A reader wants her son to get a roommate to save money, but he says it won't really help.
Question: My son is now a sophomore in college, and as a freshman, he had a single dorm room. Now he’s living off campus in a tiny, digny apartment that costs a reasonable $700 a month, but I’m encouraging him to move in with a male family friend who has a larger two-bedroom apartment for $1,200.
My son would save not only $100 a month, but also split the utility bill and even food. I insist these are significant savings, but he says they’re all minor. How do I convince this loner kid of mine to grow up and save money?
— Pamela in Missouri
Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…
Congratulations on trying to teach your son sound financial principles even after he’s moved out of the house — and into an apartment that’s not the right space nor the right price.
I’m always shocked when I people say, “Howard, you’re always talking about saving $5 or $10 a month, but that’s nothing.” Well, it’s more than $120 a year — certainly not chump change. Here’s the problem your son (and many others) have, which I described in my book Power Up...
Some people criticize those of us who try to be frugal. They’re simply confusing frugality with being cheap. We’ve all been programmed to think of someone who’s out to save a buck as cheap — and no one likes a cheapskate. But I’m talking about embracing the frugal philosophy.
Living with a roommate is not only a great way to save on rent instantly, there are other, smaller savings that add up. For instance, shopping for groceries becomes cheaper when two people can buy more in bulk than one person can reasonably eat. An electric bill becomes cheaper, because the same light illuminates both roommates, and the same heat or air-conditioning blows on both people.
This isn’t just my frugal philosophy. A recent poll by Progressive Insurance revealed that 58 percent of roommates say “their choice was driven by finances and conveniences.” Your son should also know this fact the poll discovered: Nearly half of all millennials live “with someone not their spouse.”
Finally, there’s a psychological component to my “frugal philosophy.” I believe your son would benefit from a roommate who watches his money — but he could just as easily waste money if he lives with a spendthrift.
I’ve seen my share of bad spending habits wear off on roommates and couples. Peer pressure can loosen wallets. Then again, I’ve seen financially responsible friends and spouses guilt spendthrifts into learning how to save. So my advice, Pamela: Don’t just encourage your son to find a roommate, insist he seek a frugal one!
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Email your question to email@example.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.