Carla Fried: The case for a retirement roommate

Tribune Content Agency

Getting older often means living alone.

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, more than 40% of people at least age 65 live alone, and 57% of people in their 80s live alone.

At the same time, atop nearly every list of retirement worries is this one: running out of money.

For open-minded seniors living on their own, adding a roommate, or becoming the roommate, can be a savvy move. Sure, just like in your 20s, you don’t want the roommate from hell. But come on, by now you know what you like and don’t like. Your vetting skills are sharp. And perhaps you already have a network of friends who might be up for considering the move, or for helping you find a good match.

The math is compelling. The average monthly Social Security check in 2020 is around $1,500. Sharing the rent, or the carrying costs for a home that one of you owns, becomes a whole lot easier on two checks.

Or maybe you’re a suburban empty nester itching to live in the city, yet don’t think you have the retirement income to make the move. Might sharing city rent make it doable?

Sharing housing costs can free up money to add in supportive services. A housekeeper a few times a month can be especially valued later in life. Or someone to do the heavy weeding in your garden.

Or perhaps sharing housing costs is what makes it possible to live bigger. More travel (remember travel?). More of whatever floats your boat: sporting events, theater, concerts. In your 20s, a roommate may have been a necessity. In your 60s, 70s and beyond, it has the potential to give you the flexibility to live the life you want.

And if you find a mutually agreeable pairing, you’ve also taken a big step in warding off one of the biggest risks for the elderly: social isolation. Hopefully we never again encounter the isolation that has been necessary during the coronavirus pandemic, but for those single people who have a roommate the strain hopefully has been less acute.

OK, on to logistics.

First off, think about friends. Be a trailblazer and raise the topic with friends who might be interested, and within your social networks where someone you know might be a matchmaker. If you are in a situation where taking on a roommate would solve a lot of problems, do you seriously think there aren’t other people you know with the same concerns? Be the bold one who starts the conversation.

Don’t be shy about mentioning your roommate investigation to any local groups you belong to, such as your house of worship.

If friends or connections don’t come through, see if where you live (or want to live) is represented in online sites that match roommates. is all about matching mature folk. You can search as both a roommate looking for a place to live, or a homeowner looking to find someone to share your place. And give some non-age-specific sites a spin. The SpareRoom website recently shared that its volume of users over age 50 looking for a housing match is growing at twice the pace of other ages.

Insist on a trial run of a month before you commit. Even if you know someone as a friend, that doesn’t mean you know much about how they live. And before anyone moves anywhere, run through a very detailed list of the nitty-gritty:

— Will you split grocery bills? Share meals?

— How will the common areas be cleaned?

— Smoking? Pets? Grandkids? OK, on that last one, just make sure you’re on the same page about how often and how long your place will be invaded. Yes, you love them. And your roomie may too, but boundaries are how everyone stays content.

— As for payment, the same good financial etiquette that works for the 20-somethings is what you should do as well: Set up an automated direct deposit if you are paying the rent. If you both are paying rent, consider setting up a joint bank account and agree you will both set up automated deposits on a set date each month to cover rent and any other shared expenses. And from that account you should automate payment to the landlord. Sound formal? Exactly. That’s how you reduce tension over money.

— Moving out: How much advance notice will you be required to give?

A web search will turn up resources for a roommate agreement. It’s a smart step to take, as it will prompt you to consider all sorts of angles that need to be ironed out before they become problems.


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