Talk It Out: Roommate Advice From Fabulous & Frugal

Talk It Out: Roommate Advice From Fabulous & Frugal

Anyone who has ever had a roommate will tell you the same thing: though great for saving money, it can also put your friendship to a serious test! We’ve seen perfectly sane people turn into Lifetime movie-worthy crazies because of a bad roommate situation. And it’s no surprise that one of the leading causes of roommate strife is money. Yes, it’s hard to live with other people—and even harder to agree on finances!

Depending on your budget and where you live, living alone may simply not be an option (hello Manhattanites!). So, what can you do to keep the peace?

The Bill Share App

Back when we lived with a roommate, this stuff didn’t exist. Our roommate took charge of organizing the bills, and wrote it all out in a charts on the kitchen counter (thank you roomie!). But today roommates have some high tech options to help them out when it comes splitting the bill! Our friends at LearnVest turned us on to the Bill Share program. Though it may seem a little impersonal to actually automate your shared expenses, we think it’s a fantastic idea. Bill Share takes the interpersonal arguments out of the equation and shows everyone what they owe in simple black and white!

Share & Share Alike?

Financial troubles can arise in ways other than just how the phone bill is split. What about food? Alice may not think anything of helping herself to Kate’s bananas—and Kate might not mind at first either. But the morning when Kate wakes up and finds all her bananas gone, she may start to go, well, a little bananas! It may seem like just an apple here and there, but remember: A little courtesy goes a long way. Our motto: Ask first, and replenish often! A $5 fruit investment now may save a lot of hurt feelings and resentment down the road.

What’s The 411?

Speaking of phone bills, make sure to discuss the ground rules for financial ‘extras’  such as 411 calls, long distance plans, internet, etc. Or maybe your roommate plans on only using her cell phone and won’t want to pay for traditional or cable phone service at all?

What’s on TV?

Aside from the phone, you also need to discuss the television. Decide up front if you’re going stream Hulu onto your own computers, or if someone wants premium cable services and the other does not. Split the bill accordingly. It is a big mistake to assume that just because you are addicted to Weeds, and want to order Showtime, that your roommate will want to pay for it as well. Always keep the lines of communication honest and open. If your roomie finds that she suddenly can’t get enough Nurse Jackie, it’s time for her to face facts and start splitting the entire bill with you.

The Name Game

Remember, once your name is on a bill or a lease, you are responsible for it! That’s why it is a good idea to split up whose name is on each bill. The collections department at the phone company will not want to listen to your sob story of how your roommate left you high and dry. So be aware, if your name is the only name on the bill, you are the one who is ultimately responsible for it!

If both of your names are not on the lease, and your crazy roommate ups and leaves with no notice, your landlord can still require that the rent paid in full! If the lease is in your name only and you are subletting out to another renter, make sure you get two months security deposit from them up front, just in case you need to cover unexpected expenses.

Get All The Dirt

Aside from it being wise to live with someone who shares your idea of cleanliness, there is also the cost of cleaning products or hiring a cleaning person. To start with, you need to be on the same page about whether you are both going to clean yourselves or hire help. Some people automatically assume a maid will be hired and then are shocked when the other person does not want to pay for the expense. If you both agree to clean, make an organized chart and checklist—who cleans the bathroom and when, etc.  And you must also discuss the cost of cleaning products! If one person insists on organic eco-friendly products and the other wants to buy all generics at the 99 cent store, you’ll be in for a financial issue!

Socio-Economic Similarity

It will help to live with someone who has a similar salary or perspective on money as you do. Though not always the case, it might not be the best match for someone who is just scraping by to co-habitat with a trust fund friend who thinks nothing of cranking up the A/C all summer long, no matter the price. The truth is, your richer friends will likely have different expectations of what they can and can’t do without. And those differences may be quite different from yours—particularly if  their parents foot the bill. Likewise, sometimes those who make less money feel like their wealthier roommates should pay more for things or pick up the tab once and a while. Unspoken expectations are never a healthy situation!


Does your potential roommate have a significant other? Does she have family or friends who visit frequently from out of town? Even if the answer is currently ‘no’, talk about what happens if one of you meets the love of your life. If someone extra ends up basically living at your place, what sort of financial contribution will that person be required to make? There is a financial burden to having an extra person always around—in addition to the privacy factor!

What Money Can’t Buy

At the end of the day, maybe the most important investment you can keep in any roommate situation is to always keep your sense of humor. We all do crazy things once in while, and sometimes a good dose of laughter really pays off!

Tell us in the comments: Share your craziest, silliest, worst, or best roommate stories with us! Have you never had a roommate? Why not?


Financial planning made simple.

Get your free financial assessment.

Related Tags

Get the latest in your inbox.

Subscription failed!

You're Now Subscribed!