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I'm a third-year student/ junior at a US university, and I'm about to move into an apartment with three friends of mine. The main reason I wanted to move was to save money, and I thought this was the primary reason for my friends too.

However, we've been discussing what kind of furniture to get, and two of the other people are more focused on aesthetics than price. The two of us who are watching our wallets keep trying to talk them down, but it's becoming a problem because they keep offering to pay extra.

An example conversation we had about buying kitchenware:

Me: about two dish sets should do for all of us, right? or should we get three?

A: I really want us to get a good dish set, like this on (links us to a ~80$ dish set)

Me: Oh ok go ahead, I'll get one for myself then

A: No, we shouldn't need more than these.

Eventually, I had to message them privately and lie, saying I didn't want to 'ruin' their stuff because I'm clumsy. What I really wanted to say was that I didn't want to share their stuff without paying for it, and I didn't want to pay for something that expensive.

Preferably, I'd like to resolve this without accusatory 'You spend too much for me to match' statements. I know they wouldn't push me to spend money, but they would insist that I can share whatever it is without paying because we're friends.

How can I avoid accepting charity from my roommates while compromising on shared items?

Edit : I've gotten a lot of advice from family, all of which said that disagreements about money can cause resentments in a relationship. I don't want to be 'that freeloading friend who never pays us back', and that's why I want to pay for stuff I use as much as I can

Edit II : We've all been moved in together for about a month now, and what we've done for furniture is ask if someone wants to own it. If no one does, we split the cost. We're still struggling to split grocery bills properly lol, but thank you all for your advice!

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    What have you discussed about who gets what if you ever decide to split/one of you wants to move out? This might be something to use in a discussion aboutthe budget. – AsheraH Jun 24 at 12:26
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    We're working under the assumption that nobody's going to move out early - that really is something we should talk about too – tryin Jun 24 at 12:31
69

This is my premise:

  1. A roommate has the right to be sparing and conservative with their spending
  2. A roommate has the right to spend their money as they please, as long as they meet their agreed-upon contributions to the household

I presume that there is a slight difference in economic status among the roommates. This will cause inevitable disagreements. If your friend has the ability to afford more expensive household equipment, and the friend's life is improved by it, is it not unfair then to tell your friend that s/he cannot buy it? Just so, it isn't fair for your friend to put you in a position of "owing him/her." This is impasse. However, a compromise can be met.

Answer: Instead of splitting the cost of individual items, split purchases.

That is, for example, one friend will buy a $80 dish set, and you will buy a $40 set of mugs. You will spend less money, but this is not "charity" of your friend. Your friend is saving money by not buying the mugs, and you are saving money by not having to buy a dish set. Everyone is benefiting, which was the point of moving in together. Further, nobody moves in with their friends under the assumption that they will all live together for the rest of their lives-- you will eventually move out. Splitting of purchases will also enable you to more easily transition with the departure.

I acknowledge that this is not a perfect answer because you are still "behind" in spending from your friends, but as long as economic imbalances exist among friends, there is no flawless solution to this problem. It seems like your biggest concern was using something that belongs to your friend. This is a legitimate concern, but friendships are built around giving. Back to the example: allow your friend to let you use his/her dishware, and allow your friend to use your mugs. With constant giving and receiving among the friends, your bonds will actually grow stronger.

Some reading that you might find interesting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Franklin_effect

  • That's a good idea, although I'm not sure how well it'll work out for us... I'll definitely bring it up! – tryin Jun 25 at 5:15
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    @tryin If you do this, I'd highly recommend writing down which things were bought by who. My roommate group stayed together for several years, and at the end we had a very tough time remembering who was supposed to move out with what. – Chris Hayes Jun 25 at 8:34
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    You are never really "behind" in spending because at the end of your time together everyone takes what they bought. If one person buys a $400 sofa while you buy a $50 chair, they still have their sofa to use/sell when they leave. – Lord Jebus VII Jun 26 at 10:51
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    It's not really charity to eat off of a roomie's dishes. If they want to pony up extra to have fancier kit, I'd let them and not worry about it. Much more important is maintaining the dishes in a sanitary way and having enough to go around. – The Nate Jun 26 at 13:58
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    For what it's worth, I would gladly spend $80+ on a dish set if my room mate cleaned them for me! ;) – Reubens4Dinner Jun 26 at 14:10
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I've lived with roommates several times, and sometimes finances and desires varied within the group. The key idea that worked for us is: there is no household property. Rather, you own that couch and somebody else owns that dining table and chairs and someone else owns those nice dishes and someone else owns the big TV and so on. You all have different stuff and you all care about different things; it's never going to be equal. Roommate situations are generally planned to be temporary, so try to avoid property entanglements. (Contrast this with a marriage, where the intention is that you'll be together for a long time and it makes sense to own much of the property jointly.)

