On Renting and Roommates

On Renting and Roommates

One of the interesting things about modern American life is that it’s easy to find conversations and media reports lamenting the plight of any adult who rents their residence or has roommates. What was standard money-saving behavior in college – living in a small-ish, rented space with other human beings – is apparently pitiable if you are past your mid-twenties.

Meanwhile, the advertising machine that is the news media seems determined to convince us that we all need giant luxury living spaces, that wages are plummeting and housing costs are skyrocketing, that people choosing not to buy homes will cause the entire global economy to implode, and of course that Millennials are either to blame for all this or are the helpless victims of all this, depending on which article you read.

This is bizarre to me, maybe partly because the idea that I should feel sad and downtrodden about renting or having roommates in my adult life never occurred to me. I’ve been renting since I was 18 years old. In 13 different places in 7 cities over the last 16 years, to be precise.

My husband and I both had roommates up until our wedding when we were 27. Then we moved in together in a small rented apartment and still had a roommate. We never felt like our life was lesser for these circumstances. It was probably a big part of the reason we got out of school with a lot less student debt than average (for my field).

In fact, we’re now 34 years old and have been renting our primary residence ever since. There are no roommates now, but there have been kids since 2015 – which is sort of like having tiny disrespectful roommates that wake you up when they vomit on the carpet at 2 a.m. instead of just handling it themselves.

Next month will be the first time we actually live in a house that we own. More on this later.

House in pine trees with snow.
Our rental home since 2014.

We also have two good friends – a couple our age – who are “still” renting a small apartment (with a roommate and a dog). They are happy with it. It’s allowing them to live in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. and still save a ton of money that will result in them jetting off to Europe this summer for the remainder of the year.

Their renting/roommate strategy is allowing them to travel the world on their own terms. Ours has allowed us to demolish our debts, get control of our spending, and start investing. None of us can figure out why renting and having roommates are so often looked at as a bad thing. In all of our cases it’s given us a heck of a lot of freedom and flexibility that being tied to a home would not.

I’m not saying that buying 5 bedrooms’ worth of giant fancy house on an acre of fancy landscaping can’t be your thing – if that’s what you truly want and you can truly afford it.

I am saying that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a renter. Or a roommate.

While homeownership can be a small part of a healthy financial plan, it is not the holy grail that some people like to make it out to be. Many financial gurus say that your primary residence is actually a liability, not an asset. You can read Robert Kiosaki’s take on it here. Paula Pant did an excellent comparison of renting vs. buying over the long haul here. And my favorite-ever article on this topic might be “Why Your House is a Terrible Investment” by J.L. Collins.

The writers at Millennial Revolution have even gone so far as to call home ownership a cult, and attribute their financial success largely to not joining in.

This all makes perfect sense to me, but I’m not really sure how to make other people feel better about renting or having roommates. Maybe I can’t. Maybe the marketing companies are so crafty that we can’t hear anything over them telling us that homeownership is the American Dream. Maybe it’s an entitlement problem. Maybe it’s just another version of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence.

But just in case it helps, here’s what I think: You should not be unhappy if you need to or want to rent your home or live with roommates. You should not let anyone make you feel bad about it. You should consider renting and roommates as very reasonable and useful components of a healthy financial plan. Yes, even into your 30s and beyond. Yes, even after you are able to qualify for a mortgage. Yes, even after having kids. Yes, even though other people won’t get it.

It’s worked out great for us.

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