Too much sharing=resenment
August 30, 2011 5:05 PM   Subscribe

How can my roommate and I share food fairly?

I have been living with my cousin for the past two months or so in an apartment where we split rent. We have been fairly close all our lives and since we are cousins, we mostly have a "what's mine is yours" relationship (this is also how I prefer to operate in general, more or less.) We borrow each other's clothes, and she is generally generous with me (gives me rides sometimes since she drives and I don't; lets me wear her shoes; buys me little things like hangars when she goes shopping if she thinks I need them). I don't want to damage our relationship by being nit-picky. She is pretty laid-back and we haven't had any fights yet.

Okay, now the issue that is starting to bother me: We split food. Everything. This wouldn't be a huge issue, because we eat in a similar manner, but it's still a lot of little differences to negotiate (she likes creamy peanut butter ... fine, I'll eat it, but if I were to make the decision alone, I'd pick crunchy. Sort of petty, I know... but I like to feel a degree of control). Also, she is on food stamps. I am not. We're both looking for a job, but when we go shopping together, I give her my half in cash. I'd be spending the money anyway ... but still, it feels a little odd to me. I think if the situation were reversed, I'd feel strange accepting her money too.

We went shopping a couple weeks ago and she picked out a bunch of stuff that I would eat if it's in the house, but I never would have gone and bought it myself. I like to pick recipes, make a list, and cook, while she is more "just walk in and buy whatever." And she can, since she has a couple hundred free dollars a month for food.

I've on occasion bought expensive dinner ingredients and cooked for the two of us, and haven't asked her for reimbursement. It's not like it was a lot of times, but still... I'm starting to resent her over this even though I don't want to.

We could, I guess, just start splitting it all down the middle. The only issue there is that we do eat a lot of the same stuff, and it's easier to split a loaf of bread (for ex) between the two of us rather than each have one that will last us two + weeks. Also, I want to be able to cook for the two of us and not just me. I don't want a each-woman-for-her-own relationship, but this is starting to be just a tad too much sharing for me.

So, hivemind, enlighten me, what is the best situation? Practically, and, how do I say this to her to not cause strife or a fight between us? Am I just being petty/selfish and should keep my mouth shut?
posted by queens86 to Human Relations (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you sit down and work a compromise? When my partner and I moved in together, we had to start compromising on groceries. For example, I like to buy reduced fat items... she hates them. So, we bargained... I get light butter... she gets regular cream cheese. I get reduced fat peanut butter... she gets regular cheese.
posted by AlliKat75 at 5:12 PM on August 30, 2011

Plan meals to identify the ingredients. Discuss splitting the food budget along appropriate guidelines. The budget determines the outcome of the shopping trip. Any extras are on the person choosing them.

No other way to do this but to talk it out.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:13 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're right, it is easier and cheaper to cook for two and if you're eating together there isn't a way that is both practical and perfectly fair to split the costs evenly. I've been in this situation before, and as long as both people, in the long run, in aggregate, put in about the same amount, it's ok. If it stays lopsided for too long, then yeah, it can feel a bit weird. If you think she's going to get a job soon, I wouldn't mention it at all really. I'll bet she'll be super excited about her first few paychecks and by you something nice as a thank you, and if you ask for it, probably a huge costco sized container of crunchy peanut butter. If her prospects are less favorable, then you might want to bring it up with her so that you guys clear the air on this. Be sensitive, she doesn't like being poor. Just say you feel weird about who's selecting what, get a concession or two, listen to how she feels, and just see what you can arrange. Overall, just try not to make a big deal about it unless she start being a real jerk/leech.
posted by Garm at 5:15 PM on August 30, 2011

You don't have to share everything to share most things. Bread goes stale quickly, so sure, share that. Peanut butter lasts forever, so just each buy your own.

You need to talk to her about this, not just about peanut butter, but about your budget and how you want to plan meals.
posted by jeather at 5:16 PM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

It sounds to me like you would be better served by buying food separately. If there are just a couple of specific items (bread, milk etc) that you'd still prefer to share, then one of you can pick those up and the other one can reimburse half for those items.

Since you have a good relationship in general with your cousin it seems like there shouldn't be too much trouble in just saying "hey this isn't really working out for me, the things we're buying aren't the things I want to be buying". She may not have realised at all that you're finding it a problem.

You can still cook for the two of you, but I think getting hung up on reimbursement for that is going to do nobody any good. Does she ever cook? Could you each buy separate food but trade off cooking nights, so that you've still got your aspect of friendly sharing in the relationship?

