “domestic violence shelter,” plus your state or city. You will find a contact number, but not an address.

Transitional Housing

Transitional housing is longer-term, low- or no-cost temporary housing, where you can stay for several months until you are able to afford your own place. Support staff at an emergency shelter or a day program can help you find transitional housing. Some transitional housing programs will accept people who have been staying with family or friends. Others will not.
In a transitional housing program:
  • You will be assigned a regular room (which may come with a roommate), with storage space for your belongings.
  • There will be food service or a kitchen to prepare your own food.
  • There will probably be support services, such as help with employment, education, or job training.
  • You can expect more privacy and more comfort than in emergency shelters.
  • If you are employed, the facility will charge you to cover part of the cost of the program.
  • As with shelters, there will be rules about residents’ conduct. Violators may be expelled.
  • You usually will be assigned household chores, to help keep the place clean and neat.
  • Your status is still officially “homeless.”
Religious organizations sponsor or support many transitional housing programs. A few housing programs have religious restrictions or requirements, such as participating in a prayer service. Most don’t, but you may want to ask about those things before you enter a program.


Hostels are very inexpensive, but usually safe and clean overnight accommodations intended primarily for travelers.
  • A few hostels have rooms for families; but in most, guests are expected to share a room with others, dormitory style.
  • Many hostels have kitchens where you can prepare your own meals, and laundry facilities.
  • Stays may be limited.
  • It’s usually a good idea to make reservations ahead of time.
  • For more detailed information, you might start at the Web site of a large hostel organization.

Hotels and Motels

If you have a job, you may be able to go directly to a motel or hotel. Motels and hotels range in quality from out-of-sight luxurious and expensive to suspiciously cheap and possibly dangerous.

Some offer weekly or monthly rates, usually a better deal than daily rates. Many offer basic kitchen facilities, such as refrigerator, microwave oven, and cooktop burners, along with a few dishes and pots.

When choosing a hotel or motel, you will need to make some quick decisions about the quality and safety of the place. Here are a few points to keep in mind:
  • A brand or chain name on the front is not necessarily a guarantee of quality.
  • Use your own judgment by looking at the condition of the building: Is it clean? Well-kept? What are its rental conditions?
  • A place that rents rooms by the hour is less likely to be safe and quiet.
  • Before you accept a room in a hotel or motel, it’s a good idea to check that
    • the door locks securely,
    • the toilet flushes,
    • the lights go on and off, and
    • the telephone works (if you need a telephone).
  • If the answer to any of these is “No,” you can refuse the room and ask for another room, or get your money back and leave. (The front desk will usually offer to come right up and fix the problem. Maybe they can and will; but you are better off with a room where things work. If you wait, you may find they can’t fix things in your room after all, and the other rooms have meanwhile filled up.)
  • If the towels or bed linen look dirty, you can ask for a clean room.
  • If, for any reason, you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, you can leave without notice (although you may have to pay an extra day’s rent). You don’t need to explain or justify why you are leaving.
Most hotels and motels expect you to pay by credit or debit card. If you don’t have either of those, be prepared to pay cash in advance.

Temporary HousingRental Basics

For clear and useful information about renting a house or apartment, check out the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development web site, which links to information ranging from whether or not you are eligible for government-assisted housing, to the laws in your state about tenants’ rights and responsibilities, to “Tips every tenant should know.”

Following are some important things to think about when you are looking for housing.

Location of housing

You must be able to get from your home to your job, school, or other necessary place.
  • If you use public transportation, look for neighborhoods with good service, preferably on a bus or rail line that serves places you need to go.
    • Is there frequent, reliable service at the times you will be coming and going? (Some bus lines run during morning and afternoon rush hours only; many run infrequently at night; some don’t run at all on weekends or late at night.)
    • How long will you spend traveling to and from work or other places? Is that amount of travel time manageable?
    • Are there grocery and drug stores within walking distance or easily reachable by nearby public transportation?
  • If you plan to drive, how long and how complicated will your trip to and from work be? Is there a place to park your car?
  • If you have school-age children, you will probably want to find out about the public schools to which they will be assigned.  See Parenting after the Cullt for more information about public schools.


