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How to spend less when living with roommates

When I went to university the first time, I rented a flat with a couple of guys who were pretty laid-back. We sort of knew one another from mutual friends, but we thought it would be important to lay down some ground rules for our new roommate life.

Since we were all concerned about the costs surrounding our education, the first step was to move in together, which meant our rent would be split along with just about every other bill in the house.

We spent about an hour making what we called a “Roommates Living List,” which meant we could alter it when we needed to, but it was the rules we all would abide by to make our year run smooth financially.

1. Know your due dates

The most important thing we discussed was making sure the rent and bills were paid on time. Our rent was due the first of every month, which meant we all had to have our portion of the cash ready before the due date.

From experience, my advice is to ensure all roommates have their portion of the rent submitted to the rent holder one week in advance if possible.

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Any other household bills, such as cable, Internet, home phone, heat, hydro and so on, may have different monthly payment due dates, so decide what works best for all of you to collect money in advance.

For the most part, these bills will be around the same amount each month. They aren’t fixed expenses, but unless you do something wacky, you might see that variable happen.

If your landlord won’t take cash, then if one roommate has cheques, he or she can deposit the cash and pay by cheque. Always ask for a rent receipt as well so you have documentation for income tax time.

Also, keep in mind that if you are renting off-campus, you will need tenants’ insurance just in case something were to happen, such as a fire. The cost is minimal, although you may find you are covered under your parents’ policy, so this is something to look into. If not, it’s a small price for all of you to pay to cover the cost of your belongings.

2. Portion-control your grocery budget

Groceries was the next biggest part of our roommate group discussion, because this was a large expense for all of us, apart from the rent. We decided we would make a master grocery list of foods we must have every week in the house.

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Then once a week we would sit down before we went grocery shopping together to create a meal plan with the weekly flyers. From there we were able to gauge what foods we needed to purchase and the costs involved.

Overall, it took a couple of months to get the grocery budget down, and eventually we knew our grocery budget would cost us each $125 a month.

If you don’t feel you want to participate in group grocery shopping, then you can easily decide to shop on your own. You would create your grocery budget based on what you enjoy eating and designate a space in the refrigerator and pantry to call your own.

The last thing you want is to have your roommates eating food you paid for. In the end, it’s your pocketbook that will be affected.

As much as you like your roommates, you have to look out for your own finances.

3. Learn how to say “no”

One of the hardest things for me to do when I had roommates was to say “no,” especially when they wanted to go out. Being a student doesn’t mean you have to bury your head in the books 24/7, but it does mean you have to focus on your studies and your wallet.

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Going out to the clubs or even shopping at the mall can cost you big time. If you are using a student credit card, remember that you still need to pay that money back.

My rule of thumb was that if I didn’t have the cash, I didn’t buy it. It has been a long time, and I still use that motto, and guess what — I’m debt-free, including having paid off our mortgage before the age of 40. A simple rule that I embraced and never looked back on.

It’s been years now since I graduated from my first stop at university, and those roommates are still my friends for life.

Overall, when living with roommates, it becomes a pact to live by the rules that you all create, live by your own standards or move out. Don’t feel pressured into doing what you don’t want to do with your time and money, but participate as a team member. You are roommates, after all.

What other ways do you save money living with roommates?

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