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Life Skills 101: Five Guidelines for Renting for Your First Apartment

by Tina Pestalozzi

The first experience most of us have with living on our own is not with home ownership, but with renting.  The city you choose to live in will most likely be dictated by your job, school or family connections, but the actual address you decide to call home will most likely be chosen on the basis of what you can afford. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:

Know how much you can reasonably afford and never commit to more. Your verifiable income, that which can be proven, such as from your employer, should be at least three or four times the rent you are considering. This means you may not be able to qualify for a rental if more than 25 percent to 33 percent of your monthly income is to be used for your rent. For example, if you bring home $2,400 a month, you shouldn’t consider spending more than $800 a month for housing. Once you figure out how much you can afford, don’t be tempted to spend “just a little more.” $830 sounds pretty close to $800, but reaching for that extra $30 a month might turn into too much of a stretch.

Prepare for the search. Before you begin actually looking at rental units, take the following steps to make sure your search goes smoothly.

What to look for. In choosing the place that is right for you, knowing what to look out for is as important as knowing what to look for. You have to take the lead and ask the right questions.

Your rental agreement. The last big consideration is the rental agreement or lease. It’s a contract. It spells out what the obligations are for both you and your landlord. It is in your best interests to make sure you thoroughly understand every word. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or to get help – and refuse to be rushed into signing. Signing the document is agreeing to it, so the time to request changes to the agreement is before you assume responsibility for its terms. If you accept the terms, but only if certain conditions are met by the landlord, such as the unit must be completely painted first, make sure to get the exact conditions in writing, with a date and the signature of the landlord or manager.

Trust your intuition. This may sound too simple, but if you’ve conducted your search in a prepared and thoughtful manner, found both a rental unit and a rental agreement that work for you, what your gut reaction is to the place may be the final and most important information you need to choose your first apartment— that’s right for you.

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Practical Life Skills: Three Money Management Tips to Teach Our Teens

by Tina Pestalozzi

The more financial knowledge we can help our teens acquire the better their money management skills will be. From the basic knowledge, such as knowing how to write a check, to the more complex, such as being able to discern between good and not so hot credit card terms, our teens need to leave the nest prepared to use their financial knowledge as a useful tool in creating their life. Here are a few points to make sure you cover with your teen:

Understanding Financial Terms. A CD is more than just a way of listening to music. It’s also a way to save money. Don’t assume your teen knows exactly what different savings instruments are available to them or how they work. Knowing how a traditional savings account differs from a CD or exactly what a money market or mutual fund is, is information they need to know in order to eventually make wise decisions as to where to place their money. Be sure they also know the difference between a bank, credit union and brokerage house as well as between a US Treasury bill, note and bond.

Getting the Right Checking Account. Eventually your teen will probably need a checking account and they need to know not to grab the first one they see or just use the bank closest to home. The best checking account is the one that is totally free. (As well as being closest to home!) This may require some leg work and research to find but it is well worth the trouble. Help your teen develop an understanding of how a checking account works and they will naturally be better able to ask the right questions to get the information they need to make a good decision. For instance, once they understand that a bank is in business to make money, they will be more aware of how the bank intends to get it from the account holders. Is there a minimum balance required to maintain the free status? What is the policy for fund availability? Does the account have overdraft protection, and if so, does that involve an additional fee? There are a several things we need to teach about maintaining the checking account; such as how using a ATM or debit card responsibly requires maintaining a few good habits, such as making sure to always enter a withdraw in the check registry and knowing how to successfully avoid surcharges. Also, while it may be an easy exercise to show your teen how to write a check, making sure they understand how to keep and reconcile their checkbook may take a bit more time. Fortunately, most teens are pretty excited about getting their first checking account and are more than willing to learn.