How safe is the neighborhood? Are the streets clean and well lit? Are there people walking about in the neighborhood?  Do people from your “old life,” who might make it harder to build a new life, live in the neighborhood?
  • Talk to friends who know the area.
  • People in the neighborhood are usually willing to talk about neighborhood life when you tell them you are thinking of moving there.
  • Local newspapers often publish listings of crimes, whose locations you can check against a map of the area.
  • You can also look online. Google “crime statistics,” plus the name of the city, town, or country.


A rough rule is that you should not pay more than one-third of your monthly income for housing.
  • If possible, try to pay less.
  • If necessary, prepare to pay more.

Under no circumstances should you pay so much for rent that you cannot afford to get to and from work.

  • Some ways to keep the rent down are to
    • Check whether you are eligible for any of the government programs described below (if you haven’t already).
    • Locate farther from an urban center and accept a longer commute.
    • Settle for a smaller place—one room (sometimes called a studio or efficiency), rather than a one-bedroom apartment, for instance.
    • Find an older building, or one with fewer amenities. An apartment in a walk-up will cost less than a comparable place in an elevator building.
    • Consider sharing the space with someone else who can pay some of the rent.
Keep in mind that prices tend to go up. Try to avoid paying the utmost you can afford (unless you have good reason to think that next year you will be earning more), so you will have the resources to pay for higher rent or utility bills as prices rise.

Money and Budgeting for a fuller discussion about managing your income and expenses.

Finding a Place

Once you have decided how much you can afford, and have identified neighborhoods you might live in, you can search online, in print, and on foot.
  • Online:
    • You will find listings in the local newspapers under Housing in the classified ads. These listings will give you an idea of prices in the neighborhoods you’re looking in.
    • Other online sources will pop up if you google “rental housing,” plus the name of your city.
    • www.craigslist.org is an all-purpose buying-and-selling site where individuals list offerings. Before you shop on the site, read “Avoid scams and fraud,” listed in the lower left-hand column of the Craigslist home page.
  • In print:
    • Landlord associations in many urban areas publish free booklets or papers listing apartments for rent. You can find these publications near bus or train stops, in supermarkets, and sometimes in public libraries.
    • Check print editions of local and neighborhood newspapers. Since most house-hunting gets done on weekends, most newspapers have many more advertisements for housing in their weekend editions, particularly on Sunday. Despite the convenience of the Internet, it may be more convenient to have print copies of these ads, since it’s easier to carry them around and make notes as you go.
  • On foot.  If you walk around a neighborhood, you may see signs indicating places for rent. This is efficient because
      • You are looking right at the place and can see whether or not it’s well-kept and attractive.
      • You also know exactly where the place is in relation to public transportation, and whether it is on a quiet or busy street.
    • If it looks possible, you can walk up to the door and inquire further.
    • If you like the place, you can easily get details about the neighborhood, such as the availability of shops.
A combination of these methods will give you the best idea about where you want to live and whether or not you can afford it.

Leases and Rental Agreements

In addition to the price, you need to have clear, written information about other important terms and conditions of your rental.

Your responsibilities

The owner or agent will expect you to provide
  • proof of your identity;
  • proof of employment or other proof that you can pay the rent; and
  • a deposit, often one month’s rent, to cover the costs of repairing any damage to the apartment after you leave.
Rent is usually due promptly on the date agreed to, and is usually paid in advance. You will not receive a bill, and it is your responsibility to remember to pay on time.

A basic agreement should include
  • The exact and correct address of the place you are renting, including the apartment or room number
  • The amount of rent you will pay
  • The length of time the agreement is in effect (including beginning and ending  dates)
  • When rent will be due
  • Any penalties for late payment of rent
  • The amount of your deposit
  • The conditions for which the landlord or owner may use the deposit, and the conditions under which you will get it back
  • What exactly the rent covers (Does it include utilities such as water, electricity, cable TV?)
  • Provisions for changing or ending the agreement: subletting, moving out, rent increases, and so on
In addition, the agreement may include miscellaneous items, such as rules about
  • Having a pet
  • Overnight guests
  • Landlord’s access to the property
  • Who is responsible for which repairs or improvements
If you are sharing with a friend or renting one room in a small apartment, you may feel uncomfortable about the formality of asking for all this in writing. At the least,
  • Write down the basics (amount of rent, deposit, any utilities included, date you are moving in, and notice you must give before moving out) for yourself, and have the friend or person from whom you are renting confirm that the information is correct by initialing your notes.
  • In this more informal arrangement, you may also want to talk about use of shared kitchen, bathroom, and laundry facilities.

