I would like to live alone, but I also like money.
July 22, 2016 10:20 PM   Subscribe

My current roommate is moving out. The prospect of finding and living with another roommate is giving me the howling fantods. Monthly rent for the whole apartment (plus utilities etc) would be ~50% of my average monthly income before tax. Is this workable? (snowflake details inside)

Context: I am a grad student living off a stipend, and will be finishing up around this time next year. My place is a 1br apartment, where I currently occupy the bedroom and my roommate has the living area/den partitioned off. Consequently, I and most of my worldly possessions currently occupy a 3m x 4m (10' x 13') space. Which, I mean, it's not the end of the world, and I've been dealing with similar for the past 6-ish years because I've not had much choice about it, but now that something more is just within my reach makes it awfully tempting, y'know?

Additional details:
  • Generally I've found that the people willing to put up with this sort of living situation are students, meaning I'd want to start roommate hunting soon to find someone for September. Otherwise, I would be tempted to try living alone for a few months first, and see how accurate my financial estimates are.
  • Part of the reason why I'd rather stay here than look for a studio or something is because rent control/stabilization makes this place about the same price as those other options, and any small cost savings would likely be eaten up by various costs associated with moving and setting things up in a new apartment.
  • Other reasons I like my current place: super walkable neighbourhood, building management is reasonable to deal with, place is not someone's basement.
  • 50% of my income is not actually a whole lot (see above re: grad student stipend)
Which brings us to finances: I have ~$15k in savings right now, mostly due to my current low rent, an entrance scholarship from my department, and a cushy summer side gig -- none of which are likely to come up again in the coming 12 months. If I were to start living on my own, I would most likely be treading water, financially speaking, for the year. (Not adding to my savings, but not dipping into them, either). I have ~$17k in student loans, the payments for which start 6 months after I graduate.

tl;dr, my options seem to be:
A) Live on my own, break even financially without eating into my savings until I graduate. Cross fingers and toes for a job that pays more than I get now (I mean, I've had internships that pay more than I get now..), and go on my way.
B) Find a roommate, grit my teeth through another year of shared living until I graduate. Have enough money to pay off my student loans entirely, if I want, and still be left with savings to live off while I look for a job (helps that I won't have loan payments to make in this case).
C) ???
posted by btfreek to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I took out a loan for my last year of my PhD to pay rent so that I could live alone and it was very, very worth it and wise for me. It let me just focus on my work. It wasn't the smartest move from a pure financial standpoint but from a mental health standpoint it absolutely was. I've built my savings up now that I have a job, and frankly I'm not sure I could have dealt with the extreme stress of the job hunt on top of the stress of finishing my degree if I had been gritting my teeth through my living situation. YMMV of course, but seriously no one I know finished grad school with savings in the bank. Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 10:30 PM on July 22, 2016 [12 favorites]

On the outside looking in my grown up self looks at your finances and says suck it up, its only a year and take the roommate. sockermom has a valid point however and so your mileage might vary. It will really depend on how much this will really be a grind to you
posted by bitdamaged at 10:36 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you'd actually just be treading water and not decimating your savings, I'd definitely go for living alone.

I'm personally OK with not saving money while working on a PhD, given the presence of an emergency fund. My philosophy is that money has more value when you have less of it. So, I get more value in terms of quality of life by spending the small amount of money I might be able to save from a grad student stipend than I would if I socked it away for 5 years and spent it when I'll be making significantly more.

Things that would change my answer:
* If you're in a not-very-marketable field and are likely to need to burn through all your savings between graduation and finding a real job
* If your salary after graduation is likely to be only small step up (once you adjust for student loan payments)
* If your job hunt is likely to be expensive in ways you haven't budgeted for: Will you need to spend on a new wardrobe? Will you be attending more conferences this year?
posted by Metasyntactic at 10:49 PM on July 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

As a hardcore introvert, I would take the hit and live alone. You have plenty of savings in case of emergency. And while it's good to pay off student loans ASAP, finishing your program takes priority. An aggravating roommate situation is a major drain on your energy.
posted by Standard Orange at 12:21 AM on July 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Your next year may be one of the most challenging and important in your life. You'll need to focus on finishing your degree more than anything else. This is not the time to "grit your teeth" and tolerate a roommate, this is the time to take as good care of yourself as possible even if it means you aren't saving much money. There is so much worth in being personally comfortable, especially when the rest of your life may be stressful. In my opinion, things like this are more important than saving.
posted by bendy at 12:28 AM on July 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

