Today, I am going to tell you about my second best financial move ever. I would tell you about the best move ever, but the story is so boring that it will literally only take one sentence. You still want to know? Okay, our best financial move is spending less than we earn.
The second best financial move, is much more interesting. Our second best financial move started on December 15th, 2014, and is a move that I see persisting at least until my husband graduates and possibly until we decide to opt out of society. What is this move? It's having a roommate.
Our roommate, Matt, lives in our basement. He perseveres with our renovating craziness, rarely asks when we will put the trim up in his room, and he sometimes eats dinner with us. He's a grad student in the same program as my husband, and he likes to play video games, eat Dunkin' Donuts, do work in the lab, and talk about IRAs (sometimes- he's sort of like a real life personal finance friend). He's pretty much the best roommate you could ask for.
The trade-off for having a roommate is awesome. We get $450/month (plus he puts money towards shared groceries), and all we have to do is let him occupy 400 square feet (and use our utilities).
The best part is, he thinks he's getting a great deal because previously he was paying more money to live further from campus in a smaller room.
If you've ever dismissed the notion of roommates because you have kids or because you love privacy, I would urge you to keep reading, because having a roommate has been the epitome of easy money.
You can have privacy and a roommate
Matt lives in our basement. His bedroom is twice as large as the next the largest bedroom. He also has nearly exclusive access to the downstairs bathroom. The only part of the "basement" that we share is a laundry room.
I know that not everybody lives in a split level, nor do all parents want to have a bedroom on the same level as their kids, but for us this works. Rob and I share a tiny bedroom (okay, not tiny house standards, but small enough), and we have no closet in our room. Instead, we use the closet in my office- that closet is tiny too. So tiny, in fact, that completely unprompted my husband has suggested that we go through our clothes to see what we really wear and get rid of the rest. This is the first time in our marriage that he has suggested getting rid of anything.
Technically speaking, our kitchen and our living room are shared spaces. However, since moving in nearly 8 months ago, Matt has never cooked more than a single Pizza, he stores just some fruit, energy drinks, meal replacement shakes and beer in our fridge, and he seems very happy with the arrangement.
If we have "shared friends" over, he might retreat to the living room with us for a little while, but most nights you would find Matt in his own room, doing his grad student thing.
Seriously, privacy is the least of my concerns with Matt.
I would also point out that safety for me or Kenny is not a big concern either. I did run a background check on Matt (which came up with not so much as a moving violation), but I was more comfortable having him move in as he was friends with my husband prior to move in. I think for roommates and young kids to mix, I would probably not look too far outside of your friend pool.
How does your roommate put up with your son?
But seriously, Kenny knows that he is not supposed to go downstairs since that is Matt's room. He gets really excited when he gets to go downstairs to ask Matt if he wants to eat with us. He will also try to rope Matt into reading him books, or talking about dinosaurs, trains, or construction vehicles with him. Matt will usually play along for a few minutes before he loses interest and starts to talk about his research.
Matt is a little bit like the fun uncle to Kenny. He will give Kenny a little treat every now and then, and will cheer Kenny on as he attempts to, "ride his bike so fast!"
Although our house is small, sound doesn't carry very well at all through the house. So when Kenny is screaming and wailing, if Matt is in his room, it's unlikely that he can hear (especially since he wears headphones so often).
Additionally, Matt likes kids, and has actually lived with another family prior to living with us, so he's probably a lot better of a roommate than most 27 year old, male, grad students.
Why do you have a roommate in the first place?
When we first moved to Raleigh, we were feeling a little financially pinched. In retrospect, this was silly. We were doing very well financially, but emotions matter as much as reality when it comes to finances. Nonetheless, I began thinking of ways to make more money and spend less money.
As a result of this effort, my husband started biking to school, and I started biking to pick up my son from daycare in the afternoons. We were doing a lot of biking, and we concluded that we could save a lot of time by packing up and moving to a new house.
Our basic criteria for house was location followed by cost. When we found a fairly large house (1400 sq feet) in our price range, we swooped in and bought it. We weren't sure what we would do with all the "extra space" but we started talking about having a roommate in the next year or two. We figured we would want some time to get settled and do some renovations prior to having a roommate, but within a few days of closing my husband got a call.
Matt called to announce would be rejoining the grad program (after taking a year off to work), and he was looking for a place to lease for the second semester. Rob more or less told him he could live with us, and we managed to pull off a reasonable living space for Matt in between our closing and the middle of December when Matt moved in. It was tight, but it has worked out.
At this point, our lease is month to month, but we might ask Matt if he wants to sign a 12 month lease later this year. We will just see how things pan out I guess.
How does the roommate relationship work?
Throughout college and my early career days, I lived with roommates since this is a normal and expected behavior of young adults. For the most part, the only friction in these relationships was due to the house not being cleaned in a timely manner, or the house not being cared for. Since we generate much more mess than Matt, we pretty much clean up everything. He eats dinner with us most nights, and will help out with dishes on those nights, but other than that, we generate and clean most of the messes. Likewise, we own the house, so the big maintenance stuff is our responsibility. Matt hasn't pointed out many maintenance issues that we didn't know about, but we try to promptly respond when he does.
When he first moved in, I asked if Matt would try to not buy duplicate groceries, and whatever he used of ours he could pay us back for at the end of each month. However, when I found out that he literally never cooked, I felt very sad for him. I invited him to join us for dinner, an invitation which he has accepted with gusto since then. He puts $75 towards groceries every month which covers the difference in our grocery bill since he started eating with us. Since our kitchen is sort of small and poorly laid out, I'm thankful that Matt is willing to eat my food every night. He seems to like it a lot too.
Matt is an easy-going and clean guy, so he's an ideal roommate. I would compare living with him to living with a toned down version of one of my brothers. Our first foray into living with a roommate has been nothing but a positive experience. It's a concept that we will continue to entertain provided that we have enough room for our family first.
So is roommate living for you?
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.