Money Manners: How to Talk Money with the Roommates

Ah, roommates. While it’s great to have someone to split the rent with, those convos about paying the rent and how to split the bills can be tricky. Here’s the thing: leaving dirty dishes out in passive-aggressive protest doesn’t usually end well. And just having one or two good financial heart-to-hearts with your roomies can do wonders to avoid any unwanted confrontations.

It’s worked for me and I know it will work for you. Here are tips on navigating your way through potentially awkward but necessary talks with your lovely cohabitants:

Make a point to talk it out from the start

Make it a priority from the get-go that you’re on the same page as to who will handle what, when bills are due, and whether you’ll be splitting all the bills. Too often, we let money conversations fall to the wayside because it’s a sensitive topic or triggers anxiety. However, when it comes to cohabitation, disagreements about money can lead a significant amount of strain on your relationship with your roomies. So, it’s critical to talk it out and set expectations early so there are ground rules in place from the very beginning.

Air out all your concerns

If there’s a roommate who is going through a job transition or there’s a fair chance your roomie might move in with his or her significant other, air out your concerns and work together on coming up with a game plan. The last thing you want to happen is to get blindsided, and thinking of potential situations may help you be better prepared.

And if it gets to the point where one of you owes the other money, don’t freak out. It happens. Both being grownups by establishing clear expectations and setting up a repayment plan of sorts will minimize confusion and keep you both on track.

Account for all of your apartment living expenses

We may remember to include rent, Internet, and Netflix, but you’ll also want to factor in food and household items you share. Who drank the last of the orange juice? Fresh out of toilet paper? No need to point fingers. Make a list of things you commonly share and determine the best way to split the bill accordingly. And if you’re going shopping for groceries and household items together, talk about how you plan on sharing expenses.

Assign roles

Establish roles on who will buy certain shared items, such as dish soap or laundry detergent. Then keep the receipt and split costs accordingly. Also, if something starts to become a recurring purchase, don’t be shy about bringing up whether to designate someone to always be responsible for buying it. Sure, there are those one-off purchases, such as a group discount on yoga classes you went halfsies on, but what about that PlayStation Plus subscription that your roomies quietly hopped on?

My college roommates and I found it easiest to designate one person in charge of handling the bills. The “master bills balancer” was a Business major, and worked out some number magic so that the four of us only cut a check (don’t judge, this was pre-Venmo and Pay Friends days) to one person.

If you’re going to have one person taking care of money matters, figure out who’s best at staying on top of things, and wouldn’t mind the extra responsibility. And remember to buy them a drink every once in while as a well-deserved “thank you.” Also, don’t assume the person who you think would be the best fit to take care of financial housekeeping may be up for the task. It’s important to respect your roomies’ different backgrounds and attitudes about money. And there’s a chance they may have been burned in the past with that kind of responsibility. So ask first, and feel things out.

Set a monthly meeting to check-in

Another tactic I found to be extremely helpful was to set a date at the end of each month to go over bills with my roommates. It was also a great time to clear up confusion and go over any questions. For instance, one month our electricity bill had spiked, and we all agreed we should be better at making a point to turn off the lights before booking it to class. And if we found that a household item would be best shared, we’d bring that up.

It only took us about a half an hour each month to hash things out. Addressing issues with everyone at the same time prevented us from bottling up any frustrations, and having ill feelings directed at a single person.

Keep it simple.

It really helps to stay on top of things if you just keep it simple. For instance, have one person set up automatic payments for all of your bills every month. Then establish a date each month before the automatic payment takes place where each roommate’s portion is due. It’s far easier than having to keep track of bills which often fall on random dates. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so figure out what works best for your arrangement, but make sure to not overcomplicate it with multiple due dates and individual bills.

Technology is your friend

We’ve come a long way from balancing ledgers in our checkbooks and cutting checks. These days there are plenty of money tools, apps, and resources for you and your roomies to stay in sync with each other. You can create a shared Google calendar as to when due dates for certain bills, set up reminders for yourself on Evernote, or pay your roomies through Venmo or Chime’s split bills feature. Creating a technology-driven system is to manage my finances is one of my favorite things to explore. While it takes a little bit of time and experimenting up front, it will save you a lot of hair-pulling down the line.

While having to go over money matters with roomies isn’t the most pleasant thing to do, by keeping these tips in mind you can minimize awkwardness and make for a peaceful living arrangement.

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