It’s the first few weeks of school and your apartment is still completely empty, and you and your friends have no idea how to go about buying things to fill it. Sound familiar? Things can get tricky when it comes to mixing money with relationships, and each person’s budget can be a touchy subject. Her Campus had the help of Neal Frankle, a certified financial planner and the author of the book Why Smart People Lose a Fortune, and together we came up with some helpful tips on how to get your apartment furnished while leaving your friendships intact.
Excluding rent, the things that roommates typically spend the most money on can break down into three categories:
1. The appliances and furniture. These include the sound system, television, mini fridge, microwave, couch, coffee table, etc. If everyone is not able to bring something from home to contribute, there are a few different ways to break down the cost of these pricey items:
Less expensive and smaller items. For things like the microwave and coffeemaker, it is usually best for each person to buy one whole item each. Since they are relatively small, everyone will be able to store her own appliance over the summer, and you can even arrange to sell it to an underclassman for the following year. Otherwise, if everyone splits the cost of each item it will be difficult to decide who will keep it since (as we all know) you end up switching roommates in college pretty frequently.
More expensive appliances and furniture. For things like the television and the futon, it makes the most sense to split the cost between whoever agrees will use it the most. If one of the roommates claims she will never use the item, like only listening to her iPod instead of the new speakers in the common room, it is fair to not include her in the bill.
- However, some problems seem inevitable when it comes to spending large amounts of money. In an attempt to avoid these, Frankle recommends suggesting a deal casually to your friends beforehand, such as “I know this may seem silly, but I don’t want this washing machine to come between us, so we should write down the agreement.” This includes how much each person will pay, who will pay for repairs, and who will keep it. A little bit of awkwardness now will save a lot of awkwardness later.
- It's likely your roommates will all come from different economic backgrounds, so Frankle advises that everyone should tell each other up front, “Here’s what I can afford, here’s what I cannot afford.” If everyone agrees to buy a standard sized TV but the person with an unlimited budget won’t settle unless they have a 48’’ flat screen HD TV, then it makes most sense for her to pay the difference.
- If you paid for the whole thing on your credit card and your roommate still hasn’t paid her half back, be honest about how you feel but make sure you’re not angry when you bring it up. “I got to tell you Mary, here is what we agreed on. Here’s what happened. Here’s how is makes me feel. Here’s what I would like to see happen,” is one way Frankle suggests approaching the problem. If your roommate is on a tight budget, agree on a monthly amount so she can pay the cost back over time. (See below for more advice on loaning money)
- Nevertheless, sometimes it is impossible to buy pricey items for your apartment. A friend of mine who is a junior at UCSB had a situation where everyone but one roommate wanted to buy cable for their off-campus house. After weeks of arguing, they ended up never getting cable because they didn’t want to have to deal with “kicking her out of the living room whenever [they] wanted to watch TV.” Just try not to let these issues stand in the way of having a happy semester.
2. Staples of the home. These are objects that only need to be purchased once or very infrequently, like cleaning supplies, dishware, and laundry detergent. This is the easiest category to negotiate because the cost can be divided evenly, as there is no need to worry about who keeps what when the semester ends and everyone pretty much uses everything the same amount. Here are some helpful tips to limit spending in this category:
- Buy large sizes of dish soap and detergent to eliminate the need for frequent trips to the store.
- Try to use environmentally-friendly (and wallet-friendly!) options, such as non-disposable dishware and dishcloths instead of plastic cups and paper towels.