This post is from guest author Melissa Davidson. You can find her on Twitter @madtris.
Getting a roommate isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. While it may seem like the best decision for your wallet, you could actually be harmed financially in the process if your roommates are terrible. You’ll want to avoid some notorious pitfalls along the way if you want to save money and your sanity. Most importantly, you always want to make sure you choose your roommates wisely by doing a roommate background check, and by working together with your housemates to figure out the finances up front to avoid conflict.
How to choose a roommate
In addition to running a background check, getting a credit report is also a good idea. Also, do they have a job and a good temperament? You want to be sure they are someone you can imagine yourself living with. Are they tidy and can you trust them? These are just a few things to ask to make your decision easier. Below are some pieces of advice on financial matters.
How to split rent
The simplest way would be to divide the rent based on square footage, amenities, and the number of people in each bedroom. There are actual rent calculators out there that help you determine who pays what.
According to Forbes, to get an accurate breakdown, you take the square footage of each bedroom, including the closet or en suite bathroom, and divide by the total square footage of the apartment. This gives you the percentage of space each room occupies. Then take each person’s percentage and apply it to the total cost.
However, there’s an even easier method that just takes into consideration the square footage of the bedrooms. You don’t need to consider the total space that includes the common areas of the house because each roommate has equal access to those areas.
Example from My First Apartment:
Total bedroom area = 500 sq.ft.
Monthly rent = $1,000
Room 1: 250 sq. ft. (includes closet and private bath) = 50% of area, rent $500
Room 2: 150 sq. ft. (includes closet)= 30% of the area, rent $300
Room 3: 100 sq. ft. (includes closet)= 20% 0f the area, rent $200
There are a number of ways to divide up rent, just make sure every roommate agrees upon the method of splitting, and make sure all renters are on the lease.
How to split utilities
Try to get all renters’ names on each account, if possible. If that’s not an option, collect all of the money up front before paying the actual bill. I once had a roommate who promised to pay me the $300 she owed. The outcome is predictable: She kept saying she’d pay, but never did. I didn’t have the money to cover the entire bill, it went to collections, and I was stuck with the whole thing. Come to find out, she had quite the history of delinquent accounts. Had I dug further into her past (and ran a background check), I’d have known this.
Basic utilities like water and electricity should be split equally. Is it really worth nickle and diming who uses the most? However, if a roommate is being frivolous with utility usage, such as leaving lights on or running the air conditioner all day and night, that warrants a conversation.
Other types of services or utilities could be negotiable, such as cable. Everyone should pay cash to the person whose name is on the bill and that person makes one payment on behalf of the group.
“When I lived with five other roommates under one roof, the best way of keeping track of who owed what was to create a chart each month and keep it on the fridge,” according to an article in Money Crashers. “It listed everyone’s name along with columns for rent and utility costs. As people paid, their names were crossed off. Everyone knew who had paid and who still owed – a great way of keeping everyone motivated to pay on time.”
Everyone needs to be on the same page before slapping up a chart on the fridge, though; no one wants to be caught off guard.
How to buy groceries
It’s probably easiest to each buy your own groceries and keep the food separately. If you all go to the store together, buy your own food and then split the other costs. You could split costs on staples such as milk, toilet paper, bread, butter, cleaning supplies, etc. and design a budget on how much you will each spend a month on these items. The key will be to communicate up front so there are no misunderstandings.
Just don’t eat your roommate’s food without asking. A lot of arguments can be prevented if you just show respect to your roommates and talk about groceries up front.
Use Rent Calculating Tools
Math isn’t everyone’s forte, so try using an online calculator. Some to try include, RoomieCalc.com, SplitWise.com, and Spliddit.com. Even if the space isn’t divided equally, tools can help manage everyone’s finances.
Living with a roommate (or multiple roommates) can be enjoyable, and a good way to save money, especially if you’re not financially in a position to invest in buying your own home. Just be prepared to resolve inevitable conflicts and divvy up necessary expenses, and your living arrangements will be that that much better.
Feature image: Bill Strain / Flickr