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House Rules: How Should Roommates Share Expenses?

Learn how to discuss who pays for what.

Roommates sit on couch going over rent expenses.
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You’re moving in with your best friend, someone from work, or even a stranger you met through an online ad. The rent fits into your budget, and the place you’ll be sharing is close to everything.

There are a few financial matters you may want to settle before move-in day, however: Your monthly expenses include more than rent—think of utilities, food, and household necessities. Hammering out who will bear what costs before you move in together could avoid conflict down the road.

How to settle the rent question.

Whether you and friends find a place to move in together or a new person joins an established home, it’s always wise to sit down to discuss how you’ll share expenses. Start by formalizing the rent each party will pay. Will you divide the rent in half or equally among the number of occupants, or will you take amenities into account when determining the rent?

For example, does the property have a master bedroom that is substantially larger, or another bedroom with an en suite bathroom? You might agree the person occupying such a room could pay a bit more than half the rent, leaving someone in a smaller bedroom to pay less.

Also be sure to discuss: Who is responsible for paying the rent to the property owner each month? What are repercussions if rent is not paid on time? All of these are questions to understand ahead of time.

Discuss utilities and extras.

A generation ago, when we used the term “utilities,” we meant just that: electricity, water, gas, cable television and telephone. With landlines becoming less prevalent and each roommate likely having a cellphone, you probably can cross telephone off the list and agree to split the others evenly. There’s no easy way to determine how many gallons of water or kilowatt hours of electricity each person uses.

What about cable TV, though? Roommates now likely will discuss whether they want cable in every bedroom or if they want to pay for a la carte services, such as Netflix, Hulu or YouTube TV. It’s best to decide, in advance, if you’ll pay for the television options on your own or if you’ll share those bills.

Internet service is something roommates probably can agree to share equally; it’s basically a necessity nowadays. But what about the non-necessities? Do you need a housekeeper weekly or maybe a gardener if the landlord doesn’t provide lawn care? Discuss and decided on these expenses ahead of time. Roommates frequently agree to divide household duties instead of hiring someone to do them. You, for instance, might clean common areas and the bathroom once a week while your roommate mows during the summer and shovels the sidewalk in the winter.

Agree on food and household necessities.

You shop the sales and are excited when rice is on sale for “buy one box, get one free.” Your roommate, on the other hand, prefers organic couscous. If that’s the case, if you shop together, do it with separate carts and separate bills.

But what about things you buy at the grocery store that are household basics, such as laundry detergent, paper towels, dishwashing liquid or toilet paper, that each roommate uses on a daily basis? It probably doesn’t make sense to have “John’s paper towels” and “Mary’s paper towels” when it comes to shared items.

Consider making a list of these common items and assigning them to one roommate one month, with the other buying them the next. Or one roommate could agree to provide bathroom products while the other pays for goods used in the kitchen.

Also keep in mind that some items are a great value purchased in bulk at a warehouse club. Why not make one trip a month and split the bill in half?

Clarify pet-related expenses and/or damages.

When your friend moves in, you agree to let his dog move in as well. As much as you might like Spike, you don’t want to be responsible for the extra costs Spike might bring to the party.

Is the security deposit higher because Spike will live there, too? If the apartment complex charges a non-pet owner a $1,500 security deposit but the cost is $1,750 for a pet, the two could agree to pay the first $1,500 in half with Spike’s owner paying the rest.

Write an agreement, and sign it in front of a notary public, agreeing that Spike’s owner will pay for any fine assessed for pet-related damages. That way, there will be no gray area about your agreement.

The bottom line.

Roommates can live harmoniously if they agree to financial issues upfront or confront how to share unexpected costs as they occur. Communication is the key to a successful roommate relationship.

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CUNA 2023 diamond award trophy icon

CUNA 2023 Diamond Award Winner

Financial Education

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