We Lived with Our Friends…And Stayed Friends

Our besties and former landlords.

Before we get to today’s post, I want to thank everyone who nominated us for the Plutus Awards! We are so grateful and honored to be finalists for Best Frugality Blog. Thank you!

Three years after we got our first apartment, the rent was going up. Again. We were thinking about buying a house, but not yet ready. The fee for a month-to-month lease, plus the rent increase, was simply more than we were willing to pay for a one-bedroom place.

At the same time, our best friends’ basement tenants moved out. Someone suggested we move in with them. No thanks, we thought. We’d like to actually stay friends. They also had an infant, which could make the arrangement more complicated.

But the idea grew on us. We looked at other apartments but didn’t find anything we wanted. We were unsure whether home ownership was a good idea for us at all. We had a great longstanding relationship with these friends and our common faith created a basis for resolving conflict. If we could live with anyone, it would be them.

Both families could afford a full-size rent or mortgage, but we enjoyed the mutual benefits of saving money. It was frugal friend synergy at its finest. We settled on $375 for rent and utilities. While we lived there they finished paying off their student loans, and we worked on paying down ours while continuing to save for a house down payment.

Most people would warn that living together is the best way to ruin a friendship, but we remain dear friends. I think we only “fought” once in our year there, and that was just one tense conversation about moving the laundry, which quickly resolved with apologies.

The Challenges

Living with another family did have its challenges. We moved in during the winter and the first week we were freezing our butts off in their basement, even while running up the electricity bill using space heaters. We asked if there was anything we could do, opened and closed some vents, and were much more comfy after that.

We also had to learn to share their galley kitchen, including the refrigerator & freezer. I stocked up less than I would otherwise, we chose certain items to share, and communicated about cooking times. Sometimes we shared meals, sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes we ate our different meals together, sometimes we took our food downstairs to our living area. The shower was also shared–we had a private half bath–but it was fine as long as no one took too long.

We had plenty of space and privacy in the two large lower-level rooms we rented. Fortunately their baby was sleeping through the night by the time we moved in. I’d pity anyone who lived with us during my daughter’s first year!

I also figured out how to balance hanging out with my friend (and mutual friends she had over) with spending quality time with my husband. I couldn’t live in constant slumber party mode with my bestie, though it was great to spend more time with her.

The Benefits

We enjoyed lots of fun times with our friends without having to go out and spend money at all. Each family did some decluttering to make room for each other. We also grew a special relationship with their daughter. Neil even declared himself to be her godfather (we’re not Catholic). I learned a lot about early parenting from their example, and was also on hand to babysit for times like when my friend needed surgery.

A year in our friends’ basement allowed us to save money for our house down payment, but also confirmed we really wanted a house. We ran tons of calculations and decided we’d view our home not as an investment but as a residence. We determined we wanted a house within a mile of these friends. Previously we’d been looking in three neighboring cities. Now we knew our kids had to grow up within walking distance of one another.

Living there also provided a perfect trial for the neighborhood and home style. Most people don’t get to live in a house in their neighborhood before purchasing there. We already knew our neighbors and had a feel for the area by the time we decided to settle down in it. Previously, I refused to view bi-level houses during because I didn’t like the aesthetics. But living in the bottom half of our friends’ bi-level home opened our eyes to all the functional benefits of that blueprint.

Our contract on a home 0.7 miles from theirs fell through and two days later, and the asking price on a bi-level down the street dropped $20,000. We bought it and six years later, we often remark that we couldn’t imagine living any further from them. My five-year-old can walk or bike there, and our kids play together almost every day. We’ve continued having meals together with regular taco nights.

Going against standard wisdom and norms was definitely the best choice for us in this case. Living with our friends was an unconventional living arrangement that not only saved money, but also bought us time to figure out whether, where, and when to buy a home. Both families benefited on financial and relational levels. Since then, we’ve even talked about buying a property together. For now it makes most sense to stay put, but we look back on communal living with fond memories.

This past month we rented out our downstairs bedroom & bath for the first time. It was just for a month, but the space is ready and we’re open to renting or hosting guests there in the future. We’re so glad our friends gave us that alternative and would love to offer the same option to others.

Did anyone else live with friends or family as a married couple? Or rent a room of your home? Would you ever consider it?

33 Responses to “We Lived with Our Friends…And Stayed Friends”

  1. Amy says :

    It sounds like this situation worked out really well for you!

    I really value my privacy, so I think I would have a hard time living under similar circumstances – especially now that I’m over 40! 🙂 However, I think it would be more tolerable if there was a clear end date, plus a big goal, like saving money for a down payment.

    • Kalie says :

      I definitely understand the need for privacy and alone time! We didn’t have an end date but we knew it wasn’t going to be forever.

  2. The Green Swan says :

    That’s great that worked out so well for you folks, the money savings was great I’m sure! My wife and I are both pretty easy going people and would be able to make something like that work as well, but you are right that it is a recipe for disaster for many. A few years back we had my younger brother living with us for about four months while he was interning and that worked out great. And on another occasion my wife’s brother moved in for a few months while he was between jobs. Both occasions were rent free, but we felt great helping them out.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s awesome you were able to help out your family members in those situations. We couldn’t have lived with our friends in that house forever, but it worked out really well for that year.

  3. Amy Gibson says :

    When in the States, we’d often have folks living with us, especially refugees. In preparation for the mission field, we sold everything, including our house, and moved in with friends. Our kids were aged 2 and 5, and theirs were 3 and 1 with the third on the way. We lived with them for almost a year. It was a great experience. We helped each other with childcare, house chores, cooking, etc. Our meals were often communal, but we were also sensitive to the needs of individual family time. Our kids still look back on that time as a really fun time. Oh, and these guys are still some of our very best friends!

