When college students ask me for financial advice, I tell them to continue living like a college student for a year or two after graduation. This almost always includes living with roommates, which can save a significant amount money by splitting rent and other costs. Unfortunately, figuring out how to split household expenses isn’t always easy.
My Experience Splitting Rent With Roommates
After college, I moved in with two friends. I’m frugal, but one of my roommates took frugality to another level.
The three of us rented a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. The rent was $2,095, which would be easy to split three ways at about $700 per person. Unfortunately, the apartment had a master bedroom — with its own bathroom — that was much larger than the other two bedrooms. Splitting the rent equally among three of us didn’t seem fair when one roommate would clearly be getting a better deal.
My frugal roommate decided to divide the rent according to the bedrooms’ square footage. No, I’m not kidding.
So the one with the master suite paid $879.68 per month, I paid $634.96, and my frugal roommate paid $580.36.
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We split our other household expenses in a similarly detailed manner. The cable bill was an interesting example. For that bill, we took the base cost and split it three ways. Then we added in roommate-specific charges for cable boxes. Finally, we split the taxes based on the total of the base cost, plus the roommate-specific costs. This way, each person paid only for the services that they received. That said, the difference between splitting the bill evenly and calculating individual totals was just a couple of dollars.
There were also a few expenses that we shared equally. We split the electric bill three ways. We each bought our own food rather than deal with ridiculous calculations. And for shared expenses like paper towels and toilet paper, we took turns replenishing each item as we ran out.
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How to Split Rent and Other Household Expenses
If you’re trying to decide how to split rent and other household costs, you can be as general or as detailed as you’d like. But I recommend picking a roommate with a similar money mindset to avoid major problems.
The easiest way to split rent is to divide it by the number of roommates sharing the apartment. If the rooms are different sizes, your roommates may want to split the rent by square footage, as we did. To do this, add the square footage of the private bedrooms and bathrooms, then divide each roommate’s personal space by the total square footage of the private space. Multiply that percentage by the total rent.
Those calculations get more complicated when you have two people living in one room and one person living in each of the other rooms. In this scenario, splitting the rent by the number of bedrooms might be fairer than dividing the rent by the number of roommates.
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Splitting utilities such as electricity, water, gas, sewer, trash, cable, and internet are usually easy. I suggest splitting these expenses by the number of roommates in the apartment. If one roommate honestly doesn’t use the internet or cable, they shouldn't pay for that service. Additionally, if one roommate loves to order on-demand movies, that roommate should pay for them individually.
Splitting Other Household Expenses
Everyday household costs are by far the most difficult to split. Roommates often consume items at different rates, so figuring out their rates of consumption is nearly impossible. The easiest way to deal with these expenses is to keep everything separate. Since cleaning supplies such as dish soap, sponges, and paper towels aren't used too often, they can be split evenly or by rotating who buys these items.
If you decide to share food, make a weekly meal plan. Then buy the groceries necessary for those meals separately and split the expenses by the number of roommates.
The Bottom Line
Splitting rent and other costs with roommates can be as simple or as complicated as you want. Just make sure that you all agree on how to split household expenses before you move in together. If you don’t, you could end up with some money fights on your hands.