Planning to move away to school this fall? Or perhaps you’ve found yourself on the other side of the mortar board – plunked on your parents’ sofa with diploma in hand, wondering what to do next? Regardless of the reason, leaving your childhood home for the first (or second, or third) time presents a slew of financial challenges that you’ll want to prepare for.

I moved out of my parents’ house when I was just 17 years old. At the time, I was still in high school. Moving out at 17 meant that I had to work hard to pay my rent while going to school. Most months I barely scraped by. Not only did it take me longer to graduate than most high school students, I was also perpetually broke. Just as I got everything paid off, more bills would land in my mailbox. If an unexpected expense came up – like the time my cat got sick – it really set me back.

When I decided to go to university, life got even harder. I lived from pay cheque to pay cheque and racked up a ton of debt in the process. Now that I’m older and a little bit wiser, I can see the error of my ways. I wish I’d known then what I know now. Here’s what I wish I could have told the 17-year-old me:

Create A Budget

No one ever told me that living on my own would be so expensive. Before I moved out, I had never so much as purchased my own groceries, so the never-ending costs came as a real surprise.

To get a better handle on your finances and how much it costs to live on your own, I recommend creating a budget. This should include your total income, plus all of your expenses. Expenses include your car payment, utility bills, phone bill, credit card payments, entertainment costs and any loans you may have. The budget will help you to determine what you can comfortably afford to spend each month.

If you’re one of those spenders who wonders where your cash disappears to each month, try out a budgeting app like Mint.com. Not only will it break your expenses down into categories, you’ll be sternly notified should you go a bit over budget in the more frivolous fields.

Another budgeting tip? Follow the percentage rule: 50 per cent of your income should go to your needs (rent, car payments, gas, groceries), and only 30 per cent toward your wants. That leaves 20 per cent for your savings – and if you want to break the pay cheque-to-pay cheque cycle, this is a budgeting step you can’t afford to leave out.

Know Your Start Up Costs

Not only will you be expected to pay first and last month’s rent on your apartment, but you’ll also have to put deposits down for most of your utility bills – at least to start. Once you’ve established yourself as a reliable client, the utility companies won’t expect you to pay a deposit any longer. So add up first and last month’s rent and the deposits you’ll need to pay to determine what it’ll cost you to actually acquire that new roof.

Familiarize Yourself with the Cost of Food

For the majority of young people, feeding yourself is never a concern. Your parents pay for and put food on the table. While this is nice, it means many youths likely don’t have a good grasp on the cost of food. Before moving out, I recommend you go shopping with your parents. To familiarize yourself with the costs, look carefully at the price of food items. Food can be a lot more expensive than you think.

Looking for more ways to save at the grocery store? Check out How to Grocery Shop – and Save – Like a Granny.

Save Up An Emergency Fund

This is one lesson I wish I’d known before I moved out. Living pay cheque to pay cheque leaves little room, financially speaking, for emergencies. Additional expenses can set you back for months if you’re not prepared. Generally, it’s said that you should have 3-6 months worth of expenses saved up in your emergency fund. Obviously, the more you have, the better.

Wondering how to save in the face of mounting debt? It comes right back to those budgeting tactics. Also be sure to check out student bank accounts, or high interest bank accounts to really get the most from what you’re setting aside.

Purchase Furniture and Kitchen Items Ahead of Time

When I moved out, I didn’t prepare ahead of time. I made the decision, and moved out not long after that. I had few belongings to take along. It seemed that every time I went to do something, I was missing an item. Besides the necessary furniture – bed, dresser, desk, kitchen table, chairs and couch – you’ll need to gather up kitchen items too. Moving out unprepared means that you’ll have a lot of expenses in the first year – expenses that you may not be able to afford. While relying on credit can be a dangerous habit, make sure that if you do need to use your card during the set up stage,  it has student-friendly features, such as no annual fee and a low interest rate.

Ready, Set, Launch

Once you’ve checked each of the above items off of your list, you’re pretty close to being ready to move out. Searching for your first apartment, whether you plan on living with a roommate or heading out on your own, can be a really exciting adventure. Since most apartments require the commitment of at least one year, you’ll want to make sure that the place you choose fits your needs perfectly. The last step you’ll want to take in preparing to move out is to make a list of what you’re looking for. Don’t forget to include details about location, including public transportation needs, and the proximity to grocery stores, recreational facilities and laundromats, if necessary. Once you’ve got this down, you should be good to go.

Good luck in your search for the perfect home, and enjoy the freedom of living on your own. There’s really nothing like it.