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Budgeting / Living

How To Split Living Costs With Your Roommates — & Not Hate Each Other

By Wednesday, October 21, 2020

For most of us, 2020 has been financially straining. With over 50 million Americans having filed for unemployment since March, and the current unemployment rate sitting at about 8%, it’s no secret that this year has been tough on the wallet. 

If your income has been affected by the pandemic, this is a great time to consider splitting expenses, and roommates can help drastically lessen the financial strain. From dividing the high cost of rent to splitting assorted bills (utilities, groceries, etc.), sharing a space does have its perks.  Not to mention, living alone — especially while single – is not only costly, but the toll on one’s mental health that comes with long stretches of isolation (especially during a quarantine), can be a lot.

In short, I don’t see myself doing it anytime soon.

Fortunately, I’m lucky enough that I not only have an affordable room in a shared house, but I also have two roommates who are willing to split the cost of all expenses — food included. This keeps my cost of living relatively low, and it’s also just nice. I love living in a family-style way where we cook for one another (or together!), take turns grocery shopping, and decrease the amount of food waste we produce too. Especially right now, lessening all possible burdens in my life is a priority, plus living communally just makes me feel good.

That being said, while my living situation is pretty idea majority of the time, I’m also aware of the conflicts that often arise as a result of intertwining your space and your money. Roommate disagreements are pretty much inevitable, and with many of us spending most of our time at home right now, tensions can heighten quicker than ever. That’s why it’s important to set up systems when sharing costs with housemates, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. Whether you’re looking to start splitting expenses with your current roomies or establish some boundaries with new ones, here’s how to have a clear line of communication and divide your costs fairly.

Talk It Out

Communication is key in all relationships, not just romantic ones. At TFD, we definitely believe that you should talk about money. While this may be uncomfortable at first, it gets easier the more you do it. 

When deciding to split costs with your roommates, I recommend having an initial house meeting. During this discussion, you’ll want to cover the following:

  • A list of all expenses: Go through each bill and expense, and write them down in a document that everyone can refer to, in the event that there is any confusion later. Also, it’s great for record-keeping too!
  • Your fixed costs: Some expenses will be consistent, such as the internet bill for example. You can take this chance to make note of those, and when they will be incurred (monthly, bi-weekly, etc.) 
  • Discuss your rent: Is there a huge difference in the room sizes in your house or apartment? If so, you might want to adjust your contributions accordingly. I’ve lived in houses where we all pay the same no price matter what, and others where the person with the larger room pays more in rent than those with smaller rooms. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do this, but a transparent discussion will ensure everyone is comfortable and treated fairly.
  • Your respective budgets: If you are splitting groceries with your roommates, you should absolutely communicate your budgets beforehand. While one of you might be willing to spend $200 a week on food, the other may only want to spend $60. Make sure you come to an understanding of this if you are going to move forward with splitting groceries. There might be alternative solutions too, like maybe the person with a higher budget can purchase extra food just for themselves. If you can’t agree, maybe this is not something you can split (and that’s okay too!)

Decide On A System

Once you’ve decided on how you’ll be splitting your costs, consider how exactly you’ll track your expenses. This can be a pain to keep up with, but luckily there is technology that can help you and your housemates separate costs painlessly. Here are a few options: 

  • Use an app: Not a math lover? Me neither. I typically opt for automated calculations where possible, and financial apps make this possible. My roommates and I use Splitwise it’s super easy to use, and it’s free! All of our OUIs are consolidated in one place, and it allows us to keep a running tab of who-owes-who money. We also like the ‘Simplify Debts’ feature, which, according to Splitwise, “restructures debt within groups and across friendships. It does not change the total amount that anyone owes, but it makes it easier to pay people back by minimizing the total number of payments.” 
  • Share a spreadsheet: If you’re someone that likes flexibility, the spreadsheet option may be for you. Of course, while a spreadsheet is completely customizable and you can tailor it to your exact needs, you’ll need a little patience and dedication, especially when inputting Excel formulas to automate totals. Luckily, we’ve written some tips on how to make spreadsheets be your friend both here and here

Discuss Timing 

And alas, the final step to achieving financial harmony amongst roomies is deciding when you’ll all settle up. For example, if you pay your rent at the end of the month, this might also be a good time to clear up any debt. Either way, ensure you and your roommates have agreed on when you will do this, so you don’t end up owing an unexpected amount in three months. I’d also encourage each person involved to input expenses in an ongoing way; it’s in everyone’s best interest that there are no surprises. 

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Do you share expenses with roommates, or maybe a partner? How do you organize your expenses and avoid conflict? Let us know in the comments!

Ashley is a freelance writer and on-going contributor at TFD based in Toronto. An avid traveler, she recently returned home to Canada after two years living abroad in Vietnam and Japan. She loves to read, try new things in the kitchen and get outside. You can learn more about her work here and can follow her adventures on Instagram @ashley_corb

Image via Unsplash

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