The Credit Card. It needn’t be a given that every young adult needs a credit card. Sometimes the need for a card can be put off well into the twenties. However, every teen needs to develop an accurate picture of what behaviors produce what results when using a credit card. Using a card as a way to live beyond ones means is a sure way to create problems, where as responsible credit card use might be considered just another way of handling ones expenses. Knowledge of the credit card game should come long before the actual acquiring of one. Teens need to know that it is not only possible but also desirable to live a debt-free life and that one of the biggest obstacles to that goal is often the credit card. Teens needs to be armed with the knowledge to make responsible decisions from the very beginning of their credit history. Be sure to teach your teen the ins and outs of the credit card. Go over what terms and behaviors are favorable and which ones will get them in trouble. Explain to them the different categories interest rates can be calculated on. Don’t assume they know all the nuances of how to use a card and don’t hesitate to find out information that you yourself may be a little fuzzy on. Teaching our teens about money can be a great time for an examination of our own money management skills.

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Basic Life Skills: Your First Financial Plan

by Tina Pestalozzi

Your first few years of financial independence are crucial in setting yourself up for a successful future. Make these habits a must, and you'll be on your way!

Always pay yourself first. No matter how much money you make starting out, put some aside from each paycheck. Consider setting up an automatic deposit from your checking to your savings account. The rule of thumb is to save at least ten percent of every paycheck. Adjust the amount, depending on what your personal goals are for not-too-distant future.

Be accountable for your spending habits. Are you an impulse shopper? An emotional shopper? The need to be aware of how you spend your money doesn't go away when you start making more. It may be hard to visualize how small changes can make a significant difference, but the little things do add up. Make tweaks to save, such as packing lunch instead of buying.

Establish an emergency fund. Your car might break down. You may get sick and have to miss work. You might even lose your job. Having a safety net in place may mean the difference between being able to meet your rent or having to move back in with your parents. Keep from two to six months-worth of living expenses tucked away (including rent, utilities, food, gas, etc.).

Set up a long-term investment account. Educate yourself as to what types of investment opportunities are right for you. Investing may involve risk, depending on where you put your money. A savings account at a bank involves almost no risk; on the other hand, buying a hot stock is risky, but it also has the potential for the greatest return. Find an option that matches your comfort level. And, never commit to an investment that you do not completely understand.

Don't get caught in the "credit card trap." It's easy to get in the habit of using a card instead of cash and spending more than you can afford. Only use the credit card if you can pay off the balance every month. If you cannot get by without charging, you are living beyond your means and need to make changes immediately.

Have an IRA ASAP. The Roth IRA (Individual Retirement Account) allows you to put a certain amount of earned income away every year, with the benefit of being able to take the money out in the future, tax-free. You can also take your money out of a Roth IRA and use it for other things besides retirement, like buying your first home. You decide where you want to set it up--whether it's a bank, credit union, brokerage firm, or through your insurance company. Be aware of any fees that may be involved.

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College Roommate Survival 101

by Tina Pestalozzi

Going off to college often means having to experience the challenge of arbitrary roommate assignment. Whether you know your roommate ahead of time or meet them on check-in day, being prepared for the experience may go a long way to contributing to a successful situation.

It might be helpful to keep in mind that friendships seldom happen instantly and you'll need to give yours time to grow. Don't expect your roommate to be your instant best friend. If you have moved in with your best friend, be sure not to take advantage of the friendship, for instance, ask before borrowing something, even if you know your friend won't mind.

Even the oddest couple can survive together if they thoughtfully make and honor a mutual agreement. Having an agreement worked out ahead of time on issues such as friends visiting, study hours, food, cleaning, borrowing and music, may help head off issues before they become big problems. Having a written agreement to pull out when sticky situations arise can be in both your best interests.

Nail down who pays for what right upfront. Make arrangements that work for everyone regarding any mutual expenses. For example, don't agree to get cable service and split the bill and then resent paying for it because you never have time to watch TV.

Consideration, communication and respect are key to any successful living arrangement. Make every reasonable effort to accommodate the needs of your roommate but make sure that you also stand up for yourself. Your grades shouldn't have to suffer because you constantly have guests in your room when you need to hit the books.

