I’ve written before about how to be an extreme saver and how practicing minimalism can help those of us with extreme debt to pay it off faster without losing too much of our sanity. One item on that list is to rent a room in someone’s home.
Contrary to popular belief we are not entitled to home ownership, or even to having our own apartments. These things are wants not needs. Having a home of our own is not necessary for survival. Even though most of us would not prefer to share housing; there is nothing wrong with doing so. I rather reluctantly took the plunge over a year ago and now have a living situation that is actually not horrible and is giving me hope of crawling out of this deep debt before I become a senior citizen. So, I know from personal experience that this can be done.
Save big bucks $$$ by lowering your housing expenses
Housing (mortgage, rent) is often our largest monthly expense by far. And as such, it is the first place we should look to cut our budget to save the biggest money when in deep debt.
Renting a room in a house is often even better than sharing an apartment. Sharing an apartment is more likely to involve getting tied up in long term and onerous 30 page binding building leases. Renting a room in a home is often less hassle as you’re are likely dealing with the homeowner (or master tenant if you are sub-leasing) and thus provides more flexibility. Renting a room in a home can also provide more space and privacy (depending on the size and layout of the home). However, either arrangement (house or apartment) works if it saves you enough money. In this post, I’ll be focusing on renting in a house.
If you are single, with no dependents, you have the luxury to make some drastic changes in your life and you should take advantage of this option.
Start looking now
Especially if you live in a tight housing market (NY, SF, etc.), start looking before you are ready to move. Yes, before you are ready to move. This means replying to ads and going to see places in person. It will give you a sense of what’s out there without the pressure of having to jump on the first thing you see. You’ll be looking at low rent options so finding a room and the attached homeowner/roommates that are acceptable to you will take longer than a typical housing search.
When I moved to California a little over a year ago, I only gave myself 10 days to find a room to rent once I landed here and before my new job started. Unfortunately, I grossly underestimated the intensity of the housing market here and soon found myself competing with thousands of college students for every habitable room in town. I ended up having to go up in rent – way up in rent – as time literally ran out. I spent the next year locked into a majorly overpriced apartment lease with bad consequences for my debt repayment goals.
Craigslist is a popular place to find rooms but look elsewhere as well. Include everything from old school local classified ads (remember newspapers?) to the newest, trendiest housing apps. Don’t look for the best luxury guest room in the most upscale neighborhood that you can afford. Remember why you are doing this. If you need to rent a room in someone’s house and live with strangers, then really make it financially worthwhile. Find the cheapest place that is safe, clean, and that you could tolerate living in for at least one year. That being said, sometimes you can get lucky and get a cheaper than market rate room in some nice neighborhoods. Start looking and visiting places early.
Pare down (also known as ‘Ditch your crap’)
Downsize, a lot. Then downsize some more. Explore minimalism, essentialism, or whatever you prefer to call it, but be ready to ditch your crap. Rent a room that is clean, well-kept, and already furnished. Not having to deal with furniture and other unnecessary things greatly increases your mobility and flexibility.
Without a lot of stuff to carry around, moving is much faster and cheaper. It also means fewer things to worry about organizing, storing, protecting, cleaning and insuring, etc. Only keep the things you truly need. Get rid of the rest. You won’t miss it. How to sell your crap so you can pay off your debt and do what you love.
Who should you rent from? How to choose your landlord / roommates.
Friends and family may be a source of low cost housing, but choose this option with care. Make sure you have a
good great fantastic relationship and enough space to move around in their home if privacy is important to you. Just because you get along does not mean that you’ll live together well. Moving in with family or friends is not an option for most people, but if it is an option for you, make sure that the arrangements (rent, length of time, chores, etc.) are agreed upon upfront.
When looking for a room to rent, find a landlord and/or roommates who match your style. Do you like where you live to be social and full of energy and people, or do you prefer a quiet sanctuary after a long day of work? Read room-for-rent ads carefully. When responding to ads write honestly and in detail about your preferences, hobbies, etc. Include exactly what you want in a living arrangement. If you keep to yourself and are looking for a quiet sanctuary with roommates / landlords who are similar say that. The worst thing to do is to write a generic response that doesn’t reveal anything meaningful about yourself.
Moving into someone else’s home is a challenge for most of us. When you live in someone else’s house, you have to live by someone else’s rules. Beware, cheap rent sometimes comes at a cost. Despite your best diligence, you may end up with an unstable or power-tripping landlord with an ever expanding list of rules. If that happens, don’t sweat it. Know what you are willing to tolerate. Maybe jumping through their hoops is worth an ultra-low rent. Maybe not. Ask questions of your prospective landlord/roommates to know what is expected of you. As long as you keep some cash in savings, and your possessions few, you’ll never be stuck anywhere you don’t want to be.
