We are coming up to six months of living in Manchester, and I must say it has gone by quickly. The glorious rainy days and the chilly winds of the North have been an incredibly welcome change to the humidity that encapsulates Brisbane. Looking back to moving over and not really having a job lined up or place to rent waiting for us seems kind of crazy. I had been researching suburbs and best places to live in Manchester, the transport lines and reviews of whether catching a train or tram was worth the extra few pounds per month – whether or not to live in the city centre or set up home in the quaint suburbs south Manchester had to offer. But to just pack up your life and move with two weeks lined up at an Airbnb to sort it out in hindsight is risky.
We ended up living in Didsbury, a leafy suburb in South Manchester on the East Didsbury tram line and surrounded by pubs on both sides of our block.
And it was in a share house.
There are pros and cons of living in a share house, and for some the cons considerably outweigh the pros. I can completely understand it, I relate to it, I’ve lived the cons. But when it comes down to it, every decision we made moving overseas had to be smart.
Diving headfirst into a one bedroom apartment with council tax bandwidths, foreign utility providers, TV licenses, and six-digit post codes was daunting and expensive. Plus, unlike Brisbane, tenants have to pay an agency fee just to apply for somewhere to rent. While this backfired on me getting a bank account, there were a few boxes we ticked that outweighed living with a weirdo.
Cost effective and effortless
Potentially the smartest box living in a share house ticked was how cost effective and effortless it was. We knew we were going to be living in the UK for two full years at least, and a compromise for our living standards was we wanted a nice, clean room big enough for two people – and mould free. Very important detail there for anyone with respiratory issues or allergies as the air is very humid here.
There was no way we could have considered London either, because for the price range we wanted to rent a Harry Potter-style cupboard under the stairs would have been a luxury. All of the bills are normally included in share houses, along with furnityre, which meant we didn’t have to fork out hundreds of pounds buying a house worth of stuff we had sold in Australia the month before. We also didn’t need to set up or think about providers, internet, licenses or council tax until we decided to get our own place. At by which time research and conversations with fellow expats and mancunians could be had. One payment, and off it went until the next month for six months. Very handy.
An angle to a share house being effortless with everything being included is focusing on saving money to travel. We knew a share house was only going to be a stepping stone for establishing ourselves with a job and routine, however for some it is the only living arrangements that suit. When you understand the local tax and bills you can start to figure out your margins of what you are saving, and put that towards a future deposit or destination on the holiday list.
Exploring the UK and being so close to Europe was the biggest reason for us to move overseas, and it makes me want to cry to hear stories of people going overseas and spending more than 50% of their salary on rent. One story in particular that stood out to me was a friend who moved to London, fell into a relationship with a guy, and moved in together into a two-bedroom place near London after a couple of months. The relationship was passionate, and ate up even more of her budget to the point where she was staying in on weekends while everyone else was off travelling to Scandinavia and Ireland (Dublin is a £34 trip – or $55 Australian dollars – and certainly cheaper than a trip to Sydney!). After moving back to Brisbane – single – there were a couple of regrets.
Getting to know your new town
It is easy to take for granted knowing the best shops to go for new work outfits, groceries, and dinner spots. Living with other people in a share house gives you the chance to quiz locals on their favourite spots. Obviously, the key here is not to overdo it with questions – save some for the Facebook expat groups and work colleagues, and random people in bars perhaps if you’re brave after that cocktail. We never would have been to Chester if one of our roomies hadn’t suggested it!
Now that six months have flown by and our contract has come to an end, we couldn’t be happier to move out into our own place. There is something so incredibly amazing about walking around at any time of day in your undies and fluffy slippers with a tea in one hand and cold pizza slice in the other. It cannot compare to saving money when you have a stable income and will to part with an extra hundred quid a month. But! You can style every room, enjoy going to a clean bathroom every morning knowing there won’t be any surprises, and you won’t need to worry about that awkward roommate who likes to have the TV volume on low to hear you talk in the next room.
You learn life lessons and meet incredible people when you’re in a share house, and I wouldn’t change my experience for the world despite the challenges we faced along the way. The room in Didsbury became our home away from home and there were some great memories made there.
I would encourage and hope any person moving to the UK to try it for a short six-month lease to set yourself up and make your own happy, hilarious, awful, and exciting memories as an expat!