Often, students tell their parents they are having trouble with their roommate before they even try to work it out. When issues arise, make every effort to talk about them with your roommate directly.

It's great if you and your roommates have similar lifestyle preferences, but sometimes that just isn't the case. It may help to remember that differences do not have to be problems and that it isn't necessary to like someone to get along with them.

Content adapted from the new edition of Life Skills 101: A Practical Guide to Leaving Home and Living on Your Own, available from your favorite bookseller, library or from

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Off to College or the Workplace - The Top Ten Interpersonal Skills Teens Can't Leave Home Without

by Tina Pestalozzi

Whether you're heading out the door to college or into your first real job - nailing down a command of basic interpersonal skills is a great way to prepare yourself for a successful future.

Knowing how best to interact with others and knowing what to do in every social situation will not only help boost your confidence but it will also help you be perceived positively. The good news is the basic rules are very simple and will become natural to you with a bit of practice and application. In the event you already know the rules but are not applying them as often as you know you should, you might want to consider getting in the habit of presenting yourself at your best at all times. Good interpersonal skills appear natural and automatic - they don't feel awkward because you're not just bringing them out on special occasions while trying to remember what's in the rulebook.

The foundation for social skills, etiquette and good manners is respect. It's treating everyone respectfully and operating with mindfulness and awareness about how your behavior is affecting others. We all know what it feels like when we think someone has treated us disrespectfully, so it's easy to see why some version of the "Golden Rule" is still part of the philosophy of all the major spiritual traditions, and a growing number of corporate and small business cultures, as well.

Shake hands correctly. For both men and women a good handshake is firm, connecting the space between your thumb and forefinger with the same space of the hand you are shaking. Be sure not to grab just the fingertips. As well, make sure you don't bend your hand and extend just your fingertips. Fully connect and shake, using a gentle up and down motion from the elbow. Be mindful not to squeeze too hard or shake too long. Do not hesitate in extending your hand. Regardless of gender, shaking hands is the acceptable greeting and should be done again when you say good-bye.

Greet people effectively. Introduce yourself to people you do not know. Offer your hand, say your name slowly and clearly, and give a little information to help get the conversation going.

Introduce people properly. Learn the mechanics of both a business and a social introduction. In business, introductions are based on precedence, not gender. This means you would introduce a peer to your boss, where as your boss would be introduced to a client or customer. In social introductions, a person is generally introduced to an older or more "distinguished" person and in most circumstances a man is still introduced to a woman.

Stand up for introductions. Whether you are male or female, stand up when you are introduced to anyone and everyone unless there is a compelling reason for you not to do so, even when you hear, "Oh, don't get up."

Maintain eye contact. Maintaining good eye contact with the person you are talking to gives the impression that you care what they are saying and that you are respectful. Avoid staring by occasionally looking at another feature of the face.

Sound pleasant. Try not to be lazy in your speech. Whether we like it or not, we are all judged by the way we sound. Constantly using words such as "like," "you know," and "um" will not be to your best advantage.

Truly listen. Really listening to people is a skill that few fail to appreciate - almost everyone just loves a great listener. This skill alone will help you immensely and when coupled with the practice of never interrupting others, it is a sure winner.

Be aware of others. Be aware of how considerate your behavior is in public. Do you open doors for someone approaching behind you? Are you quiet and respectful in public places? Are you annoying others with your wireless phone conversation? How we treat people matters. The person you cut off at an intersection today may be the person you face at an employment interview tomorrow.

Be friendly. Smile. Be warm. Learn the social skills you need to be comfortable with all people and practice your new skills until you appear at ease wherever you are.

Tina Pestalozzi is director of Global Protocol and Etiquette Services. She presents seminars on civility and business and social etiquette to corporate, government and educational organizations. This content was adapted from the new edition of Life Skills 101: A Practical Guide to Leaving Home and Living on Your Own , which is available from your favorite bookseller, or from

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