The Ups and Downs of Communal Living


At 23 years old and just a year out of college, I live in a huge three-bedroom house with a pool, in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Austin, Texas. And I’m paying less than I did last year for my one-bedroom apartment in a neighborhood where I didn’t even feel comfortable going for a walk with my 60-pound dog in tow.

How is it possible? Communal living.

My boyfriend and I recently moved in with another couple that we’ve been friends with for a long time and we’re now splitting rent, cable and utilities four ways.

The Numbers

Taking Austin as an example, the savings can add up to $566 in just one month.

Rent: The most obvious savings - moving from a $1,000 one bedroom or studio into a $2,100 two or three-bedroom house with two roommates immediately cuts $300 a month from your budget.

Cable: The major local cable company, Time Warner (Stock Quote: TWX) offers cable, phone and Internet for $99 per month. Split the three-for deal three ways and you’ve cut another $66 each month.

Utilities: The savings would likely average out to about $50 as moving into a bigger place means higher utility bills but certain set fees like trash will be split equally.

Pet-sitting: While these savings may not apply to all, it certainly has for us. When many borders charge up to $50 a day per pet, having roommates to look after the four-legged family members can add up quickly in just one weekend.

Groceries: Splitting things like milk, eggs or bulk items that just don’t make sense for a single person or a couple can add up quickly on a monthly food bill. My savings have been around $50 a month.

The Cons

With horror stories of college roommates fresh on the minds of many young professionals, the prospect of reentry into that kind of living situation can be frightening, and with good reason. A bad roommate can mess with your credit rating or leave you stuck with the bills if they are in your name.

Even innocent situations can have repercussions as we found out when my roommate’s insurance company refused her renter’s insurance when they found out my dog was part pit bull. The company says they will likely reverse this decision after reading the glowing character references from my previous landlord and current dog trainer that convinced my current landlord to allow the dog in the first place.

How to Make it Work

The number one thing you can do to protect yourself from communal living going sour is to know the people you are living with and be up front from the beginning.

Be honest. If you take the utility bill in your name, make it clear to your roommates how the bill will be split, i.e. taking turns, each putting a check in every month, having them pay you back. Make sure you all agree to the terms ahead of time so there are no surprises.

Do a test run. If you are not sure how a living situation is going to work, have all the potential roommates spend a weekend somewhere together. If little things are getting on your nerves after 48 hours, it may be time to rethink that year lease.

Have an exit strategy and discuss the what-ifs. If one roommate has to move out, can the remaining roommates still afford it? Would the exiting roommate be responsible for finding a person to sublet and how much say would the remaining roommates have? Discussing these situations in the hypothetical can save an awkward conversation if the situation ever becomes real.

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