25 smart ways to split household expenses

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Having roommates can be a great way to reduce your monthly living expenses. It can also mean living in a bigger apartment or a nicer area than you could otherwise afford.

But negotiating finances with friends (or strangers) also comes with potential pitfalls, especially if you have roommates who don’t always pay what they owe, when they owe it.

Luckily, whether you already won the roommate lottery or are just trying to make the best of living with someone you barely know, figuring out how to share roommate expenses doesn’t have to be hard.

What follows are tips for splitting expenses with roommates so that everyone feels like things are fair in your household.

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These 25 strategies can help ensure that monthly expenses get divvied up fairly–and everyone is on the same page from the moment you first move in together.

Related: How to split bills with roommates

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1. Making Decisions Together

Whether you and a friend are moving in together for the first time or you already live together and you’re bringing in someone new, it can be very helpful if you decide as a group how you’re going to handle finances. You might consider having a meeting right away to establish how you’ll be splitting costs.

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2. Making a List of What You Both Own

Before moving in together, you and your roommates could make a list of what you both already own and can bring to the apartment for communal use. For example, if your roommate has a stand mixer and you have a nice collection of baking pans, that can be a useful combination. If you can contribute a couch, your roommate might be able to find a kitchen table.

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3. Figuring Out How You’ll Split Monthly Expenses

Many roommates find that part of sharing a household might mean sharing more than just rent and utility bills. You may want to consider sitting down with your roomies to figure out what monthly expenses beyond rent and utilities will be shared and how you will split up these costs. This may include cable, wifi, and any subscription services like video streaming.

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4. Splitting Costs Evenly…

Since it can be difficult to determine who used a certain amount of electricity or watched the most Netflix, it could make sense to simply split costs down the middle (or evenly among roommates). That can save a lot of time and energy and could be the most fair arrangement.

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5. …Or Splitting By Percentage of Use

If you or your roommate uses certain utilities or services significantly more than other members of the household, you might want to consider splitting by percentage of use. For instance, perhaps your roommate is a photographer and is always plugging in lights to take photos, and maybe you’re only home four days a week. A percentage is more complicated, but could be more fair.

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6. Deciding Who Will Pay the Bills

To streamline bill paying (and make sure no bills end up falling through the cracks), it can be wise to put one person in charge of actually paying the bills. You may want to designate that person from the get-go, and then everyone else can send this person the money before the bills are due every month.

Image Credit: Deposit Photos.

7. Keeping a Written Document of Expenses

Whether you split each cost evenly, or by a percentage of use, it can make sense to write down each person’s share of expenses and what they can roughly expect to pay each month—so no one is blindsided when it comes time to pay the bills.

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8. Figuring Out How to Divide Household Supplies

Once you have the details of the non-negotiable bills nailed down, you may want to next look at how you want to manage the cost of household supplies.

For example, while some roommates don’t mind toting their own roll of toilet paper into the bathroom, many find that it is easier and more economical to split the cost of a bulk package.

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9. Deciding Whether to Share Groceries

Even if you have different tastes in food and purchase the most of your groceries separately, you may find that sharing basics, like gallons of milk, coffee, and juice, even bags of rice or quinoa, may be more economical. If you cook meals together, you may want to go in on even more weekly groceries to help save money on food.

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10. Keeping Some Purchases Separate

Just because you plan to share a couch doesn’t mean you need to share the bill. While it may seem sensible to split the cost of furnishings and electronics for your rental, you may also want to consider what will happen when your lease is up.

Unless you and your roommates plan on selling everything when the time comes to move out (and splitting the proceeds), paying for things separately can make things simpler in the end.

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11. Establishing a Budget

If you and your roommate have agreed to buy groceries or other items together, you may also want to discuss a monthly budget before you start making household purchases.

You might be fine with generic toilet paper, while your roommate wants to spring for the expensive name-brand stuff. Getting on the same page about how much you’ll spend each month on communal items can help avoid money squabbles later.

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12. Finding an Easy Way to Track Expenses

You might give one roommate the responsibility for keeping track of your expenses and how much each roommate owes, as well as logging who paid what and when. They could do this on a spreadsheet or through an app. That way, each person will know exactly how much they owe, as well as what they’ve already paid.

