5 Financial Questions to Ask Your Roommates Sooner Than Later

We’ve all heard it before — the roommate horror story. The roommate who never made rent, no matter how many times they’d been confronted; the one who left everyone hanging by moving out early and taking the household TV with them.

Sharing space with people is an intimate act, and it’s best done with people you know and trust. Building that trust takes communication — which means having some maybe-uncomfortable conversations straightaway. Still, you’ll be glad you broached the subject early, especially when it comes to money (it’s way better than ending up with another horror story for the campfire).

These may not be the easiest conversations you’ll ever have in your life — but asking these five questions of your future or current roommate could make all the difference when it comes to living in financial peace.

1. Do you have an emergency fund?

Even for the most financially savvy among us, saving money can be difficult. It’s just no fun to put away the money you could spend today for some nebulous rainy day in the future.

Case in point: In a recent survey, more than a quarter of millennials and Gen Z respondents said they didn’t think there was any need to save for retirement until they hit the age of 40. (Spoiler alert: That is not at all the case.)

And we’re not doing much better when it comes to more immediate savings goals, either: Only 38% of Americans have amassed an emergency fund, according to Schwab’s 2019 Modern Wealth Survey.

It might feel like your roomie’s spending and saving habits are none of your business, but they are responsible for a portion of the rent, after all. If they lose their job, will they be able to pay their share if they don’t find another one right away? According to recent data, the average monthly cost of rent is $1,602 — for a studio. It’s important to know that your housemate can pay up, and an emergency fund can offer some peace of mind on that front.

More like this: How to Find a Great (Not Just Any) Roommate

2. How will we split up the bills?

Rent, of course, is not the only expense you’ll need to think about. As tenants, you’ll likely also be responsible for utilities like electricity and gas, as well as cable TV and internet services (and a landline phone, if you’re still into that).

That means you’ll need to sit down with your roommate and discuss not only who pays what — i.e., whether you split everything evenly or one person takes care of X while another covers Y — but also how it’s paid. Which utilities are in whose name? By what date should the other roommate Venmo the utility holder their share?

The same goes for rent: If a particular roommate is responsible for writing the landlord a monthly check, they might want to establish a rule that the other household members submit their funds well before the rent is actually due. Otherwise, they’re making up the balance from their own pocket.

Keep in mind that some roommates might use more of a certain utility than others. If you live with a professional Twitch streamer, for instance, it might be worthwhile to talk about whether that person might pitch in more for electricity and the super-fast internet connection they need. Having these conversations gently ahead of time can help keep other household members from building resentment after several months of sticker shock.

two roommates

3. What about groceries?

It’s a classic image: The refrigerator with a clear line of demarcation down the middle, cabinets filled with cereal boxes adorned with Post-It notes. 

But some roommates do split the cost of groceries, which can help all parties involved save money. Big batch meals are often cheaper to make, and sharing them is less boring than eating the same thing for a week by yourself. Either way, you’ve got some talking to do to figure out which end of the spectrum you’re on.

If you do decide to split groceries, keep in mind that the cost of groceries varies widely: An individual might spend as little as $175 or so on groceries for the month or as much as $350 or more, depending on their eating habits. Plus, don’t forget that “groceries” is an umbrella term that also could cover paper towels, cleaning products, and other miscellaneous must-haves. These individual items might not sound like a big deal — until you find yourself saddled with the cost of providing TP for the household because your roommate never buys it.

If you keep things separated, that’s cool. But some areas are likely to get confusing: For example, is it okay if you put a splash of your roommate’s creamer in your coffee or if they nab one banana from the bunch you bought?

Whether or not those behaviors fly will depend on your personal relationship and tolerance for sharing, but again: Better to talk now than fight later.

4. Are you willing to get your own renter’s insurance?

Here’s an important one you might not have thought about — but it is a big deal. In the event of qualifying loss or damage, renter’s insurance can help cover the cost of replacing your stuff, as well as ensuring any applicable medical and legal bills are paid for and paying for temporary living expenses.

Renter’s insurance is usually a good idea, and it may even be a requirement stipulated in your lease. But even though your insurance provider might offer an option for listing your roommate on the policy, it’s a much better idea to insist they get their own coverage.

That’s because if your roommate ever needs to file a claim, the costs the insurance company pays will be recorded under your file. If and when you need to purchase a homeowners or auto insurance policy in the future, those insurers will see that claim and potentially raise your premiums, all for expenses that should rightfully fall on your roommate. 

Although combining rental insurance with your roomie may seem like a good way to save money, it could cost you far more in the long run, especially since renter’s insurance is generally affordable. So take the leap and ask your roommate right up front if they’re willing to buy their own.

More like this: Becoming Roommates: Essentials to Consider

5. What about furniture? If someone moves out, how will furnishings be split?

Maybe you’re moving to a new city with nothing but a suitcase and the clothes on your back, or perhaps you’ve got a U-Haul full of pieces you adore. Either way, ensuring the situation is in line with your roommate is critical: You could end up with double the furniture you need, or none at all.

If you’re moving into an unfurnished place together and starting from scratch furniture-wise, it’s a good idea to talk about who will buy which pieces, especially for communal furnishings like a living room couch. Equally important to discuss: What happens to that couch if one roommate decides to move out early? Does it stay behind, or does it go with them, too?

Although these conversations might sound awkward to have, they’re far less awkward than dealing with a sticky roommate situation once emotions are running high. Bonus: You’ll get to know your roommate better in the bargain.

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