Cautions and precautions

You are entitled to ask questions and get answers before you sign. Be suspicious of anyone who tries to make you feel stupid or ignorant for asking a question, or tries to rush you into signing. Anyone
  • who offers you a different room or apartment than the one you previously agreed on, or
  • suddenly wants a higher rent
needs to explain this last-minute change very clearly—and you need to think very carefully about whether you want to make a deal with this person at all.

Before you sign anything, read the whole document carefully.
  • Do not sign a document with blank spaces in it. Fill in a blank space with the correct information, or insert a dash, or “N/A” to signify the blank spaces are not needed for this agreement. Make these corrections yourself as you read through the agreement.
  • If the lease is a standard form, ask for an advance copy to read ahead of time, so that you won’t feel pressured by someone sitting across the table from you, waiting for you to sign. You may need plenty of time to understand what is in the lease.
  • If possible, get the actual lease you will be asked to sign, with all the details filled in. If not, take the standard form and fill in the blanks yourself.
  • When you get your filled-out lease, skim over it to make sure it is the same as the sample you were given.
Keep copies of every document related to your housing, from the rental agreement to the receipts for your deposit and rental payments.
  • A receipt is a written report of how much you paid, what for, and when you paid.
  • Receipts may be useful for purposes of applying for credit elsewhere, and of course also if there is any disagreement between you and the landlord.
  • If you pay by check, you may not get a receipt. Write a note on the check, rent, and the cancelled check will be as good as a separate receipt.
  • If you authorize payment by automatic withdrawal from a bank account, your monthly bank statements will confirm the payments.

Temporary Housing Types of Housing

Depending on your income, work obligations, and personal preferences, you may find several different types of housing in the area you are interested in.

Rooms and Shared Housing

The cheapest housing available is usually a rented room.
  • Rooms are cheaper than apartments because they generally involve sharing a bathroom and kitchen, or lack cooking facilities entirely.
  • Some rooms come furnished; some require you to provide your own furniture.
  • Some rent by the week, others by the month.
  • Some rooms are in “shared” or “group” housing, an arrangement where those who already live in a house are looking for people who fit in with their way of life. People in this arrangement will want to meet and interview you to see whether they think you will be a good housemate. A “share” arrangement may require a longer lease.
  • Other rooms for rent are simply a business arrangement.
  • Expect to pay an advance payment of up to one month’s rent before you move in.
Renting a furnished room or sharing a house or apartment meets the basic need for an address and a place to sleep. If you are not ready to make a long-term decision about where to live, you can probably find a month-to-month rental. And you will need either little or no furniture. The disadvantages are
  • Sharing a bathroom can be inconvenient, and if you share with careless people, downright unpleasant.
  • Lack of space makes it hard to have a guest.
  • Lack of cooking facilities means a lot of fast-food meals.
  • Shared entrances and mailboxes may intrude on your privacy.

Apartments and Houses

A house or apartment will have its own kitchen and bathroom, more privacy, and usually, more space.
  • An apartment or house is almost certainly necessary if you have children because few rooming or sharing arrangements will take in children.
  • House and apartment rentals generally require a one-year lease, so it’s important to have a stable financial situation before you sign on.
  • It’s also important to take a very careful look at the place and the neighborhood, since it won’t be easy to move out if there are problems with either.
If you move to an apartment or house, you will probably need to furnish it. This can be a big demand on your time, money, and energy. There are some ideas for setting up a household inexpensively at Finding Essential Furniture and Equipment.

Temporary Housing Housing Assistance

Housing can be quite expensive in some areas. Even though you have a job, you may find that housing in your area costs more than you can afford. This section describes some ways of getting assistance with housing costs
  • if you cannot work because of poor health, or
  • if you earn a very small income and cannot afford housing in your area, or
  • if you are supporting children or other family members who cannot work, and your income isn’t enough to pay for housing for your family.
Rent for this type of housing is based on your ability to pay.
The federal housing authority is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. You usually must go to the local public housing authority to start the process. You can find your local public housing office online by selecting the state in which you live.

