When I was in university, I came home from class one day to find that one of my three flatmates had moved out.
I also learned that I would not be receiving her portion of the unpaid rent — because it was one of those situations where one flatmate wrote a check to the landlord (and the utility companies) and the other flatmates left money on the kitchen counter to pay their share.
I had written the check that month, and I never got reimbursed for the rent I paid on this flatmate’s behalf — and if I recall correctly, she owed more than one month’s worth. It was a devastating blow to my bank balance, during a period when I wasn’t bringing in very much money.
This isn’t the only way a flatmate can cost you more money than anticipated. As Taylor Lones explains in an essay for The Financial Diet, the flatmates you choose can affect the amount of money you spend:
I held part-time jobs for all four years of college with decent hours and pay, and I have absolutely nothing to show for it in any of my accounts.
For me, living with, befriending, and surrounding myself with the kind of people that I did resulted in doing many things on a nearly daily basis that drained my energy and my bank account. From spending more nights going out to eat or ordering takeout than cooking, to the multiple trips a week to Target out of sheer boredom or “for just one thing!” and walking out with an entire cart full of pointless crap, was tame spending money. Not to mention the money I funneled into going to bars every weekend.
You’ve probably heard of the idea that we act like the people with whom we surround ourselves. As motivational speaker Jim Rohn put it: “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
This means that if you really want to save money by living with flatmates, it’s a good idea to choose flatmates who are equally invested in frugality — or, at least, won’t pressure you to join them on every single trip to the shops.
How do you do this? The same way you handle any other complicated interpersonal situation: Communication. When you’re interviewing someone to fill the flatmate-shaped hole in your share house or apartment, go ahead and ask how they like to spend their time.
You should also ask how they prefer to interact with flatmates; are they the type who would like to have a group dinner every night, or are they the type who would rather eat their meals in their room with the door closed? (It’s also a good idea to ask for references, just to make sure they didn’t recently leave a group house without paying their rent.)
If you’re the one looking for a room to rent, feel free to ask similar questions. Even though you might feel as though you need to find a place to live as quickly as possible, it’s still worth asking yourself what kind of flatmate you’d like to have, and whether the situation you’re considering is truly a good fit.
Have you ever had a flatmate that cost you more money than you’d anticipated? Do you have advice on how to choose good flatmates, or how to write the kind of ad that specifies the type of flatmate you want without being so picky and rules-oriented that you end up getting dragged on social media?
Share your flatmate horror stories and your flatmate advice — and if you were the bad flatmate, feel free to ‘fess up.