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?
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:
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.”