But really, if you haven't talked to her about it, start there. Surely there are some items you care about more than she does that she would be happy to compromise on, or she might be willing to plan shopping if you point out how much easier it is to make meals if you've made sure you have the right stuff in the house beforehand.
posted by lwb at 5:17 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like the problem isn't sharing, it's shopping. She buys things you don't like or want, AND you're paying her cash to cover your half of purchases when she's using food stamps (on a sidenote, are you eligible for food stamps? If so, don't feel bad about applying- they are there to help you if you need them). I think it might be time for the two of you to start shopping separately. Maybe you could start taking turns, going every other week.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:18 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

What me and my roommates do is share each others food and ingredients when eating together as a "family" and when having individual meals on our own we use our own ingredients. I think as far as specifics like creamy v crunchy, and such, just buy your own ingredients and treat them as your own and share mutually liked ingredients when appropriate. Always talk out problems and annoyances with roommates or resentment could build and potentially damage your relationship with that person.
posted by tubling at 5:20 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agree to share the commonalities, like the bread, milk, etc. Agree to buy both of certain types of foods, like creamy and chunky pb. Take turns providing meals. 3 nights a week, you cook dinner, 3 nights a week, cousin cooks dinner. That should even things out a bit.

If Cousin like expensive packaged cereal and you like oatmeal, see if there's a food you buy that's pricey, so it evens out. If Cousin like more expensive foods, generally, than you, or vice-versa, then you should come to some sort of arrangement, like you each buy your own groceries for certain types of foods. If Cousin is home for lunch, and you grab a sandwich at work, also, make some sort of arrangement. Decide how much unevenness in the food cost you're willing to tolerate. You're close and she's unemployed, so taking on a bit of extra cost isn't too big a deal.

You sound a little unwilling to assert your preferences. You live on your own. It's okay to say "I like pretzels" and put them in the cart with Cousin's Doritos. And to say, "I like to plan meals ahead, so here's my list."
posted by theora55 at 5:23 PM on August 30, 2011

Another option might be to tell her you enjoy sharing, but that the two of you have some different tastes, and also that it is costing you more than you feel comfortable spending. You could ask her if she'd mind if the two of you shop separately for some staples where your tastes aren't just the same, e.g. each of you buys your own preference in peanut butter. You could also ask how she'd feel about helping you plan ahead for recipes you'd both enjoy eating, and maybe even help you with some of the preparation.

I.e., you may want to talk about this in flexible and friendly way, and frame it as a problem you'd appreciate her help solving. It is usually more fun to have a shared than split food arrangement, if you can work together on the details.
posted by bearwife at 5:25 PM on August 30, 2011


I'm totally serious, though. This never works. I don't care how close you are, I don't care how generous either of you is...DO NOT DO IT. My brother is my best friend in the world, and if we lived together we would not share all of our food. Staples like flour and sugar, sure, but dear god no, never the food.

There's always going to be someone who eats more (even if only by a little). There's always going to be different food preferences. There's always going to be someone who likes such-and-such brand and another person who is cool with generic. There is ALWAYS something. Add to that your complication with food stamps/payment, and this is just disasterville. Sooner or later, someone is going to start feeling resentful.

I think it's great that you guys share meals together sometimes--that's fine and totally nice. But that should be agreed upon beforehand and the cost of ingredients should be split down the middle. Everything else you do on your own. Shop separately, pay separately, put on different sides of the fridge, etc etc. Period, end of story. It makes it so, so much easier, and no one ends up feeling slighted or taken advantage of.

What you need to do right now is go get your own jar of crunchy peanut butter, sit down with a spoon, and pound it back like a mofo. I promise you all this stress will be gone in no time.
posted by phunniemee at 5:25 PM on August 30, 2011 [12 favorites]

Just to be clear, we're both unemployed-- only difference is that I'm living off savings from my last job, she's living off food stamps/help from parents. Hence the annoyance in paying her cash.
posted by queens86 at 5:29 PM on August 30, 2011

My suggestion- share the basics (bread, milk, toilet paper, etc) and alternate who buys- she uses food stamps on her turn, you use cash on yours. No need to go to the store together. Everything else you buy separately so you get to pick your own preferences. As far as dinner goes, I think it's awkward to split costs...what if the other person cooks something more expensive that you aren't crazy about? Maybe you could have an arrangement where the one of you cooks dinner that you share once or twice a week- the cook decides on the meal and pays for all of the ingredients. On the other nights you can each fend for yourselves.
posted by emd3737 at 5:36 PM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

