"why do I always end up being the one who..."
August 21, 2006 1:04 PM   Subscribe

What are some good ways to avoid strife and keep things fair in a shared living arrangement? Somewhat exhaustive explanation inside.

Some background: three of my friends and myself will be moving into a four-bedroom house this week. We are all going to be paying the same amount in rent, since the rooms are all more or less the same, but I think there's some other areas in which the financial burden is less clear-cut.

We've all been on vacation the past two weeks so we haven't had a chance to sit down and establish some rules, but I was wondering what sorts of things have helped minimize discord in similar arrangements any of you have been in? Specifically, how can we make sure that we are all contributing equally (or contributing commensurate to our usage of) with regard to things like food, toilet paper, utensils, etc? That is, to the best of my knowledge, none of us really own the sorts of things that in a house, you take for granted as being there (like cutting boards, or vacuums, or whatever). Since these are things we're all going to be using, what is the best way to split the cost without making it impossible to figure out who gets what when our lease expires (we only have the house for a year since it is getting developed, so there's no question that we'll have to divvy up some of the stuff at the end of the year)?

Slightly more potentially sticky is the question of transportation. Since we'll all have more or less the same schedule, we'll probably want to carpool since it wouldn't make sense for everyone to go separately. But, only three of us have cars (that is, the three of them since I'm the one that doesn't). If you've ever been the person with the car, what sorts of things did your ride-bumming, car-borrowing friend do that made you feel less exploited about the arrangment? Obviously, chipping in for gas money, but what about insurance, etc? Public transportation isn't really much of an option where we are, so I'll probably need to borrow a car to do very basic errands as well.

Ultimately, I want to make sure that we have a system in place to preempt any misunderstandings caused by misjudging the liberties our respective friendships might allow. You might trust someone with your deepest darkest secrets, but that doesn't mean you won't get annoyed if they consistently don't do their fair share of grocery shopping/cleaning/whatever.

I realize this is a big question that can be answered with regard to a variety of aspects, but I'm looking for any sorts of guidelines that you have succesfully used to keep things fair in an arrangement like this. Thanks in advance.
posted by Oobidaius to Human Relations (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I lived in an apartment with 4 guys sharing a room and the first thing is to sit down and establish VERY clear cut rules.

Prior to setting up rules, our washroom was dirtier than a lot of public washrooms, our kitchen sink was filled with dirty dishes (washed on a "need to use" basis.. gross) and dust bunnies accumulating all over the place.

Cleaning of common areas was on a rotation every couple weeks and there was a pre-determined cut-off time when you HAD to complete the work or else fork over money into a shared jar of money that'd pay for beer or other household necessities. The fine went up exponentially (2^x where x is the number of days you were late). This was strictly enforced and it seemed to work really well.

Dishes left in the sink past midnight also incurred a fine. It went from $0.50 for each utensil up to $2-3 for a large pot/pan. All-in-all, not doing your dishes before midnight for a given meal could cost you 5-10 bucks depending on how big your meal was.

We printed up the rules and posted them up in the kitchen and living room on the wall so that it'd always be there to remind us. I still have a copy today (years after graduation) and plan to frame it.

As for buying things for the house, you probably won't care for most of the stuff after a year. Bigger items, try to split evenly and then at the end of the year decide what it's worth and then someone can "buy it out" for a certain amount. Otherwise you can always put it up on a buy/sell or craigslist and get rid of it quickly and split the proceeds. Couches, dining tables and TV's always sell quickly in a college town.

Keep a spreadsheet and assign someone to take care of receipts for common house items. This is stuff like detergent, toilet paper, etc.

As for your car situation, legally I'd have a lot of trouble letting someone else drive my car. If the odd person out needs a ride out, he should arrange it w/ the other people, get a ride, and pay accordingly.

We were all good friends when we started living together, but let me tell you, some of your friends' tiniest idiosyncracies can explode into serious anger and frustration. The rules definitely help keep the sanity in the house.
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 1:18 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

***REWORDING OF ORGINAL QUESTION: what should I do before moving in with 3 friends to make things friendly and fair - food, household, cars.***

Food - DON'T SHARE except for salt and pepper. Put little colored stickers on your food. I've shared and it often doesn't seem fair.

Appliances and other high priced shared items - try not to buy them, but if you have to, each person buy one that s/he believes that s/he will continue to use -- iron, vaccuum, blender, dishes. Buy used if it all possible. People hate when "their" stuff gets used/broken/ruined by other people.

TP, paper towel, cleaning supplies - when one person buys this stuff as needed, everyone else pays him/her back 1/4th of the total. This will never end up being fair.

Utilities - try to get one in each of your names. With your phone service, if you get one, turn off long distance calling and anything else that one person may end up using more than others. Sometimes getting others to pay their share is tough. Encourage everyone to be frugal with hot showers, air conditioning, heat, etc.