Public Housing

Public housing was established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Your local housing authority will determine whether you are eligible and how many rooms you need according to state or local regulations. The application process is lengthy, and there is usually a waiting list—sometimes years—once you are accepted.

HUD sets income limits for eligibility that vary from region to region, based on the median income in the county or metropolitan area where you live. The median income is the number in the middle of the range of incomes, meaning that an equal number of people earn both more and less. For example,

If there are 100 people in the area,

and 50 of them earn more than $40,000 a year,

while 50 of them earn less than $40,000 per year

the median income for that area is $40,000.

If your income is 80% of the median, you are in the “lower income” bracket.
If your income is 50%—that is, half—of the median, HUD considers your income to be “very low.”

When you apply for public housing, you will probably be asked for this information:
  1. Names of all persons who would be living in the unit, plus their sex, date of birth, and relationship to the family head.
  2. Your present address and telephone number.
  3. Family characteristics (e.g., veteran) or circumstances (e.g., living in substandard housing) that might qualify you for tenant selection preferences.
  4. Names and addresses of your current and previous landlords, for information about your family’s suitability as a tenant.
  5. An estimate of your family’s anticipated income for the next twelve months, and the sources of that income.
  6. The names and addresses of employers and banks, and any other information the housing authority would need to verify your income and deductions, and to verify the family composition.
  7. The public housing authority representative also may visit you in your home to interview you and your family members to see how you manage the upkeep of you current home.
Be prepared to show documents—birth certificates, tax returns, and so on, that support your statements. You can find more information about public housing here.

Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8 Housing)

Under this program, you apply through your local public housing authority for a certificate of eligibility, and then you find your own housing on the private market. Any landlord who meets the requirements may rent to you. The government will pay the landlord a share of the rent directly, and you pay the rest.

The income requirements for vouchers are much like those for public housing, and the application process is also similar. So is the waiting list, although it is more sensitive to market forces than public housing. For instance,
  • If the rental market in a given city is slow, landlords are more likely to agree to the paperwork and processing needed for government approval of their housing.
  • If there is a shortage of rental housing, landlords are more likely to opt out of public housing.
You can get more information about Section 8 housing here.

Privately Owned Subsidized Housing

The government also gives direct subsidies to apartment owners who then lower the rents they charge to low-income families and individuals, persons with disabilities, and senior citizens. Eligibility for this housing also depends on having a low enough income.
The process is a little different than other forms of subsidized housing. Go to this Web site, plug in the state where you wish to apply, and with a couple of clicks you will have a list of apartment owners who participate in this program.
  • To apply, visit the management office of the apartment development that interests you.
  • Assume that you will be asked the same information as you would for other subsidized housing programs, and that you will have to wait once you are accepted for the program.

Temporary Housing Utilities

If you rent, costs of some or all of the basic utilities may be included in the rental price. You will need to budget for utilities that are not included.

Water, Electricity, Gas, Heating, and Air Conditioning

Water, electricity, and gas are basic services that make your home livable and comfortable. Depending on what part of the country you live in, heating and air conditioning may be important.

If you are renting an apartment,
  • The landlord usually pays the water bill, and the cost is included in the rent.
  • Electricity is often the tenant’s responsibility.
  • Heating and cooling costs depend on the individual situation. If, for example, your apartment is heated from a central furnace, but cooled by window air conditioners, the landlord may pay heating costs while you pay directly for the air conditioning on your electricity bill.
If you are renting a house, you will probably be responsible for all these utilities.

Costs of water, electricity, and gas depend on how much you use.
  • Bills may be monthly, quarterly (every three months), or semi-annual (every six months).
  • The person who pays the bills is responsible for contacting the utility company to order services turned on or off.  If you are a new customer, you may have to pay a security deposit in advance.
  • Utilities, especially heating or cooling, can be costly. It’s important to remember to estimate any costs you will have to pay and include them in your housing budget.
In addition to the basics, telephone service, Internet access, and cable or satellite TV are considered utilities.


