Sharing space and saving money

Most college students can’t afford to live by themselves. Rent is always on the rise and it makes sense to save money by living with other people. But this plan isn’t perfect.

Most college students can’t afford to live by themselves. Rent is always on the rise and it makes sense to save money by living with other people. But this plan isn’t perfect. Living with someone often brings out surprises and difficulties that are, in totality, much more than you bargained for. Here are some tips for dealing with roommates.

Choose wisely
This seems obvious, but carefully choosing your roommates is the best way to ensure harmony at home. Everyone has friends, but chances are the majority of those friends won’t make very good roommates. Little quirks that seem endearing at the beginning can become irritating annoyances in very short order. Similarly, moving in with your best friend might not be a good idea. You should find someone with similar habits and inclinations as you. Don’t move in with partiers if you like quieting, sober evenings. While it’s good to learn to get along with people who aren’t like you, it’s also important that you minimize the amount of stress at home.

Get along
Even if you can’t choose your roommates (i.e., dorm assignments) or you end up living with someone who has a conflicting personality, there are still ways to make it work. Start off by making very clear rules about personal space and behavioral conduct. If everyone is aware and onboard from the beginning with house rules (and are semi-reasonable people) then you shouldn’t have as many problems. Also, consider finding ways to equitably divide up house responsibilities. Now I’m not suggesting a chore wheel or anything like that, but make sure everyone knows what is expected. Generally, it’s enough to say “Pick up after yourself, pay your bills on time and don’t steal my shit.” Enforcing these rules is where it gets tough. If you are really unsure about it, write a contract (especially in cases of bill-paying). For chores and cleanliness-related issues, stay calm and talk it out. Blowing up little things into screaming matches won’t accomplish anything, but will cause more contention and ill will.

Show me the money
One of the most stressful things about living with multiple people is the division of costs. Rent, utilities and (sometimes) food all come out of the collective purse of the various tenants. Make sure the people you live with can pay these costs. Moving in with someone and then finding out they can’t pay their share of the rent is very bad and extremely frustrating. Make sure everyone is on the lease. You don’t want to be the one stuck with the bill if a roommate skips out. Devise a clear plan for paying your bills every month; appointing a trusted household member as the bill-payer can work, but only if everyone is trustworthy. Again, consider contracts and written agreements if you don’t trust that your roommates will pay. Carefully think about lending roommates money for rent or utilities. It’s funny how money will destroy friendships.

Getting out
If you find yourself in a situation involving roommates that involves irreconcilable differences, GET OUT. It’s not worth living in a stressful environment. Fulfill your responsibilities and leave. On a related note, if you find home life is getting to you, take some time and leave the house. Distancing yourself from a frustrating situation or argument can give you fresh perspective and make finding a solution easier.

Finding a roommate

There are many services available to locate roommates on the Internet, some of which might be useful, but most of which seem questionable. The best way to find roommates is to ask your friends if they, or anyone they know are looking for roommates. If that route doesn’t work, try the free listings at But, screen candidates carefully. While Craigslist is full of normal people looking for rooms, it also has a high quotient of creeps and lunatics (not the dangerous types, just the really bad-roommate types).

Let the above advice guide you in dealing with roommates, but it’s also important to realize: Finding a roommate is largely going to be trial and error. That’s because you’re dealing with human relationships. And most people are just a little bit nuts.