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13. Deciding How You Will Pay Each Other

Gone are the days of writing checks or going to the ATM to reimburse roommates for rent and other expenses. With all the peer-to-peer money transfer options now available, you can quickly and easily pay each other without cash.

You may want to sit down with your roommates and decide which app you’re going to utilize, make sure everyone has it downloaded to their phones, and then use it to reimburse each other.

Image Credit: Depositphotos.

14. Drafting a Roommate Agreement

When you first move in with a roommate, or when another roommate is moving in, you might want to create a roommate agreement that is separate from the rental contract you have with your landlord.

The agreement could spell all the financials, such as how you will split costs, as well as some basic ground rules, such as parking and having guests over.

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15. Setting Consequences for Failure to Pay Your Share

Nobody wants to be the bad guy, but if a roommate isn’t paying their share of expenses, you may want to make sure that there are some consequences.

For instance, you could agree (and even include this in your “roommate agreement”) that if a roommate doesn’t pay the bills on time once, they would take on all the household chores until they can pay, and if they fail to pay a second time, they would need to to leave the rental.

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16. Making Late Payers Cover Late Fees

You may want to make it clear that If one roommate is late with their payment and, as a result, triggers a late fee or penalty, then that person would be responsible for paying those additional charges. (You may also want to make this rule clear in your “roommate agreement.”)

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17. Discussing Responsibility for Damage

It can be a good idea to also discuss who will be responsible for covering the cost of any unexpected expenses, such as damage to your rental.

You might agree (and put in your agreement), for example, that whoever is responsible for any damages must pay for them. That way, if your roommate’s dog chews up the door frame, it would be up to them to pay for the repairs.

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18. Splitting the Security Deposit

It often makes sense to have all the roommates contribute to the security deposit. That way, they will all be equally invested in keeping the place nice so that they get their portion of it back upon moving out.

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19. Sharing Expenses for Get-Togethers

Get-togethers like BBQs and Super Bowl parties can be great bonding experiences for roommates and their friends. When having one of these events, all the roommates can chip in so that the celebration is fun, as well as affordable.

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20. Having Monthly Meetings

Roommates that don’t communicate effectively can become resentful and end up disliking each other. By having monthly meetings to discuss finances and other issues, everyone has a chance to air their grievances and figure out solutions for problems going forward.

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21. Avoiding Passive-Aggressive Notes

It can be tough to live with roommates and deal with all their quirks, especially when it comes to money. But even if someone is late paying a bill or otherwise not doing their fair share, posting notes can end up creating hostility.

You may be able to resolve the situation more effectively by being direct and honest with each other either in a one-on-one or monthly roommate meeting.

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22. Not Laying Out Money for Bills Until Everyone Has Given Their Portion

If you are responsible for paying the bills, you may find that it’s easier to pay them with your money and then collect from your roommates later. However, this can put you in a bad position if your roommates take their time in paying you back.

Instead, you might want to set a rule that you will only pay the bills once your roommates have given you their share.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

23. Discussing Ways to Save Money

If utility bills or other shared expenses are on the high side, you may want to sit down with your roommates and talk about some ways to save money. You might decide, for example, to invest in energy-saving light bulbs you can turn off using an app or get rid of one or two streaming services.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

24. Finding Coupons Together

You can make saving money a group activity with your roommates. Every week, before you go shopping, you can all look for coupons to use at the store on sites like Coupons.com  and SmartSource.

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25. Choosing Responsible Roommates

When vetting potential roommates, it can be helpful to discuss some of the expense-sharing ideas listed here. If they are open and amenable to sharing expenses equitably, you should have very few issues when it comes to splitting costs.

You may also want to make sure any potential roomies have a steady income, good referrals, and a solid credit score, as this can indicate they tend to be responsible with money.

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The Takeaway

While roommates come with many benefits, sharing a space–and expenses–with other people isn’t always easy.

Being open about finances and setting some ground rules from the get-go, however, can help ensure that everyone contributes their fair share and all your bills get paid on time.

Using technology and smart money management resources can also make it easier to track and share expenses with your roommates.

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