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How to: Sharing costs when living with house mates

By George Hadgelias

Renting with friends is going to be a blast, that’s for certain. But something that’s equally predictable is electricity, gas, water usage, internet and subscription TV bills finding their way to your email inbox.

Use our handy “how to” guide to avoid bill shock, and the confrontations that come with it, and ensure that you and your flatmates live happily ever after.

Look at locking in

Back in the day, when electricity meters were read by eye, and home phone plans just included local calls, bills seemed to be random. A service that cost $50 one month could easily cost $150 the next. (The only thing that was certain; nobody was going to admit to calling New Zealand three times a week.)

Today, things have improved, thanks to the minor miracle of capped pricing on many services. Knowing how much you’re going to pay each month, or quarter, makes the conversation around how to split costs a lot easier, so we like the idea of locking in where you can.

That’s not my name

Once you’ve chosen your plan, discuss whose name is going to go on your accounts. While it’s quicker to set up your accounts in your name only, we recommend taking the extra time to add your housemates.

Doing so means any one of you can talk to the service provider – why should it always be you who makes the call when the internet is down?

Unpaid bills can also impact your credit score, so incentivise your crew to pay on time by adding their names to your bills.

Divide and conquer

The next step is to sort the split.

Much like life in general, the key here is good communication – talking about what will happen when the bills roll in, before they actually do, is a pretty good insurance policy against dramas after the fact.

In most cases, a simple even split 50/50 or equal thirds will suffice, but before you rubber stamp that approach, try to be mindful of any special considerations. Does one of you get a master bedroom complete with ensuite, private balcony and air-conditioning? (Might be best to chip in a little extra rent, then.)

Set up a joint savings/transaction account that all bills will come out of and everyone contributes to. Then set out rules upfront around what will happen with outstanding costs/bills when someone moves out.

The really big one

In any shared accommodation, there’s one seemingly benign variable that can quickly become emotionally explosive: food.

Don’t let conflict over cuisine escalate and end up with your flatmates writing their initials on their individual grapes with a felt pen. Simple solution: working out in advance how you’re going to split food.

If you agree that food will be a case of “every person for himself/herself”, then it’s important to respect this much like any other peace treaty. If you really, really need to borrow some butter, ask first, or send a text.

On the other hand, if you elect to run with a structured meal plan, then get organised – there are apps to help you do just that – so it’s a fair system for everyone concerned, and you’re not baking lobster while your flatmates fry rice.

Expect the unexpected

By this point, you’re pretty well organised, but there’s one last piece of advice: expect the unexpected. Little costs are always going to crop up, so we recommend having a kitty for this sort of thing.

Much like petty cash at the office, everyone contributes equally, and the funds are strictly used for minor expenses that should be shared equally.

Shared accommodation can be great fun, and a springboard for savings, and sharing costs fairly goes a long way to keeping things sweet.

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