‘The Big Bang Theory’: Did Sheldon Cooper Really Need a Roommate?

The Big Bang Theory dealt with some pretty complex scientific information. While the writers got plenty of big things right when it came to physics, their math seems to be a little off when it comes to renting. The issue of Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper’s living situation is questionable. They are roommates, but no one is really sure why. In one episode, Sheldon suggests he would live alone if he could afford the rent, but in another, he readily hands out stashed money and appears to have uncashed paychecks. Let’s solve the problem once and for all, and figure out if Sheldon and Leonard really needed to live together for financial reasons.

How much would Sheldon and Leonard make in real life?

While Sheldon and Leonard’s salaries are never revealed on The Big Bang Theory, we can make some guestimations about their income. Sheldon is a theoretical psychist working as a researcher at a large university. According to Payscale, the average theoretical physicist makes around $70,000 a year, but Sheldon was kind of a big deal, and eventually, the university makes him a junior professor so he can continue to get a paycheck when his grant runs out.

According to Chronicle Data, even an assistant professor at California Institute of Technology garners a paycheck of around $111,000 each year. It’s safe to assume that Sheldon likely pulled in at least that amount, but he probably collected more than the average. Sheldon’s income was likely in the range of $150,000 each year.

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Leonard was not the prodigy that Sheldon was, but he’s still a brilliant guy. He doesn’t work as a professor, sure, but he’s still a researcher. According to Glassdoor, an experimental physicist has an average salary of $102,000 each year. The number of years in the space makes a difference, too. Since Leonard has been working at the same college for years, it’s safe to assume he’s making at least the national average.

How much would Sheldon and Leonard’s fourth-floor walkup have cost?

Pasadena, where Leonard and Sheldon live, isn’t the cheapest place in the world, but it’s also not the most expensive. The average rent on a two-bedroom apartment in the city is around $2700 today. Now, the fact that Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment lacked some basic amenities, like a working elevator, might mean their rent was a touch cheaper than average. All told, the pair were still likely paying more than $2,000 per month.

While the rent may have been upwards of $2,000 a month, it’s important to remember that the roommates were splitting the cost of living for their spacious abode. Even if the pair were paying the average on a 2-bedroom apartment, that still means they were each only putting in around $1,350 before factoring in utilities.

High-speed internet in Pasadena will run about $90 per month, and we know Sheldon and Leonard definitely needed that. They likely had to pay for their electric, too, adding an additional $200 to their monthly bills. Even with some creature comforts, the researcher duo was getting by on paying around $1500 per month each to live pretty comfortably.

So, did Sheldon and Leonard really need to share their apartment?

There is a general rule of thumb that you should spend about 30% of your gross income on rent. This allows you, the renter, enough money to still live comfortably. If Leonard was making around $100,000 per year, that means he could safely spend $30,000 a year on rent. That would give him a budget of $2500 per month to work with.

Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper | Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images

Sheldon, who was likely making more money than Leonard, according to figures, could safely spend $45,000 each year on rent, if he was making the assumed $150,000 per year. That translates into about $3,700 per month. Both Sheldon and Leonard come in comfortably under budget on rent payments. Sheldon, for example, would have more than $2,000 leftover each month. Leonard would have about $1,000 left in his rental budget.

So, why did the pair share their space? The relationship was a symbiotic one, albeit Leonard was a bit of a doormat. Sheldon, simply put, needed someone to take care of him. By allowing Leonard to move into the apartment, he ensured he had someone to drive him to and from work and generally do his bidding for him. Leonard, on the other hand, appeared to be relatively new to the area in a flashback episode. He likely thought having a roommate would make integrating into a new neighborhood easier.