Talk about finances with 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 is two months into the semester. How are relationships going with your roommate? Has the issue of money come up? Does your roommate borrow items or use your things without returning the item or compensating you? With the stress of coursework ramping up, the last thing you need is a disagreement about money with your roommate.

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

Don’t assume – Platonic roommates tend to split things evenly down the middle, so it’s easy to assume that it 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 easily complicate things. 

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 person uncomfortable. 

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? 

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 for when you ask the same of your roommate.

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. 

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 them now.

Write everything down – Writing down what you agreed on makes sure that everyone is accountable without any misremembering causing friction.


To learn more about how to manage your finances visit