If the numbers really work out so you won't need to dip into your savings (accounting for things like being 100% responsible for utilities, etc.), give yourself permission to live alone. Breaking even is a pretty decent financial goal during grad school. I did nearly the same thing for a good chunk of my PhD because I just *could not even* after a string of crappy housemate situations. Especially when writing a thesis, you want your home to be a cozy happy safe haven.
posted by ktkt at 12:33 AM on July 23, 2016

Response by poster: Oh -- just because I don't want to misrepresent things I'd like to point out that I will actually be finishing up an MS. (forgot that "grad school w/ funding" in the US generally means PhD) Having no first-hand basis for comparison I'm not sure if that will affect your answers, re: the stress/workload I'll be under (I'll still be wrangling my experiments and writing my thesis, but not quite at the same scale). No plans at the moment to continue in academia: by "find a job" I mean "find a job in industry and contemplate the PhD from a distance for at least a couple years".
posted by btfreek at 12:43 AM on July 23, 2016

Live alone, break even, leave your savings alone as much as possible, enjoy your peace and quiet.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:47 AM on July 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

I would live alone. You don't have kids. You won't be standing in the grocery isle at supper time arguing with someone on why they can't have brand name cereal. It's only you that this is affecting and if gets to be too much, you can add a roommate or pick up a job along the way. It's really a risk free decision to live alone. Adding a roommate, on the other hand, is very high risk, as you could end up with someone awful who would make your day to day a living hell, which you don't have time for right now.

Fly solo while you can.
posted by myselfasme at 4:35 AM on July 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I was in similar circumstances at the beginning of my MA and I chose to live alone with rent about 55% of my monthly income. It was a lean year (no internet at home, for example) but I made it without eating int my savings or going into debt besides loans for actual tuition (which were paid off a semester later by tuition reimbursement from my employer). It was a very wise decision for me, and I do not regret it at all.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:15 AM on July 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I totally agree that you should live in your one bedroom alone. Treading water is doing good as a grad student. But if this is your first time being one year away from graduating, I'd assume you are actually 2. YMMV. The average pushback in most of the groups I know is about a year but it varies from a fee months to a few years. I'd still live alone though. But something to keep in mind.
posted by Kalmya at 5:38 AM on July 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you do live alone, is there any way to take on a small side gig to help defray costs?
posted by Elly Vortex at 5:44 AM on July 23, 2016

50% of before tax income is not a sustainable living cost long-term .

But it seems like this won't be long-term. And it seems that you otherwise have your head on your shoulders financially, and are looking at entering a career with sufficient earning potential to help ease the load.

So... treat yo self. For one year. After you graduate, you need to be honest with yourself about your earning potential and budget and figure out if you can afford to continue to live alone.

But for now... Be free! Living without roommates is the bomb.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:15 AM on July 23, 2016

C) Rent out your couch/partitioned area on Airbnb?
posted by ramenopres at 7:26 AM on July 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you can find a tolerable sharing situation - ie you find a space with bedrooms at the opposite ends of the apartment or house, located in an affordable / walkable / convenient neighborhood, living with a mature , respectful person with either quiet habits or a schedule that's the opposite of yoursyor keeps them out of the house, that's (arbitrarily) 20% cheaper than your current place (counting utilities & any transport costs, if you don't have them now), do that.

Otherwise, stay where you are and limit restaurant/takeout (which is where I figure a busy grad student might be likely to spend). Batch cook on Sundays.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:43 AM on July 23, 2016

Live alone. As long as you can cover the basics, there's nothing like having "a room of one's own." Being able to leave the chaos and compromise of the world to come home to the peace and quiet of even the most modest little sanctuary is so worth it.
posted by the thought-fox at 8:12 AM on July 23, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I have various small anxieties and weirdnesses about money and financial security, so it's very helpful to get a reality check from a neutral party. I think I will give living alone a trial run to see if I really do break even, and re-evaluate my options (getting a roommate, moving to a 2BR, etc) if it turns out I can't. Even if it does turn out that I need to find another roommate, the fact that I gave it a try and would have concrete evidence that the compromise is necessary would make it easier to deal with, rather than always wondering "what if".

