You need a little creativity to make ends meet these days. With wages stagnating and housing prices skyrocketing, people are looking for ways to cut expenses and boost their income. And that's especially true for anyone trying to save for a down payment on a house.
This was all top of mind several years ago when Sam (my now-husband, then-boyfriend) and I decided to move in together. We wanted a two-bedroom so he could have a music studio, but it was hard finding a place that would come out to under $300 a person—even in affordable Indianapolis. After a couple disheartening weeks weeding through listings, we realized things would be so much cheaper if we made the slightly unorthodox choice and lived with a roommate.
Thankfully, Kevin—my boyfriend's then-roommate and best friend—still needed a place to live. We asked him if he wanted to live with us (he did!), and the three of us started looking for a three-bedroom. We found a duplex within our price range with more than enough space for all three of us. I went from paying $625 a month to only $266 (without utilities).
Though this might have been unconventional only 10 or so years ago, we aren't the first couple to do this and we won't be the last. Living with a roommate as a cost-saving measure is becoming more common every year. In fact, 30 percent of working-age adults lived with a roommate in 2017, up from 21 percent in 2005. And if you're in a city where housing is at a premium, you're more likely to find couples—married, even—living with an additional roommate.
"Housing in D.C. ain't cheap," says Kevin Mahoney, certified financial planner at Illumint Advisors. Mahoney and his wife had a friend live with them in D.C. for about a year while their first child was still a baby. The roommate paid about 30 percent of their mortgage, but Mahoney said the arrangement helped both parties save a lot of money on housing costs.
Though Sam, Kevin, and I were saving a ton of money, there were emotional and logistical costs, of course. Sam and I had almost opposite schedules, so when we were home at the same time, I wanted it to be just the two of us. Obviously that was hard when Kevin was also there (and had every right to be!)
Our situation was also always something we had to explain to other people. I had a co-worker who lived with her boyfriend and also her brother (who was in law school and living off student loans at the time.)
One day, our boss made a joke about how weird it was that we lived with significant others and roommates at the same time. He didn't understand why we did it. My co-worker and I looked at each other, and I snidely reminded him that we could afford to live on our own—if he started paying us more.
Despite all of the annoyances, it was well worth it. Because our rent was so low, I used my freed-up cash to pay off my student loans seven years ahead of schedule. My boyfriend was able to start contributing to his retirement account as well.
For some people, like us, co-living is an opportunity to save. Gabriel Kaplan, financial planner at Wealth Habits, said two of his married clients rent out an extra bedroom on Airbnb in New York City to make money. The city has strict laws about subletting and renting, so they can only do short-term rentals, but the effect can be huge depending how often the room is filled.
"We're talking about half of their rent in some months," Kaplan said.
And for other couples, living with a roommate can be the only way to make ends meet. One friend moved to Seattle to be with her boyfriend—but she didn't have a job waiting for her there. Because she couldn't afford half the rent and her boyfriend couldn't pay for the whole bill, they decided to move in with another couple.
The rent for a two-bedroom ended up being so cheap split four ways, that it was easy for her boyfriend to cover her half while she looked for a job. The arrangement only lasted for a year before everyone decided they wanted more space, but, for those 12 months, it was a financial lifesaver.
After living with Kevin for two years in Indianapolis, Sam and I got married and decided to move to Denver to try something new. We were able to easily make the move because we had saved so much. Kevin actually decided to make the move, too (Sam and him are in a band together), and we all lived together for another year.
Having a roommate was helpful in Indianapolis, but it was a lifesaver in Denver, which is quickly becoming one of the most expensive cities in the country. We paid $1,845—Kevin paid $500 and my husband and I split the $1,345. We saved so much that Sam and I were able to freelance full-time.
But as Sam and I settled into married life, our small space quickly started to feel cramped. A year later—once we were all finally comfortable with the city's high rents—Kevin moved out.
And only a short while after living just the two of us, Sam and I moved back to Indiana. This time, we didn't need a roommate—we were actually able to buy a home with all the money we saved over the years! Though we missed living with Kevin, we were grateful for all the years we lived together. And, of course, it was nice to finally have a space that was all of our own.