Dear Fusion Money,
I live in a house with two close friends. I love them, but they are absolute slobs. I need to leave this place, and I need advice on how to do it.
Before this, I lived in an apartment with another close friend. It went well for awhile, but then she acquired a boyfriend who was obnoxious and always there. I eventually moved out after several fights, and we’re not close anymore. Before that, I was living in a college house off-campus with five friends. It ended up the kind of disaster you’d imagine. (Love triangles, fist-fights, legal threats over an unpaid cable bill, you name it. None of us from that house speak anymore.)
Now that I’m in my late-20s, I’m sick of having roommates. I'm ready to be a grown up and have my own place. But moving out alone is expensive. I don’t want to double my rent for the sake of living alone, which I’d have to do where I live, in a big Southwestern U.S. city.
Do you have any suggestions?
—Help Me Live Alone
Franz Ferdinand wrote a song about this sort of situation, and it’s true whether you’re cohabitating with a romantic partner or close friends: sometimes you want to live alone. The issue, of course, is that you can’t always afford to live alone—or afford it comfortably. It’s painful to sink a bigger chunk of your income into the Gaping Black Hole that is rent, but it sounds like it may be worth it for you.
Without knowing precise details of where you live and what your finances are, it’s hard to give specific advice. But there are a few things you can do generally to lessen the cost of having your own place.
First though, you have to figure out what you can actually afford. Look at the net income you bring home every month, after taxes. Then subtract what you must spend for hard expenses—loan payments, food, etc.—and see what’s left. You don’t want to spend all of that on rent, but it gives you a better sense of the real upper limit of your cash flow than the arbitrary “30% of gross income” benchmark that is commonly cited.
It sounds like you’ve done some research if you believe you’d have to double your rent inside your city to live alone. But maybe you have to consider moving to the outskirts. Or maybe you need to start looking for a less comfortable set-up: a basement apartment instead of a house, a studio instead of a one-bedroom, a place with no washer-dryer, backyard, parking space, etc.
It’s late-October, which means we’re approaching the best time of year to cut a deal on rent. Few people move during winter months, so landlords are more eager to fill up empty spaces, and therefore more willing to negotiate. Demand in the rental market is high these days, so it’s unlikely you’ll get a huge discount. But if you’re savvy about your hunt you may be able to cut a deal on the broker’s fee or knock a hundred bucks off the rent.
Ultimately, if you do the math, search aggressively and are willing to make some quality-of-life concessions but you still find it outrageously expensive to live alone, maybe you can’t do it just yet. Or maybe it’s better to find an apartment share on Craigslist than living with your sloppy friends. But it sounds like your current living situation is uncomfortable, not unbearable, so it’s worth being patient to find the right situation instead of rushing into something unaffordable.
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I oversee Fusion's money section and have spent most of my time as a journalist writing about banks and finance. I live in Brooklyn with my partner Geoffrey & our two dogs, Captain & Tallulah. Favs: leopard print, Diet Coke, gummy candy, Ireland.