Phone charges are not generally covered in rental payments. Since people are expected to be reachable by phone, you will have to consider how to connect to telephone service. If you have a computer and want to access the Internet from home, you will also want to arrange for Internet service. There are many options for both telephone and Internet service, and a wide range of prices. Depending on your needs, you can choose from among the following:
  • Landline service. This is the traditional telephone, hooked up to a phone line.
    • In some areas, the phone service may be interrupted when storms bring down the wires; but by and large, it is reliable.
    • Most telephone companies offer a number of packages that include Internet access and, in some areas, TV service, usually for a fixed rate.
    • If you want to make calls that are out of the local service area, you will also need to sign up for a long-distance provider.
  • Mobile service. Mobile, or wireless phones are rapidly outpacing landline service. Mobile networks enable users to have their phones handy wherever they are, not just in one place.
    • Wireless service is not available in every area of the country, and service from a given company may be quite limited or unreliable in places where it has few or no transmission towers.
    • International calling may not be readily available, or may be limited to a few countries.
    • Modern, hi-tech mobile phones may also connect to the Internet, take photos and videos, and send and receive text messages, email, books, and movies.
    • Costs for mobile phones are arranged in packages. There is usually no distinction based on the place or distance you are calling. You can sign up for a costly, multi-use package for a two-year term, prepay an amount to use as you go, or choose from a huge collection of other options in between these two extremes.
  • Internet telephone service. Based on your computer’s access to the Internet—which may be through telephone lines, cable, or wireless—you can subscribe to online phone service.
    • This option may be less costly than either landline or cell phone service.
    • The drawback is that you need to have a computer up and running to make or receive calls.
  • Skype is another computer-based service, for which you need neither phone nor a phone number if you have Internet access.
    • But you do need a computer, headphones, and a microphone.
    • You can download the software and make calls free of charge.
    • The service is limited, though, to others who have similarly equipped computers.
    • Skype also allows you to “chat”—using the keyboard—if someone doesn't have a headset and microphone (or can’t make their gear work).

Internet Access

Internet access is available in multiple ways:
  • Traditional telephone lines offer “dial-up” and “accelerated dial-up,” the slowest and least expensive types of connection, and “DSL,” a higher-speed and more expensive connection. In a few areas, you can get “fiber optic,” the fastest and most expensive connection.
  • Cable TV companies, if you are a subscriber, offer service that is faster than DSL and generally more expensive.
  • Satellite TV companies also offer high-speed Internet access. However, they tend to be more expensive and less reliable than other types of access.
  • Wireless Internet access is increasingly available at no charge to you in coffee houses, airports, hotels, and other public places. For wireless access at home, you will need a provider, a computer with a wireless adapter, and special software (free) that finds the wireless connections. A directory of wireless Internet service providers might help.
  • Free-standing lines. If there is an unused telephone line in your home, you may be able to get Internet access without having a landline phone. This may be a good solution for cell-phone users who don’t want the expense of cable or satellite TV. To check out this option, google “Internet service without phone line.”
In general, you pay more for higher Internet connection speeds. For more information about Internet service providers, you can look here.


In urban areas, you can use an inexpensive antenna to get broadcast TV free over the airwaves from major networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and public television stations. In rural areas, or to get a multitude of other television channels, you must subscribe to a provider for a monthly fee.
  • Cable TV services provide television to viewers through fixed cables, as opposed to over-air broadcasting. To use cable, you will need a wire into your home, and wires within the home to wherever the TV is placed. Usually, there is only one cable company in the area, but you must choose among different packages of services with varying fees.
  • Satellite TV services are delivered from communications satellites and are received through satellite dishes and set-up boxes. To use satellite services, you must have a clear view to wherever the satellite is from your home. In some rural areas, this is the only way to get television.
  • In a very few places, telephone companies offer TV through fiber-optic networks.
The cost of these services varies, and the different companies offer different packages, ranging from “basic” to total. There may also be a charge for installing the service, and there is usually a time commitment, ranging from three months to a year or more.

If you sign up for a service with an unusually good deal, remember to check all the fine print (even if you need a magnifying glass to do so). There may be an unpleasant surprise a few months down the line in the form of reduced services and/or increased costs.

Some landlords pay cable or staellite TV costs. Usually, these landlords live in the building and are paying for their own TV; as a result, they incur small, if any, additional costs for additional outlets in the same building.

Temporary Housing Finding Essential Furniture and Equipment

A start-up collection of essential furniture and equipment is a one-time cost that you need to include in your beginning housing budget. Costs will vary, depending on where you live and how many people are in your household. Here are some ideas about the basic furniture and equipment you might need, and some suggestions about how to start your new household inexpensively.