If one of your roommates wants to buy nice dishes and share them, that's up to that roommate. That person owns -- i.e. pays for -- those dishes and takes them if the household splits up. Maybe you own a tea kettle or slow-cooker or set of mugs that you're willing to share. None of my roommates ever got nitpicky about sharing the costs of the personally-owned stuff.

This is different from household expenses like Internet service or electricity. Those are consumables, not property, and the group needs to come up with a division everyone's happy with. That doesn't necessarily mean an even split. (Some households treat groceries as shared consumables and others say roommates buy their own food.) Your question is about property, so I won't go into consumables more.

If a case comes up where you and your roommates feel you need to jointly own some property, you'll need to work out a division of responsibility and ultimate disposition. But don't assume that all property needs to be treated this way; it's ok for different people to bring different stuff, and different amounts and values of stuff, for the group to share. If everybody agreed up front, you're not mooching. If some of them are a little farther along in their careers or otherwise in a better financial position, they might even see it as "paying forward" benefits that they received. And the $80 that's a big deal to you might be noise to them.

  • That's all o.k. till someone spills something on 'my' sofa. 'I' bought it so 'I' could keep it when uni's over. Now look at it... – Tim Jun 27 at 9:08
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    @Tim when I've had roommates, we understood that if we damaged someone else's property we had to make it right. – Monica Cellio Jun 27 at 13:33
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I think the best way to handle this is to have an honest conversation with all the roommates about money, what you're ready to pay, and what your fears are. I know conversations about money can be awkward, mainly because we've been told money is taboo and to never talk about it. But in my experience talking about that kind of stuff openly is the best way to find a compromise everyone can live with. Also, the more you talk about it, the less awkward it becomes.

Right now, your roommates think you're being weird about some of this stuff for no real reason. If you don't say anything, they'll either be more and more annoyed with you (making things awkward at home) or you'll end up caving on some stuff (and feel bad about it). So I would be clear to them and say all the things you listed :

  • You choose to live with roommates to save money, and you don't want that money to be used to buy expensive stuff.
  • You understand that they're ready to pay more for that stuff, but it makes you uncomfortable to not be able to pay your fair share for things everyone will use.

Then you wait for what they say. Hear them out. The goal is to get a better understanding of one another, and hopefully come to an agreement on how to furnish the house peacefully. Be ready to compromise. Just because you can't pay for the fancy stuff all the time doesn't mean you can make some exceptions. You could for example ask them what are the top 3 or 5 things they really want to splurge on.

If you're not ready to compromise, be prepared for things to be at least a bit awkward. It's important you feel comfortable in your own home and with your finances, but if you rigidly want to pay as little as possible and stop other for buying what they want, you're making them uncomfortable in their own home too, which is not OK.

Some practical suggestions to find a compromise or deal with the situation :

  • If they want to pay more for the fancier stuff, you can agree that the ones who pay more get to keep it when they move out.
  • Try to find second hand stuff. You can find a lot of cool stuff out there without breaking the bank. In the same vein, go to destock websites, hunt for promotions,...
  • Split purchases (great answer from Reubens4Dinner)
  • If the total of stuff they want to buy is truly a lot more than what you can pay, offer to do one or two chores extra for the next year or something (a way to work it off).

I didn't live with roommates, but I'm living with my partner who has different spending habits than me (I'm the saver, he's the spender) and we're on a tight budget. Talking about money like this has allowed us to be content with how we spend it, and what we save.

