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16 Sep 2013

If you’re like many students across Canada who have moved away from home to attend college and university, you’re probably living with roommates for the first time. Everything seems idyllic until

If you’re like many students across Canada who have moved away from home to attend college and university, you’re probably living with roommates for the first time. Everything seems idyllic until the first household bills start rolling in – and now you’re not sure how to split up the costs. Having a chat with your roomies about money, bills and rent is important and will prevent headaches and hurt feelings down the road. Keep your home life happy with these tips to get the inevitable money conversation started.Renting an Apartment with Roommates

Speak Now to Keep the Peace

While it can be difficult and emotional to talk about financial issues, it’s important to do it as soon as possible once you have moved in. If you wait until it’s discovered that the heat bill was not paid then the conversation will be even more, well, heated. Set up a system for whom will pay what – if, for example, the rent cheque will be coming out of your account each month, then your roommates will have to get their share of the money to you by the last day of the month. By the same token, if your roommate will be paying the electricity bill, you will need to get them the money before the due date. A calendar on the fridge with due dates for the bills will help to prevent confusion and keep everything running smoothly.

How Much Will You Pay?

This is another thorny question that can be difficult to address. When it comes to rent and bills, exactly how much will each roommate pay? If one of you has taken the largest bedroom that includes an ensuite bathroom, should that person not pay more in rent? These conversations need to be had as soon as possible – preferably before you move in. When it comes to cable and internet bills, these tend to be split evenly down the middle since everyone in the house uses them. When these bills come in, highlight the total amount and divide it by the number of people to ensure everyone knows how much they need to pay. Again, putting it on the fridge with the due date clearly marked is a great way to ensure everyone will see it.

Sitting Down

With your hectic school schedules, it can be almost impossible to get everyone in the house at the same time. It’s important, however, to make time for house meetings once a month so everyone knows when the bills are due and how much they owe. Set aside 30 minutes on a Sunday once a month to meet with your roommates and get everyone on the same page when it comes to bills and payments. This would also be a great opportunity to discuss any house issues (like someone never washing their dishes, for example).

Being open and communicating with your roommates will help to make your new living situation a happy and harmonious one. The website Salt Money provides more information about preparing for a financial “meeting” with your roommates when things aren’t going so well:

Work Out a System

When you move into a new living situation, you don’t want to assume that financial problems will sort themselves out. If you wait until an issue presents itself to figure out a solution, you may end up with a bigger mess—especially if you and your roommate disagree on how to deal with these concerns.

Save yourself the trouble by agreeing on a contract of sorts at the start. In this agreement, explicitly lay out how you will split bills (electric, cable, gas), rent, and other communal expenses—like cleaning supplies and toilet paper. You can even decide if there are any additional things you want to share (like groceries) and how you’ll split the cost.

Approach this conversation with a friendly but professional attitude. Treating it as a business interaction will help you be upfront, polite, and honest about your needs and your concerns. Also, like a business interaction, put everything you decide into writing. This may feel too formal (or too much like Sheldon’s roommate agreement on The Big Bang Theory), but you’ll be happy to have something to refer to in the future if you need to.

Prepare Yourself

Another benefit of putting off the conversation until you’re more collected? You’ll get a chance to prepare your point and anticipate your roommate’s reaction, so you’re less likely to be caught off guard.

Go through what you’ll say one or two times on your own before the actual talk, and imagine what your roommate might say in response. You won’t be able to predict exactly how the conversation will go, but preparing will help you stay calm and keep the conversation on track.

That being said, remember this: Even if you feel your roommate’s behavior is outrageous, he or she has a side of the story as well. You’ll both be better able to agree on a solution if you both feel like your voice was heard, so give your roommate a chance to present his or her case. The argument might not persuade you, but giving everyone a chance to speak can help prevent your talk from getting out of control.

The Prosecution Rests… in the Room Next to Yours

If your roommate comes to you with a problem and you don’t have time to prepare, ask politely if you could discuss the matter later and schedule a time then and there. If your roommate is insistent, keep calm as you listen to their concerns and state your own case. Let him or her finish what they have to say before jumping in—no one likes to be interrupted. Hopefully once they let off some steam, you can have a reasonable and straightforward talk.

It’s important to remind yourself that the outcomes of these conversations might not be exactly what you were hoping for—you might have to wait longer for a check or cover a late fee. Living with roommates is, in the end, about compromise. Don’t forget that a successful compromise is still better than getting evicted.

The RentSeeker Team