As a student, I feel like a pinball getting smacked around from location to location. I’ve moved about 9 times in my adult life. I’ve lived with significant others, friends, acquaintances, and even by myself. I trekked across campuses, cities, and the country. After two years living alone, I found a roommate and will make my tenth move this summer. Today, I wanted to spend some time reviewing my current and future living situations, a hesitancy regarding roommates, and the effect on my budget.
My Man Cave
Two years ago, when I received my admission to graduate school and decided to move to the Midwest, I was ecstatic, but clueless about housing. I didn’t need much – just a roof over my head and basic utilities. I jumped at an opportunity to live in the university apartments. I hadn’t seen the outside or inside of them, but the price ($435 a month for a one bedroom) was unbeatable.
What I found was both decrepit and lovable. The apartments bubble with rust. A perma-dirty linoleum floor greets my toes when I slide out of bed each morning – you never get used to the cold. The faucets run a yellow/red when they’re not run regularly. My circular thermostat doesn’t account for certain parts of the apartment, which seem to be unprotected from the harsh, Midwestern cold. Cinder blocks are stacked high on the walls, painted over in what can only be assumed to be lead paint. A thick coating of asbestos lines the ceilings.
Despite misgivings, it’s my home, and I love it. Actually, I find it comical how much I don’t want to leave my current apartment, and I’m only leaving because the university is demolishing them.
Forced to move again, while balling on a serious budget with severe time constraints, seemed impossibly difficult. Then, the university notified everyone that new apartments were being built in time for my departure from the old ones. I could just move right into them!
Luxury Living At A Price
Over the last decade or so, the university considered a construction project to repair and rebuild the flood-damaged, aged, asbestos-filled apartments. Year after year seemed to pass without resolution. When I moved in summer 2012, I heard the whisper of change – a private bidder on public lands.
Then, a resolution quickly swept over the university apartment system. New buildings, contractors, and contracts would be drawn. The private company would revitalize this community with opportunity, design, and (supposedly) affordability. Tenants would see a brightened exterior and feature-filled interior. The costs would unfortunately need to increase, but we were assured they’d be manageable.
Something seemed askew about allowing private bidders onto public, university property, but the messages seemed positive. A few months later I found out the price: $875 per month for a one bedroom. In other words, more than 100% what I paid when I first moved!
Despite balling on a budget, I resigned to the fact that my 60-70 hour workweek wouldn’t enable me to tour many places. I would accept whatever they required. I signed a lease last year, much to my dismay and confusion. How could the university charge $875 per month for student housing?
Wake Up And Smell The Budget
Even though the price of rent was steep, I relished my independence, at the expense of my budget. I wanted to be frugal, but not that frugal. This new rent would decimate everything I worked towards over the last 10 months. I balanced my budget and created a tiny surplus for each month. But paying $875 a month would mean losing about $3000-4000 per year, plus student loans with at least 6.8% interest APR. I can’t even calculate the true cost of this decision.
Over the course of this semester, I’ve been working hard at not working. Essentially, I reached burnout, and to counteract these notoriously awful feelings, I decided to spend more time going out with people. Being able to socialize and meet new people has been one of the best experiences of my life. It’s kept me sane amidst my crazy-busy life.
Thankfully, meeting people also meant finding those in similar situations: looking for roommates. Over time I found someone that was excited about living together and could afford to split a two-bedroom apartment. The mental math was easy: rent would be $550 per month.
The challenge for me was realizing my prejudices towards having roommates. In the end, I realized that opting for the expensive rent was a cop-out to finding a roommate and managing my delicate budget. The reality was that I didn’t have independence until I was free from debt. I’m looking forward to having a new roommate, paying off even more student loan debt, and freeing myself from the burden of an unbalanced budget.
What have you done to save on rent, housing, etc.? What do you think about living with roommates? Any recommendations for me?