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    Have you tried the chores thing? I considered it, but I was worried that I'd start feeling resentful about it a couple of months in. You're probably right about talking to them; I just need to come out and start the conversation – tryin Jun 25 at 5:18
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    @tryin Not like that. With a boyfriend that earned more than me I did some stuff periodically (like he buys the groceries but I cook), but it wasn't a recurring thing like it would be with your roommates. If you think you'll become resentful, best to not do that one. – MlleMei Jun 25 at 9:20
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What I really wanted to say was that I didn't want to share their stuff without paying for it, and I didn't want to pay for something that expensive

Both points are valid, but enforcing them both at the same time effectively means you're forcing your roommates to live in a lower standard than they want to and are willing to pay for.

While your perspective is understandable, you are crossing a line here where you make it impossible for them to get certain things even if they pay for it themselves.

How can I avoid accepting charity from my roommates while compromising on shared items?

It's not accepting charity. It's allowing them to upgrade something without making others unwillingly pay for it. They're not shelling out the money for you (that would be charity), they're shelling out the money for themselves and you just happen to live with them.

Preferably, I'd like to resolve this without accusatory 'You spend too much for me to match' statements.

Rather than accuse them of doing anything wrong, point out the conflict you're experiencing. You've already explained it well here, but to suggest a phrasing and request to find a solution together:

I can't match an equal share on [expensive thing], but I can match a share on [cheap thing]. I feel uncomfortable not splitting the costs evenly.

That being said, I understand it's unfair to prevent you from getting [expensive thing], but I'm note sure how to resolve this. Would you be okay with me paying the equal share of the [cheap thing] which I'd be more than happy with, and letting you upgrade it to [expensive thing] if you want to do so?

If you have a better idea on how to solve it, by all means replace my suggestion with yours. I'm just trying to give you a basic phrasing on how to approach this topic without sounding accusatory and instead trying to find a mutual solution to each other's problems.

I don't want to be 'that freeloading friend who never pays us back', and that's why I want to pay for stuff I use as much as I can

This is definitely an admirable trait, but do keep in mind that overapplying this can become an issue in and of itself. You're treading into that region if you effectively cannot agree to any case in which your roommates can get the more expensive thing they'd prefer to have, even they're willing to pay for it themselves.

This is why you agree with things upfront. If you get them to explicitly agree that the upgrade from [cheap thing] to [expensive thing] is their own decision and their own cost; then you are absolved of any reponsibility on not having paid the additional (shared) cost of the [expensive thing].
Any mention of you freeloading can immediately be met with a recollection of the agreement that was made before the item was purchased, where both roommates agreed that only they would be funding the upgrade.

If you're quiet on it now, that massively increases the chance that someone is going to have assumed you will (eventually) pay your share, which will make it harder for you to claim after the fact that you never wanted it in the first place.

Eventually, I had to message them privately and lie, saying I didn't want to 'ruin' their stuff because I'm clumsy.

Don't lie, because it's a breeding ground for misunderstanding. If you use a fake problem, and your roommates happen to find a solution to the alleged problem, then they're going to assume that they've fixed it and will continue on with their plan.

Communication only works if you discuss the actual obstacle and how it impacts you.

4

Your family is correct in that disagreements about money will most likely cause issues in the long run. So you have to make sure that you're all on the same page right from the beginning. This means talking things through and find compromises that could work for everyone.


personal experience

I haven't been in the same situation as you but I do have experience planning to do stuff with a good friend that has a disease. Her situation means that she has a lot of medical costs and only basic living income about 1/3d of my own. It's obvious to everyone that she won't be able to afford certain things that would be trivial for the rest of our friends.

My initial reaction (similar to your friends) was that I wouldn't mind paying for things like ordering pizza or going out to an amusement park. This was shut down when she said she wanted to be normal like everyone else and pay for her own things like you would expect normally.

This looks to be really similar to your concerns of feeling like a freeloader when your pay-happy friends would buy the things instead.


option everyone cheap but happy

In my case it made me realise what was most important to my friends. In most cases this meant that we would have more fun staying at home (often her place because transportation is difficult for her) and we would order food where everyone pays for their own.

