Roommates come with many benefits. You might get the ability to rent a larger space, share cleaning duties or more easily find friends to watch a movie with. On the other hand, sharing a space with a roommate—or roommates—isn’t always easy. It can bring on some challenges, especially when it comes to money.
Planning ahead and using smart money management resources can make a difference. Here are some tips to help you split the bills and keep the peace.
1. Decide Which Bills You’ll Share and How You’ll Pay Them
How do you split bills with friends? Do so with a friendly but careful eye on the details. Just as your lease spells out every detail, consider working together with roommates to create ground rules or guidelines when splitting bills.
What should roommates share when it comes to bills? Start by discussing exactly which expenses you plan to share and which you will pay for individually. It makes sense to split the rent or utility bills, such as water or electricity. It might also make sense to split shared entertainment expenses, such as the cable bill.
But if your roommate simply must have the Starz or HBO package and you don’t care about those channels, ask them to cover the extra amount. Other bills you might keep to yourself can include cell phone service, separate data plans or different streaming subscriptions.
A major key to keeping the peace is ensuring bills are organized. Figure out when and how bills will be collected and split each month, how they will be paid and who is responsible for paying what amount. While this may sound obvious, too many times roommates wait until the last minute, causing stress, tension and possibly late bill payments.
2. Make a Cost Spreadsheet
Once ground rules and guidelines are created for paying the bills, make a spreadsheet outlining each expense you and your roommates must pay. Each expense should show details such as due dates, the amounts owed and the person responsible for paying. It may be wise to have a monthly meeting to discuss the bills and this spreadsheet. This ensures everyone is on the same page and no one is surprised by a bill when it’s time to pay.
It’s also a good idea to create a personal budget. That way you know exactly how much you can commit to when it comes to paying bills. Encourage your roommates to do the same. When everyone is attending to their own financial health, roommate bill sharing is easier.
3. Use Apps to Plan and Manage Payments
There’s always an app for that. When you have large expenses, such as rent or utilities, consider using an app that can help with the math and the payments. For example, free apps such as Venmo let you send money from a debit account to friends. The app also lets you request money, letting your roommates know that money is due. When you use these types of apps, you don’t have to worry about handling the bills once everyone has cash in hand.
Another great app is Splitwise. This app lets roommates—or anyone splitting bills—track bills, tally who paid and send reminders so you’re never late. If a cost spreadsheet is too old-school for you, consider using an app to make paying bills easier among you and your roommates.
While you’re looking for money management apps, consider downloading one to keep tabs on your personal budget. That way, you’re never the roommate that causes the bill sharing relationship to go sour.
4. Keep Some Purchases Separate
Just because you plan to share something doesn’t mean you need to split the bill for it. For example, unless you and your roommates plan on selling everything when the time comes to move out, consider buying furniture separately.
While it may sound logical to split furniture costs, what happens when your lease is up? Deciding who gets to keep what can be stressful and problematic. Consider making a list of furniture and electronics necessary for your place and figure out who will be responsible for each item while keeping your overall costs even.
Groceries may also be something you want to keep separate, especially if you and your roommate have very different tastes or diets. If you do decide to split groceries, consider using meal planning and grocery budgeting to ensure things stay as equal as possible and no one person is footing the bill for the other’s healthy appetite.
5. Choose Your Roommates Wisely
Obviously, you won’t want to live with someone who you’re going to constantly clean up after. You also won’t want to live with someone who will never pay their share of the bills. Doing so could end up hurting your credit, especially if they skip out and you can’t afford the rent on your own.
Before signing a lease with someone, you may want to request that they check their credit scores. You can do the same. That way, everyone knows where they stand and you know if your roommate is someone with a history of paying bills on time. You can get your credit scores for free on Credit.com.
It may be hard to know your future roommate’s habits, but meeting with them beforehand and devising a money management plan can go a long way toward reducing issues in the future. But since you can’t predict what will happen and emergencies do arise, consider starting your own high-interest savings account. Put money away each month so that if your roommates ever let you down, you’re not left holding a financial crisis you didn’t create.