Transportation - I would not count on your roommates for rides. I would in fact discourage you from any formal carpooling system. Just keep your ears perked for any mention of someone needing to run to the store and ask to come along. Don't forget the bus! If you really need to go to the store, ask someone if they can take you the next time that he or she goes.

Cleaning - you didn't mention this one. This is often a toughie. Some people decide that getting a cleaning person is worth the price because there is always at least one roommate who doesn't clean up after his or herself. My own believe: keep all of your stuff out of common areas and in your own room. Do dishes immediately, keep all of your stuff in the shared bathroom extremely tidy. Then one weekend a month, everyone cleans. This system rarely works though. Chore wheels sometimes work too.

Hope that you can all stay friendly after living together. Good luck.
posted by k8t at 1:25 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, look at all these previous questions.
posted by k8t at 1:27 PM on August 21, 2006

A little hint--set up a rotating schedule for jobs each week. That way everything gets clean once a week. But we added one more thing--House Dinner. Once a week, one house member cooks dinner for everyone and guests. It gets people together great and everyone contributes because they don't want to feel guilty when you have the dinner.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:30 PM on August 21, 2006

I've shared homes since I began college, let me tell how we arranged it:

1) First scheme: bought most stuff individually (even milk, cookies, fruit). For really communal stuff (drinking water, cleaning stuff, salt) we just bought it when it was needed (supermarket around the corner). We didn't put in any sort of control, because this stuff is too cheap (even in a brazilian college student budget) to bother. Everyone was sensible enough to step forward and say "ok, I haven't bought detergent in two months, I'll go out and buy some".

2) Eventually this kind of stuff ramped up. We started buying stuff for the house (like a whiteboard, utensils, etc) that had relevant prices. We came up with a spreadsheet on the whiteboard like this:

Item Joe Doe Moe
Bananas 9.95 X
Porn X 7.75
Water X X 8

Which means: Joe bought bananas, and moe wants to share, so moe owes Joe 9.95/2. Doe bought porn, Joe wants to share, same thing. Moe bought water, sharing is compulsory, so he just marks everyone's name. Of course, the sharing is not proportional, but unless someone is a real leech, it will eventually round out.

In the end of the month, we just threw this in an excel spreadsheet (unfortunately I don't have it anymore), and evened it out. Just by looking at it, you can tell if it's your turn to buy something.

Of course, to buy something that you expect everyone to share, you consult first. You can't go out by yourself and buy a plasma and expect everyone to contribute.

3) Now we aren't on college budgets. We split the big stuff (utilities, rent, maid). For appliances, each one buys whatever they want to "keep", but we try to even out the values (like, one buys the washing machine, other one the couch, other one the refrigerator). Cleaning stuff, TP, etc, someone buys, it's never expensive. Food, we have some communal stuff (grains, popcorn, wine, lasagna), and individual stuff. We don't sweat who bought what, but everyone here is sensible enough to buy roughly what they eat. It's more relaxed, but it only works if you don't mind a 30% error margin on your spending...

It's quite affordable to have a maid come to your house once/twice a week around here, so almost everywhere I lived cleaning was no problem. In the only house we didn't have a maid, the other guy was as lazy as me, and the house was a slimy mess. I only lived there for about 6 months, but that was enough to realize paying for a maid is really worth the money (I don't know about the US, though, but I figure if you have a dishwasher, a visit per week should be affordable and enough for the four of you).
posted by qvantamon at 1:51 PM on August 21, 2006

of course, that table made much more sense formatted...
Item         Joe     Doe    Moe
Bananas  9.95               X
Porn          X       7.75
Water       X          X       8

posted by qvantamon at 1:52 PM on August 21, 2006

Use a dish, Wash a dish. Make a Mess, Clean a Mess. Apply that philosophy to everything else domestic. And always keep in mind the Golden Rule. When somebody buys something for the household, initial it. Save the reciepts in a large bowl or container of somekind and reconcile on the first of the month.
Plenty and Grace be to Your Place.....!
posted by sgobbare at 2:17 PM on August 21, 2006

Best answer: For sharing costs, etc... Bill Monk is awesome... I only have one roommate, but all bills are in my name, so it helps immensely to know exactly how much is owed.... It can split bills in as many ways as you can count, and each person can submit bills or claim a larger part of any bills...

For Instance, if you tell Jim Bob that you'll give him $20 every month for your portion of gas money, you enter that into BillMonk. Then, if you happen to buy a vacuum, and everyone owes you $20, BillMonk knows that you and Jim Bob are even.

