Tips on Sharing Expenses with a Roommate

With our college days firmly behind us, many of my friends are moving from rowdy, shared houses to quiet apartments of their own. But I’ve lived with roommates since my dorm days and at this point in my life, wouldn’t have it any other way. Who else would sit with me through three-hour marathons of The Bachelor or help bake a late-night batch of brownies on a random weeknight?

Yet, living with roommates has its challenges. While I love my roommate like a sister, it can be difficult to get all our bills paid on time. Here’s how we keep track of our shared expenses:

Decide how to split the bills

The day I moved in with my roommate, we had a “family meeting” to discuss our arrangement for bills and other expenses. My roommate, who already lived in the apartment, had most of the utilities in her name from the previous year. I let her know I was willing to take some of them over, but we decided it would be easiest for her to handle all of the utility bills (which includes electricity, gas, cable and Internet) and for me to reimburse her for my half. Then, we spelled out our plan on a roommate agreement I found online, and both us signed it. This might explain why we haven’t had a single argument about our bills (fingers crossed).

When my roommate receives our bills each month, she writes the total amount I owe her on a dry-erase board on our fridge. That way, I’m reminded of exactly what I need to pay every time I reach for a carton of milk!

To take some of the burden off my roomie, I’m in charge of paying our rent. Just before we moved into our place, one of my co-workers turned me onto Splitwise, a site that allows you to track shared expenses with your roommates and friends. If you supply your roommate’s email address, it will even notify them when they have a payment coming up. This is great because it keeps me from having to hound my roomie when our rent is due, which I’m sure she appreciates!

Share statements and stay organized

In case of any disputes with your roommates or utility companies, keep all of your utility bills and receipts for at least a couple months to ensure everything checks out. We receive most of our bills and account statements online, so my roommate emails me PDFs of those statements and both of us save them on our computers. We store any paper bills we receive in an envelope organizer on our bookshelf.

We receive most of our bills and account statements online, so my roommate emails me PDFs of those statements and both of us save them on our computers.

When it comes time to reimburse each other for rent and utilities, we use our bank’s online person-to-person payment service. That way, we have a time-stamped record of each payment, so we don’t start silly fights about who owes whom $5. Also, once my roommate has paid a utility bill, she forwards me a confirmation receipt or a screen shot showing the payment has been made. That way, we can be certain every bill is accounted for and paid in full.

Remain flexible

When a friend’s apartment was broken into, my roommate and I started considering something we hadn’t planned for: renters insurance. We realized we were taking a big risk by not protecting our property, so we gladly added this to our monthly expenses. We’ve been treating our renters insurance payments just like regular utility bills, which has worked out great. If you’re considering renters insurance, you may want to check if your policy will let you add a roommate, as few of them do. Since renter’s rates tend to be pretty low for people our age, most people I know simply pay for their own policies.

It took us a little while to figure out the best way to handle our bills. But now that we’ve been living together for almost a year, my roommate and I have our system down to a science—which leaves us plenty of time for reality TV!