Essays & Confessions

Some Honest Thoughts On The Savings & Sacrifices Of Having Roommates In My 30s

By | Wednesday, September 25, 2019

I’ve always been a solitary creature, the ISTJ to rival all ISTJs. Having control of my own space is what soothes my soul at the end of a long day. So why, then, have I let myself be talked into having roommates?

It’s all my husband’s fault. His DNA is comprised of 95% kindness; we have roommates because he recognized that everyone involved would be better off if we did so. The other 5% of his DNA is, unfortunately, sneakiness. Instead of appealing to my emotions — he knows I have none — he said the words I love to hear: “Think how much money we could save.”

Having roommates is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not only has it helped me practice things like negotiation and clear communication, it’s also made it possible for me to attain some big financial goals I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to reach.

Let’s talk turkey

Looking over the numbers, I estimate we save about $11,000 per year when we have roommates. By sharing space and splitting just four bills (rent, water/wastewater, electricity, and internet), we keep enough money in our pockets to buy 2500 Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

As insane as these numbers seem to me, what’s even crazier is what I’ve been able to do with our extra cash:

  • Fund an emergency savings account that covers four months of expenses.
  • Squirrel away emergency cash (in case of natural disasters).
  • Save a solid down payment on a home.
  • Take on more of the expenses we don’t share with roommates (groceries, Netflix, etc.) so my husband can pay even more towards student loan debt.

A lot of things worked in my favor to help me reach these goals so quickly. I live in a city that, while expensive, is still affordable; my parents funded my education so I could graduate debt-free; my hobbies are not costly. As lean as our early years of marriage were, my husband and I started from a higher rung of the proverbial ladder simply because we were born into the right circumstances.

That said, reaching my goals is not just a matter of being lucky and having more cash than I used to — I’m keeping a careful eye on our budget and spending to make sure we’re using this windfall responsibly (I don’t actually want to spend our money on 2500 PSLs). 

I’m also doing my best to compound our savings when possible. For example, earlier this year I moved a chunk of money to a high-interest savings account. Not only am I able to drop more funds into that account, I’m also earning 2% interest on it. That’s hundreds more dollars on top of the $11,000.

Is having roommates a good idea?

It depends on lots of factors, but it all boils down to figuring out if the potential benefits (saving money, having built-in friends) outweigh the potential challenges (little true alone time, sharing communal spaces). For me, the financial benefits of having roommates managed to exceed my worries about having to share my home.

If you need more guidance, here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider a roommate situation:

  • Do I want to find a roommate online, or pair up with someone I already know?
  • Am I okay with giving up some amount of privacy?
  • How will I handle arguments/conflict?
  • How much does having a roommate need to save me to make it worth it?
  • Can I afford to live alone if my roommate has to leave?

This last question was the most important for me to be able to answer “yes” to. More combined income means we could have afforded a fancier house; but the idea of suddenly having to come up with a ton of extra money if our arrangement didn’t work out was not appealing, and made zero financial sense.

It’s not always possible to operate this way — sometimes you need a roommate because you literally can’t afford to live on your own — but it’s a good idea to have a contingency plan for if you or your roommate has to bow out.

Dealing with the tough stuff

Having roommates is like being in a slightly off-kilter, platonic marriage: it requires clear communication, negotiation, and promising not to throw the other person’s stuff away. These things are not always easy.

Something that’s helped us is to have a roommate agreement. It may sound silly, but having a short document that details who pays what bills, whose rooms are whose, how to treat communal spaces, and even who cleans up the cat puke is hugely beneficial. That means when someone isn’t holding up their end of the bargain, there’s a document to point to that reminds everyone of the expectations you all set and standards you agreed to hold to.

There are also many things you can do to avoid getting screwed over by a bad roommate. But the truth is, even a great roommate can still be annoying. Communal living is challenging, with everyone fighting over parking spaces and wondering why no one else will just sweep the kitchen for heaven’s sake. The most important thing is to avoid being passive-aggressive. If something is bothering you, it’s better for everyone’s sanity to get it out in the open. Wait until you’re calm to start the conversation, and stick to “I” statements: “I feel really frustrated when I come home and there’s a pile of shoes right inside the door. I’d love to figure out a storage solution that’s more organized.”

Genuinely listen to their response, and respect any other feedback they bring to you. You’ll all have to compromise sometimes, and that’s okay. Just remember the reasons you decided to room together in the first place — whether it was because you’re best friends, or simply for financial stability. Both are worth preserving.

Parting thoughts

Having roommates in my 30s was not something I planned on. But it’s been an incredible gift — financially, of course, but also personally. It’s forced me out of my ISTJ bubble, made me learn how to share, how to say what I need to be happy, how to listen, and how to be a better friend.

If you’ve considered roommates but are still on the fence, take a close look at your budget. Would partnering with an old friend or finding a new one mean you can meet your expenses more easily? If you’re okay on your own and want to meet that next big goal — emergency savings, investing, etc. — having a roommate may help you get there sooner than you expected.

Britney prefers to write under a pen name.

Image via Unsplash

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