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6 Reasons to Share Housing in Retirement

Tom Sightings

The TV shows "Three's Company," "The Golden Girls" and "The Big Bang Theory" have an important trend in common. They all present different versions of how adults who are not related, and not romantically involved, decide to share housing.

These TV shows are comedies. And perhaps living with other people does require a ready sense of humor, even in marriage. But they also highlight the idea of living in groups rather than living alone. After all, we did it in college, the military or at camp. So why not now?

Obviously, you need to be careful when picking a roommate. A close friend may not always be the best choice. It's not so important to connect emotionally, or to be able to share your feelings. It's more important to be able to share responsibilities and complement each other rather than find yourselves in constant conflict.

If you can find your match, here are the advantages of living together:

It's less expensive. As the old saying goes, two can live cheaper than one. Three or four can also live cheaper than two. For example, a two bedroom, two bath condo or apartment will typically rent for 50 percent more than a one bedroom, one bath unit in the same complex, which translates into a 25 percent savings in rent if two people share the two bedroom. But it doesn't always work so mechanistically. Sometimes a person with little income but a nice house meets a person with no house but a decent income. The solution is obvious: The person with the income moves in and pays rent and they both end up better off.

You don't have to do all the work yourself. Whether it's mowing the lawn and shoveling snow, or just doing dishes and taking out the garbage, sharing the work, like sharing expenses, puts less of a burden on everyone. The key is to divide up responsibilities equitably, according to talents and interests. If one roommate likes to cook, the other does the dishes. One person can handle the finances while the other makes home repairs. If your talents don't mesh naturally, then switching off from week to week or month to month is the fair way to handle routine chores.

You share responsibility. It's not just the work you share, but the worry, anxiety and the simple reminders. If you don't mind paying the bills but you hate talking to the landlord, maybe you can work out a deal with your roommate, and then you don't have to worry about it. Do you want to paint a room, buy an appliance or just can't decide what to have for dinner? It's often helpful just to be able to bounce ideas off another person.

You have built in companionship. So many people come home from work to an empty house, with nothing to do and no one to do it with. A roommate is someone you can hang out with and do nothing. He or she can be someone to go to the movies with or someone to leave behind if you've got other plans. And isn't it comforting to know that someone else is in the house when you hear a strange noise in the night?

S omeone to help out if you need it. Older people in particular have worries about living alone. What if you fall, can't remember to take your pill or simply need help opening a jar? Having a roommate is like having a human safety net. A roommate is someone who can help out with the little things and be there in case of real trouble, even if only to call 911.

You will likely have more friends. There is nothing that correlates more with living a long, happy life than having good social connections and a supportive circle of friends. Don't spend Christmas or Thanksgiving alone. Don't sit there by yourself watching TV on Saturday night. Spend the time with your roommate, your mutual friends and each other's family members. Share your lives, as well as your living quarters, and you will have a richer, more fulfilling life.

Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.

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