When Did Living Alone Become The Minimum?
One of the opinion pieces that fascinates me every year is the minimum amount it costs millennials to live in my city – Vancouver, Canada.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Housing: $1,929.67
- Phone and Internet: $105
- Transportation: $133
- Groceries: $211.97
- Entertainment: $321
- Fitness: $75
- Insurance: $20
Total: $2,795.64/month, or $33,547.68 annually
For most of these numbers I nodded along, but housing stuck out to me – until I read the fine print:
Basically, if you want to live roommate-free near downtown Vancouver in your 20s and 30s, this is the minimum amount of money you’re going to have to spend to cover your cost of living and still have somewhat of a life.
The Minimum Cost of Living
How can we talk about “the minimum” cost of living in a city and in the same moment reference living roommate-free? Even though singles account for 28% of Canadian households, surpassing all other types for the first time in our history, they’re certainly not living a minimum lifestyle.
I’ve never lived alone. Not once. For the first 18 years I lived with my parents, then a few years in a dorm at university, then in apartments shared with either roommates or boyfriends.
Sure, it would have been nice to have a place to myself. The space! The quiet! The lack of clutter! No walking on eggshells or passive aggressive notes about washing the dishes. I wouldn’t have had to worry about mismatched standards of cleanliness or opposite schedules. (Shout out to a former roommate who invited an entire hockey team over for a party on a Wednesday night before one of my exams. The best.)
I would also be living paycheque to paycheque and struggling to make my minimum student loan payments.
Obviously there are valid reasons why someone might want or need to live alone, but setting it out as a minimum standard of living promotes a mindset that most of us can’t afford to have – especially if we want to prepare for our future rather than living month to month.
Housing is one of the fundamental problems of our generation. In Vancouver in particular, investors leave properties unoccupied while the homeless population continues to grow – up 30% over the past three years. Costs are soaring and Vancouver has been ranked as the third least-affordable housing market in the world – with only Sydney and Hong Kong above us. Yes, even more unaffordable than LA or San Francisco or NYC. Our rental vacancy rates are less than 1%. Income, adjusted to inflation, has risen only 5.2% since 2010 while housing prices are up 78%. Efforts to cool the housing market, like new taxes on property speculators and foreign buyers, haven’t had a chance to make an impact yet.
I’m hopeful that the tide of the affordability crisis will turn, but until then articles like this are normalizing a lifestyle that is financially out of reach for most of us. When I first moved to Vancouver, my income was above average and I still couldn’t afford to live alone. After years of paying down my student loan balances and increasing my income, I could make it work but just barely.. and that’s with dropping my student loan payments back to the minimum.
Unless you’re frequenting coffee shops six times a day, no amount of skipping frappuccinos will save you more money than having a roommate will. Housing is often our largest expense (aside from taxes, of course – and in my case student loan payments). Sometimes you need to do things that you don’t necessarily like now in order to give your future self an edge.
Not living alone will save me more than $50,000 over my five year student loan repayment timeline, leaving me debt free six years sooner than I would be otherwise.
Try calculating what you’d save by living with a roommate and how much sooner it would let you reach your goals. Imagine all of the things that money could do for you instead – buy back your freedom from lenders, give you peace of mind that your retirement will be funded, save for travel or children or buying your own home (maybe, at some point). It can be tempting to justify standard expenses like rent, especially when they’re normalized in the media and especially when they deal with as emotional a topic as housing, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t explore all of your options.
Same goes for the location of your place and the size and number of bedrooms you choose. Is living downtown essential or could you commute? Do you really need a guest room or an office, or would it be more cost-effective to pay for a hotel room or co-working space when you really need it?
If you do choose to prioritize living alone or in a certain location or having more space, that’s okay too! We all spend our money differently, and I don’t think anyone should be shamed for that. The important piece is to consider the actual minimum and then decide if it aligns with your priorities.
We can’t afford all of the things that we might want. Sometimes we’ll choose to live downtown but take public transportation instead of owning a vehicle. Sometimes we’ll choose to live with roommates so that we can increase our retirement savings. Sometimes we’ll live alone and spend less on travel or entertainment.
All of these choices are valid – just make sure they’re yours.