Updated: Mar 12, 2021
You're making the big move: You're leaving your parents' home, or maybe it's your college dorm room, and settling into an apartment with roommates. It's an exciting milestone. You may get your own bedroom, a chance to practice your cooking skills and possibly have fewer people sharing a single bathroom.
Another big positive: On- and off-campus apartments are usually cheaper per person than living in college dorms. One trade-off is that you'll now be responsible for sharing household expenses with roommates, but splitting costs can quickly spark arguments, if you're not careful.
Here are some ways to share expenses with your roommates so you make it through the year on friendly terms.
You should have a legal contract with your landlord, but you may want a written agreement with your roommates, too. Before you move in (or before you even agree to share an apartment), talk together about how you'll handle expenses. When you come up with solutions everyone likes, put them in writing. This agreement isn't legally binding, but it can help you prevent later arguments. It's much easier to make smart decisions ahead of time, when everyone is calm, rather than in the middle of a disagreement.
Some landlords will create completely separate rental contracts with each roommate or accept monthly rent payments from each individual. That's ideal. However, many landlords will only accept a single monthly payment from your group. In that case, decide ahead of time which roommate will make the official rent payment. Agree that the rent-payer won't make the monthly payment until all roommates have made their contributions. Consider requiring roommates to make their individual contributions up to a week before the actual payment due date, in case any roommates are late-payers.
Digital apps make it quick and simple to reimburse your roommates for your share of the rent, utilities and other household expenses. Some of these person-to-person payment apps are free while others charge a small fee. Another idea would be to create a "shared household expenses" checking or savings account into which you each deposit money in advance. You can also simply use cash or bank account transfers to pay each other.
Will each roommate buy groceries and cook independently? If so, you may want to assign refrigerator and cabinet space to each person so they can separate and label their own supplies. You'll need to decide if you are going to share basics, such as milk, butter and condiments. You might also consider non-food shared essentials, such as paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Will you split the cost of these staples every time you shop? Be sure to clarify what types of items count as shared household expenses and who has access to any shared funds.
Does one of you want the deluxe cable-TV package, while another roommate relies solely on streaming services? What if one roommate regularly increases your shared electrical bill by constantly running the air conditioner? Brainstorm compromises in advance. Some roommates may need to pay more for added services or increased usage, or you all agree in advance on rules for keeping costs low. As you did with other expenses, discuss if you will use a shared account or which roommate will be responsible for paying the bills on time.
It's tough to split costs on things like a couch or set of dishes. And who takes each item when you move out? Instead, buy bigger items separately. Keep a running list of each person's belongings or mark initials on items. Also, try to balance out how much each roommate spends on shared items. For instance, if one roommate brings all the kitchen utensils and pots and pans, perhaps another roommate can buy the vacuum or the kitchen table and chairs.
Decide whether you want to allow overnight or multi-night guests, and how to handle visitors. For instance, are they allowed to sleep in your common area, or must they bunk in the hosting roommate's room? And don't forget that visitors can cost money if they eat with you or share any supplies. To balance this, you might agree that a roommate who invites a visitor must share their own groceries with their friend or family member. The host roommate could also offer to pay for any food and supplies their guest used the next time they go to the store.
By talking about your shared household budget in advance, and deciding how to fairly divide and pay them, you and your roommates might save money on college living expenses. Better yet, you can keep your friendship on solid ground even after the apartment lease is up.