Renting is one of the most expensive things in this city, and rents are being driven up in big cities all across the world. While the cause of this and what to do about it is a heated debate, we will focus on how to still afford to rent in an expensive city such as Vancouver.
Get a Roommate
The second best option (the best being to get a partner, less space if you share a bed.. of course you can do this with a roommate but.. not advised).
Regardless of where you live in the city sharing a two bedroom apartment (or bigger) will be cheaper than renting a single bedroom flat for one person. I've shared houses and townhouses with other roommates, running me 500-550 a month in good areas (not down town, but at one time I lived walking distance to Granville island, pretty sweet). You can move in with friends and usually find a place together, or you can move into an already established roommate situation. Craigslist is littered with people looking for a second, third or fourth roommate. This is easier in the sense that there is already a house to move into and as long as you like the location all you have to do is put up with whatever random roommates you end up with (pro tip, don't sign a one year lease just in case).
For your comfort I recommend chatting with the future roommates in advance if you chose to go down this road, also making sure you don't share a washroom with more than one person. When I paid $500 I lived in a basement with only one tiny washroom 2 floors above me shared with 2 people. Not exciting in the middle of the night.
Get a partner.. or two!?
The best and cheapest option, if you already have a partner who you don't live with yet, pulling the trigger can save you a lot of money. While a two bedroom might run you 600-1000 a person for two people a one bedroom can get you down to 400-700 a person. In the rare case that you have an awesome tri-force going and have 3 people sharing a king size bed, you can bring this number down even more!
This would of course mess with the washroom rule but times are dire, and whatever works for you!
As a bonus there is more accountability with a partner. If someone doesn't do the dishes it's easier to talk about it than with a roommate, friend or not. The down side being that you might move too fast, but I'll leave that up to you to decide.
Let's face it. If you want to live in the downtown core, you are going to have to make A LOT of sacrifices. Most people are renting out their sun rooms as a bedroom, which works, even though they are tiny and have all glass walls (lots and lots and lots of blinds). Lately micro apartments have been on an upswing. If you absolutely have to live downtown, either follow the previous advice of partner/room mate or rent small, actually, small is an understatement, rent tiny. A micro apartment for one person will run you $600-900. These units can be as small as 100sqft. You can also find slightly bigger ones for around $1200-1300. These would probably work for a couple who don't need much personal space. The benefits of these apartments are that not only are you in the downtown core with everything mere footsteps away but you also can't buy “stuff” because there's no way it will fit in your apartment. Except for going out to eat, I can imagine that this kills one of the biggest temptations when living downtown.
As you move further out, micro suites become less frequent, but renting a smaller space will still save you a lot of money. A big downside being that it's harder to have friends over, something that can be vital for a Vancouverite trying to live frugally and not go out as much.
Live far from the city core.
Prices are certainly going up, even in non-core areas. Depending on where you work and how efficient you can make your transiting, moving out to Richmond, Surrey , New West or a bit more locally Burnaby or North Vancouver can save you money. I currently live in North Vancouver, where prices are going up like crazy, however I was lucky enough to snag a two bedroom where my share in the rent is only $550/month. It takes me about 25 minutes including a 10 minute walk to get downtown. Not that I chose to, I have everything I need here.
Depending on how far out you are willing to live, you can find 1 bedrooms from $650 and upwards. 2 bedrooms for $800 and up. This can save you a lot of money, especially if you can find a place close to transit and the grocery store. It's also a good option if you either need more space or refuse to live with other people.
Live with your parents
I've saved this for last, because I'm all for an independent lifestyle, but in some cases living with your parents and either being rent free in their basement or actually helping them out with their mortgage can be ideal. I don't have much experience with this and can only say that as soon as I had the chance to move out, I made sure to pack my bags and move. If you do go down this route, my personal opinion is that please, whatever you do, don't be a burden to your parents. Make sure they are okay with you sticking around and help them with the upkeep of the house. They have spent a lot of money raising you and “mooching” is the last thing you want to do once you make your own income. It's just not fair.
Something not entirely related to the cost of the place you are trying to rent is my general advice for finding a place to live. Most places require 1 year leases, so you better make sure you can deal with wherever you live for a year. My advice to get the most out of it is to check how small you can make your "Circle of Life" around your apartment/house. This could be something of the sort of a walkability score. Finding a place where you can walk to work if you have to, the grocery store, decent restaurants/take out places and whatever else you need in your life. Being close to transit is also a huge deal, if your friends invite you over you don't want to have to walk for 20 minutes before you can find a bus/skytrain with 3 transfers that will take you to them. Optimising your circle of life will make your new place a lot more attractive. More about the circle of life in this post.
What are your ideas on how to rent frugally in Vancouver? Did I miss something? Leave a comment below and tell me what you think!