My roommate may have inadvertently helped nudge my decision along, having woken me up at 4am last night coming home with gentleman caller in tow, and also taking my favourite coffee mug this morning :)
posted by btfreek at 8:28 AM on July 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

MetaFilter skews very US middle class values. I'm in the minority, but I would personally find it wasteful to not have a roommate when I knew that I could. In a similar situation, I made BFFs with the library.
posted by aniola at 11:24 AM on July 23, 2016

Eh, I didn't grow up middle class financially and I think that in this particular situation--where it's break-even financially and where the person is anticipating an unusually stressful and professionally vital year-long project--it would be worth it. Splitting a small one-bedroom (and that is small, even by, say, NYC standards) is really challenging. Doing it for six years is a lot. This person is not anticipating lording it alone over a junior six.
posted by praemunire at 11:32 AM on July 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sounds like it's well worth it to live on your own.

If you feel a terrible financial pinch, get a roommate.

If you feel an occasional financial pinch, consider reconfiguring your space so you live in the den and the bedroom looks like a zen haven, then AirBnB the bedroom for a little while. This would be annoying to set up, but could be workable if you're flexible and maybe able to get a good locking cabinet for your private items.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:04 PM on July 23, 2016

Response by poster: Hmm, the idea of occasionally AirBnBing half the place is potentially intriguing, especially since summers are my potentially-leanest times (no TAships to supplement my stipend) and I'm located in a very tourist-friendly area.

The front door to my building does have a little sign that says something like "ABSOLUTELY NO AirBnB, VRBO or other short term rentals", though. If anyone has any experience with this (sorry to tag on a follow-up question) -- is this something I could ignore, as long as I went about it discreetly/sensibly, or is it not worth the potential hassle? (of course, I know that management companies vary, etc)
posted by btfreek at 12:30 PM on July 23, 2016

Best answer: AirBnB is something that requires a substantial amount of effort and preparation. That's time and brainspace you may need for academia.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:33 PM on July 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do not violate your landlord's posted rules prohibiting short-term rentals like Airbnb! The risk to your stability and mental health is much too great.

As a possible alternative, consider checking your local Craigslist for people who just need a place for a few days a week. Last time I was looking for a roommate I was surprised to find ads from folks who traveled for work and just needed a place to call home on the weekends. Be upfront with your landlord about it, of course, but it would be similar to a typical roommate situation, only they'd be around just part of the time. (You could also place an ad looking for someone like that.)
posted by mediareport at 1:48 AM on July 24, 2016

Unless eviction seems like a fun adventure to take on, I would not go against your landlord's stated prohibitions for short-term rentals. It's likely a breach of your lease, and even if not, you really don't want engage the wrath of the person responsible for the roof over your head. Your neighbors will rat you out. Trust me on this.
posted by ananci at 7:23 AM on July 24, 2016

Response by poster: Update, 2 months in because I can't contain myself anymore: holy shit, living alone is AWESOME. I still have trouble shaking the feeling that it's a bit "nicer" than what I need (you mean I have a room only used at night for sleeping in? sounds wasteful...), but as a hardcore introvert, being able to putter around an empty apartment feels downright decadent and luxurious. And it's nice to be able to entertain company in my own space, too. A couple final notes:
  • Something I forgot to take into account was the cost of furniture and other things to make my new living room less of a depressing empty box - I was able to eventually scrounge most things up for free/very cheap, but even buying say, a couch and dining table from Ikea would have been a non-trivial cost.
  • The people at my summer side gig liked me enough to keep me on with flexible hours during the school year, and I ended up taking on a few extra TA hours to help defray costs as well. Running the numbers, my monthly rent is now 37% of my before-tax income, which is.. more acceptable. The way I see it, I'm taking a lot of the mental energy I would have spent worrying about my finances and putting it to use to get paid instead ;)

posted by btfreek at 10:05 PM on October 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

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