It sounds like the food stamps vs. savings is a central problem for you. Just because it's "a couple hundred free dollars a month for food" doesn't mean it shouldn't be treated just like cash out of her own pocket, if that's all she has to pay for food with. If you're unemployed you could also sign up for food stamps, even if you only use them short term. Like other people have said, the roommate solution that has always worked for me is to split staples and then buy weekly stuff separate. Make a list of the things you will share and then take turns buying those items. That way you will feel like you have the control you want but also not have a ton of duplicate/wasted items.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 5:38 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds more like you are jealous that she's getting "free money" and has help (and you are responsible and saved money to live off of) than you are upset that she's buying creamy peanut butter. If you don't like handing her cash for your half of the groceries, then you need to start shopping yourself and buying the things you like. You won't feel obligated to convert her food stamps to cash that it spendable on other stuff if you do your own shopping. Isn't converting food stamps to cash that way out of bounds anyway?
posted by MegoSteve at 5:41 PM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

When I used to share with flatmates, we had an arrangement where we all split the cost equally for the weekly grocery shop, but on that shopping trip we only bought essentials: bread, milk, rice, pasta, fruit, vegetables, butter, jam, coffee, cheap meat, etc. If anyone wanted stuff like ice cream, or more expensive brands of particular items, steak or fish, or something that only they ate and no one else liked, they bought that some other time out of their own money. (And labelled it in the fridge, or kept it in their bedroom).

Something similar might work for you guys.

As for the peanut butter situation: buy both crunchy and smooth. We have a jar of each in the cupboard, and it's not wasteful since they both get eaten.
posted by lollusc at 5:42 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are sharing fairly. Sorry.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:43 PM on August 30, 2011

I have always shared groceries in shared houses, FWIW. In your case I would make a list of a shared weekly shop: staples like bread, milk, eggs, plus some shared meals you plan to eat together. Then you can set aside meals you'll cater to on your own. So everyone can buy the peanut butter they prefer to put on the house bread.

In terms of the money, you can either continue to give her half in cash or you can split the week's list and each purchase half of it, even shopping together.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:44 PM on August 30, 2011

Money is fungible so do not worry about giving her cash for your half. What if she paid for the food with her food stamps and you paid an equal amount of the utilities? No difference.

As for sharing food, unless you want to accept that some of what you are getting is not your first choice, then you need to separate your eating and just buy joint stuff like ketchup, butter, milk, etc.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:48 PM on August 30, 2011

Are you eligible for food stamps? If so, that could alleviate this problem. Otherwise, I suggest you consider another perspective: she receives food stamps because she needs them. It is 'free' in the sense that she didn't work for those funds but food stamps aren't superfluous - they give you less than what you actually need to eat a balanced diet.

I've had friends who have gone through this and there was that contention of 'well, this isn't your money, why aren't you sharing it with me?' It's theirs.
posted by at 5:51 PM on August 30, 2011

I don't at all think that she should be paying for MY food or supporting me... that would feel wrong too.

I like the idea of sharing staples (bread, salt, sugar, flour etc) and splitting up everything else. I'd rather not have to shop and ask her for money for dinners (which would bring up the issue of her not being able to pay me in cash because of food stamps) so taking turns cooking for the household also sounds good. We sort of already do that, just that I happened to cook stuff that I bought on my own and she from food I paid her back for.

We do have a good relationship, I just suck at being straightforward/bringing up potential areas of conflict, and I'm not sure if I'm being overly petty! I have heard that food is really hard to share among roommates though so maybe this is a common problem.
posted by queens86 at 5:57 PM on August 30, 2011

It sounds like you're getting caught up with two distinct issues: (1) food procurement/consumption and (2) your negative feelings about how she is paying for food. There are many wise suggestions regarding #1 above, but I doubt you'll feel at peace about the situation if you don't address #2.

Perhaps I'm inferring too much here, but it really reads like you feel contemptuous of her use of food stamps and relying on her parents for money while you have been industrious enough to have sufficient personal savings. My advice is to let that go as much as you possibly can. If you're looking for validation that you have made 'better' financial decisions than she has, just find it in yourself. Feel proud and resolved to continue to make the financial decisions that you are proud of... but really, her decisions and choices and preferences are hers alone, and she has the right to pay for groceries using whatever sources she has legal access to.
posted by argonauta at 6:04 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sounds like there are two issues here:

(1) you're not expressing your preferences (PB- crunchy vs smooth, OJ - bits or not etc). You need to talk to her about that - figure out what's important to you and make that clear - some things she may be fine about!

