When Living In a Cardboard Box Becomes a Serious Option…
What do you do when faced with high rent? For some people, it's an apartment or nothing. For others, living with parents is a necessity.
Upon graduating college, packing all of my things into garbage bags and arriving back at my childhood doorstep, there was one inalienable truth that became clear to me as my mother reminded me to take my shoes off when I came inside: I needed an apartment. Or a house. Or a condo. Honestly, a cardboard box would probably do. The bottom line was that I had spent four years away from home, and it felt like a perversion of the natural order for me to be back in my pajamas, on the couch, rolling my eyes at my father as he asked if I had seen our newspaper lately.
I began the hunt immediately. I was lucky enough to land a job at the end of my senior year, so I had a limited amount of funds to work with. My friend and I were looking in the Boston area, and we wanted to cap our rent to a little bit under $1,000 each per month. What we saw, primarily, can kindly be described as dumps and more aptly be scheduled for demolition. Our favorite real estate agent nightmare involved us walking around the streets of Cambridge for an hour in the roasting heat, only to finally find the apartment, meet the agent standing in front, and hear him say to our faces:
HONESTLY, THIS PLACE IS A PIECE OF CRAP. I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU WANT IT.
Needless to say, he did not get a brokerage fee from us.
Long story short, we did end up with a decent apartment for that price, but it was more an example of good timing (tenants moving out, us the first to see the apartment) than any abundance of great housing on the market. I have post-grad friends renting in New York City (Brooklyn, Chelsea, and South Harlem) and Philadelphia, and several others who are still living at home to save money. My friends in New York pay around $1,200 a month, Philly a little bit less – because, you know, it’s Philly. When I asked my friends about rent in a group chat, the consensus was that people paid “anywhere between a quarter to a half of your monthly salary usually goes to rent.” This means that after rent, utilities, groceries and living expenses, we are looking at a very thin balance at the end of the month.
I also have several friends who have opted to live at their parents’ homes. Some of them are dealing with student loans, which are virtually impossible to pay in tandem with rent. Some are home due to “extenuating circumstances” – athletes who are training, graduate students commuting to nearby schools, etc. But for the majority of us, living on our own is not a “luxury” we chose for ourselves – it is expected of us by our parents and ourselves that this is simply what we have to do, and what we must prioritize our finances on.
So what is the big hullabaloo over millennials and housing? Has living away from our parents truly become something that we should aspire to in the long term rather than the short term?
WAS I ACTING ‘SPOILED’ WHEN I WANTED TO MOVE TO MY OWN APARTMENT ASAP?
If we are assuming that the average rent is less than $1,000 a month in most cities, then this must mean that most people my age cannot pay $12,000 in rent annually, which begs the subsequent question… what are we spending money on instead? The answer: loans, credit card debt, unnecessary and out-of-control spending… the list goes on.
The new “data” on “millennials” (try to visualize my huge finger air quotes) is that they as a collective unit prefer to live at home. You save money, you’re living in better digs, and you get the occasional laundry basket done by mom. But this line of thinking bothers me — when did the question of comfort become the driving factor in housing? Every adult I’ve ever spoken to, regardless of generation, has always laughed about their first apartment, how crappy it was, and all of the ramen noodles they had to eat in the first few years. Post-grad life has never been luxurious, so it bothers me when these articles cite “the need to be comfortable” as the reasoning to stay at home. It’s not a question of what’s more enjoyable, it’s a question of what you have to do. My friends who have the financial capacity to live on their own unilaterally live on their own. Those who don’t have enough money to move out live at home. It’s not about comfort, it’s about necessity.