Roommates and finances: how to split the bills

A few ways to divide shared responsibilities between roommates.

According to a survey by PwC, 23 percent of participants admitted that personal relationships were affected by financial stress. Living with a roommate is a necessity for many, yet can be a difficult prospect. When the topic of splitting bills is added, the situation has the potential to become toxic. Follow a few simple tips to keep your living space healthy.

Decide which bills will be split

Rent is the main category, but have a discussion about other shared costs such as utility bills (water and electric), furniture (couches or television) and food. A great tool to review categories is the Consumer’s Almanac. It will help you decide not only which bills to split, but also the due dates for each.

Write everything down

This includes due dates, amounts owed and all other financial responsibilities. Never assume that a person’s word should be trusted—especially when things have the potential to become discordant.

Communication is key

Be clear and direct about all situations. Avoid passive aggressive statements as they may cause tension without resolving the underlying issue. A great tool to have at your disposal is the “I-message.” Use the “I-message” to when having a conversation about finances, to prevent emotion from over-riding the discussion.

Keep in mind the following steps to generate a healthy conversation about money issues:

  • Find the real problem

  • Talk only about the problem itself
  • Face the problem
  • Brainstorm and talk about options
  • Agree on a plan
  • Support the plan
  • And keep talking

Lastly, review the Roommate Agreement in the Tenant and Landlord guidebook (page 38). It is a great guide to use in conjunction with the “I-message.” Using these tips will help you maintain a great relationship when living with someone. Michigan State University Extension’s Financial and Homeownership Education team offers classes and one-on-one appointments. The pointers and tools mentioned in this article are discussed in great length in these classes. Check out our list of events for webinars and classes at a location near you.

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