Since I left for college, I’ve always had roommates. Freshman year in the dorm, I was paired with another guy from my high school that I didn’t know particularly well. We ended up being great friends then and still keep in touch now. After that I moved into my fraternity house, where I had a roommate as a sophomore, junior and senior. I think at this point, (6-10 years later) I’m still friends with 2 / 3. I’ve studied abroad twice and ended up living with great guys both times. I’ve only ever had 1 bad experience and that was due to our radically different schedules in college and very different ideas of acceptable party hours.
After college, I moved to Tulsa for work, and didn’t know anyone. I initially tried to find a 1 bedroom, but the area I was in was lacking in apartments and I moved there after interns had started at the company. Essentially ever single 1 bedroom was rented anywhere near where I worked. I ended up finding an older (very ugly) building, but very well maintained. Because of it’s appearance, I managed to get a 2bed/1bath for only $600/month.
I lived there for the next 4 years. For about 1.5 of those, I had a roommate that I split bills with, reducing my rent to $300 and utilities (which were quite low) by 1/2. After that, I had a summer intern live with me the next two summers (for 3 months), paying me $600/month and eliminating my rent. I also had a contractor rent out the other room for a short-term period (I think 4 months?) paying $600/month.
By the time I left Oklahoma, I had saved myself something in the range of $11,000 in rent, that I was able to put toward my IRA, 401k, savings accounts, or just for an expensive bar tab or vacation. Was I unable to afford $600/month? Of course not. That’s less than you can get a studio in 99% of cities.
Since moving to Houston, buying a house, and moving in with the lady friend, we initially didn’t consider a roommate. But after living in this big house by ourselves for a few months, we decided why not? In our house, the master is upstairs on one side, and the other 2 bedrooms are downstairs on the other so it affords everyone a lot of privacy. We have guests, but rarely enough to need 2 bedrooms at once, and if on occasion that happens, so what? Somebody can go on the couch.
We had a roommate for the past 18 months, paying roughly 1/2 the mortgage. We ended up great friends and still hang out today. We’re about to have our 2nd move in and are getting similar money. So whether you are financially secure or barely getting by, a roommate can add some much appreciated cash flow to the house. For more on the topic, check out what TheSimpleDollar has to say on the topic here and here.
Reasons to Get a Roommate
It’s going to save you massive amounts of money. Rent/Mortgage/utilities make up a huge percentage of the average persons monthly expenditures. 1 room mate, can eliminate 30-50% of that cost, and allow you a lot of breathing room and to really up your savings. If your room mate is paying you $500/month, they’ve essentially covered your entire IRA contribution for you.
When living alone I always enjoyed having somebody else there. It’s not a lot of fun to spend your day working on a solitary project with headphones on, to then go home and cook and hang by yourself. If you can find a good roommate, it gives you somebody to split dinner with, watch a movie, talk about your day, etc… Nobody likes to be lonely.
Covering for each other
Caitlin and I have 2 dogs. Any dog owner will tell you that one of the biggest pains possible, is figuring out what to do with your animals while you are away. It causes all kinds of apprehension. Do you kennel them? That’s super expensive, you don’t know the people, and everybody has heard a horror story. Do you ask friends? Hopefully you have some that don’t mind, but that’s not easy to come by. People who love dogs, tend to have their own dogs, and its hard to shove your 2 off on somebody with 2 of their own. It takes a lot of friends points. However, if you have a roommate, it’s not such a big deal. You don’t take them anywhere, and somebody you already trust can just let them out. You also have basically free house sitting anytime your away, rides to the airport, and whatever else.
Reasons to Avoid a Roommate
Your current living situation may include 2 bedrooms (and maybe even 2 bathrooms) but don’t really allow for the level of personal space that is important to you.
Safety & Security
Do you feel safe living with someone else? That’s as basic a question as it gets. This is especially important if you don’t personally know anybody looking for a room mate and will need to search the market on Craigslist and other places. Many people aren’t comfortable just inviting someone into their home to live without a long prior history.
Your Personality and Habits
Do things always have to be perfectly in place? Are you extremely anal about cleanliness and order? People with these personality traits (myself included) can have a hard time living someone with a different style. Our last roommate liked to leave dishes that he hand washed on top of a towel to dry, rather than putting them up in the cabinets. For no rational reason, this drove me nuts. It’s things like that you have to learn to let go of, or you aren’t going to have a successful relationship.
On the other end, maybe you like to walk around naked, or you keep weird hours, or like to work until the wee hours of the morning while everybody else is asleep. Splitting a place with someone always means giving up a bit of your personal space and preferences.