Cable Drama: How to Manage Bills with a Roommate

Earlier this month, I shared the top ten shameful financial stories from my fellow financial bloggers. This one got a lot of people talking:

“I had a roommate that would split our cable bill down to the penny based on services we used. I didn’t have a problem with that, but when the bill went up $0.21 for taxes he asked if we should split it equally or based on the percentages of our services… I handed him a quarter and told him to keep the change.”

Ah, crazy roommate stories. How to manage bills with a roommate – be it stranger or best friend – can be a nightmare, especially if that person wants to micromanage down to the penny.

Here’s a post from Jonathan Mehlig on avoiding psychotic roommate situations like that:

How to Manage Bills with a Roommate


Oh, the joy of finally moving out of your family home and into your own place. Packing all your possessions into cardboard boxes and realizing that you have far less stuff than you thought… Abandoning the single bed of childhood for the double bed of adult hood and realizing that darn, beds are expensive.

But for the most part, the transition into living away from home is a fun ride. Or at least it can be, if you choose the right roommates. I recall an argument with my female roommates who accused me of sexism when I complained that their unneutered female dog had had her “time of the month” all over his white sofa.

Whether it’s with your family or roommates, living with other people can be … tough.

The joy of claiming your independence can be quickly replaced with the mundane realities of adult life, like the fact that you actually have to open bills from the power and gas companies. And with those bills come disagreements. You might not think you should have to pay as much, for example, when you’re not the one who has “friends” sleep over for the night and then use all the hot water. Or what if you don’t watch any cable TV but your other roommates insist you have it… and that you pay?

So how do you manage bills with a roommate without causing any drama? Here are a few easy ways to manage bills with a roommate (and make sure that your bills are paid on time and that everyone pays their fair share):

How to Choose The Right Roommate

In an ideal world, you’d have the perfect roommate lined up – you can just live with a close friend who you’re open and honest with.

But remember that being friends with someone is vastly different than actually living with them, especially when it comes to managing bills.

Their laid back nature might be great now, but you might not be so happy with they don’t to replace the toilet paper for the 20th time. And living with a close friend it can be difficult when you need to confront them about paying rent on time. Living with a stranger can also be daunting, but might be easier to approach with straight financial issue. A happy medium is living with a friend of a friend: there’s a social connection, but also enough distance so no one’s feelings get hurt.

How to Keep Track Of Expenses

The electricity and gas bills usually arrive around the same time each month, and so they shouldn’t huge surprise. Unless you just got a new appliance, your utilities should be around the same each month, allowing you and your roommate to budget accordingly. When you share a home, it’s kind of expected (and fairly so) that everyone pays a share proportionate to the number of people living there. If you’re wary about sharing a phone bill, then it might be a good idea to exclusively use your cell phone. Make sure that you’re keeping track of all of your recurring expenses in one place and deciding how you want to split them up in advance – it makes it a lot easier to manage bills with a roommate.

How to Decide What to Share

It’s up to you how much you choose to share with your roommate (and no, we don’t mean tearful midnight confessions after too much wine). When it comes to food and household items, you need to make it clear to your roommate what’s OK and what’s not. Some people don’t mind sharing everything; others might measure the level of peanut butter in the jar with a ruler after each usage. The same goes for soap, shampoo and detergent. For things that everyone will use, like salt, sugar and oil, you might want to set up an alternating roster – you buy it this time, and I’ll but it next time. It’s probably a little easier than coming home from the grocery store and saying, “You owe me $3.67 for the olive oil that you’re gonna use.”

Living with a roommate first time can be the best time of your life. It can also be the worst if you’re not careful, and you can lie awake at night dreaming of Mom’s home cooked meals while your roommate counts the number of toiler paper squares you used last week.

This is a guest post by aspiring frugal living writer Jonathan Mehlig. Currently Jonathan writes for where you can find the best electricity rates for the Big Apple. When not writing, he loves to go for hikes in the mountains with buddies, pop a few beers and take photos in nature.

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