Living with Roommates Who Have Different Incomes

Living with a roommate is a blast, especially when you become close enough friends to start to spend time together outside of your four walls. Oftentimes, friends come from different places and backgrounds with unique interests and career paths, meaning you may be both different and alike. One thing that’s bound to be different between roommates in the real world is salaries. So, how do you manage living with roommates who have different incomes and budgets.

When you make more money than your roommate(s)

If you make more than your roommate, it’s important to be sensitive about money and act with care when planning nights out and activities. However, do not feel that you should take on more rent cost, utilities cost, grocery bills, or any other shared expense simply because you make more money. Split bills evenly (or as decided in your rental contract or agreed to as you moved in) and don’t feel guilty about your salary. Instead, be mature and understand that your roommates capabilities are different from yours. Take some nights in with them and save the money you would have spent elsewhere! Here are a few general rules when you make more money than your roommate:

  • Be sensitive: Suggest low-budget restaurants or nights-in for activities so your roommate can be involved without stretching their budget.
  • Be thoughtful: Understand when your roommate says “No” to expensive activities, recognizing that they are making a difficult and mature decision to respect their budget!
  • Be fair: Don’t feel that you must completely change your life to fit your roommate’s budget. If you have a few activities that you love (and that are more costly), find a different friend to bring along! Salary differences are a fact of life, and you should not feel obligated to cater to your roommate’s budget all the time.

When you make less money than your roommate(s)

If you’re making less money than your roommate, it can be uncomfortable to feel pressured to participate in activities that will stretch your budget to its breaking point. Instead, get comfortable with saying “No,” or suggesting other options when your roommate(s) have expensive ideas. Sharing the reason you can’t attend certain things (by saying “My bills are tight this month,” “My car payment is due next week,” or “I just can’t afford it right now”) helps your roommate understand your situation. Some other thoughts:

  • Be realistic: Watch your budget each week to determine that you’re saving enough money, not overspending, and identify times that you’re capable of a “splurge.”
  • Be comfortable: Say “No” to plans when they’ll be too expensive or make you uncomfortable with bills, understanding that it’s a tough decision. Or, when you hear of expensive plans, suggest a cheaper alternative to your roommates, again, understanding they may want the expensive option some of the time.
  • Be fair: Do not expect a higher-paid roommate to pay more of your shared bills. Most roommates agree to split bills 50-50 based on usage when they sign the rental contract. If that was your case, even if your roommate receives a huge raise, remember that you agreed to pay a certain amount and must continue to do so.

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Author My First Apartment

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Sarah is a dog lover and advocate for conversation & laughing at your own jokes. Since finishing her college career in communications, she began working (and living) in Atlanta. After living in a few different apartments over the last few years, she's ready to share experiences. Stay tuned for adventures, tips and advice!

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