The Awkward Money Conversations You Need To Have With Your Roommates, According To Experts
Living with roommates is a formative experience a lot of us go through, but it's not always an easy one. Especially as we get older and feel like we should be able to buy a place of our own but we're too busy buying avocado toast and drowning in student loan debt and a housing crisis to do it. So it's all the more important we create comfortable living situations at home.
Living with roommates is the smart — and only — option for a lot of us. You may want to branch out on your own, but it's not always realistic. It's definitely not for any of my friends. "When you're deciding where to live, try to keep your housing costs at 30 percent or less of your income, which will give you room to save for the future and pay down your student loans faster," Brianna McGurran, student loans and personal finance expert at NerdWallet, tells Bustle. "When you're in your 20s, any money you save for retirement, for instance, goes so much further than it would later on, thanks to compounding. So stick with roommates a little longer, or put off getting a second bedroom if you and your partner are apartment-hunting together. It's important to live in a place you love, but this decade is all about balancing your short-term needs with your long-term goals."
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But in order to make having roommates work for you, you need to have a financially equitable situation. And that means talking it out. Because many of us live with our friends, discussing the ins and outs of our financial situation can be really uncomfortable. Even with strangers, it can be awkward AF. Here's what you need to figure it out — and how to do it.
1. How The Bills Are Paid
It sounds obvious — and it should be — but I know friends who didn't pay their electric bill for six months because they each thought their roommate had covered it. There were a lot of late fees. It may be that you each pay for certain bills, or you can do it all joint. “Another common way to split expenses is to have a common account into which each side contributes a set amount,” life coach and former CFO Erica McCurdy tells Bustle. “This amount might be different if incomes are different. From this account the regular monthly bills are paid, anything extra rolls over. The excess at the end of the year is spent on something fun for the two of you to do."
2. When Someone Is Not Pulling Their Weight
So many of us have lived with a roommate who just isn't pulling their weight. What does that mean? It's simple. "Not being equitable about paying for your food they eat, supplies you buy for the apartment (toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies)," Priya Malani, co-founder of Stash Wealth tells Bustle. It seems like small stuff, but it adds up — especially if you're buying all of it. It's totally within your rights to ask them to pick things up at the store or even sit down and explain how much you're spending. It should be fair and square.
3. The Upgrade Talk
You know what's awkward? "Telling your roommate you want to upgrade the apartment or get your own place 'cause you're making more," Malani says. And talking about budget also comes up as soon as you decide to live together. It's awkward, so try not to ask outright what their budget is — for some reason talking about ranges rather than actual exact numbers can make people feel more comfortable.
4. When Someone Is Being Financially Inconsiderate
We all have different pet peeves when it comes to living with someone, but some of them cost you. "Leaving the AC on or lights on all day when no one is home," is one thing that Malani says is worth bringing up to your roomie. "Or if your roommate has friends over and their friends use up apartment supplies."
5. "Shared' Expenses" That Aren't So Shared
Sometimes, it seems like everything will be OK splitting things 50/50— until you realize they're not so even. "The most important thing to remember is that communication is key," Malani says. "If you guys have similar habits, creating a combined budget could work. For example with groceries, maybe you each put $15 towards weekly staples that would be shared like milk, eggs, bread, etc." It sounds simple — and sometimes it is. But not always. If one of you has a special diet, you need to make sure the other isn't footing the bill. "But then you can buy the rest of your speciality items separately. It can get especially tricky if one of you has dietary restrictions/preferences, gluten-free, paleo, etc."
Financial necessity means that a lot of us are living with roommates for longer and longer, which can be great. But it also means negotiating some tricky conversations. It may be uncomfortable, but it's your money. So planning upfront can save you a lot of trouble later.
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.