In Extreme Debt? Rent a Room to Save Money on Your Living Expenses

How to Rent a Room to Save Money and Pay Off Debt

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.

Looking for a room to rent

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.

Realtor is giving the keys to an apartment to some clients. focus on the keys

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.

bad neighborhood

craigslist ad

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.

Image credit:


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)

Renting a New Room and Writing a New Budget


(This is not a picture of my new room. My room will not be as nice as this, but it’s somewhat similar.)

As you may know from my past posts, I have been sharing (one roommate) an overpriced apartment for the past year. One of my goals for 2014 was to find a cheaper and cleaner place to live once my lease ended.  Well, the good news is that I have! I found a room on Craigslist a week or so ago that I went to see.

It was not love at first sight.  The picture in the ad left much to be desired, but the rent was affordable so I had to at least check it out. It is  a few towns over from where I live now.  I decided to walk there from the public transit station along the busy main street. It was unusually hot that day and there were a couple of  points where I thought I’d miscalculated the distance on the map and wanted to turn around and go back home, but I didn’t and eventually found the place.

There are three roommates, all women in 40s/50s, pleasant, so that may be a positive change. The room, like the house, was small, old, and a little dark, but neat. At first I didn’t like it at all, but the more I kept thinking about it, the more it made sense to rent the room.

Image credit:

I went back a few days later to drop off the deposit, sign the lease and see the room again. Talk about a big difference! I took a different route to get there by walking along a green walking and biking path that I’d learned about thanks to Google Maps. It was cool, breezy, and calm. I got there before I knew it, and realized that the house is within a few blocks of a small public library (win!), a popular local natural grocery store (big win!) and a small gym.

One of my long-standing goals is to find a way to get in shape. For the first time in my life I have developed the dreaded muffin top. My skin, which was never clear to begin with, has gone completely to crap, and I have the ironically named ‘laugh lines’ exploding all over my face.  Why? It’s not from laughing, I assure you. I’ve been stressed out to the point of burnout over the past year.

I’m hoping that being near a good grocery store and a running path will make it easier for me to make some much needed health improvements.  I don’t know if I’ll spend money to go to a gym, but if I can at least start running that’s half of the first battle. Anyway, as I said, what a difference a few days made. I’m glad that I didn’t pass this place by because of the Craigslist picture. I’m glad I didn’t turn around on my way to see it that first day. I can make this room work. As long as its  safe, clean, and bug free, I’ll be fine.

Image credit: stackthatmoney

I’m mostly excited about the rent. Did I say it was affordable? It is only $500 /month INCLUDING all utilities and wi-fi!!

Depending on where you live, $500 per month may not seem special, but where I live now, rent that low is RARE to find. So my housing costs will drop from $1500 /mo. to  $500/ mo. for a $1000 savings each month! I can’t wait to start throwing all of it towards this credit card debt. With this housing shift, I will be back on track to kill this credit card debt entirely this year!

I won’t be living high on the hog, or even low on the hog. You all know I’d MUCH rather have my own place, but by doing this I’ll have less and less debt to stress out over. I hope to be in the room as little as possible and spend more time outside for once, so that’s another goal.

After this credit card debt is gone, I’ll reformulate my basic budget


Q4 2014 Budget

Yeah, that phone charge is out of control. I felt like I had to go unlimited because I currently work from home 2 days per week and with all the conference call meetings i’m on everyday – I kept running out of minutes and getting slammed with extra charges.  (I don’t get a company phone.) I will be looking into how to reduce this.

I really hope this new room works out for me and I can stay for a while. This may be the best shot that I have for while to cut down this debt.  I’m finally getting back on track to follow my own advice.

Cutting down on housing and transportation expenses are the quickest ways to save the most money. If you’re thinking about taking the leap yourself…

Do it  credit - thetaline dot org
Image Credit:

“Debtor’s prison is real, and opportunity cost is a bitch.” (DDSW)

My First Step (and it’s a doozy)…

I’m moving.

This. is. huge.

In my first post, I introduced my situation. For the past two years, I’ve been living in a posh downtown studio  in a new high-rise apartment building. I was in denial about my debt when I moved in. That will be the subject of other posts. Suffice it to say, that I loved this place. I loved the five star location, within walking distance of everything – museums, shops, theaters, a university etc. I loved the safety and calm. I loved the gorgeous view of the city right outside my window. I loved having my little nest, my safe haven, my oasis from the world. I have issues with social anxiety and am a very private person. Before moving here I had been in various roommate situations and disliked it. That is also the subject of future posts. I swore I’d NEVER go back to living with strangers.

I started to realize in the last few months finally that my debt was catching up with me. No amount of scrimping and saving would allow me to make any traction on my debts. I’ve stupidly had my student loan debt in forbearance for the past two years, while I scrimped and saved to furnish this apartment. Yes, really. Life mistake #457. I bargained (see 5 Stages of Grief) with myself that if I could just find a way to keep this apartment, my privacy, my oasis, then I would devote every spare penny to paying down debt. But I would learn that even that would no longer be enough. The very thing that I loved the most – debt would take that from me too.

I finally started doing the math and learned that I would not make it financially when my student loans come out of forbearance in March. So yes, I really loved the place I’m in now. LOVED. But, you know what? I love being out of debt even more. I’ve decided to leave.

I’m going to rent a room in a very small 3-bedroom / 1 bath house in a not-so-great neighborhood with two other women.


This picture will not be my new room, but it is very similar looking. My new room will have a very old twin bed, a small old dresser and old desk with an old chair. That’s it. Three items. But then again, its so small that nothing else would fit. And I like it that way. This move is just what I need to shed all the crap that I spent years accumulating. As I have come to embrace minimalism over the past six months, I am looking forward to the purging process so that I can move as lightly as possible.

I will drop from $1365/mo. in rent and utilities down to $425/mo.  Yes, that’s $940 per mo. that I will be able to put toward my student loan monthly payment when it comes out of forbearance. As unappealing as my tiny cell room will be, what will keep me going is that I’m taking the first step in my three step plan to get out of debt. I’ll talk about the other two in future posts.

By the way, the picture above is of a jail cell. Debtor’s prison is real, and opportunity cost is a bitch.

As for now, let the selling, packing, and giving away begin. I can’t wait….


“Debtor’s prison is real, and opportunity cost is a bitch.” (DDSW)