I've lived with 21 roommates in eight apartments on two coasts, and I’ve kind of seen it all: the nurse who failed to mention she had four kids and a husband in another state, the yoga teacher I had to call an ambulance for when she had a seizure in the kitchen most likely due to alcohol withdrawal, and all the ones who never cleaned the bathroom, emptied the garbage, or bothered to shut the door when they were hooking up on the other side of my bedroom wall.
I should just live by myself, I’ve said to myself countless times. That way I wouldn’t have to look at my roommate’s makeup stains on my hand towels, replace not one but two trashed non-stick pans, or be told that my bottle of vodka was suddenly empty because the booze “evaporated.” I know I am in good company of course: People love to hate on their shitty roommates.
But the truth is, I’ve been the bad roommate too. I once sprinted to the bathroom to take a shower in order to beat my roommate who was clearly headed in the same direction. I let my boyfriend smoke cigarettes in my bedroom in a “smoke free” apartment, then told my angry roommate the smell was from a candle I just blew out. And I’ve shattered countless glasses, bowls, and plates that weren’t mine. Once I stole a fork when I moved out for no good reason.
I’ve lived on my own at times too, when I wanted to feel more like a grownup and decorate my place exactly how I wanted it or when the rent was too low to pass up. But as much as I love being able to sleep till noon and eat food straight from the fridge without judgment, I know that living with roommates for most of my adult life is perhaps the single smartest money move I ever made. A couple years ago, I paid $900 a month for a share in a New York City neighborhood (West Harlem) where one bedrooms now go for about twice that much. Even though I now pay about $1,700 for a sweet share on the Upper West Side, I know that living alone in the same area would easily cost $2,600 or more a month.
I'd rather save money than live alone
Saving money can be so hard, especially when you live in a city full of excellent ways to blow it. Sticking to a budget, avoiding eating out or buying more shoes/clothes/stuff takes daily restraint. But getting a roommate is a single choice you can make that eliminates all kinds of money stress—provided of course that they actually pay the rent and don’t set the place on fire.
As this chart from SmartAsset shows, living with a roommate in 10 big cities in the US saves you anywhere from $600 to more than $1,000 in rent each month:
You can save even more if you live with more people, opt for a lower-priced neighborhood, or look for a place off-season when landlords may be more willing to negotiate the price.
So as crazy as it made me feel when a recent roommate called my phone 31 times one night when she misplaced her keys (my phone was in sleep mode) and another tried to let her boyfriend move in without saying anything, for now anyway I’m choosing to keep living with strangers I mostly meet on Craigslist.
It's not just about the money of course. For all the annoyances, I’ve also made some great friends, enjoyed endless long talks on the couch, and hopefully have learned how to be a slightly less shitty roommate along the way.
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