Cohabitating with friend – Is the saving worth the headache

by Helen

As cost of housing rockets in densely packed metropolitan, more people are looking to cohabiting with family or friends.  In North American society, it has been a trend for children to leave the nest,  but in the recent year, the trend has been on a reserved as more and more young people move back home with their parents because they can’t find work, get laid off or just go thru life event. I also made the same decision. Yep! I move in with my family.

I am still reeling from the shock of my decision. I made the decision to move in with my family based on pure economic motive. Coincidentally, after I made this decision I went through one of the harder experiences in my life and is now without a job. Though I was very reluctant at first, I soon realize that there are a lot of benefits of living with my family. Honestly, I didn’t come to this decision easily. It took a look of thinking, debating, dreading and quite frankly kicking myself in the back side before I gave into logic and took the plunge.

Dream to reality

I brought a new built 2 bedrooms condo and I moved into my condo almost a year ago. Check out my post on how I brought this townhouse. After waiting for 3 years, my condo was built. I was ecstatic when I got the key from my builder. I couldn’t wait to deck out my cozy home with my hobo gypsy decor. The plan was for my mom and me to live in this condo.  But on the date of moving,  her highness informed me that she wanted to move in with Karen because she wanted to spend more time with her precious and only grandchild. WHAT? I immediately talked to Karen and then it was Karen’s turn to collapse and threaten to move in with me. Well, she didn’t see that one coming.

After much discussion, we couldn’t change our mother’s mind. Swallowing our frustration, we decided that I would continue to live in the townhouse while my mother moved in with Karen. My brother in law (Karen’s hubby) was happy about his because he has great relationship with my mom. Seriously, I sometime think that he is her child, not us.

This arrangement worked out well for me initially. I was living on my own and totally loving my space. But I also realize that the 1,000 square feet townhouse was too big for me to take care off. The mortgage payment was sizable and swallowed up 1/3 of my net income which meant I had to reduce a lot of variable expenses to balance my budget. One of my biggest sacrifice was cutting down on vacation expense. This was a stab to my heart because I LOVE travels. Is this 1,000 square foot home a worthwhile trade-off for my love of travel?  I wrestled with the decision.

Questions and Answers

One faithful Saturday morning, I looked at my messy townhouse, mentally made notes of what I had to clean, started to dread spending my precious weekend time cleaning the space that I didn’t even use (literally I was only using half of the property), and dreamed about the Japan-Korea vacation that I couldn’t afford this year. I was also going thru a rough time at work. The toxic corporate environment was getting to me and impacted my mental and physical health in a big way.  But I just couldn’t quit my job because I had a mortgage to pay. Unhappy at my job, yet couldn’t walk away because I needed the income to pay for a house that was too big for me.

That was when I had my DOH moment. I realized I didn’t need to have 1,000 square feet with 2 bedrooms when I worked long hours and wanted to travel more. Right there and then, I made the decision to downside and made drastic changes to get my life back on the happy and blissful track. There were couple of options that available to me:

  • Rent out my townhouse and then rent a small bachelor for myself.
  • Rent out my townhouse then move into Karen’s basement
  • Rent out my townhouse then move into with a friend

I didn’t want to sell my house because I knew that property in my area would continue to increase. If I have a tenant to pay the mortgage for me, I could gain more in equity when I decide to sell eventually.  Time to sharpen my pencil and do the math! All 3 options would reduce my monthly housing cost substantially because I could easily rent my townhouse for ~$2000 per month which would give a $500 surplus ($2000 rent income – $1200 mortgage payment – $300 maintenance fee = $500 surplus). It is a new build townhouse and the property tax paid 2 years in advance, thus I won’t have to pay property tax in the next 2 years. Nice investment! Out of all three options, moving in with Karen was the most logical choice because:

  • Free rent which will reduce financial burden for me. To many of you, this may sound strange but, in my family, (yes, Karen’s hubby included) we willing to pool resource and share our spaces with each other. This option will allow me to take a lesser paid but also less demanding job while getting start on my dream of building this blog to provide knowledge supporting and empowering women.  And I can travel again. Japan and Korea, here I come. My sashimi, budae jjigae, bibimbap food fantasy excursion will soon be a reality!
  • Living in same house will make it easier for Karen and I to collaborate on this blog

Decisions and Actions

It was then my turn to sit Karen down and told her my decision. She didn’t collapse to my surprise, instead she came to the same conclusion on her own and was afraid to bring it up to me. She knew that I needed to make a change in my life direction because I wasn’t happy with the ways things were. My brother in law was also supportive of my decision much to my surprise. It is very comforting and encouraging to have family who will support you when you are going thru a tough time.

I love my family and you can probably tell that we are a very close knit one. But even as close and caring as we are to each other, there need to be rules and boundaries to help the entire family function effectively, and reduce stress for everyone. So, we had a frank and honest discussion as a family about this new living arrangement. 4 big rules that we agreed on were:

  • Set up basic ground rule such as babysitting availability. As much as I love my little monster, I need my space from time to time and they can’t just dump her on me. Love you, baby!
  • Everyone understood that the basement is my space. That means, they will have to knock and ask for my permission before enter. I keep my private spaces like bedrooms and apartments off-limits to them but I make the exception for my niece. The little monster has my permission to come and go as she pleases
  • Openly discuss who would take care of chores, cooking, and shopping. We all agreed that we would function as separate household meaning they will do their cooking and I do my. I make one exception for Karen’s lunch. I make her lunch because we both eat the same type of food
  • Discuss rent payment. For now, I won’t have to pay rent until I can find a new job

Some tips

I got to say, it is not as bad as I thought. I have been living with my family for couple of months and things are working well. Aside from the fact that we are a close knit and supportive family, open communication really helps to harmonize the family interaction. Couple of thoughts that I want to leave with you if you consider moving in with family or friend:

  • Set up basic ground rule upfront. Be transparent and honest about what you want. Don’t try to sugar coast because you will likely end up in conflict later on
  • Openly discuss who would take care of chores. Proactive discussion will ensure that everyone understand and accept their role and contribution in the living arrangement thus avoid conflict or unexpected issue in the future
  • The big M word, Money. It is important to have honest discussion about rent even with your family. Don’t make assumption. Discuss and confirm that everyone agree on an outcome. You don’t want to lose family relationship over money.
  • Pick your battles. Annoyances can arise when living with family. Someone may have messy habits or pet peeve that annoys you. For me, my dear mother’s habit of chewing with her mouth opens. Seriously, that sound can drive me nut. Karen can’t stand it either. But don’t fight over these small things. Pick the battles worth fighting for. Learn patience and swallow the petty stuff; invest in the battles that really matter. Like my mother’s constant nagging about me having a kid and get married. I took my stance on this battle. As of now, mom is zero and I am up 1. HAH!
  • Have on going dialogs to make sure everyone is still happy with the living arrangement and make adjustment as needed.

Initially, I found it challenging to live under the same roof with my family, but this experience seems to strengthen my family bond even more. It is a nice feeling to know that I have people whom I can count on to help me thru life’s rough patches. How about you? Are you consider moving in with family and friend? Write to me about your experience.

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