What You Might Need

  • Enough beds for everyone.
  • A table.
  • A few chairs so people can sit at the table to eat or work.
  • Cooking and eating equipment—pots, pans, plates, cups, utensils for preparing and eating food.
  • Sheets, blankets, towels.
  • Curtains or blinds, if not already in place (towels or blankets hung over the windows are a possibility).
  • Lamps, for any rooms that don’t have built-in lighting.
That’s it. Chests of drawers, a desk, additional lamps (provided there are some built-in fixtures), TVs, and microwaves are nice, but they can wait a bit. As your resources of time, energy, and money increase, you can add rugs, sofas, and other amenities.

Where to Get Things

Shelving and storage. Boxes turned on their sides are good for storing clothing and linens. Supermarkets open hundreds of cardboard cartons every day.
  • Produce boxes are especially useful because they are very sturdy, yet small enough to move easily. But you might want some larger, less sturdy, cartons, as well.
  • Supermarket workers usually cut cartons up or break them down soon after they are emptied, so you may need to come at a particular time or speak to a particular person to get them. Ask a worker in the produce department of the supermarket how to get empty cartons.
You can also buy durable plastic storage boxes in all shapes and sizes. “Milk crates”— also turned on their sides—may serve as bookcases, or for shelving other heavy items like pots and pans.
  • Check online at office-supply and department stores in your area to get an idea of types, sizes, and prices.
  • Try “plastic storage boxes” as a search term on Google or Yahoo.
  • If you buy anything online, remember to add shipping costs to the item cost before you decide on the deal.
A slightly more costly shelving option is to purchase bricks and boards from a local lumber store. You can choose from a variety of lengths of board and use bricks to create shelves of varying heights.

Furniture can be extremely expensive, but there are ways to spend less:
  • Loans and gifts from friends and family may be a possibility.
  • Consider substitutions, like a card table instead of a kitchen table, or plastic garden chairs instead of wooden chairs.
  • Except for mattresses, consider used furniture. Used tables and chairs in good condition are available at very reasonable prices in most places. (Mattresses are risky unless they are personal hand-me-downs from someone you know who can assure you they are not infected with bedbugs.)
  • For beds, you can start with futons or inexpensive mattresses on the floor.
  • To get an idea of prices, you might look at www.craigslist.org, an all-purpose sales site. You will probably find pictures of many of the items advertised, which will also give you an idea of the quality and design of various items. It’s best to confine your search to items that are locally available, both to avoid shipping problems and to ensure you can see the furniture before you buy it. If you get at all serious about buying anything from Craigslist, read “Avoid scams and fraud,” listed in the lower left-hand column of the Web site’s home page.
  • Search Google and Yahoo for used furniture stores in your area.
  • Thrift stores, Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other organizations often have outlets for donated furniture, some of it quite nice. Call before you go, to make sure they have the items you are looking for.
It’s very easy to misrepresent the size or condition of furniture over the phone or the Internet. Be sure you see any used furniture or equipment before you purchase it.

You may have to arrange for delivery of used furniture. Inquire about anything large before you buy it. You may have a truck or van (or friends with a truck or van who can help you). If not, you can check with the seller, who may know of someone who will deliver for a fee.

Equipment. It’s preferable to buy equipment new or from a reputable thrift store, unless you can get hand-me-downs from friends and family members.

For your kitchen, to get started you’ll need
  • a plate, bowl, drinking mug, knife, spoon, and fork for each person in the household;
  • one or two pots and pans;
  • simple utensils, like an all-purpose knife, a cooking spoon, and a turner;
  • a can-opener; and
  • a mixing bowl or two.
Inexpensive pots, pans, and other kitchen equipment are available at most supermarkets. You also can find inexpensive sets of dishes and eating tools at local department or variety stores.

Often, family members can spare a few towels or sheets. Unless you know where they come from, it’s advisable to buy new linens—sheets, pillowcases, towels, and blankets—since some pests may survive laundering. You can find inexpensive linen in department stores, and, more rarely, through online auction or bargain sites.
  • Buy only what you need immediately, because you can always buy more later.
  • One set of sheets and pillowcases per bed is enough if you have access to a washing machine and dryer.
  • If you live in a warm climate, or if it’s summer, you may be able to postpone buying blankets.
  • Extra towels, however, may be good to have.