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Be Happy Roommates

Do's and Don'ts

When you’re first moving out on your own, living with roommates might sound like a dream come true. But people you love to spend a few hours with on weekends might not be people you enjoy seeing 24/7.


For many people, living alone in a desirable neighborhood just isn’t financially possible. More than half (54%) of Americans aged 23 to 29 live with roommates or family members, according to a study by the housing site Zillow. The obvious reason to get a roommate is to save money. But why else would someone choose to live with other people?

  • Upgraded standard of living. If you want to be in a hip neighborhood, your money will go a lot further if you share rent.
  • Safety and comfort. Just knowing someone else is there can offer huge peace of mind.
  • Animal and plant care. If you need to go out of town for a few days, it’s much more convenient to ask a roommate to water plants and feed the cat.
  • Fun and companionship. Whether you’re living with a friend or a stranger, roommates can broaden your horizons and make daily life more enjoyable.


Perfect roommate situations don’t happen by accident. Ask 10 different people and you’ll get 10 different perspectives — including the popular opinion that the only way to avoid bad roommates is to not have roommates at all. But if you’re ready to get the benefits of shared living arrangements, set yourself up for success.


  • Read the lease. Before you sign a lease, sit down with your potential roommate(s) and make sure you all understand the costs of rent, utilities and shared services. A lease is a binding contract saying that you will pay the rent and utilities for a period of time, like a year. Ask what would happen if one or all of you had to move out before the lease term is up. Are you allowed to sublet? Will the landlord keep your security deposit?
  • Make a plan to pay bills. Beyond just splitting the costs, you’ll need to decide who will have which accounts in their name. Will that person mail a check or send money with a bank transfer or an app? How will you pay each other back? A shared bulletin board or calendar on the refrigerator can help hold everyone accountable. And be careful, because late payments — even if it’s not your fault — can lower your credit score.
  • Get it in writing. It’s not a bad idea to have your own roommate agreement before you move in. Do an internet search for roommate contract templates and discuss things like when and how long you can have guests stay over, “quiet hours” and how you’ll divide up household chores like cleaning and taking the trash out.
  • Consider renters insurance. Complete a home inventory when you move in. First, it can clear up any confusion about who the couch belongs to or who gets the TV when you move out. For as little as $10-15 a month, you can get renters insurance that will cover your possessions if they are stolen — from your home or your car — or if there are certain types of damages. Just be sure to ask your insurance carrier what qualifies.
  • Share and be a good borrower. One of you might think it’s no big deal to use the other’s laundry detergent or borrow a sweater, while the other might be measuring how many ounces of ketchup you’ve eaten from their bottle. Neither of you are right or wrong, but you can save headaches by discussing these things first.
Young roommates celebrate after signing a lease.


  • Avoid difficult subjects. If something is bothering you, you’ll have to speak up about it. Honest communication can help you resolve potential conflicts much faster than just hoping it will go away. Confrontation is never fun, but talking it out will resolve the problem faster than passive aggressive notes.
  • Suffer in silence. If you’re doing more housework than your roommate or paying for something you don’t use, talk about it. The only way to find a solution is to put it out on the table. Say your roommate has an air conditioner in their room that you never use. You might ask to pay a smaller portion of the electric bill during hotter months.
  • Lie, steal or cheat. Hopefully, this goes without saying, but treat your roommates the way you want to be treated. Respect their privacy, don’t take what isn’t yours without asking and if you’re not sure about something, talk about it.

Finally, choose who you live with carefully. If you know that you’re a quiet homebody, you might not be a great match for the extroverted partier who wants to have friends over four nights a week. Or, it might work out perfectly. Sometimes you can’t know until you try, but whenever possible, look for shorter leases and less risk when you’re first living with another person. If you do end up in a bad situation, you’ll be very happy you have a built-in end date.

As always, we’ve got your back. — The On Your Own Team End of article insignia

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by On Your Own, the National Endowment for Financial Education or any of its affiliate programs.]