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Split chores. Cheaper bills. Built-in company. Someone else’s expensive snacks for you to steal in gradual, imperceptible portions. There are a lot of compelling reasons to have roommates, but odds are your decision to live in a shared household is primarily a financial one.
According to a 2018 Pew Research study, adults are increasingly living together for non-romantic, purely financial reasons. Dividing rent with others usually means living in a bigger apartment or a nicer area than any one of you could afford as an individual. (We’ve previously covered some of the other financial advantages and disadvantages that comes with roommates.)
However, even with the best of roommates, navigating shared living expenses can be tricky. Money disputes are at best, awkward, and at worst, threatening to a friendship (not to mention the possibility of losing a significant amount of money). Here are our tips to set ground rules and ensure that you never have to go from friendly roommate to designated debt collector.
Write everything down. Everything.
Bills. Who owns various appliances. When rent is due, who is responsible for getting it in, and how. We don’t advise that you split the costs of furniture (this usually leads to complications and confusion down the line), but if you do buy a couch together, keep a written document of the transaction.
You don’t have to make a big show of writing everything down, but in the case of any future disputes, it doesn’t hurt to make sure there’s some sort of record of all roommate-related costs. Now, when it comes to keeping these records…
There’s an app for that
When we say “write everything down,” we don’t necessarily mean pen and paper. There are plenty of apps and online tools to help you keep track of who owes what. Try out apps like Splitwise, which is great for cost-sharing; Simple, which allows you to merge finances; or Splittable, which helps you manage all of your shared household expenses all in one place. Not only are these apps great for getting the maths out of the way, but they’re also a tool to make sure everyone stays accountable for their costs.
Work out where and how you can save
Once you’ve identified all your outgoing expenses, it’s time to figure out where and how you can save a few bucks. For things like electricity, make sure you’re not overpaying with your current provider. The best way to do this is to compare your current costs to other providers in your area. We’ve partnered with a powerful comparison tool called eConnex to help make this process fast and easy. You can even use your most current electricity bill details to get an accurate comparison. Enter your postcode in the box below to get started.
It’s also worth looking at what plans your current internet provider is offering as well as alternative providers to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
Put one roommate in charge of managing bills
This is no alpha-roommate-power-play. This is a strategy to streamline payments and ensure clarity around who pays what and when. Everyone sends their money to the designated person before the bills are due each month. With one person assigned to get bills in on time, you’re reducing the number of potential cracks for those payments to fall through. Just make sure to designate who this person is from the get-go to avoid any last-minute scrambling to assign roommate duties.
If you’re this person, you might want to consider keeping a log of who paid what and when (see the apps above). Remember, the golden rule here is to write everything down. (Also, congrats on being seen as the token “responsible one.” Have you considered keeping track of things with a budget calendar?)
Before anyone pays the bills, everyone pays
We’ve previously argued the importance of always getting proof that your roommates paid shared bills.
If you’re the one paying all the bills on time, you may find it’s easier to simply pay on your own and then collect from your roommates later. Unfortunately, you might be screwing yourself over if you remove all sense of urgency to get your roommates to pay you back. You could be living with highly ethical, financially secure people, but they still could be lazy and forgetful when it comes to paying you back.
Don’t trap yourself in the position of designated debt collector. Make things easier on everyone by setting a ground rule that bills only get paid once everyone turns in their share.
Money talk can get uncomfortable, especially when roommates have different incomes, upbringings, and attitudes toward personal finances. As with any potentially uncomfortable situation, direct communication is your best bet. A passive-aggressive post-it note will only create more tension. One way to avoid this is to always defer to written records (see above) or to schedule monthly roommate check-ins to go over the business of living with other people.
On a related note: There’s a good chance your roommate doesn’t have to be your BFF.
Establish expectations around bills before moving in
Before anyone gets their keys, make sure that all the roommates are on the same page about all the tips listed above. Make lists about who owns what, assign your designated bill-payer, and even consider drafting an official roommate agreement.
I know how uptight and over-the-top an official roommate agreement sounds, but this can be as simple as a shared Google doc where you all agree to pay rent on time. Then again, you could also introduce more concrete rules, e.g. if one roommate causes a bill to become late, then they’re responsible for eating the entire late fee. One awkward roommate agreement now could save you a much higher cost — interpersonally and financially — later on.
I adore my roommates, but there can be a lot of pitfalls to sharing expenses. Setting ground rules and keeping clear, open lines of communication has been a lifesaver for both my friendships and my wallet. If you’ve taken one thing away from this article: Write. Down. Everything. And if you’re tired of roommates entirely, well, here’s a state-by-state guide to how much money you need to live on your own.