I’m married and besides my spouse, I’ve had 2 separate roommates over the years. One stayed in an extra room for about a year and the other for about 3 years. If you’re thinking about getting a roommate to increase income, here are the pros and cons to weigh first.
More disposable income
Ability to build emergency savings or save for a goal
Motivation to maintain a clean house
Extra help around the house
No real privacy (unless you have separate living quarters for them)
Possible tension or arguments between you and the roommate and/or your spouse
Long-term effects on your relationship(s) if it doesn’t go well
Waiting to use the bathroom
Increased utility bills
Another mouth to feed
Potential tax ramifications (*check with your tax preparer or the IRS website for info on this)
These might not all be accurate depending on who is staying with you. If it’s a close family member, you may find yourselves sharing food. But if it’s a friend or extended family, they may be responsible for their own meals. Also, even though the ‘Cons’ list is longer, if the point is to increase income most of the cons may be well worth it. especially if the money is needed sooner rather than later.
Tips for Getting a Roommate
So you’ve decided to get a roommate. Here is my advice…and remember I’m speaking from extensive experience so this is real talk. 🙂
1. Set Ground Rules
Decide on a fair rent amount
And if s/he is going to stay long-term, I encourage you to implement an annual increase of what you think is fair. Inflation is a real thing and it does make a difference especially if it’s not planned for.
Clarify what rent will cover
Does rent include food, utilities, laundry soap, garbage bags, or toothpaste/other toiletries? Decide on this ahead of time otherwise you’ll find yourself cursing out your roommate for using all of the laundry detergent without telling you it’s empty. Which brings me to the next tip…
If it’s empty, tell someone
If you’re all sharing the laundry detergent (just as a random example), milk, garbage bags, or whatever else is shared, and you’re in charge of buying it, make sure they know to tell you when it’s getting low.
Be honest/have roommate meetings
This may not be enjoyable, but it needs to happen. Trust me. Whether it’s monthly, quarterly or semi-annually, sit down with everyone together and talk about how things are going. They might not even realize that they’re in the bathroom at the exact wrong time every Wednesday night unless you say something. And you don’t have to wait for those meetings, but at least there’s a set time for everyone to talk if it’s needed. Either way, when something is bothering you (or them), make sure it’s okay for both sides to tell each other.
Determine if household chores are included
This is important because if you are cleaning up after the person, you may find yourself frustrated a lot. This also includes pets. If you’re allowing a dog or cat of theirs in your place, make it clear that they’re responsible for cleaning up after it. (Just an FYI that it’s gross enough cleaning up after your own dog, let alone someone else’s dog. Been there, done that.)
Create clear expectations and/or draft a lease
Getting a roommate is a great way to increase income, if expectations are clear from the beginning.
Be clear on what will happen if expectations aren’t met. For instance, if you’re supposed to take turns doing dishes, but you always end up doing them, what happens? Will they pay you a little bit more in rent moving forward or take over another chore of yours? If it helps, draft up a lease. It doesn’t have to be something extensive, but IF something goes wrong, it’ll be much easier to remind them what they agreed to…and that it’s in writing.
What happens if they miss a rent payment?
Awkward. They’ve agreed to pay you by the 1st of the month…it’s the 5th and you keep getting that promise from them that they’re going to pay you soon. Before they even move in, be clear about what will happen if they don’t pay you on time and/or by a certain date. Try to plan the due date around their pay date as well to avoid this from happening. If you don’t care about the money that’s a different story, but if this is non-negotiable, then they need to know what happens if they don’t pay…do they need to move out in 30 days? That’s up to you, but again make sure they know up front.
2. Pick an End Date
Although it could change down the road, choose a mutually agreed upon end date. And if you’re counting on the income, it’s helpful to ask them for 30- or 60-days’ notice…which again you could put in writing. If you’re counting on that money and it stops without notice, that could put you in a tough spot. If you initially decide on a year and you both want to extend it, talk about it early. Or if you know that a year is long enough, be sure to tell them with enough time for them to find a place.
Author Elaina Johannessen is a Program Director with LSS Financial Counseling.