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How to split expenses with a roommate

Living with a roommate can have its upsides — such as built-in company for when you feel like socializing and someone who can share expenses and chores. But there are tricky aspects to living with someone, too, from differing ideas about noise and cleanliness to cost sharing.

Splitting the rent is usually pretty straightforward, but things can get complicated when you factor in expenses like cable, streaming subscriptions, and food. 

Here’s how to make dividing up expenses with a roommate much simpler.

Smiling friends standing by kitchen island at home
(Photo: Getty Creative)

Make a plan

Instead of leaving things unspoken or unwritten, it’s a good idea for roommates to make a spreadsheet of all shared expenses. Include when those expenses need to be paid, who will pay them, how much each person will owe, and how you will pay your share. It’s helpful to have one person primarily in charge of making sure the rent or a specific bill gets paid, so things don’t slip through the cracks.

Once you have your spreadsheet, you can use helpful apps like Splitwise or Settle Up to track and split up expenses and pay expenses.

“Apps like Splitwise let you form house groups, input expenses, and split them equally or unequally amongst certain people in the house through Venmo,” said Jenny Feinberg, chief marketing officer for residential rental marketplace, Dwellsy.

Aside from using an app and an expense spreadsheet, you might also want to create a roommate agreement. The agreement should outline everyone’s responsibilities and expectations for how you will live together. You can include everything from how you will split the bills to rules around house guests and chores.

“This way, if there’s any lack of clarity around who pays or does what, you can refer back to your agreement,” Feinberg said.

Figuring out the details

Happy roommates moving home resting and talking
(Photo: Getty Creative)

There is no one-size-fits-all plan for how to split expenses, but there are some good starting points for how to handle the expenses that roommates typically share.

Rent: Whether you simply split the rent into equal parts depends on your situation. It’s not uncommon for one roommate to pay a higher share of the rent if he or she has a larger bedroom or a private bathroom. 

“Lots of people split up the rent or even utilities by square footage. This also makes it easier for friends with different budgets to live together,” Feinberg said. If you’re splitting the rent unequally, make sure you have that in writing ahead of time.

Basic utilities: Utilities like trash removal, heat, electricity, and water should always be shared if they’re not included in the rent. 

“These are things that everyone will use and can be very difficult to split up by individual usage,” Feinberg said.

Cable, internet and streaming services: If everyone in the house is using the cable and internet, they should split the costs. But make sure you agree ahead of time on the package you’re signing up for. You might also want to split the cost of, say a Netflix account, instead of everyone having their own. But with so many streaming options, it might eventually be easier for everyone to go solo. 

If you do share a streaming service, one person should be the main account holder and that’s the person who should pay the bill, Feinberg said.

(Photo: Getty Creative)
(Photo: Getty Creative)

Food: Avoid the food fights and keep your grocery expenses separate. That being said, it doesn’t make sense to have two bottles of all your condiments or to double down on all your spices. Come up with a plan for how you will share and replace pantry and fridge staples like condiments, cooking oils, and spices. 

Consider keeping a running list on a whiteboard in the kitchen to jot down when you’re running low on these staples. You can also designate one person, or split the role, as the designated shopper to replace those items and ask for reimbursement.

Shared staples: Similar to shared food staples, there are certain household supplies like toilet paper and cleaning products that everyone uses. These expenses should be shared. The easiest way again might be to keep an easily visible list of low-stock items and choose one person to be the household re-stocker.

Furniture: If your couch sinks to a new, unacceptable low, you might need to buy a new one. If you don’t see yourself living with your roommate long term, your best bet is probably to buy something affordable and functional and split the purchase. When you go your separate ways, one person can buy the other out on the couch price or you can equally divide up shared furniture/gadgets.

Creating the expense plan is the hardest part, but don’t forget to talk about your cost-sharing situation every now and again to make sure it’s still working for you.

“It’s a mistake to assume that the amount of expenses everyone pays for the first month will be the same for the entire lease,” Feinberg said. “People and their lifestyles and incomes change, so their expenses will, too. During house meetings, check in occasionally to make sure that the expenses are being split in a way that is fair to everyone involved.”

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