October 3, 2017 — A whole lot of Americans are about to face a crisis as they enter retirement. Three quarters of Americans between 55 and 64 have less than $30,000 saved, according to the AARP. About half of baby boomers are looking at a retirement that is powered only by their Social Security checks. Since Social Security was designed as a safety net, not a luxury retirement, those checks will not be not enough for a comfortable retirement. In past articles we talked about different ways to cope with a retirement income shortfall. In this installment we explore an option that might be your salvation, if you find yourself in a budget-challenged retirement.
Get a Housemate or Roommate!
About one third of baby boomers are single, which certainly makes it easier to think about having a roommate. Couples can usually make a shared living arrangement work too. Millennials and GenX types are blazing new roommate trails as they start their working careers, so there is no reason why boomers can’t do the same in their retirements.
On the plus side
Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of having a housemate. Obviously even the best of situations requires that everyone work together to build harmony and reduce discord and misunderstandings.
– Shared expense. The big driver is of course saving money from sharing the rent and other housing costs. Your single biggest expense is housing. So why should you pay taxes, heat, cool, maintain, and handle all the other costs related to your home all by yourself. Sharing it two, three, or even more ways could have a huge impact on your ability to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.
– Share the work. Cleaning, cooking, shopping, and maintaining a home represent a major commitment in time and energy. So why not share that “cost” as well?
– Share the fun. People are normally social creatures. We like to be around others to share life, fun, and our troubles. With a third of us single, having a roommate around can be a comfort.
– Share security. As we age more bad things can happen. Think falling on the floor and not being able to get up. Or having some type of attack and there is no one around to check on you. Beyond social and economic benefits, roommates provide safety and security as well.
Of course there are negatives
– Privacy. With a shared home you now have someone else around you, possibly 24/7. Unless your home is very big you might find yourself watching TV and cooking and sharing your meals with someone who you might not know all that well.
– Annoyance. Unless you choose carefully you might find yourself as a housemate with someone you don’t like so well after a time. You might get on their nerves, and vice versa.
– Crimping your style. Perhaps you find a new romantic or platonic interest. A roommate can get in the way and reduce your flexibility, like if you want to entertain friends but not necessarily your housemate. Changed circumstances might mean you have to unwind your existing housing partnership.
Lori Martinek wrote an interesting article for nextavenue.or, “Retirement Roommates: Were the Right“. She has some good advice for being a roommate, such as remembering cooperation and respecting boundaries. She counsels that “Roommates are not surrogate spouses or friends. They are not caregivers, chauffeurs or home health providers. They are your partners in a living arrangement. Perspective is key.”
So how can you find a roommate/housemate
Fortunately this is a lot easier than it used to be, now that we have the Internet. There are all kinds of websites and services that can help with this. But before you go there, the old-fashioned way might be better.
Like the old days
– The devil you know. Pardon the expression, but the ideal roommate is usually someone you already know and like. A brother or sister that you know you get along with is ideal. Perhaps an old friend, or friend of a friend. Starting out with someone you are sympatico with is a huge plus. You might even end up much happier living with someone like that than living on your own. Finding a roommate with complementary skills is a plus.
– Online service for roommates. We have a single friend that used one of these services to find a place in Florida for the winter. It worked out great for him, he experienced a warm winter at a fraction of what his own place would have cost. Sites like roommates.com, roomster.com, spareroom.com, easyroommate.com have easy to use interfaces that can help you find a suitable housemate. Of course, since you are going out on the world wide web, you do need to be careful.
– Your place or theirs? A lot depends on where you start out. If you are single and live in a place big enough to share, that might be ideal. You can expect a monthly check to reduce your cost of living, plus all the other advantages we mentioned. But if you are looking for housing, someone else’s home might be the place. A third option is to find your housemates, then go looking for a suitable home, ideally one that is set up for group living. Finally, you might choose some type of co-housing community where a lot of people live in individual small homes but share common facilities. Many of these have themes (see “Start Your Own Cohousing Community”).
– Even more adventurous. If you have a home and it is legal in your area you could make a living using services like Airbnb.com to fill up your spare room. For some people having a steady parade of strangers in your house would be far from ideal. But for others the money and the social connections that come with this arrangement might be very positive.
When you live with another person caution is in order. You need to meet and be sure that you are comfortable with them. You should have references, a credit check, and possibly a background check. Obviously, you do not want to share a home with someone with a drug, alcohol, or gambling problem
You should have an agreed upon set of rules and/or guidelines for how the arrangement will work. What will happen if either party decides to terminate the arrangement. These things should be thought out in advance.
Comments? Have you thought about sharing your retirement home with someone else? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.