Very slick, you can text-message into it for when you guys go out to the bar/out to eat, so you don't forget to add stuff later.
posted by hatsix at 3:16 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

In college I shared a house with 5 other people for 2 years. We had a little trick for dealing with shared consumables. We had a piece of paper taped to the fridge with 3 columns ruled out: name, item, price. When you bought any of the pre-agreed-upon shared consumables (I think we shared Toilet Paper, Paper towels, bread, soap, cleaning supplies, milk, coffee, etc) you'd write it on the list. Whenever we filled the sheet, or someone felt like adding it up, we'd add up the total spent by each person, then the total spent by all. Call them total(each) and total(all). We'd split the total(all) by 6, then compare it to the total(each). Everyone should have spent total(all)/6. It was usually pretty apparent who was owed what by whom at that point; I'll leave the math as an exercise for the class.

It worked remarkably well, given 3 rules: 1) agree on a list of shared basic items acceptable to all and only enter those items, 2) round the totals (not each item) off for easier math, and 3) be somewhat relaxed about it. (A friend at the time kept telling me how the system was unfair, and I kept saying that it all worked out well enough for me. She asked what if one roomate typically used twice as much toilet paper as anyone else. I realized this system would never work for her temperment.)

I know this answers only one of your questions, but I hope it helps.
posted by Cranialtorque at 4:04 PM on August 21, 2006

I forgot to say that this system prevented waste, in that there was usually only 1 carton of milk in the fridge instead of 4 half-empty ones of varying vintages.
posted by Cranialtorque at 4:06 PM on August 21, 2006

People tend to notice what they've done, and overlook what other people have done. Recognize that you're going to remember when you bought groceries, but forget when Joe bought beer, and remember when you cleaned the bathroom, and didn't notice when Joe vaccuumed when nobody else was home.

If you scrupulously keep track of everything, you'll probably drive yourself and your friends crazy. A general schedule for chores can be helpful, as can keeping track of who is paying for what, but ultimately your goal here is keeping your friendships intact - not making sure you don't pay a couple of dimes a month more than they do.

Here's what worked for me (granted, we're talking about three girls, so there's a different dynamic): we pooled grocery money, shopping together, cooking together, and by and large eating together. We did not mark food unless it was a special treat. We split up tasks around the house according to what we disliked the least, which meant Jayne did the bathroom, Alice did the vaccuuming and dusting, and Alice did about 1/3 of the dishes while I did the rest and the other kitchen cleaning. You can rotate too, of course. None of us had cars, so that didn't come up. I had the only computer and the standing rule was they could use it if I left my door open.

We're still the best of friends.

Now you may all be the kinds of people who would rather track everything carefully, in which case, more power to you. But if any of you aren't, they may find this obsessive tracking of everything annoying and cheap. So before you develop an in-depth system, make sure you're all on the same page regarding the level of tracking you desire.
posted by joannemerriam at 5:45 PM on August 21, 2006

I live with three other girls, and our rules are relatively simple:
- You make a mess, you clean it up.
- If you see the dishes are done in the dishwasher, and you aren't doing anything else, you take them all out and put them away. (This worked out better than expected.)
- On our 'fridge, we put magnets with each of our names on it. we rotated the names whenever we did something (like take out trash).
- Everyone had their different stuff (we each had a shelf in our pantry), but we shared milk. It also went on a rotation basis.
posted by itchie at 7:23 PM on August 21, 2006

When I lived with three guys, here is how we did the dishes (we tried to eat together as much as we could and had no dishwashing machine):

The order of dish duty was the order you moved in.

1. Shazaam
2. Porky
3. Morrissey
4. Rerun

When it was your turn to wash dishes, the way you made it Not Your Turn was to wash one thing that you did not use. That meant when it was Shazaam's turn and Porky ate a pudding cup with a metal spoon, Shazaam washed that dish as soon as he could, so it became Porky's turn to do dishes. Likewise, Porky was on the lookout for something to wash so that he could get off the hook ASAP by making it Morrissey's turn.

It kept us on our toes, looking for chores to do, instead of just sitting around, waiting for someone else to do it.

And if you slacked, and the sink filled up, dirty dishes were placed on your bed.
posted by 4ster at 7:28 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Seconding joannemerriam. You want to remain friends with each other, so don't drive yourself or your roommates crazy tracking every single nickel.

The true best way to handle the "Why do I always end up doing..." is to never say that. Just do something if it needs doing, without complaining. Unless your roommates are assholes, they'll not leave it all on you for very long, and if they do, well, you've learned something you needed to know about them. Just doing it also gives you the right to simply ask someone to do a chore if you're busy with something else. There's no magic formula to learn how to act like adults, but always trying to do more for the house than your roommates have done is a good frame of mind to be in.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:55 PM on August 22, 2006

I didn't read all of the comments, but I have a suggestion. If your other roommates are down with it, I think I nice solution to the car-pooling dilemma is for you to be the one that drives. I know I really appreciate it when my mom drives [we carpool to and from work] after a long day at the office. You could rotate cars [one week per car, etc], but if you were always the one driving, and the gas costs were split equally, I would go for it were I one of the three with a car. That is, of course, if you happened to be insured, a careful driver, etc.
posted by starbaby at 2:55 PM on August 24, 2006

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