  4. Brian says :

    That’s great it work out for you and the other family. We consider renting out a room to a friend in our home, but with three teenagers it really wasn’t going to work. We just didn’t want to create a situation that was unconformable for everyone.

    • Kalie says :

      I could see having teenagers really changing the dynamic of a family and the need for privacy, space, quiet, etc. I’m glad you could make the right choice for your situation.

  5. Amanda says :

    It’s great that both of your families were flexible and able to benefit from the living situation, both economically and otherwise. As I was reading your post, I kept thinking about the rent-ability of our basement. We still need to add a bathroom but, after that, it may just work!

    • Kalie says :

      We just updated our lower level bathroom since we were hosting more guests and expecting a roommate. I’m really happy with how it turned out and it’s making it easy to be hospitable since it’s much fresher now.

  6. Harmony says :

    Awesome story! I love how you rejected standard conventions so that both of your families could save some money.

    Although this wasn’t the optimum living conditions, I suspect that part of what made it bearable was your realization that it wasn’t going to last forever. We tend to be more accepting of “sacrifices” if we understand that it’s only temporary.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, that arrangement wasn’t going to last forever, as we were both planning to add to our families. That certainly put any inconveniences in perspective.

  7. Ms. Montana says :

    We did the same and loved it. For every compromise, there was an added benefit. Our house isn’t set up for it at all now, but if we ever build a house, it will have a mother-in-law suite attached. Perfect for passive income, kids in college, or friends.

    • Kalie says :

      The floor plan of the home definitely makes a huge difference when you think about adding another family. Sounds like a great idea to build a mother-in-law suite. We’ve talked about one day adding a mini-kitchen to our basement. We’ll see!

  8. Eric Bowlin says :

    I’ve lived with roomates, and without. I’ve also lived with the in-laws…and without.

    I can handle it for a short period of time, but I definitely prefer my freedom.

    It’s always a tough thing to adjust too. Great that you could though!

  9. Josh says :

    Sharing a kitchen is tough. We did that with my in-laws when we built our house. It helped that we were family as we also have an infant (15-months old now). We normally ate one meal together and did our seperate thing for the others.

    We built on family land & I think it depends on your relationship when it comes to communal living. What if you or they decide to sell out, etc? Plu do you have enough privacy when you need it?

    Most people think we are crazy for the decisions we made. We were fretful at first too. We can do the whole communal thing with my wife’s family (we are close but we know our limits for doing “everything” together) but I couldn’t do it with my family.

    • Kalie says :

      There are many considerations for living with another family, like you mentioned. You’d need some agreement worked out ahead of time if you owned property together, and having privacy and alone time as a family as important. That’s cool you’ve been able to build on your wife’s family land.

  10. DC YAM says :

    This is such a great success story! We have a rental apartment in our basement, but it sounds like you guys shared a lot more common space than we do with our renter. The house actually sounds similar to ours, as we have a galley kitchen upstairs and two large rooms downstairs. If you can survive living with your friends in those conditions you can live anywhere!

    • Kalie says :

      I was a bit nervous before we moved in, but it was fine once we were there. At least that’s how I remember it! That’s so nice you’re able to rent out your basement and both have privacy.

  11. Fruclassity (Ruth) says :

    At first I thought, “I could never do what they did,” but it’s not really that different from living with house-mates in university. If we can overcome expectations that are imposed for a certain time of life – like, “You’re married so you should live in your own place without housemates” – so many doors open. Clearly, married couples CAN be housemates. Even with a baby in the mix. Sounds like you’ve got a wonderful friendship going on there. Such a blessing to your children as well as yourselves : )

    • Kalie says :

      It really wasn’t that different from college roommates, though we made more room for “family time.” The wife and I had often joked that we missed out on living together in college, because I met her right after she married. I’m so glad we still got the chance later as married couples!

  12. Millennial Moola says :

    I think itd be real interesting as a married couple. I did it all the time as a single guy. I have no idea if my girlfriend would be game if we get married one day. I think it sure would be fun though, could play madden with my bros whenever I wanted haha

    • Kalie says :

      I’m sure she’d just love that! That’s great you were able to save money by having roommates when you were single, though. Such a huge difference from paying rent yourself.

  13. Tonya says :

    That’s awesome that it worked out so well. I think it just depends on each situation how well it would go. I let this 27 year old kid stay on my couch for a month last year and it was a total nightmare. I could not wait to have my space back again. 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      Sorry to hear it didn’t go so well with your roommate. It can be hard to know how those things will turn out ahead of time. It definitely depends on the situation, too.

  14. NZ Muse says :

    Living with friends has never worked out for me. But the last place, we lived with someone who my partner had just befriended beforehand, and we all became good friends living together. We no longer do, but we still hang out all the time!

  15. Holly says :

    It’s great you guys made it work and remained friends. That’s very sweet of your friends to be so accommodating!

  16. Ten Factorial Rocks says :

    What a heartwarming post! Privacy is overrated when compared to meaningful friendships. Humans are social animals and too much privacy leads to loneliness. You have demonstrated that even within the potentially stressful landlord-tenant business relationship, you can make friends for life. Well done! It is this ability to form meaningful friendships that helped me take an unconventional route in investments that I describe here: http://tenfactorialrocks.com/not-another-buy-vs-rent-post/

  17. Ms. Steward says :

    We lived with my in-laws a few months after we were married, before I began my graduate program. Our lease didn’t begin until August and we were married in June, so I guess technically we were homeless. We were given free reign over their basement and Mr. Steward’s old bedroom upstairs.

    Did things sometimes get a little tense? Sure. But it was also a great time to invest in my new husband’s family. I learned a lot about his brothers and parents (which was a big transition for me–I was an only child before), and I got to spend a lot of quality time with my infant niece. In the end, I wouldn’t trade the time for the world!

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