Living with anyone is hard. Sharing your space, fighting over the TV or arguing over who last did the dishes. Roommate spats are common. Like any good relationship, you’re bound to run into problems when you’re in such close proximity.
But fighting about money can also be a problem. When you’re splitting the bills with a roommate, fighting about money can affect your friendship and living situation. It can be even worse than fighting with a spouse about money because you’re only looking out for yourself.
Learning how to budget with a roommate can be the difference between a lifelong friendship and never speaking to each other. Here’s how to deal with bills with roommates – peacefully.
How to Divide the Rent
Almost everyone I know has always divided bills with their roommates with a 50/50 split. But I’ve also heard of situations where roommates split the bills unequally because one person has a much larger room, a bigger closet or their own bathroom. It might be worth splitting rent 60/40 if you feel like one of you is getting a better experience.
Before asking your roommate to pay a greater share of the rent, look at it from their point of view. They may have a larger room, but do they have a smaller closet? Are they there less frequently as therefore not using as much of the utilities? Did they contribute more of the furniture or kitchen items than you? Asking someone to pay more money can be an awkward conversation, so don’t bring it up unless you really feel it’s necessary.
Use Apps to Track Spending
I’ve had three roommates in my life and I can honestly say that the easiest way to manage the bills was to use an app.
In fact, you can use Mint’s budgeting feature to track roommate expenses and file them under a separate category. For example, if you pay the rent, you can split the transaction between categories “Rent” and “Roommate.” this also works if you take care of the internet, utilities and other shared expenses. Then at the end of the month, you’ll instantly know how much your roommate owes you. Once she or he pays you, you can add that transaction to the “Roommate” budget.
I also use Splitwise, an iPhone and Android app that makes it super easy to split the bill by a percentage or dollar amount. You can pay your roommate from the app via PayPal or Venmo, which will then record the payment in Splitwise.
Decide Who Pays Which Bills
One of the lesser-known issues that roommates have is who actually pays the bills. Sometimes it’s easier to have the more responsible person pay all the bills and then have their other roommates pay them back for their share.
In my experience, resentment can build if only one person is managing all the bills. Making payments on time is stressful, especially if it takes your roommates a couple days to pay you back. This is especially true if you have problems with your utility providers and you’re always responsible for calling customer service.
You can avoid these issues by having everyone pay the same number of bills. First, make a list of all the bills that need to be paid, including:
- Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or HBO Now
Divide the bills up so each roommate is responsible for an even number of them. Make sure that one person doesn’t have to pay both the internet and the rent. Those are the two that usually require the most phone calls when something is wrong.
It might also be a good idea to give all the roommates access to the accounts, so they can make sure payments have been made. Trust is important when you’re living with someone, but so is making sure the electricity bill was paid.
How to Split Groceries
When I moved in with my first college roommate, we immediately decided to buy separate groceries. She preferred buying stuff like boxed macaroni and cheese while I enjoyed learning how to cook for the first time.
But one thing we noticed is that we could never get through a half gallon of milk before it went bad. We realized it was cheaper for us to buy a gallon of milk together. We split the cost 50-50 even though I’m pretty sure I always drank more milk than she did. It was just one of those things where we realized we would each save money and we didn’t have to worry about who was using more than who.
But any other time I’ve heard of roommates splitting groceries, it always turns out to be a disaster. One person will accuse the other of taking more than their fair share while the other person complains that they’re always the one to do the grocery shopping.
If you want to split groceries, set some easy-to-follow ground rules and stop doing it if you feel a fight coming on.
Talk about Problems
It’s easy for disagreements about money to become a problem when you’re living with someone, no matter how well you get along.
When I was living with my first roommate, we both decided to get cable. A month into the semester, she decided she was never home to watch TV so she wanted to get rid of it.
I was pretty annoyed because it meant we’d either have to cancel it or I’d have to pay the entire bill myself. Eventually, we talked about it and she agreed to pay her half for the rest of the semester.
We each spent a few days venting to other friends, but we eventually learned that it was better to discuss problems directly. The whole issue helped us work out our communication issues, which strengthened our overall friendship.
Some good #RealMoneyTalk will generally go a long way!
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Debt Free After Three.