Surviving Bachelor Life
As my son has recently turned 18, gotten a job, and is making noises about wanting to move out sometime, I thought it might be a good idea to impart some of the wisdom I have accumulated regarding successfully living on your own or with roomates out in the wilds of the world.
Since the Ratboy has been living with me and our roomate(s) for several years now, most of this should already at least be peripherally in his mind, but a refresher can never hurt. Others out there, however, may be seeing this for the first time.
As with any guidebook of this nature, your mileage may vary, but hopefully some of this may be useful to you.
Selecting Your First Roomies
This is a truly important consideration, and sometimes goes by the wayside in the anticipation of being out on your own and living by your own rules. A little careful thought here though can save you assloads of headaches later on.
First consideration has to be their employment. If at all possible, you want all of your roomates to be people who have steady jobs. Working in fast food does not count as a steady job, unless they have reached at least Team Leader status. Your best bet is someone who has been at a job long enough to have gotten a second raise over their starting salary. (You usually get a small bump after your 90-day probation at a new job, the next raise at a year’s employment. That’s what you’re looking for.)
Second consideration is ging to be how well you get along with this person. What are their habits? Party hounds do not pleasant roomies make, unless you are one too. By the same token, a slob and a neat-freak only work out in old Odd Couple reruns. Drug users are to be avoided at all costs, as they never prove to be reliable, and may lose their job if their boss finds out.
Selecting Your First Apartment
When considering where you and your probable roomates are going to live, there are three things you need to keep in mind: Price, Price and Number of Bedrooms. You may have heard that the Real Estate biz is all about location, but we’re talking rentals here, and the most important thing is that you can afford your apartment. Sure it would be nice to get a place close to work or school, but be realistic. It’s worth the extra drive or time on the train if it means that any one of you or your housemates can float the rent of the slob who just got fired.
This will happen. At least once a year.
Number of Bedrooms is pretty obvious – you need to have a space away from the rest of your flatmates for when they get on your nerves. This will happen, and it is a completely normal thing. You can’t like anyone all of the time.
Back to price for a moment. Most kids don’t realize that the first thing your landlord is going to ask you for is your first month’s rent, your last month’s rent, and a sizable security deposit, which can sometimes be as much as 2/3 of the monthly rent. Landlords want these things for fairly obvious reasons: first month’s rent is to move you in, last month’s rent is for when you skip out, and that security deposit is to cover the mess you left behind.
From my experience, the chances of you ever seeing that first security deposit again are slim to none, so don’t include it in your calculations when you move out. You won’t get it back for thirty days at best anyhow, not the day you move out.
If at all possible, don’t put your name on the lease of your first apartment. Sometimes you can get away with this, sometimes you can’t. Being on the lease may mean you have more of a say in the House Rules, but not having your name there means you can’t be held legally responsible for the damage. This may come in handy when you move / get thrown out.
Once you pick out the place and get approved, you’ll have to set up whatever utilities the rent doesn’t include. This is usually just Power, but can include Natural Gas. Cable TV is hardly ever included in the rent, and if it is, it means it’s just chanels 2-13 and it mostly sucks.
Once again, the utilities folks are going to want a hefty deposit from any new customer. It is generally safe to have essential utilities in your name, but try to avoid the cable bill. Your roomies will move hell and high water to keep the power turned on (or get it turned back on), but will often stick you with a massive Pay-Per-View bill if they can. The same goes for the phone bill – long distance calls add up quick.
(Note – that bit about the phone bill is less of a consideration today, what with cell phone popularity. There are some companies, however, that won’t do business with you if you don’t have a land line. In this situation, stick with a bare-bones line that has an LD lockout.)
The House Rules
Every house has it’s rules, and you should hash these out before you actually move in with people. Smoking or Non? How often can guests stay over? When is it okay to throw a party? What’s the difference between “a few friends” and a “party”? What foods are up for grabs and what foods are off-limits to them as didn’t buy them? Here are some guidelines:
Thou Shall Not Screw Thy Roomies
This can be taken in many ways, the naughtiest one being the most important: do not become sexually involved with a roomie. Moving sucks, and if you break up, someone usually has to move, meaning the rest of the roomies have to find a replacement. Ugh.
This also means to be a good roomie yourself by paying your share of the bills in full and on time, not pilfering from their private stash, and pitching in with chores and shopping. Don’t be the dick who rented 100 porn movies off the Pay-Per-View and denied it as an “accounting error” at the cable company.
When stocking the pantry, stick to canned goods as much as possible. They keep longer and are not susceptible to insect damage. Second-best are boxed meals, preferable the kind that don’t require additional ingredients like milk or butter – these items disappear from the fridge quickly, and are usually gone when you need them most. Fresh-food items should generally only be purchased when you plan to cook them within two days – espescially if you have problems keeping the power turned on.