With luck you’ll find a good place where you can hang your hat for a while.
What to look for in a room
Privacy. In-law units away from the main area of the house, a bedroom on a separate floor from other bedroom can give the feeling of more space and privacy.
Furnished room with a functioning lock on the door and a window that opens wide to bring in air and sunlight. You’re looking for a room, not a torture chamber. Yes, you can rent a dark windowless closet under a staircase or a partitioned living room on Craigslist for less in rent, but that simply is not sustainable for most people. If you are patient with step one, you won’t have to risk your sanity.
All utilities (including wi-fi) included in the rent. This will keep your housing expenses fixed and make it easier to automate your bill and debt payments. Set up bill pay with your bank to have them cut the rent check to your landlord every month. It’s one less thing to have to deal with and keep track of.
Walking distance to public transit and a grocery store. Walking distance to work is ideal, but not always possible. If you haven’t considered ditching your car, you may want to think about it. Owning a car can be a big money sink. If you don’t live in a rural area, consider going car-free or car-lite to save even more money $$$.
Kitchen and laundry room privileges
Make sure it comes with a lease. Know your city and state legal rights as a tenant, sub-tenant, or lodger/boarder. Month-to-month leases are best as they give you the most flexibility.
What to avoid
Has the neighborhood gone downhill? Is the street too rough for your comfort? Are you getting some hard stares from neighbors? Visit your potential hood during the day and at night. You want to find someplace cheap, but don’t risk your safety.
Is the place dirty/run-down beyond normal wear and tear? Are there stains on the walls or ceiling? Are there odors in the house or in your prospective room? Not a good sign. Don’t be fooled by perfumes either. Is the house and/or room heavily scented with air fresheners. Beware of this as it can indicate that these chemical scents are masking odors from lack of cleaning. Run from any place that is not minimally clean.
Random visitors, boyfriends, girlfriends, neighbors, who look too comfortable in the home while you’re visiting. It’s likely that they will be there all the time.
Speaking of unwanted guests, look out for any roommates with more than four legs. Ask about bugs – bed bugs, cockroaches, spiders, etc… Don’t be surprised after you move in!
Avoid bedrooms next to bathrooms, especially if walls are thin. Ahem. Also avoid bedrooms next to kitchens.
Consider carefully if you’re willing to live with couples, especially young ones. Not all are bad of course, but you may have to listen to arguments or ‘amorous interludes’ especially if you share a bedroom wall.
Don’t depend on your new landlord /roommates to help transport you anywhere even if they offer to do so. They could move out at anytime leaving you high and dry. Or you could have an argument that causes them to revoke their offer of wheels, etc.
Be wary of moving into low income housing as there may be legal restrictions on tenancy.
Avoid living anyplace that doesn’t require a lease. Remember that a lease protects you as well as the landlord.
Ask, ‘Is there anything else about the room/housing/environment that I should know that I haven’t asked about and that you haven’t told me about yet?’
Keep your important items safe
If you pared down properly earlier, once you move in to your room, you won’t own many things that you have to worry about keeping safe. The vast majority of our things will be replaceable in the event of damage or theft. Identify what is truly irreplaceable and make plans to protect those things. Consider giving these items to family or friends for safe keeping or consider renting a safe deposit box.
Computer: Keep your computer password protected and keep all your files on cloud backup in multiple places (like both Dropbox and Google Drive). If your computer is ever stolen, it’s not the end of the world as all of your files are recoverable from cloud storage.
Documents: Keep all important documents scanned into pdf documents and stored in the cloud. Shred and recycle the paper to eliminate clutter. For super important docs that require that you maintain possession of the original paper, consider a safe deposit box.
Don’t give up. Stay inspired.
Don’t lose sight of the goal. Remember this is not a way of life that you’ll live forever, only until your financial goal is reached. Once you’ve moved into your new rented room you can do things to keep your situation in perspective and your goal front and center. Here are a few ideas. Find something to do that keeps you motivated, but not too obsessive about your payoff.
Put your debt (or savings) milestones on your wall. Every time you make a payment, cross off the old debt total and write the new lower balance.
Put a huge yearly calendar on your wall. Calculate your debt freedom date and mark the days off.
Put a big inspirational poster on the wall of what your financial goal looks like to you. Maybe it’s an exotic travel destination, or a happy picture of yourself before you had financial worries, or a collage of what financial freedom would look like and feel like to you.
Oh, and make sure you have permission from your landlord before putting things on the walls.
Remember this is only temporary. Yes, it may be drastic, but taking drastic action is how you bring about drastic change in your life. You can do it!
What did I miss? I’ll add it in to this post.
Is anyone else out there living the rented room life? Tell me about it in the comments.
“Debtor’s prison is real, and opportunity cost is a bitch.” (DDSW)