The apartment we ended up moving into certainly met the criteria of cheap. Looking back I can think of a lot of positive things about the apartment, but while we were living there it wasn't as easy to do so. Lest anyone make the same mistake I did, don't ever rent an apartment sight unseen in a town you aren't familiar with. There is a reason that specific apartment complexes are cheaper than other nearby apartments! Although my wife is a prolific photographer, I searched and searched through our archives and couldn't find any pictures of this apartment other than this picture of the condition the front doorframe was in when we originally moved in.
We had a lot of scrambling to do with only 3 weeks' notice before starting a new job across the country. The first thing we did was to put up a for sale sign in our yard. We had no desire to be long-distance landlords. The next thing we needed to do was to figure out our living arrangements and employment for my wife in the new location. Thus far in our married life, money had not ever felt tight, but that was about to change. You see, the timing of all of this was right around the peak of the 'housing bubble'. Just a few months earlier, home prices seemed to be going up weekly and houses were going under contract very quickly. We didn't realize it yet, but just a few months later, the market was not as much of a sellers' market as it was before.
On top of the pressure to sell our house, we also had the problem of finding a new job for my wife in the new state. Although I was getting a small raise with the job transfer, it wasn't anywhere near replacing her income, which was about half of our household income. Since neither of us had ever been to the area we were moving to, we were starting from scratch on her job hunt.
At this point in our lives, we had not been living on a budget and, even though I kept track of our spending, didn't realize the true financial ramifications of our move right away. When I did, the reality was startling. Below is an approximation of what our average budgets would have looked like before the move and after the move, until my wife was able to find a new job.
Before the move, with both of us working, we had had so much money left over after our required expenses that we didn't ever feel we had to worry or tell ourselves no. We were saving into retirement accounts, and I would usually pay a little extra on each car payment, but we did not have a detailed debt repayment strategy. Now, with the move and loss of income, our minimum expenses were greater than my income alone could support. Selling our house was obviously something we were working on and would alleviate a lot of the burden, but until that happened, we would be burning through the small savings we had accumulated.
Our initial plan was to rent the cheapest apartment we could find in the new town while we waited to sell our house, then turn around and buy another house in the new town, where houses were much cheaper. By the time we bought another house, my wife would have found another job, and we would have no problem qualifying for another mortgage and would then just pay whatever penalty was necessary to break the lease on our apartment. At least, that was the plan at first.
As it turns out, the door had been kicked in (probably by police), shortly before the previous tenants moved out. This certainly didn't scream 'home sweet home', but since we still had a mortgage to pay on our old house and had just cut our household income in half, this was about all we could afford for the time being.
Long story short, we were extremely lucky to be able to sell our house in about 3 months. In that time, we had burned through pretty much all of our savings as well as a small relocation allowance, and Christmas bonuses. We ended up selling the house for the exact same price we had bought it for a year before, but realtor commissions ate up what little equity we had.
My wife also had a harder time than we expected finding a new job. Not only was it hard to find something in her field, or that paid as much as she had been making before, but it was simply hard to find any job. After several weeks of searching, she ended up working a retail job 45 minutes away for $10/hr for a month before a new friend we had met put in a good word for her to get a temp job nearby, paying $12/hr. I know this was difficult for her, not just going from making >$50k/yr to $12/hr, but also going through the humbling process of searching for a job when seemingly no one was hiring while in previous job searches she had usually had luxury of deciding between multiple job offers.
With a house sold and a new job for my wife started, we were settled into the new town. Now it was time to figure out how to pay for a new house (and get out of the dungeon apartment), and grad school that would be starting in just a few short months.