You know how it goes. One roommate has the cable bill in his name. Another roommate has his name on the electricity and heat. And you’re the one that mails in the rent check. And then there’s groceries, which you try to trade off on, but it may just be that you’ve footed the bill for the last two rounds – you can’t quite remember. No one’s sure who owes whom what – and people are always carping about being owed money.
It’s a mess you’d rather avoid. But how? The key is documentation and organization. Duh. Unless you want to spend the rest of your living-in-an-apartment life sniping about bills, you need to get everyone one the same page. Even if organizing is not your strong suit, you need to put in the effort. Here’s what to do:
Keep Your Bills, Receipts and Statements
You can’t storm into your roommate’s room and angrily demand … some random amount you can’t quite remember, but probably around $20 or $30, you think. You need to know how much you paid for all shared expenses. All your roommates do. Have a folder or a box in your room where you put receipts, bills, and the like. Expect them to do the same. It doesn’t require much effort. Just make the folder, and put it in there – and you can forget about until ….
Have a Scheduled Monthly Meeting
Rather than everyone demanding money from everyone else as soon as they’ve paid a bill, have everyone pay expenses as they come along and then level up once a month. Try to have the meeting ten days or so before your rent is due. Everyone sits down, brings out their documentation, and does the math. Factor in the upcoming rent. Then, checks are cut on the spot and that’s that. It’s simple. The whole meeting will take twenty minutes or less – I promise. And then you don’t have to worry about it for another month.
So that’s it – or at least, that’s the old-fashioned way. If you’re not a pen-and-paper person and you use your smart phone or your laptop for everything, there another way …
You Can Enlist Online Help
The concept remains the same, but rather than keeping actual receipts and writing actual checks, you use a program to help you track expenditures and transfer money.
Our guest blogger Katherine wrote about two of the best online bill-splitting apps, which we still recommend. That said, even if you use an online app, you still need to program it, follow up with it, and know the score – there’s still work involved. And, of course, you’ll have to convince your roommates to use these same apps as well.
Here are some of the highlights of Katherine’s article and my own thoughts:
- PayDivvy arranges everything after you program it – from digitally collecting money from all your roommates, to splitting group expenses, to eletronically paying your rent to your landlord. Of course, unexpected expenses (a couch bought together, or if you buy shared groceries on an irregular schedule) are still a bit tricky and may require further input.
- BillPin helps you divide up and send payments to your friends and keep track of expenses, though it’s not as do-everything as PayDivvy.
- I’d also recommend Venmo, which is a money-transfer site. It’s particularly useful if you dislike the hassle of checks, or don’t have a checkbook. (Venmo connects to your bank account and allows you to essentially wire money to friends who also have a Venmo account).
- Finally, if you just generally want keep track of your expenses and learn where all your money goes, a good online place to start is Mint, which is free, and can serve as a digital version of the folder in which you keep all your receipts. It also lets you see what you’re spending money on – maybe a quarter of your budget is going to clothes, for example. It will track stats like this, in neat-o bar graphs and pie charts.
Part of adjusting to living in an apartment is keeping track of your expenses in a rational way. The first step is figuring out your bills, making sure they’re paid on time with minimal fuss, and that they’re split fairly with your roommates.
With a ton of available online tools to help you track expenses and pay bills, there’s really no longer any excuse for letting money issues complicate your roommate relationships – even if you’re not a paper person.
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