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Sharing the Rent: How to Deal with Roommates

Choosing a roommate can be as important as deciding your major. Both decisions will make a huge impact on your college experience. Ending up with a roommate who has bad habits, sloppy tendencies, or friends that won’t go home can be very stressful! Take the time to think through what you expect from a roommate, and what roommate characteristics might lead to a more enjoyable living situation. With smart planning, you can avoid the pitfalls and instead enjoy the benefits of having roommates.

Finding a Roommate

Do your research to find a good match:

  • Ask for recommendations. Tell your friends and family that you’re seeking a roommate. They might know someone who’s looking too, and it’s always better if a trustworthy person can vouch for your potential roommate.
  •  Place an ad—and be specific. Provide background about yourself and what you’re looking for in a roommate. Specify for characteristics like gender, cleanliness, and behaviors. For example: “Second-year English major seeks nonsmoking, nonmessy roommate age 20–24. Must like music.”
  • Get to know each other. Talk on the phone, by video chat, or in person to learn about the potential roommate’s living habits and decide whether you two are a good fit.

Making Arrangements

Set clear expectations to avoid disagreements in the future:

  • Decide the rules of your home. Cover topics such as having over friends/significant others, how early/late you can play music, and how you will divide up cleaning duties. Make sure you’re both in agreement on the details.
  • Decide how you’ll handle bills. Split things equally. Put a marker board in the kitchen to keep track of bills and when they are due. Make a checklist of who is responsible for paying each bill so you are clear on responsibilities. Check out websites such as Splitwise that allow roommates to split bills and keep track of what they owe each other. Be sure to confirm if payments have actually gone through to avoid any nasty surprises
  • Review food arrangements. If you’re sharing food expenses, set up a rotating schedule of who buys groceries like bread or milk. If you’re each taking care of your own food, assign each of you your own shelf to avoid mix-ups.

Solving Problems

Work out conflicts before they get out of hand:

  • Talk about your issues. Have an amicable discussion about conflicts as they arise instead of keeping your frustration inside. Healthy communication goes a long way toward resolving problems.
  • Consider the other perspective. Perhaps your roommate is going through a bad breakup, bombed on an exam, or just lost his or her job. Understand where he or she is coming from to avoid quick judgments and actions.
  • Remember that you don’t have to be best friends. Just because you signed a lease to live together doesn’t mean you have to be inseparable. Accept your differences and live your own lives while being respectful of each other.
  • Review your lease again. If your living situation is out of control to the point in which you can’t both be under the same roof, consult your lease. If subletting is an option, talk to your roommate about one of you moving out. See if anyone you know is looking for a place. Post ads around campus. Between the two of you, you should be able to find a replacement roommate so that you don’t risk the financial fallout from not honoring the lease you signed. After that, part amicably and start over in your new living situation.
  • Consider renter's insurance. These affordable policies can cover stolen or damaged personal possessions. Typically, renter’s insurance only covers the policyholder, so don’t rely on your roommate’s policy to cover your stuff. 

(Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by CashCourse or the National Endowment for Financial Education. These courses and related resources may be used only for nonprofit, noncommercial educational purposes. CashCourse makes every effort to keep the information in these courses current, but, over time, new developments as well as legislative and regulatory changes may date this material. If you discover inaccurate information, please contact us.)

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