How to Manage Bills With a Roommate

Whether you’re splitting bill payments with a roommate, friend, partner or even a family member, the secret ingredient is clarity through communication. Agreements made in advance as to who is responsible for what and what is not a substitute for rent will keep the finances clean and prevents people from reneging on their financial obligations, including those annoying unilateral after-the-fact decisions that suit them.

Check out how to manage bills with your roommate so that rooming together runs smoothly.


1. Size up your roommate carefully before you allow them to shift in. If they appear to be a mooch or have a lot of problems, then think twice about even allowing them the opportunity to be aroommate. You’re not a public charity and by serving as one, you enable a potential mooch to continue his or her behavior of self-entitlement.

  • When deciding on a potential roommate, look for subtle and overt warning signs, such as frequent tales about hoped-for money in the future, spending ages looking for a job and refusing to take work that they think is “beneath” them, still living at home at the age of 30 plus, unwillingness to shout drinks or pay their share of mealswhen out, and so forth.
  • Obviously, some of this will be contextual depending on how much you know the person’s background and current circumstances but if you feel that there might be a problem, listen to your instincts.

2. If the person is roommate material, thencommunicate up front and leave no stone unturned. Keep in mind the common sense adage that “good fences make good neighbors”.

  • In this case, your “fences” are about establishing absolute “limits” as to what you’ll put up with in relation to any financial shortcomings. Establish everything from personal space to every possible aspect of finances, including discussing payment expectations with respect to the rent, utilities, shared (or otherwise) groceries, maintenance fees (if relevant) and anything else relevant.
  • Insist on agreeing on how things are to be split from the very beginning. In doing so, minimize any exceptions. Keep the balance sheet as clean and cut-and-dried as possible. A classic mooch will always have some kind of “emergency” that will justify for them getting out of paying their fair share. Watch for this like a hawk.
3. Stick to the financial boundaries at all times. Keeping the situation fair for everyone involves setting boundaries, which means no encroaching or allowing your financial boundaries to be violated, not even “now and then”. “Now and then” soon turns into habit once the moocher becomes alert to your generosity and ambiguity is a key source of financial boundary violations.

  • For example, in the case of one roommate claiming “well I bought this, well I bought that”, you’ll find yourself in a non-winnable argument based on divvying up any resource except for the actual cash needed pay the rent and utilities.
    Such logic presupposes that these “this and that’s” somehow nullify the more pressing financial responsibilities, such as rent. Wrong. Don’t allow the making of excuses through ambiguity as a tool to create a situation that can’t be sorted out due to comingled expenses. Rent is rent. Food is food. Utilities are utilities. Nothing “cancels out” the other. Make this absolutely crystal clear from the outset.
  • Keep all finances clean. Rent. Cable bill. Heat. Electricity. Four or more line items. Split it in half to the penny. Simple. Done. That is what each person owes, no exceptions.

4. If labor is part of the rent share, put that in writing before moving in and be specific about what tasks and hours count as part or all of the rent share. It’s possible for a high-income labor mooch to completely take advantage of a low-income roommate paying way under minimum wage for hours comparable to a full time job plus overtime. Check the salary per hour for a professional doing those tasks and work out a schedule before entering the arrangement. Agree on standards before the start.

