How many times has this happened to you: You already bought the dish soap, paper towels, and a new sponge, but now you need toilet paper and your roommate comes back from the store without any, as usual. As great as it would be for everyone to gladly pay what they owe, unfortunately, you're bound to encounter people who are not so willing to pay their dues. When this happens with the person you're living with, it can be even harder to deal with. It can feel easier to just go buy it yourself and avoid the confrontation but then, a few weeks later, it happens again. While you might be worried that bringing up the problem can hurt your relationship with your roommate, the resentment you are building can be far more detrimental.
"Things can end up really catty between roommates when financial situations get strained," Erin Lowry, author of Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together, tells Bustle. "You don't want to be in the position to be hiding toilet paper in your room and carrying it to the bathroom because you refuse to let your roommate use that for which you paid."
While it may feel like you can let it go, odds are the frustration will continue to build up. "The truth is that most roomie money disputes come out of something feeling unfair. You either feel like you are paying more than you should or someone forgets to pay something they are supposed to," money coach Ashley Feinstein Gerstley tells Bustle. "I love the distinction between frugal and cheap. Being frugal only affects us while being cheap affects other people. Case in point why having a cheap roommate can be so frustrating!"
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Nothing about roommate issues is fun or easy, but below are steps you can take to deal with a cheap roommate.
1. Give Them Benefit Of The Doubt
"When there's a lot going on, it's easy for things to slip our minds," Feinstein Gerstley says. "It happens to me ALL the time. For example, let's say you are always the one to pick up toilet paper and paper towels for the apartment and it's starting to drive you nuts. There's actually a strong chance that your roommate might not even know that [they've] been dropping the ball on this."
Sometimes something may seem obvious to you while your roommate has no idea. While this lack of concern isn't necessarily great, take solace in the fact that they may not be ignoring their roommate responsibilities on purpose. Or it's possible that your roommate is aware but has a valid reason they weren't able to share.
"If you feel like your roommate isn’t pulling [their] weight, it’s possible [they have] money stressors you don’t know about," Beth Kobliner, author of Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties, tells Bustle. "Maybe [they're] sending cash to help out with a family emergency; maybe [they're] a freelancer who’s high and dry between gigs. Whatever the case might be, you need to talk it out before resentment kicks in and your relationship suffers irreparable harm."
2. Be Upfront
When you're straightforward, your roommate will have no choice but to hear what's bothering you about the financial situation. "You have to have the awkward conversation with a roommate who isn't carrying his or her weight. There's no good script or playbook for how to do this, but it's best to not come in attacking," Lowry says. "Ask your roommate why he or she isn't paying for their share. Best case scenario, they didn't even realize they were shorting you and quickly pay up. Worst case scenario, they admit to having a financial crisis and won't be sure when they can carry their weight again."
3. Give Them A Chance To Do Better
"Share what's bothering you," Feinstein Gerstley says. "It might come as a surprise and, in many cases, they'd be more than happy to adjust. I know I'm so grateful when people bring things to my attention! Be very specific. We all have irrational tendencies with money and people often underestimate what they owe for things. Group dinners are such a great example of this. When you're out to dinner with a group and you tell people to put in what they owe, you most always will come up short. It's often not that people are intending to short change you (literally) but that they just truly underestimate how much to include with shared items, tax, and tip."
Sometimes all it takes is you explaining what's bothering you for your roommate to shape up. Allow them the opportunity to provide their share of the money, and see how it goes.
4. Divide Each Bill Evenly
To ensure you are both paying for shared utilities, split each bill as it comes, as opposed to divvying who takes care of each bill. "Regardless of the reason your roomie is cheap, it makes it so much easier if you are super clear and specific about what each of you owes and for what," Feinstein Gerstley says. "Instead of having [them] take the electric bill and you take the cable bill, divide out exactly what each of you owes and send a monthly 'bill' via email or text. I think this is a great idea even if you don't have money issues because it's clear where your money is going and you don't have to keep a mental tally."
5. Cover Your Back
When you've already talked to your roommate but are noticing similar patterns keep happening again, it's time to make sure that you aren't going to get in trouble by fault of your roommate. "If the situation persists and your roommate isn't paying up, you will also want to start double checking the bills your roommate usually pays to be certain you're still in good standing and won't have electricity or gas shut off soon or, even worse, an eviction notice pasted on your door," Lowry says.
6. Consider Moving
When all else fails, and you find yourself hiding the toilet paper you bought, it's time to really think about if this is a situation you want to stay in long term. "At that point, it may be time to consider breaking your lease or certainly planning to move when your lease is up," says Lowry. "Do the math on the cost for moving and breaking a lease to determine if it's worth it for your sanity or if you can stick it out until it's cheaper to move."
Dealing with a cheap roommate is a difficult situation and might lead to some awkward conversations followed by — at its worst — a decision to potentially relocate. Know that you are not the only one in this situation, and that the best thing you can do is try to talk it out, no matter how difficult that may seem.
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.