Managing Bills While Sharing with Roommates

At some point during your college experience or even after you’ve graduated from school, you’ll probably spend a couple of years living with roommates and managing bills as a group.

Once you move into an apartment, you’ll be responsible for paying rent and depending on the apartment, electricity, gas, internet, garbage, parking, etc. as well. These are all fairly common expenses that come with living in an apartment, and learning how to manage these utilities and services with a group of roommates can be both helpful and frustrating at times. We’ve put together a list of things to consider as you all split the cost and pay your bills as a group.

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communication seems to be the key in practically all relationships. Oftentimes, when there’s a misunderstanding, it’s because of unmet expectations. When it comes to sharing the cost of an apartment, it’s a good idea to come together and communicate clearly about expectations. Call a “mandatory” meeting where all roommates are present, and discuss who will be in charge of what. Will one person be paying all the bills and then the other roommates all send their portion of the money to that individual? Will you split up who pays for what? Will you pay each other with checks or transfer money from your bank account? Do you all need to pay each other by a certain date? What happens if a payment is late?

This is the time to ask questions, and everyone should have a chance to voice their opinion about how things go. Once you’ve hashed out all the details, write down what you agreed upon and have everyone sign at the bottom. That way, when disagreements come up in the future about how to handle things, everyone can refer to your “official” document for specifics.

2. Talk about other expenses you’ll share

Another element of living together that people often forget to discuss is what products everyone will share and chip in to purchase. How often will you each buy toilet paper and paper towels? What about cleaning supplies and other things like lightbulbs, soap, and laundry detergent. Will you all share baking supplies? Milk? Butter? Some roommates like to keep all their food separate to avoid any confusion, while other roommates are perfectly happy sharing just about everything. It’s a good idea to talk about specifics when you’re discussing these shared items. For instance, having a general rule about how much toilet paper each person is expected to buy when it’s his or her turn can save everyone from feeling frustrated when Joe comes home with a six-pack, while everyone else has been buying double or triple that amount.

3. Will anyone pay less or more? 

Depending on your apartment, some roommates may pay less than others due to specific circumstances. For instance, if one roommate has a much smaller room than everyone else, he or she might be expected to pay a bit less than the other roommates. Or maybe one of the rooms has a walk-out balcony attached—that person will probably pay a bit more for the extra space and access to the balcony.

Other things to consider is how you will split closet and cupboard space and even options like parking. If you have to pay individually for parking spaces, this won’t be an issue, but if you’re all renting a house together or another type of living situation where driveway or garage space is a hot commodity, you might want to consider if someone will pay more for the privilege of excellent parking.

4. Have some grace

Living in community is a blessing, but it can also mean a lot of frustration—especially if someone doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain. There’s certainly a line between having grace and enabling, but to the best of your ability, try and show your roommates some grace and love when they mess up and don’t fulfill their end of the bargain. Yes, you need to use discernment with this: it doesn’t mean one roommate is allowed a free pass to never pay his or her bills on time. But it does mean that everyone treats each other with respect and love.