Debt vs Strange Roommate. Which would you pick?

crazy roommate

[This guest post is by Mike from Renting Out Rooms]

What’s worse, debt or a strange roommate? That’s the question I asked myself nearly 7 years ago as I was about to start graduate school.  It was the spring of 2006.  My undergraduate degree had left me with loans equivalent to the price of a new Honda Civic (although that’s nothing compared to the outrageous debt kids graduate with these days). And on top of that, I had a mortgage payment.  With the burden of these two loans, taking on additional debt was not something I was inclined to do.

Since I was living alone in a two bedrooms house I thought to myself, maybe I could rent out the spare bedroom. And after weighing the pros and cons I decided to go for it. Finding a strange roommate had won over wallowing in debt.

I figured no-one would want to rent a room from a complete stranger, but within a matter of weeks from first advertising my space I found a roommate via the internet. Honestly, the entire process went much faster than I anticipated.

After a few months my place wasn’t trashed or messy, there weren’t many parties or horror stories worth sharing.  In short, the roommate gig wasn’t going bad.  So, with that in mind, I decided to expand. I renovated the basement to make it habitable and moved down there myself freeing up my old room for rent.

Fast-forward to now…I’ve had thirteen different roommates cycle in and over the course of seven years.  I’ve learned a great deal about the process and I’ve started a blog about this sole topic in hopes of encouraging others to cash in on their spare room and improve their personal finances in the process.  It certainly has changed my life for the better.


I’ve learned a lot of upsides and downsides during these 7 years and nothing has deterred me from continuing to rent out my spare rooms, even after I finished grad school.


rent out this room!

Please rent out this room!


Additional Wear and Tear – The house, particularly the carpet and walls, show more wear than had I been living by myself.   The hot water heater also needed to be (prematurely) replaced. Something I am sure wouldn’t have happened living on my own.

Finding Roommates – This is always a hassle.  When you find a roommate and things are going well, you’re in cruise control.  However, the time comes when a roommate moves out and you need to replace him or her if you want to continue making that extra cash.  The initial search and screening is time consuming as I wade through the countless number of craigslist scam e-mails and phone calls. I also have to set up walk-throughs of the house for tenants that seem ok.  However, once you find a reliable roommate that fits the bill you are back in cruise control.  And for the times when you can’t find a one, the spare room goes empty and you don’t make the extra cash. It’s frustrating, but I would rather find a reliable roommate than deal with trouble.


At first the only upside I counted on was extra cash, but after having roommates for quite some time I’ve grown to realize that there are benefits beyond just a fatter bank account.

The Camaraderie – I have really enjoyed the people I’ve lived with.  We often grill out when the weather is nice. We talk about important things together and have developed real friendships.

Helping Each Other Out – There were times when my car was in the shop and I needed a ride to work. I knew I could count on my roommates for a ride instead of troubling one of my friends or spending money on a cab. Having those guys to count on as a helping hand has been really nice.


I could have easily squandered the extra money on trivial materialistic things that would have not mattered.  Instead I set goals so that I would have something to show from the income I generated renting out rooms. I’ve been able to accomplish some really big financial goals because of this harebrained scheme!

Paid for Graduate School – About 3.5 years after starting graduate school I’m extremely happy to report that I took out no additional loans to get through. I couldn’t have done that had it not been for renting out my spare rooms.

Paid off My Second Mortgage – I took out an 80/20 loan when I bought my house.  This mortgage allows one with good credit to essentially finance 100% of purchase price with the second mortgage having a higher than normal interest rate. And I’ve paid off that 20% part. That’s pretty sweet!

Amassed an Emergency Fund – Having cash on-hand gives you options. And options can change everything. Emergency funds can also help you survive in case of an economic downturn or a lost job.  If any of those things were to happen in my life it’s comforting to know that I have money in savings to make emergency repairs on my house or car, or whatever might pop up in my life.


