May 23, 2013

The Trouble With Housing

Apartment #2.
What is your largest single expense each month? For us, it was our mortgage. While it wasn't that much more than rent would have been, it was still high. And that was certainly not the end of our housing expenses.... every month there were also repairs, renovations, landscaping, and assessment costs. They were all within our budget, but it didn't leave much for saving or paying down our excessive debt load.

We have made two attempts to reduce our housing costs. Neither was easy. Both required some significant change, and were downright scary to imagine. You may not be willing to make these sacrifices. But I can tell you from experience that you can. So if you choose to consider ways to reduce your housing costs, I wanted to share our attempts and how they panned out for us.

Get a roommate

We rented our the second room in our two bedroom, one bath, 800 square foot house for 3 or 4 months to a friend of ours for something like $300/mo. This was really a nice setup. The cost was minimal to her, but helpful to us.

Downsides: When you are used to living only with your significant other it can be hard to go back to a roommate situation. You have to share living space, bathroom, and kitchen. You have to allow said roommate to have their friends over and cook what they want (including meat or fish, even if you are a vegetarian).

What I Liked: But it is also nice to have someone else to talk with, do projects with, and share in the household responsibilities like cooking and cleaning. In our situation, our roommate moved to a new city after just a few months, and so we didn't really have to manage a long term change. But I do think that if you have some extra space and you find the right person this is a pretty good way to reduce your housing cost.

Sell your house and rent

This is a doozy. And yet, I had begun planning for this years ago, even before we knew we were moving out of town. In our community, a mortgage was not necessarily cheaper than renting, plus in a rental you didn't have to pay for the additional repairs, etc. We weren't planning to live in our house forever, and so we weren't working toward the day when we had no more mortgage to pay. I knew we could save money by renting and also have the freedom that comes with not having a 30 year debt.

I know this isn't an option for everyone. We don't have children and so the only folks that would be affected by an upheaval were us. But saving on expenses was worth the consideration for us. Turned out we'd move across the country and need to sell anyway.

We moved in January. The house is on the market and expected to sell in June. Yes, we have been paying both rent and a mortgage for these six months because of this. I wish I would have sold the house the year before, because we could have lived in it until it sold and then rented, but hey. I guess we just needed that push.

Downsides: You have to give up home ownership. You have to live with things the way they are in your rental (because what would be the point of moving if you were just going to continue to pay for improvements to your rental?). You may have to share a wall with a neighbor, or live in a smaller space, or stop composting. Your rental (if you are saving money) will not likely be as nice as your house was. Things will change.

What I Like: There were so many benefits for us in selling our home. Knowing we were going to sell the house (even before we knew we were moving out of state) meant that we began to get rid of stuff and stop bringing more stuff into the house. We substantially reduced our possessions over the course of a few years, through rummage sales, donations, and putting things on the curb. Once we started it became easier to realize that we just didn't need or use all that stuff, and reducing stuff reduced our stress levels too. This and selling our home of 10 years has helped us generally have less of a connection to (most) stuff in general. Sure, we still have some prized possessions, but (mostly) we no longer hold onto things just because or just in case.

It's been quite a bit cheaper for us to rent, too. Our rent is about $400 a month less than what we were paying for our mortgage, interest (oh, don't even get me started on the ridiculousness of interest), property tax, and insurance. Our utility bills are quite a bit cheaper too, since we share walls and therefore heat with our neighbors. Our space is a bit smaller, but has more windows, and we moved far enough south that there is at least an hour's more daylight here in the winter. That combination allows us to use less electricity than we did in our house.

And the lack of upkeep is so wonderful. We get out of the house more and have less stress because we don't have any house projects or maintenance hanging over our heads (it also helps that we have less space to clean). We don't even have to mow! Our weekends are what ever we want them to be.

Probably the most important thing to me, though, is that we are not stuck. If we end up with a weird neighbor, or realize we want to live closer to work, or want to pay less for housing, or house values drop again, we can just move after a year (at most) and not be out anything. The hardest part of having a mortgage for me was feeling trapped. Now I feel free.

We have a long, long way to go to get out of debt. But selling our house and renting frees up some income so we can begin to pay the debt down faster. For us, it was absolutely worth it.

Would you consider either of these actions to cut your housing costs? Have you found other ways to live for less?


  1. Well put! This is our current goal as well--to sell our home & just rent. The freedom you described is exactly our reason for contemplating this move. I hate feeling 'stuck' in our home, with the debt & maintenance costs that it brings, making it harder to pay off our other debts and achieve true freedom.

  2. I hear you. I know that this idea isn't for everyone, but for those like us for whom the cost and commitment of home ownership is a major stressor, it is worth consideration.