Having a roommate can be fun, but can also have its not-so-fun moments. And when money is involved — like who pays for what — things can get complicated, and fast. Because, like it or not, even if you think you and your roommates will have no conflicts, especially finance-related ones, think again. Because even splitting costs with a roommate over things like toilet paper and garbage bags can be an issue.
"Have an honest conversation about what is shared and what is going to be a personal item," Erin Lowry, author of Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together, tells Bustle. "Are you grocery shopping and cooking together, or is everything in the fridge, down to the condiments and butter, each person's individual property? It's usually easier to split the cost of shared items, like toilet paper and paper towels. However, if your friend has a chronic guest over, such as a boyfriend who visits five nights a week, then maybe it's time for the semi-live-in person to start chipping in, too, or at least cooking dinner once a week for the house."
I don't know about you, but I wish I'd done the latter with some of my old roommates' significant others. But how should bigger-ticket expenses be managed? "Decide who is in charge of paying which bills and how to reimburse each other," says Lowry. "Venmo, Chase QuickPay, and PayPal make it incredibly easy to pay each other. Plus, it might be easier to have all the bills in one person's name and then just reimburse the other person instead of having a variable cost (like electric) in one roommate's name and a set cost (like Internet) in another's."
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So how do real-life roommates match up when asked how they split the toilet paper and other costs? Here's what millennial women had to say.
1. Lauren, 23
"For utilities and rent, we split everything right down the middle through lots of Venmo transactions. I handle the rent and my roommate handles electric/gas and WiFi. For the day-to-day necessities, it's really a case-by- case basis. If I notice that we're running low on toilet paper, I'll go out and buy a pack. If my roommate notices that we're having an ant problem (again) they will get the insect repellent. When it comes to food, we shop separately, but usually end up sharing snacks, condiments, wine, etc. However, with food it's pretty easy because neither of us really know how to cook... and splitting a seamless bill is way easier than going grocery shopping together, even if it definitely isn't cost-effective."
2. Rachel, 27
"Currently, I live with two other people, and I'm in charge of rent and bills. I pay everything, and then my roommates pay me back through Venmo. I keep track of bills in a Google Doc so my roommates are aware of all costs, when bills are due, and when they were actually paid. We usually split the cost of cleaning and household supplies (toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, etc.), or we take turns buying those items so it's not left up to one person. The only thing we don't split or share is food — we all have different tastes and different eating habits, so it doesn't make sense for us to share food."
3. Emma, 26
"With my current roommate, we split costs pretty evenly, though not exact. We split utilities straight down the middle. When it comes to shared items like toilet paper and paper towels, we just switch off buying and just remember who bought last. And then to simplify things, we don't share food or alcohol (but we're also roommates, not really friends, so we don't share that much in general)."
4. Peyton, 27
"My last roommate paid all of the bills (utilities, rent, etc.) via her bank account and I'd pay her via the Cash app. I prefer Cash over Venmo because Cash transfers funds typically within the same day, while Venmo takes a day or so to process. As for food and toilet paper, that we covered on our own. We had separate bathrooms, and we'd make our own meals. We're both relaxed people, so splitting costs was never a cause for concern. Prior to apps, I would just use PayPal or cash to reimburse my roommates."
5. Mackenzie, 28
"We have a pretty fluid way of splitting costs for things like food and other basic staples. When we go grocery shopping together, we split the bill, but we also go shopping separately and find that it tends to even out in the end. For example, I'll buy ingredients to make dinner one night and will text my roommates asking if they want to join for dinner. Usually, they'll offer to buy bread or dessert. And then the next time they are making dinner, they'll share. I tend to cook more often, but they know that and offer to pay for things like movies and snacks. If we ever feel like one person isn't paying their share, I'm sure we'd discuss it, but so far, that hasn't been an issue."
6. Ivy, 28
"I lived with a roommate for four years during my college years, and here's how we split costs: Rent: $550/month split in half; Food: $50-$75/week — we bought our own food, but always shared; Toiletries: $50/month — went shopping roughly once a month and split the cost for toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, dish soap, etc.; Internet: $50/month — split in half; and Heating/Electric/Water Bill: $100/month — split in half."