It’s obvious that extra cash is the number one reason why folks rent out a room.  Who couldn’t use an extra bit of green in your life every month? We all have debts we would love to have paid off or could stand to fatten our rainy day accounts.   However, the (surprisingly) intangible benefits of having a roommate were definitely an added bonus that can’t be quantified. And ones I hadn’t considered when I started.  So I guess the renting out rooms thing has worked out really well for me.

Would you consider renting out a room in your house for some extra income every month? In debt vs strange roommate, what freaks you out more? Have you made any other outside of the box moves to make some extra dough?


This guest post was from Mike over at the blog Renting out Rooms. He’s known as the “live-in landlord,” a term he coined to describe his unique living situation. On his blog he shares his stories and answers any reader questions he has about this interesting topic. So stop by and say hello! And if you are interested in getting started, check out the guide he offers for free! We like free over here at Save Outside the Box. 🙂

[photo courtesy of Matt]

12 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    October 04, 2013

    We rent out an extra room to my sister. The extra money is nice to have!


    • Avatar
      October 04, 2013

      Nice. That’s a lot less uncomfortable than renting out to a stranger too.


  2. Avatar
    October 04, 2013

    While I have never been in that situation, I believe I would suffer a strange roommate if it helped eliminate or prevent accrual of debt. At the end of the day, it is probably easier to deal with strange.


  3. Avatar
    October 06, 2013

    As long as you have the space and find nice decent people, I don’t see why not. Your example clearly showed how much can be done with a little of personal sacrifice and some good planning. You could have squandered the money, but you instead paid off a lot of the bills/debt and this clearly gives you a huge advantage. Really great job.


    • Avatar
      October 06, 2013

      It’s imperative to find reliable roommates. I’m really lucky and fortunate that my roommates have worked out.


  4. Avatar

    I’ve always had great luck with renting. I usually have to rent out my own room, so really, it’s subletting. In my profession, contracts are out of town for a month to a year at a time and I’ve always found someone to take my room and never have had an issue. Luckily, I’ve only ever had one or two degrees of separation from the people I’ve rented to just because of the nature of my industry. Someone always needs a place or needs to rent a place.


    • Avatar
      October 07, 2013

      I would feel more comfortable renting a room out to someone that was vouched for by a friend, or even a friend of a friend. Thanks for sharing Stefanie!


  5. Avatar

    I’d go for the strange roommate every time. Unless of course he is a total stoner and makes the apartment a hotbox almost nightly. Yes, this happened to me. The second hand smoke made me incredibly hungry and quite lazy.


    • Avatar
      October 07, 2013

      Hah. So if a roommate makes you lazy and kills your productivity it might not be worth it. Thanks for sharing Kyle.


  6. Avatar
    January 19, 2014

    I am having a slight issue with this. I’m renting out a room in my 2 bed flat which has an open plan lounge kitchen. First couple of months no issues but turns out she’s very social and likes having guests around at least 2/3 times a week. Bothers me cos she doesn’t give me advanced warning and also means I feel uncomfortable going to the kitchen to cook my food etc. I don’t know what to do as obviously I can’t stop her from having guests but it’s getting excessive…there’s always someone around. I just want my peace and quiet in my own home. I don’t mind once a week but more than that is draining because of the shared lounge/kitchen space. Advice from experienced live in landlords please 🙂


    • Avatar
      January 23, 2014

      Hey Melinda,

      It’s Mike and I understand you’re situation. First how long is the current roommate going to live with you for? The reason I ask is because the mistake was made before your roommate moved in. You should always set expectations in terms of guest and cleaning policy. You should also abide by them too, such as if you insist that you want advance notification of any guest coming over to watch a TV show, you should give the same courtesy.

      If this is your first roommate, you’re probably uncomfortable with having a total stranger living in your house, let alone having their friend over too. I had the same uncomfortable feeling with my first roommate and became accustomed to having roommates.

      To remedy your current situation, I wouldn’t set a strict no guest policy, I would talk and try to reason with her with your concern. I would bring up the fact that you feel uncomfortable about cooking in front of strangers you don’t know, and having advanced notification would help immensely.

      I hope this helps, don’t forget to visit my site!


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