QI recently graduated from college and got a job in Bethesda. I don't have much money saved up yet. Should I live farther from the city and save money on my rent, possibly even getting a nicer place for my money, but have to deal with a long commute? Or would it be better to get what would most likely be a smaller place, for higher rent, somewhere near Bethesda, yet save money on gas and experience a less stressful commute?

AThe answer to this perennial question is different for everyone because it is a matter of personal preference.

First think about how much money you want to spend on an apartment. This will enable you to narrow down at least some of the options floating around in your brain.

Once you decide how much you are willing to pay, begin to look at places inside and outside Bethesda so you can adequately compare the space and the amenities. Although living on the outskirts of a city often does give renters more square footage for the same amount or less than they would pay in rent for the convenience of city life, this is not always the case.

Because the cost of commuting is also something you are considering, you should calculate how much money in gas you might spend traveling from different neighborhoods. Make sure you know the general range of prices for parking in apartment buildings in the area. Also find out how much it would cost to park at work or, alternatively, if you can take public transportation from the different possible neighborhoods you have chosen.

Spend time in the places you have identified to make sure you would be comfortable living there. Just because it is affordable does not mean it is a good place for you. Make sure you could envision yourself happily going about your daily routine, and factor in more than just commuting time and cost. The normal concerns in choosing an apartment location apply, including: Do you feel comfortable in the neighborhood during the day and at night? Are conveniences such as grocery and drug stores, restaurants, and social outlets located to your liking? Are residents happy with their neighborhood?

Obviously there are many things to think about beyond rent and commuting time when you're in the market for a new apartment. But because commuting seems to be a big factor in your decision, once you have narrowed down which neighborhoods you might want to live in, you must test out the commutes from all of them. You would get a better feeling for how rush hour traffic might affect you if you make the commute several days in a row.

Until you investigate how living in a particular area would affect your mood and general outlook on life, you will not know whether you would rather sacrifice convenience, space or money for your happiness at home.

Doing the proper research will make your life better in the long term, particularly if you are new to the workforce and are already making a big adjustment from college to work. Don't forget that once you have picked a neighborhood, you must then do some serious research into actual rental properties.

The goal of all this investigating is to save you from getting stuck in an undesirable situation that will not end until the lease terms are up.

The people at my apartment company, one of the larger ones in the area, first decided that they will no longer allow tenants to pay at their home office, thus robbing me of the convenience and security of paying a live person and getting a receipt back immediately. They explained that if we wanted a receipt then we would have to provide them with self-addressed, stamped envelope -- which seems to me like they are making me pay for a receipt. Now they are no longer allowing tenants to drop off payments at all unless there is a leasing agent in our apartment building. (For me there is not.) So now I will have to mail my rent, and send a self-addressed envelope to get my receipt. I absolutely hate the idea of being forced to use the mail. I prefer to know at least that my check got where it needed to be in the required time. Is it fair to make me pay for a receipt? These are bad business practices, right?

Well, considering you don't pay for receipts when you buy other things, it does seem unfair that a landlord would make you submit a self-addressed, stamped envelope along with your rent check.

"Many states require landlords to give receipts on request," said Janet Portman, a lawyer specializing in landlord and tenant issues who is an editor at Nolo Press of Berkeley, Calif. "It seems contrary to the spirit of the law, since you don't pay for a receipt when you buy a car or a toaster."

Though your landlord isn't denying you a receipt, asking you to submit an envelope to receive a receipt is a bad business practice. But before you judge your management company as callous and uncaring, try to make a compromise. If it's merely a staffing issue on the management company's part, perhaps another leasing office at a nearby apartment community would accept your rent payment, assuming they forward all the rent payments on to the main office anyway. By dropping the payment off with a real live leasing agent, you would then be able to pick up a receipt in person. Or perhaps you can request that someone e-mail you a receipt when your payment is received. Remember, your return check will also serve as a receipt of payment.

If management does not adequately respond to your suggestions, then go ahead and judge them as unfair, unfriendly, uncompromising managers. And then find a new place to live, where the landlord or management services meet your standards.

Incidentally, as long as the payment terms are not spelled out in the lease, or if you are in a month-to-month rental agreement, landlords can change the rules of how and where to pay the rent as long as they give proper notice. In most places, 30 days is all that would be required to change the payment rules, unless a lease specifically says that rent must be paid, for example, at the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the first of the month.

"Oftentimes [payment terms] are not in the lease agreement. They're part of more casual set of rules and regulations and are simply not reduced to writing," Portman said. "If your lease or rental agreement doesn't specify these terms, but it's a matter of custom or part of informal rules and regulations that an apartment community might have, then a landlord can argue that it's not a rental term. And that subject to reasonable notice, they should be able to change something as sort of a matter of housekeeping."

If you received notice but still do not like the changes to the rental payment process, remember that you are, after all, a consumer with other choices.

Do you have questions, comments or ideas about apartment life? Contact Sara Gebhardt via e-mail at gebhardts@washpost.com or by mail, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.