  • If this is worked out after job loss, put the new arrangement into writing before either the rent or the labor is due. Treat scheduled hours as a job you’re getting paid for, do a good job for it but don’t expect to be “on call” unless that’s part of the agreement. Even if it’s “on call” the laboring roommate should tally all hours worked as separate from any shared duties. This can be workable but only if these agreements are honest, up front, reasonably well paid (at least minimum wage) and both parties agree on the arrangement.
5. Share as few expenses as possible. Rent and utilities will usually be a necessity, but aim to share the costs for as little else, if at all possible. A classic mooch would go grocery shopping, buy 80 percent of the groceries for themselves only, consume them, but then claim that the $200.00 grocery bill represents half the rent.This is classic manipulation and you need to be alert to it and stop it the first time it happens, to make this example a major no-no from the beginning. No one gets to unilaterally broker their own deals and hand someone else the bill as forgiveness for anything else. Pay your rent or leave.
6. Be wary of splitting food costs. Unless you’re married or in a romantic liaison or family situation, it’s not recommended to share the food costs with a roomie – doing so can easily muddy the waters and blur boundaries. It can also cause fights about use of expensive or unusual diet-specific food items if one member of the household doesn’t eat the same foods as someone else.
  • If you must share food, then purchase the food together with three buckets. These are: a) What we buy and share together; b) What I buy that is just for me; c) What the other person buys just for them. Then pay for each thing separately, ringing up the cash register three separate times. Do not allow “inconvenience” to become an excuse to blur the lines or this will ultimately lead to boundary violations and phony justifications based on cooked-up logic about trying to substitute one payment for another. If it sounds confusing now, imagine how confusing it will be when faced with it, so never blue these distinctions.
  • If you’re part of a very community-minded household and eat the same types of food (such as a straight edge vegan household), it may form part of your living arrangement expectations, so treat this aspect of finances accordingly but still make itvery clear as to what payments are expected to the food kitty. Despite all the best intentions and principles in the world about sharing, money can still divide and cause awful arguments and unfairness.
7. Get the payment splits in writing. Do not accept the notion that fair business is done by merely by looking someone in the eye and ahandshake. Accepting that they are true to their word merely through words will have you falling for the conman’s ploy. Insist that everything communicated will also be documented – or no deal. There are no exceptions later. If rent is $1,000.00, then each person pays $500.00 and this is written down and signed to.If there is a reason one partner pays more, that reason should also be in writing as part of the agreement – $400 cash and 10 hours babysitting is an equally reasonable agreement. 50-50 isn’t the only arrangement but anything else will cause resentment unless it’s mutually agreed. If an alternative arrangement must be worked out, work it out for the next rent period rather than the current one.
8. Be flexible only if severe circumstances occur after an excellent track record. If after many months of demonstrating credibility, a major loss such as a job loss occurs, changes to financing arrangements temporarily might be understandable. But this is different from anyone who immediately comes up with excuses whenever they don’t feel like paying – simply show such a person the door.

  • Never allow anyone else to make their problems become your problems. Everyone has the responsibility to solve their own problems with their own resources, even when job loss or other hardship is involved. Out of a job for too long can all too easily turn into “always looking for work” while living off your generosity. Don’t let that happen to you. Give an ultimatum on payments required and follow through with the cited action if the payments don’t occur.
9. View money in three ways when sharing with a roommate. Basically, this breakdown is: a) my money; b) your money and c) our money. “Our money” is never touched unless both people agree. “My money” is exclusively your own business. If you choose to make foolish decisionswith your money, that is your prerogative – as long as you can meet all of your other obligations. It is the same with the other person. Anything else is boundary violation.Each person is both an individual and in a relationship that signifies “friendship”, “partnership” or “marriage”. That relationship represents “our” or “our money” – but the first two represent each person’s inalienable right to their individuality. No reasonable adult needs a parent to manage their finances, and to make another person’s choices is a boundary violation.


  • Nothing becomes a substitute for paying agreed amount of bills – those are excuses to get out of paying a fair share. Work around the house is not a substitute. If this is an issue, then this needs to be addressed in a division of labor context, not unilaterally-brokered as a way to justify getting out of rent via grievance, conveniently after-the-fact.
  • Anything is to even be considered as substitute for any bill must be mutually-agreed upon in advance. It does not matter if Person A did the laundry and dishes every single day for an entire month while Person B did nothing at all. If so, then address this issue from a duties perspective and do not drag “rent forgiveness” into the equation to assert that 3As equal 7B’s. In this case, both people each other their equal share of rent – and any exceptions must be communicated and agreed upon in advance and never “justified” later.


Communicate and agree in advance or no deal. Anything that is justified after the fact is only an excuse. Never accept excuses only accept everyone paying their own way through life.

Things You’ll Need

  • Budget in writing and signed off by each roommate
  • Communication sessions on a regular basis

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This entry was posted on Monday, January 9th, 2012 at 9:05 pm and is filed under Finance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.