I recently moved into an apartment of my own. The last time this happened was 4.5 years ago!
I’ve had roommates on and off through the years. My first two years of college I had a roommate. I had many roommates when I was in the Air Force (59 other women for 2 months!). The first place I lived after college was mostly on my own. My friend moved in for a few months before he took a job in Texas and I moved for a new job. I had an apartment all on my own and honestly I loved it. A 2 bedroom apartment in a nice complex with amenities and plenty of space was the perfect fit for me.
Then I let the optimization of my finances go into overdrive and I lived with a friend in their basement, in the Dingle house with my tenants, with my ex-boyfriend, in the basement of a house with a family outside DC and then most recently with a friend in DC.
I saved tens of thousands of dollars on house hacking, as evidenced below by a screenshot from Mint. I find it interesting you can tell when I moved by those spikes where I had to put down a deposit on the new place and the change in rent paid. I was pretty happy with the first place I rented, but I did not need a 3 bedroom house or the costs associated with it ($200 utility bills!!!), which is why I got a roommate. The 2 bedroom apartment was expensive to me then ($1100 a month) but looking back, was probably the best living situation. I had a separate room for crafting and computing and a second bathroom for the kitty litter/guests to use/bathtub for soaking.
Then I needed a place for a few months until I found a house to buy so I rented my friend’s basement for a measly $400 a month. That wasn’t ideal, but I was only there for a few short months before I bought the Dingle House. I feel like my mental health took a pretty deep dive living there. That was partly from the stress of landlording/fixing up the house, but it was also due to being crammed into a studio apartment. I didn’t have space to work on my crafts or do much of anything at all, to be honest. I had no AC, a tiny kitchen, and no laundry facilities. I firmly believe this experience taught me what I want and need in a place. I don’t really care about a dishwasher, but I need that AC and a washer dryer in unit. Sure, I was getting paid to live there, but I was pretty miserable.
After that I moved in with my boyfriend at the time. It seemed like the perfect move. Plenty of space to work on any craft I desired, a great walkable location in the city, and someone to split the costs with. But, things didn’t work out like I thought they would and I ended up leaving.
What works out on paper doesn’t always work out in real life.
After leaving Minnesota, I lived with my parents in their basement for a month while I looked for a job. That was a pretty miserable experience for me and the cat. I was low from the breakup and had a lot of complex family dynamics at play. The plan was to stay there with them through the holidays and then move somewhere else if I didn’t get a job.
However, I did get a job, so I packed my car up with the essentials and moved in with a very kind and generous family in the DC suburbs. I wasn’t expected to pay rent while living there which really helped me get back on my feet. I doubt I would be in as good a spot as I am without their generosity. However, all good things must come to an end and so did that situation. My friend had an unexpected opening in her apartment, so I jumped on the opportunity to dip my toes in the adulting pool and pretend I was a real grownup again. Rent was $1050 for one bedroom in a 2 bedroom apartment. A great deal for the location, but not the best deal for me/my interests/lifestyle. There just wasn’t quite enough room for all of her stuff and all of my stuff.
That brings us to the present, where I just signed a lease for an apartment with 1 bedroom, one bathroom, and a den. I would love to move back into a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment, but while I’m living in DC that’s just not feasible on my own. I’m paying $1895 a month for the privilege of calling this space home. It is absolutely a stretch for my budget and one that I’m honestly a little stressed over. The rent is slightly over 50% of my take-home pay, and I haven’t even added in the cable, water/sewer/garbage, and electricity bills.
If someone came to me and said, “Gwen, I want to spend 55% of my take-home pay on an apartment”, I would tell them that’s a terrible idea and not to do it. So why did I do it?
The only reason I felt comfortable doing this is because I saved so aggressively in the past. If you want to be financially independent or retire early in the nearish future, you should absolutely keep your big three (housing, vehicle, food) expenses low and save every penny you comfortably can. Since I did save so aggressively (and changed my FIRE plan), I feel comfortable lowering my savings rate and bumping up my housing costs.
I do want to stop for a minute and talk about the privilege of being able to have low housing costs in the past. I have built up a fairly extensive network both in person and online, which really really helped. Turns out, talking to a coworker at a training class about trivia could get you a comfy basement for $400! Sharing personal details on my podcast led to staying with the family in DC. I’m also blessed to still have family I can stay with, that someone else in the family didn’t need my old room on a permanent basis and that my parents haven’t downsized into a smaller house (yet).
I’ve been in my new apartment for a few days now and I can’t even believe the changes in my quality of life. Everywhere I turn, there’s somewhere to put my stuff neatly away. Front hall closet, linen closet, walk-in closet in the bedroom, cabinets and countertop space in the bathroom, closets in the den, a pantry and so many cabinets in the kitchen. My Kitchen-Aid stand mixer is able to live on the countertop! My sheets and blankets and towels can go in the linen closet in the bathroom! My extra toiletries can go in a drawer in the bathroom! I don’t need to have my plastic 3 drawer organizer from my freshman year of college anymore! The unpacking and organizing stage of the move is going shockingly easy thanks to all the extra space I have now.
However.….. with all the good things, come some bad things as well. I’ve already mentioned the high cost of the apartment, but I am also paying more money in other ways. Namely, replacing supplies. I need an eclectic range of things for the apartment, from a new plunger and toilet bowl brush to ice cream scoop to kitchen table. Thankfully, my roommate is moving in with her boyfriend and they’re consolidating their 2 apartments into one, so I’ve been able to buy a lot of things off of them. I’ve also been keeping an eye on Craigslist and estate sales for some of the things I need which lead to a great deal on a new to me couch. It retails for $600, I got it for $150, and all but one piece fit in my car. Which is good to know because I’ll need to help my roommate move the same kind of couch when they find one on Craigslist!
All of this is to say, it’s tempting to say I’m turning over a new leaf in life and I’ll do x, y, and z now that I have this new place. Honestly, just because I’m living on my own in a nice new place doesn’t automatically mean I’ll be a better person. I’m still me. I’m the same person I have been, just one that’s a little less stressed in some ways and a little more stressed in others.
I hope this post has at least been a little helpful. This was a difficult post to write — not for the content, but for the physical act of writing and getting the post out. Blogging is a skill like any other that needs practice and I’ve been woefully neglecting this skill of mine lately. So pardon any rambles and enjoy whatever I manage to publish!
As always, thanks for reading! What’s been your favorite place to live? Why? Discuss in the comments below!