7. Danielle, 26
"My roommate and I are pretty good about splitting everything halfway. If we both use it, we both pay for it. We divide all of our bills in half, and take turns buying toilet paper, paper towels, and any other essentials. We both eat different things on our own schedules, so we are on our own for food and both buy our own groceries."
8. Meg, 33
"I have two roommates and we're each in charge of different bills. I pay rent (then they Chase me their shares; we each pay different amounts based on room size), another pays WiFi (and we Chase her), and another pays the other bills, like utilities (and, yep, we Chase her!). Food-wise, we *tried* to buy communal groceries, but that lasted a week or two — we have really different tastes, and one person would late-night binge on the other two people's food! So we learned that was a bad idea and now buy our own food and drinks. Of course, if one of us grabs a bottle of wine, we'll share it with the other two, NBD and no Chase-paying each other in that case! As for smaller items, each person is responsible for getting basics once a month, like toilet paper, Kleenex, and so on. So far, the division of costs all works well!"
9. Molly, 27
"We usually split up costs evenly through Venmo. I pay the electric and gas and my other roommate pays Internet, so since those bills come through around the same time monthly, I'll subtract the Internet cost from what she owes me (usually around $50 each). Occasionally, one of us will do a big shop on Amazon Prime for TP etc.; otherwise, if we notice we're out of something small (like dish soap), we'll just pick it up, and someone else gets it the next time."
10. Laura, 25
"Basically, we use apps! I live with three guys and we use the app Acasa. It's really useful! When we buy something for the house (toilet rolls, takeaway, Pepsi, rental fees, etc.), we put it on Acasa, tell it who's involved in paying and if it's split evenly, and the app works out who owes who in the most logical way. We tend to buy each other a lot of stuff, like gig tickets and food, as it's easier than doing things separately, or we do so because we often benefit from group discounts, etc."
11. Tanya, 27
"Venmo is my best friend when it comes to expenses. One person (me), handles all household utility expenses when it comes to the bills. At the beginning of each month, I send a text to our Roomie group message with the total monthly cost for utilities (gas, water, Internet). Utilities usually come out to $70 per person, between three people. They also Venmo me monthly for rent and I deposit a check into our landlord’s bank account. My other roommate is in charge of household items, such as toilet paper, dish soap, paper towels, etc. He does a monthly Costco trip and we all split the cost of the household items through Venmo. It usually comes out to $10 per person."
12. Ginny, 29
"I learned early on that you HAVE TO communicate about money matters at home, so that one person doesn't feel they're paying more than the other. I had one roommate give me an Excel sheet for every little thing she overspent on, and some items were *ridiculous* (in my opinion). So if you share expenses, like food, make sure it's balanced (not you eating all the chips and her eating all the bananas). Ever since that experience, my current roommate and I pay each other *immediately* through Chase (we tried PayPal, but PayPal takes a few days to go through, so Chase is better since it's instant and we both have Chase accounts, obvs!)."
13. Michelle, 30
"We all buy our own food and then we trade off who buys toilet paper, detergent, garbage bags, and other cleaning supplies — and we're definitely good about following through with it without having to remind each other. If we have a party at our apartment and buy food and drinks, we just Venmo each other even if it's a small amount just so we're all on the same page."
As you can see, most people above use apps to help them manage their living costs with roommates. With so many efficient money-splitting apps out there, why not? After all, talking about money is hard enough, so having an app do the talking for you is another win.
Fellow Millennial Lauren Zangardi Haynes, 33, CFP(r) and CIMA (Certified Investment Management Analyst) at Evolution Advisers, has some final input to keep in mind when managing money with roommates. "Perhaps the key point roommates need to remember is to be willing to talk openly about money," she says. "Culturally, this is not easy, and people frequently feel embarrassed talking about money — whether you make a lot of money or are barely scraping by. Unfortunately, if we don't have these hard conversations about what we can and can't afford or where our financial values lie, it can lead to a lot of stress and frustration."
OK, so as with other things in life, communication is key to keeping roommate money issues in check. Now that you've seen how the women above handle roommate expenses, hopefully you're more motivated to assess how you and your roommate(s) handle them, too.
Psst! Download CNBC Make It x Bustle's roommate contract and never fight over things like whose turn it is to buy toilet paper ever again.