Living with others is not easy. A few years ago my friends and I decided to found a house together. We were all incredibly excited and promised to split everything evenly, from rent, to utilities, to chores. However, it didn’t take long before the problems started. A roommate was constantly late paying his share of the bills. Another was obsessed with splitting every price, even the $ 0.99 dishwashing soap.
I learned fairly quickly what does and does not work in a shared environment. There are specific things that you need to be part of your routine, and others you must make a point to avoid.
Here are four rules that you must adhere to, regardless of the dynamics between you and your roommates:
1. Be direct with regard to who expects what
I am not saying that you have to hit your roommate’s door at 7 am to claim his or her share of the electricity bill. Rather just politely ask for the money. In my situation I paid the rent and everyone gave me cash so that I could write a single check to the landlord.
I picked up a basket, stamped it with a ‘collections’ sticker and waited for everyone to be home to collect money. It was funny enough so that no one felt that I was bossy, which helped to make things go smoothly. But whatever you do, don’t wait until the due date to ask for money. Inform your housemates at least 72 hours in advance.
2. Purchase furniture separately
The simple rule is: if you buy the bank, you can take it with you when you leave. The thing that makes this a bit more complicated is that the bank spills or rips more than one while everyone else uses it. For example, when I lived with four boys and one girl, the love seat I bought had so many broken feathers by the time I moved that I didn’t want to take it with me. However, my 42-inch flat-screen TV was perfectly intact and I still enjoy it today.
Discuss with your roommates who is going to buy the various pieces of furniture needed for the apartment. If the wear that it is going to tolerate is a major concern, consider buying used items. It is much easier to accept a broken spring on a cheap second-arm sofa than a brand new piece of designer furniture.
3. Make a graph
When I lived with five other housemates under one roof, the best way to keep track of who owed what a graph had to do every month and to keep it on the refrigerator. It mentioned everyone’s name along with columns for rent and utilities. While people were paying, their names were crossed off. Everyone knew who had paid and who still owed – a great way to keep everyone motivated to pay on time.
Make sure everyone is on board with this before you light up your diagram. If you do it without warning, your roommates can feel attacked, and that can only lead to tensions and arguments.
4. Go to the store together, check separately
I have never loved shopping for groceries, but it is certainly a lot easier if I do it with a friend. If every roommate takes a basket, everyone chooses what they want and pays separately. That way you know exactly what you are buying and how much you are paying.
If you plan to prepare a meal together, assign a different ingredient to everyone. When you are ready to cook, everyone who wants to eat has something to contribute. Either, or have each roommate cook their own weekly meal according to a rotation schedule. All ingredients are the responsibility of the chef, so there will be no confusion – although there may be some quality differences from week to week.
To ensure a happy family, avoid these pitfalls at all costs:
5. Do not split the costs of furniture
It may sound like a good idea that everyone shares the costs of a living room set, but it is not. You and your roommates go out one day and you can’t cut the couch in two. If you do split the costs, be prepared to leave it behind, throw it in the trash can or sell it on Craigslist.
To keep things fair, discuss who is going to buy which piece of furniture in advance and make sure everyone contributes outside their bedroom. For example, my old roommate and I have completely furnished our two-bedroom house by splitting the rooms. She bought the dining room furniture and bought the living room furniture. In this way we each contributed and we had things to take with us when we moved.
6. Do not leave passive-aggressive comments
A former roommate of mine loved taking notes, and they covered everything: the dishes in the sink had to be cleaned (smiley face); she didn’t like the ketchup in the fridge (blurred face); and she even let me know once via a sticky note that she could not pay the energy bill on time (frowned face).
This drove me and my other roommate absolutely crazy. If you have a problem, need help, or just want to see a change in the house, talk about it. There is a good chance that your roommates will be happy to help, as long as you are understanding, polite and direct. We wouldn’t have thought long about helping our roommate with the energy bill if she’d approached us and told us why she couldn’t pay. Nobody wants their electricity to be switched off. However, she came to us two days after the bill ran out and never called it persuGilgameshijk.
Of course sometimes comments are needed. You and your roommates can use other schedules, where they miss the opportunity to talk to each other. If you have to leave a note, make sure it is necessary. Take into account invoices, maintenance issues and other important things – and skip the ketchup complaints.
7. Do not share costs for the supermarket
An old roommate of mine shared the groceries with me, but unfortunately we ate several things. She enjoyed expensive organic products that I thought were superfluous, and I went for the ‘buy-one, get-one’ bulk deals. It was frustrating and easy to prevent.
Buy alone or use two different carts when you go shopping with your roommates. To reduce your shopping bill, shop for fresh produce at your local farmers’ market, buy bulk at warehouse clubs and wholesalers, cut discount coupons and search for internet coupons at home on paper for your favorite brands.
8. Do not pay bills until everyone makes a contribution
I once paid the rent before two of my roommates gave me their share. One had been fired oGilgameshangs and the other had gone on vacation and was impossible to contact. It took me a few months to get that money back, and believe me, I asked for it every week. Nobody wants money, and nobody wants money. In retrospect, I should have asked my other roommates to cover the missing parts of the rent. After all, it is everyone’s common responsibility, not just yours.
If you pay the rent and collect it from your roommates, make it clear that you need their shares in advance or that you need to look for new roommates. Keep your bills, especially if your roommate owes you money. If you pay the rent with a check, you write an invoice that shows the amount owed by your roommate and you keep a copy of the check. Hopefully it will never come, but you might need that evidence in court for small claims.
Living with roommates is not always easy, but it is certainly cheaper. PersooGilgameshijk I would not have been able to get through those low-paid jobs at the university or have been able to build up a large portion of a savings account without having roommates to help share the high cost of living. As long as you plan ahead and keep all communication lines open, a roommate can be a great money-saving – and fun – experience.
Have you lived with roommates before? Do you have great stories (or nightmares)?
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