(2) she's not recognising your financial constraints when making decisions about what to buy - you REALLY need to talk to her about that - it's not about food stamps or not, it's just about the fact that you have a limited budget

Good luck. Some of my best memories of shared houses are around communal cooking and sharing meals (proving pizza dough using my flatmate's electric blanket is my all time favourite and made it into a wedding speech a couple of years ago) - it's never quite the same when you're cooking for yourself! It sounds like you've got a great flatmate relationship going apart from this issue, so you're in a good place. But you do need to feel that you're an equal part of the decision making process, and that's what your post makes me think is lacking. My vote is for having a chat with your cousin - chances are that she doesn't realise how you're feeling.
posted by finding.perdita at 6:05 PM on August 30, 2011

I've had roommates and this is what worked for us. We would plan a menu for the week and split that food 50/50. If there was a food item that only one of us wanted, that person paid for that food item.

We would go grocery shopping together, first to be checked out was "ours", next was mine, (brie cheese, beer), her's (spam, wine).

We also spit cleaning supplies, but each was responsible for their toiletries.
posted by JujuB at 6:07 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Would it be easier to take turns shopping without giving each other money / stamps? So rather than pay her back with cash, pay her back with food. It seems strange that you sometimes buy food and cook dinners that she doesn't give you money/stamps for, but that you give her cash when she shops or cooks dinner. By taking turns shopping, you can also have a turn at picking out your preferred foods, and only buying the more expensive ingredients when you feel like treating the both of you without expectation of reciprocation. It also frees up half the time you're both now spending shopping for both of you to do other things.
posted by waterandrock at 7:10 PM on August 30, 2011

I'm totally serious, though. This never works. I don't care how close you are, I don't care how generous either of you is...DO NOT DO IT.

Um, nuh-uh, it can-so work? My roommate and I lived together for 11 years and happily shared food costs the whole time, and we're not such special snowflakes.

We had to do a little work to make sure we both felt like costs were being split evenly, we kept some meticulous records for awhile before we felt like the average worked out in such a way that we could just trust that we really were even.

It makes sense for food stamps to be used on staples to be shared, and then you each cover your preferred items. Food stamps aren't "free," but I wouldn't quite put it in the same category as your personal sources of income (your savings, her parents.)
posted by desuetude at 7:41 PM on August 30, 2011

I wonder if she's not being a bit disingenuous when she goes shopping with food stamps. As you know, there are no legal ways to convert food stamp benefits to cash. But let's say I know that you'll give me cash if I buy the kind of frozen pizza that you prefer, and then proudly bring it home for you, all thoughtful-like.

Aren't I a good roommate? Thinking of your needs? Cash pleez! *makes "gimme" motion*

I'm not saying that she is. But she might be edging in that direction. You mention that you're uncomfortable with the food stamp dynamic, and this might be why. I mean, it IS illegal and all.

Plus, when she does this, she ignores YOUR budget, which is both rude and thoughtless. What if I know that you wouldn't have bought the frozen pizza on your own, because it's something of an extravagance? Soon you end up in a weird twilight world of grocery list blackmail that's difficult to navigate.
posted by ErikaB at 7:46 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're being super-passive. Food sharing works, but only when roommates have found the common ground of food they'll both use approximately equally and have reached an agreement on what they'll be buying for themselves. You guys have to sit down and lay out what each of you want and share where it intersects. Then when it comes time to go shopping, you budget a certain amount for the shared food and find a way to make it work so you don't go over.

Regarding food stamps:

I don't know your roommate's situation. Maybe Mom and Dad are subsidizing Gucci purses and she's pulled the wool over the welfare office's eyes to get the EBT card. But jeez, could you quit on the food stamps hate? If you have little to no income, food stamps isn't "free money", it's essential to survival. If I didn't have food stamps, I'd be up shit creek. And I don't know what things are like in your state, but believe you me, in my state Social Services does all it can to make sure you are completely destitute before you qualify. Furthermore, having food stamps doesn't mean you don't need to budget--$200 for a month of food does not go a long way.

Personally, I don't see the issue with you paying the difference in cash when she buys stuff in food stamps. Like I said--$200 doesn't go a long way. If I buy $50 worth of food for someone and they give me $50 cash, that $50 isn't going to hookers and blow, it's going to buy more food for myself because my grocery bill is more than $150 a month. OK, I'll be honest--some of it might go to toilet paper, because toilet paper is not covered by food stamps.
posted by schroedinger at 8:25 PM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

Can you split common items along covered by food stamps/ not covered by food stamps lines? Think up a weekly grocery list and have her purchase food staples (bread, eggs, coffee, flour, cheese) with her stamps and you could purchase non-foodstamps items (toilet paper, shampoo, dish soap) with cash. You can then separately purchase things specifically for your own uses.
posted by troublewithwolves at 8:37 PM on August 30, 2011

It sounds like you've developed a lot of resentments against your roommate which don't really have anything to do with her. And which are combining themselves with other resentments you have about her financial situation - a topic I'm not going to touch on here, though I think you should think carefully on the fact that this is the case.

