My Roommate Needs to Stop Eating My Groceries!

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Dear Farnoosh,

My roommate is mooching off my food! The other night I came home, looking forward to zapping my leftover Pad Thai for dinner, but sure enough, she’d gotten to it first. I know she’s been picking at my groceries, as well. What’s more, when her friends come over, she lets them grab whatever they want from the fridge—including my stuff.  I actually do like my roommate and consider her a friend, save this one annoying habit she has. How can I address this and not make things awkward between us?

Hungry Roommate

Oh, roommates.  In college we used to take a Sharpie and scribble our names on anything in the fridge that was hands-off to other roomies. No one was allowed near my frozen waffles! That strategy worked for us. But, I also lived in a house with four other people who were constantly in and out. It was just easier to be blatant and direct. No feelings got hurt. In the real world, living with just one other person—in this case a friend you want to keep—you may need to be more sensitive. You may have some pent up anger over your Pad Thai, but it’s no good attacking your roommate. After all, you never set any ground rules. As far as your roomie’s concerned, it’s total kitchen anarchy!

To alleviate the situation, have a mature, rational conversation. Here’s the play-by-play:

roommate-groceries

1. Propose a Savings Idea

During the workday, send an email to your roommate asking, “Are you around tonight? I was just talking to some co-workers and got some cool ideas on how we can better manage the food and groceries in the house and save money.” It’s a non-threatening and upbeat email, so she won’t be turned off. Who doesn’t want to save money?

Now you’ve set up the conversation to focus less on her mooching ways and more on how the both of you can save money together.

2. Have the Talk

That night, start your talk by explaining how you’ve been spending way more than your budget really allows for food.  Ask if that’s also the case with her. Chances are, she’ll agree. Then throw out the following savings ideas.

  • Shared Expenses: Tell her that since the two of you have been “sharing” so much lately, you should
    probably just split the costs of certain things like milk, eggs, bread, cereal, condiments and soda. Ask what she thinks.
  • Party/Friend Rules: Suggest that if either of you are having friends over, the host should either supply drinks and food separately for the friends or ask them to BYOB. Or, if they attack the fridge, kindly request that they ask before grabbing anything out of the fridge—in case it belongs to the otherroommate.
  • Mention Savings Tools: Tell her about the loyalty card from the grocery store and how it can save the two of you a little more each time you shop. There’s also the Grocery IQ, which you can download to your iPhone or iPod Touch. This application helps you find free coupons for items at the grocery store. This will re-emphasize that you’re interested in saving money not making her feel bad for incidents in the past.

3. Expect Rough Patches

From time to time, rules will be broken.  If she grabs one of your sodas or has some of your cereal, don’t sweat it. But if she heats up your leftovers, then be sure to say something as soon as you realize it’s missing. Ask her, “Hey, have you seen where that brown bag from Sushi Palace went?” She’ll be forced to own up to it and it’ll be a good lesson for next time. Then tie up the conversation by saying, “I’ll try to remember to let you know next time if I definitely want my leftovers…or just send me a text to find out.”

4. Pull Out the Sharpie for Prized Food

Lastly, if there’s really something you absolutely don’t want anyone to touch—like the slice of your mom’s homemade key lime pie that you carried all the way home on a Greyhound—pull out a Sharpie and label it “Tuesday’s Dessert. Love, Mom.”  Much classier than “Property of Jane.”

  • Anonymous

    Nice tips for dealing with this…nnI had a college roommate freshman year who was taking my food from my closet in our room and when I nicely asked her about it, she denied it. I moved my food (i.e. granola bars) to a different spot, and she must have found it, continuing to take it! She continued to deny it. Finally I moved it to my underwear drawer and she stopped taking it. It was very frustrating.nnLater, I shared a house with 2 roommates. We were generally under the understanding that we would just buy our own groceries; I think at some point we realized that we should share things like milk. So we’d take turns buying the next gallon of milk, the next package of toilet paper/paper towels, etc. We tried to separate our things by each having a shelf in the fridge. I was glad to not have any real conflict here as I tended to buy more produce and yogurt, cheese, and they bought more pre-prepared and frozen stuff. There was one episode where there was a misunderstanding: one roommate ate my Thanksgiving leftovers, thinking they belonged to the other roommate (who would have been ok with it). I was so bummed to lose my green bean casserole and baked sweet potatoes!!

  • Anonymous

    there’s always going to be SOMEthing that goes awry when you have roomies. But sounds like you are pretty diplomatic and a fine roommate to have. sorry about your casserole!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Orion-Evony/100001847691417 Orion Evony

    hey those are some great ideas.. Though i am opting for option #5 spike leftovers with either visine or exlax and make them pay for their treachery muwahaha 

  • Will

    Go to: http://www.kenoplastics.com, they have a variety of Food/Beverage Locking Devices.