Good apartments will have a nice fridge with several drawers and shelves. If you need to, you can specify drawer / shelf ownership so that items in these locations are strictly for personal use. In this case, it is good karma to buy something for house use every time you get stuff for yourself – see butter and milk above, but don’t forget to bring home cookies or snack items every now and again as well.
If it will truly piss you off when your ‘mates eat a food item of yours, keep this item in your room. Cheerfully beat the crap out of anyone caught pilfering from your private stash.
Another common argument is whose turn it is to do the dishes. Plan ahead and draw up a “Chore Chart” mapping out things like dishes, garbage, vacuuming and the dreaded bathroom scrub. Post it on the fridge and keep to it. A common exception is that “them’s that cooked don’t do the dishes for that meal”.
With that in mind, it is a good idea to cook for the whole house at least once a week if schedules allow for it. It’s hard to be pissed at someone who has recently fed you.
This one crops up pretty quickly, since most first-timers are wont to show off their new home. Set some rules out at the beginning defining how often people can stay overnight, how many people can be over before it’s officially a “party” and when parties can be held. Keep in mind when you invite friends over that the roomies have work schedules to keep and need sleep. Parties should really be cleared in advance – a week’s notice is a good rule.
If one of those guests happens to be your significant other, be kind to your roomies and keep it quiet. That rythmic *thump*thump*thump* of the bedpost against the bedroom wall can really piss some people off. (Usually when they aren’t getting any). If you do get loud, don’t be offended if the roomies write up critiques of your style and performance.
By the same token, do not engage in sexual activity in the common areas of the house unless A.) You are damn sure nobody else is home or coming home shortly; and B.) You clean up thoroughly afterwards. You’re better off keeping it in your room.
Another guest you may encounter is known by many names: The Crasher, The Mooch, or maybe even Couch Bob. Set a limit at the outset for how long a guest can stay before they are expected to pay rent and buy food. One week is a good standard. If you are one of those people who habitually brings home strays, it will probably tick off the roomies after the third time they wake up and wander into the kitchen to find an unkown Mooch pilfering the pantry.
You can always tell someone’s first apartment by looking at the mishmash of furniture styles in the living room. While everyone wants to live in a nice place with nice furniture, you will be better off buying used and durable stuff rather than anything that will be ruined by a beer spill. Garage Sale Chic is a valid decorative style, and one you should stick to until you and your roomies are more stable.
Bookshelves can be extremely cheap and easy – swing by Home Depot and grab some 1×12 boards and some cinder blocks. Savvy scroungers may even be able to pick some up free by cruising construction site scrap-piles.
Keep an eye on those scrap piles for empty cable spools too – they make decent end tables, and the larger ones can do for a coffee table in a pinch. A little paint or maybe some stain and you’re set.
The kitchen is where you really want to spend your money. Let’s face it – you can sit on the floor or stand at the counter to eat, but you really do want a plate to eat off of and something more substantial than a picnic spork to shovel with. A microwave to heat up your Hungry Man meals comes in pretty useful too.
For plates and bowls, go with stoneware. It’s microwave-safe and durable. I recommend plastic glasses for obvious reasons, and plain heavy utensils. For cooking, $50 can usually get you a decent set of cookware on-sale. Don’t forget to grab a cookie sheet, an 8×8 pan, and a 9×13 pan for cooking some of those boxed dinners I mentioned earlier. Lastly, a couple of mixing bowls and some of that disposable Tupperware should round out the collection.
There will come a time when you may want to impress a girl by cooking dinner for her, or to treat your flatmates – or maybe you’re just sick of ramen and frozen dinners. Whatever the case, every bachelor should be able to make at least one dish well. Start with the basics, like spaghetti, or maybe a casserole. Just messing around with the spices can turn ordinary Ragu into something she’ll remember.
If you have the cash, invest in a good Crock-Pot. Most recipes for Crock-Pots are “chop stuff into pot, add some broth, set to Medium and walk away for 8 hours”. Nowdays, you can get stuff at the supermarket specifically designed for a Crock-Pot for about $5 (check the freezer section), and they are dead-easy to make. Add a loaf of fresh bread from the bakery and you’re done.
If you want to put a little more effort into something, don’t be afraid. Cooking really isn’t that hard, so long as you can pay attention and read the instructions. The trick is to get good recipes. If you go to the cooking section of any bookstore, you should be able to find a book that looks like it was bound with a picnic table-cloth. You know, the one with the red-and-white checkered cover that your mom had on the shelf in the kitchen. Buy it. It doesn’t have anything really fancy, but it does have general guidelines for cooking just about anything as well as a large number of recipes.
Yes, you can get all of this information from the internet, but sometimes it’s good for a prop to impress that ladyfriend. Even if you whipped up a box dinner, you can throw out the box and leave the book open on the counter. Maybe sprinkle a little flour around it for special effects.
Remember that a proper meal will have four parts to it: Meat, Vegetables, Starch (potatoes or rice) and Bread. Keep those bases covered, and you should do all right.