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Roommate Economics: How to Handle Finances When Living with Others

Do you need a roommate? Housing is typically the biggest expense and having a roommate can soften the blow. Worried about sharing expenses? Follow these ideas on roommate economics to avoid financial problems that can harm you later on.

Follow ACCC's tips for smooth sailing.

Follow ACCC’s tips for smooth sailing..

Roommate Economics: How to Share Bills & Expenses

Roommate economics is an easy set of guidelines to help people live together a little more peacefully and responsibly than they may able able to do without such “rules.” Here are some things that should be discussed with any potential roommates BEFORE you move in together. This is key to avoiding as many financial disasters as possible.

What expenses can be shared?

Some things need to be shared, like utilities, cable, and Internet. One person can’t pay for an Internet connection or heat that the other person isn’t allowed to use. If that is attempted, you probably shouldn’t live with that person. Anything that is used by all should be split evenly. We suggest sitting down together to set up a budget.

What about big items, like TV’s, in roommate economics?

Here is something else that needs to be shared, but doesn’t have to be split.  For example, what if two people split the cost of a new TV, then one person moves out in a few months. Who keeps the TV? Does that person owe money to the other? Does the former roommate get TV visitation rights? The same thing goes for furniture or appliances. These items are used by everyone (presumably), but how do you split them? One idea is to break up the cost by item; One person buys a TV and another buys a sofa, etc. You can try to match up money spent so it’s close to even. If someone moves out, they take their items with them, and all is fair.

  • Caveat: When one person owns a shared item (like a sofa), there could be an issue if a roommate damages that item (like spilling a bowl of chili).  Maybe have a chat beforehand about respecting the items and responsibility for any damage.

How do you assign bedrooms?

In your home or apartment there might a big room and a small room. There may also be an instance where there are three people but only two bedrooms. How do you decide the rooming situation? Draw straws? Closer friends share a room?  One idea is to break up the cost in terms of space. Each room has a certain value, so two people can split the cost of one room if another roommate is willing to pay more for a private room. That way, it’s a conscious decision rather than chance or a forced solution. If no one wants to pay more, you can decide to split it evenly and just leave it up to chance by drawing straws or flipping coins.

Should we split the grocery bill?

Will you and your roommates shop together? Take turns shopping for everyone? Shop for yourselves only? I lean towards the idea of everyone taking care of themselves when it comes to food. Maybe you can split some bulk items, but it’s unlikely that everyone will want to split everything. Pitch in for bulk items that everyone will use, then pay for your own groceries beyond that.

  • Caveat: Ask for permission to take something that isn’t yours, and request that others do the same for you.

Any tips for paying the bills? 

Now comes the issue of actual payment. Who takes ownership of the account? Are you going to each write a check and mail them together? Will you open a shared checking account and all make deposits? Will one person make the payment, and everyone else can pay that person?  There’s no “best practice” for this issue. I like the idea of the account in one person’s name, that person manages the account (including payment), and all other roommates pay that person what they owe. You can split up each bill (as evenly as possible) and give each person the responsibility of that bill. However, this is where the future can be impacted.

  • Caveat: That bill with your name on it is YOUR responsibility. Make sure it gets paid on time and doesn’t get sent to a collection agency. That’s the point when it can negatively impact your credit score.

These decisions are all based on your relationship with your roommates and your personal preferences. Overall, just try to be reasonable and respectful of one another.  It can be difficult to remain “equal” in a shared environment without building up some resentment over the finances.

If you’re struggling to pay off debt, ACCC can help. Schedule a free credit counseling session with us today. 


Andi is a Marketing Assistant at ACCC. He is passionate about supporting financial literacy efforts and helping to educate people on the Talking Cents blog!

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