Today, students commonly save money by living off campus, even during the first year (27%). The US Department of Education advises that about 30% of approximately 18,000,000 students live off campus in rental housing. Essentially, you can save money and often snag better living conditions by leveraging your brainpower.

For now, let’s whiz by such obvious cautions as ensuring the character, lifestyle, and commitment of your roomies, going over the lease carefully (a budding lawyer or accountant is handy here), heeding previous tenants’ experiences (where available), and nailing down parking spaces and reliable electricity. Let’s focus on little things that could morph into a quiet triumph or a noisy time sink:

Narrow the apartment search: Many landlords today belong to online systems that permit viewing an apartment before you even inquire. Very useful if you live hundreds of miles from campus, and need Google maps to figure out how far the place is from your faculty’s buildings.

Establish what the landlord provides: Generally, landlords for students provide large furniture such as beds, dressers, study tables, and sofas, in whatever condition, if only to prevent serious plaster damage every four months. If you want to bring your futon, establish where you are expected to stow the landlord’s bed. Anyway, who provides bed sheets, blankets, pillows, basic crockery and cutlery, TV, microwave, toaster, kettle, hangers, shower curtain? Also, where is the fuse box? Does it use fuses or circuit breakers? Also, if you are renting a bungalow, who shovels the snow and mows the grass? Not that you can’t do these chores, but you need to know if they are your team’s job, and factor that into the rent.

Liasing by e-mail with roommates re who brings what promotes a speedy, efficient, economical setup—really important, because you will soon be wanted on campus, and that is your real purpose, not breaking the state record for rushing to the Home Depot just before closing time.

Prepare for little annoyances: Just before moving day, collect the following items and put them in a box in the trunk of the car:

– extension cords (2 and 3 prong), varying lengths
– if using a land line, telephone extension cords, varying lengths
– batteries, lots of them, all sizes you use
– light bulbs (40, 60, and 100 watt, trilites, and one 25 watt just in case). A spare fridge bulb might come in handy too.
– if fuses are needed, bring 20s, and a couple of 30s
– plugs and sink stoppers
– plunger/toilet brush, drain cleaner

Why all the fuss? You may discover problems no one knew about (light bulb burnt out, outlet dead, fuses blown, only working jack is in the basement, no plug in bathtub, toilet plugged, etc.). Armed with the items above, you can carry on in the midst of chaos while your landlord vacations far away over the long weekend.

Remember, you might be tired and crabby, moving in: Two other trunk boxes to consider:

Instant kitchen: (plates, cutlery, napkins, kettle, mugs; instant coffee, bottled, canned, and packaged food and drink; dishwashing liquid, dish towels, drainboard, and trash bag. With these items, you can get a working kitchen going in minutes (Of course, you could always order fast food, but that great pizza place your sophomore friends raved about might be closed for reno just now ….).

Instant bathroom: Toilet paper, a couple of towels and face cloths, soap, first aid kit, bath mat, shower curtains. Fancy stuff can wait; these items let people use the john, no problem, the first hour.

Good luck, and may all your moves be upward.