Talking about finances with your roommate

Lorna Wounded Head is the Family Resource Management Field Specialist at SDSU.

Lorna Wounded Head is the Family Resource Management Field Specialist at SDSU.

Lorna Saboe-Wounded Head, Family Resource Management Field Specialist, SDSU Extension

It’s about a month into the semester, and for some, a month living with a new roommate. Ideally, you would want to talk to your roommate about money and other more serious topics before moving in together. Winter is coming, and without talk, things could get heated about the gas bill.

Here are some things to keep in mind to ease into the tough topic of finance:

  1. Don’t assume – Platonic roommates tend to split things evenly down the middle, so it’s easy to assume that that is what you are going to do. However sometimes things like someone getting a bigger bedroom than the other, someone doing more chores than the other and someone constantly having their significant other stay over can complicate the issue. 
  2. Don’t surprise them – Try bringing up the topic the next time you are paying bills, so money is fresh in everyone’s mind and you don’t shock your roommate into defensiveness. Money is an easy topic for some and hard for others, so don’t bring it up over Starbucks on a girl’s day out if it’s something that could make the other uncomfortable. 
  3. Be specific – Ambiguity is another thing that doesn’t mix well with finance. If someone is going to pay more of the heating costs because they prefer it warmer, then how much more are they going to pay? 
  4. Be honest – Nothing makes a housing arrangement tenser than lying about money. If you say something, you need to stick to it, and holding yourself accountable gives you credibility when you ask the same of your roommate.
  5. Don’t pry – How they are paying for college, if their parents are helping them out with groceries and how much they are budgeting on spending vs. saving isn’t your problem. Unless it directly affects their ability to pay rent or shared utilities, it may be best to leave it out of the conversation. Asking a roommate to pay more simply because they seem to be better off is a taboo better left unbroken. 
  6. Go in with a to-do list – How much can you afford, where can you save and any other questions are better discussed before you sign the lease. If these issues have not been addressed, find time to discuss now.
  7. Write everything down – Writing down what you agreed on makes sure that everyone is accountable without any misremembering causing friction.