For one thing, there is no way that you can expect to have the same food preferences as anyone else. No matter how close you are, no matter how much you love each other, no matter who pays for what. If you like creamy peanut butter, buy it. Even if it means you have two types of peanut butter in the house. There is no rule that says you can only have one jar of peanut butter.

This also goes for "she picks stuff that I'm OK with, but it's not my favorite" types of things. I'd assume that, sometimes, you pick stuff that isn't her favorite. If you guys' tastes in food diverge enough, it might be easier to just shop separately (maybe with the occasional sharing or an understanding that you're not going to go ten rounds over who finished whose milk). If it's just "you like oreos while I prefer mallomars", c'est la vie, you know?

What works for my roommates and I: we share "staples" in common, e.g. stuff where it would be hard to tell whose was whose or where it's not expensive or widely sought-after or subject to dietary practice/allergies/whatever. For instance rice. Someone buys rice. We all use it without keeping score. Whoever uses the last of the rice buys more rice. Maybe one person buys more rice than others, but rice is cheap so who cares? If you like special rice, go ahead and buy it. If your special rice is $50 an ounce, let us know and we won't bogart the rice.
posted by Sara C. at 8:37 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the house I share with my cousin (and two random housemates), we share groceries. The deal is, we each put $80 in a jar every fortnight. This money is then spent by whoever does the groceries. It's probably the worst deal for me, because I don't eat bread or milk, but everyone else does, and I tend to eat out more than the others, too. So sometimes I buy myself exotic instant noodles or nice cheese with some of the grocery money. It makes me feel better and doesn't bother the others, since it's not like I'm crazyspending all the time, and I share my unusual purchases, too.

This setup can be great but can never be exactly, perfectly equal. I would suggest trying a standing grocery list of non-negotiable items that get purchased every time you shop--if you never do the shopping, it should include extra stuff that you want but she doesn't. I think my house groceries work well because we all agree on the standing basic list, but also feel comfortable choosing non-list stuff to buy with house money and share.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:41 PM on August 30, 2011

"Hey cous., I wanted to talk to you about grocery shopping. My finances are running pretty tight right now. Is it OK if we just buy inexpensive staples together, like coffee and pasta and eggs? Because I can't really afford the [olives, processed meats, whatever] for the time being. Also, I wanted to confess that I've had this terrible craving for crunchy peanut butter. I know you like the smooth kind, but let's make a deal -- how about we alternate? One smooth jar followed by one crunchy jar?"
posted by hungrytiger at 11:52 PM on August 30, 2011

p.s. I would forget about the food stamps vs. cash issue if I were in your shoes. If my roommate were giving me trouble because I bought my share of groceries with food stamps, I would be super offended. YMMV.
posted by hungrytiger at 11:56 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Great suggestions above. I just wanted to add: this is a great opportunity for you to practice identifying and expressing your preferences.

"We do have a good relationship, I just suck at being straightforward/bringing up potential areas of conflict, and I'm not sure if I'm being overly petty!"

A lot of us have trouble doing this. It seems so much easier to just go along with what the other person wants, because, after all, it's just peanut butter, right?

But expressing your preferences and negotiating how they're going to fit into your relationship is a really important skill. This is a terrific opportunity for you to practice it, because the other person is someone you really like, someone you get along with well, and the stakes are fairly low. (If you just can't reach an agreement, you can continue with things the way they are now, and you'll just end up eating your less-preferred form of peanut butter.)

One of these days you're going to want to express your preferences with a romantic partner, or in a job situation. Knowing how to do that, calmly and confidently, is tremendously useful.

Book suggestions along these lines: Ask For It (the follow-up to Women Don't Ask) and When I Say No, I Feel Guilty.
posted by kristi at 9:40 AM on September 1, 2011

Here are my suggestions:

- Pick the things you obviously share and/or don't care about. Ie: staples. Toilet paper, cleaning stuff, kleenex, olive oil, flour. Take turns buying it. Keep a notebook where you list your most recent household purchase(s) and the amount you spent. Keep an envelope in the back w/receipts. It's an honor system which will keep you both aware of what the other is contributing.

- IF you cook too much of something or vice-versa, offer to share it or leave a note saying "eat this!". Otherwise don't bother.

- IF you have something that you can never finish all of and/or eat in time (ie: milk, eggs, broccoli, etc), then offer to start sharing the cost and adding it to the "staples" you share. Make a clear set of expectations along the lines of "how often do we buy this" and "who's turn is it?"
posted by SassHat at 1:09 PM on September 1, 2011

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