It's possible that once you make it clear to your friends that you really can't afford the more expensive stuff and you feel like a freeloader when they pay for everything, that they might tone down their expenses as well.

Since they will be living with you I doubt this is the case though so let's look at other possible compromises instead.


option usage fee

Maybe you can agree that they will buy certain expensive things (like furniture) and you pay a certain amount you feel comfortable with to use it. This achieves a couple of things:

  • Your friends have their comfy/fancy furniture and/or other stuff of their own choice
  • you don't feel guilty since you paid a fair usage fee
  • your friends get to keep the furniture afterwards since they still own it

option split items

Reubens4Dinner also has a good idea to split costs differently. If everyone brings in some things they can afford and everyone uses then nobody will feel left out.

They get a say in which nice things they want without being limited by cheap prices. You compromise by buying a more expensive mug set than you would normally but can afford since you don't have to pay at all for a dish set for example.

With such an arangement everyone can be happy since you all get to use the nicer stuff and nobody complains about unfair since the Ben Franklin effect kicks in (more elaborate explanation in Reubens answer, not going to repeat it all).


option accept gifts

This one is a really personal thing on your end which may or may not work once you realise what your friendship is worth to them. Consider their perspective. They are able to afford the more expensive stuff even without you sharing the cost. They enjoy living together with you. The only way for them to have both is if they pay for the expensive stuff and tell you not to mention it.

From their perspective you can make them happy by just accepting it and never mentioning it. That way they get everything they want so it's a win-win right?

The only issue here is you feeling like a freeloader. Since this is entirely on you it depends on you whether or not you can get over this. They certainly don't feel like you're abusing their generosity in this case (I know I wouldn't) so all you got to do is talk things through and make sure this is indeed how they feel about it. It really could be that easy (but my friend made me realise this won't work for most people).


What would I do?

What I would do in your situation is sit down with all 3 friends and explain what is important to you. That you can't afford the more expensive stuff and just accepting them to pay for everything makes you feel like a freeloader.

Then listen to what they consider important. Don't decide what they'll think for yourself, be ready to actually let them explain it.

It's possible they don't mind the money at all and just want all of you to be happy together with nice stuff. It's possible they finally realise why you are nagging about cheap stuff all the time instead of chipping in on what they think are trivial things. Most likely it's somewhere in between.

Once everyone has pointed out what they consider important you can propose the above options and try to work out what everyone likes. I would probably suggest a combination of the options. Like the usage fee one for furniture, the split cost for general not too expensive items (dish sets, bottle opener, toilet paper, ...) and accepting gifts for things like decoration.

As long as you all agree on how to split the costs based on what everyone can afford everyone should be happy and you don't need to feel bad about paying less knowing they would rather pay more and live together using the nice stuff than giving up on one of those 2 things.

  • The usage fee idea is definitely something I hadn't even thought of. The combination you suggested seems like the best way to go, if they all agree. – tryin Jun 25 at 5:20
  • If I might include this: My own personal experiences with usage fees turn out very badly. – Reubens4Dinner Jun 25 at 17:13
  • Oh no! @Reubens4Dinner do you mind elaborating? I figured a 'usage' fee would be similar to paying gas money to a friend (not that I have experience with that either) – tryin Jun 26 at 6:04
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    It works out fine when there is a bill to be split, such as a utility bill, gasoline, a meal at a restaurant, etc. What seems to be the difference is in scenarios where there isn't an actual bill to be paid. Perhaps it's because one is trying be the figure of authority vs a business entity in the former mentioned cases? – Reubens4Dinner Jun 26 at 12:14
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I know this already has an accepted answer, but I'll butt in with another one since I have experience with being on the other side of your situation (I was the person with a far better financial condition and my friend said she couldn't keep up with me)

Of course, this is only useful after you have an open honest conversation about money.

Set up a household fund

Every month, on top of the rent, utility bills, basic groceries, cleaning supplies, etc. that we would split, we added a little money on a pot for the household. Everything that was shared in the household - basic kitchen and cleaning utensils, eventual housekeeping or maintenance fees - came out of that fund.

For the usage of this fund we would always agree on what it would be spent on and how much we would be spending on that.

We never had disagreement on services, since one of the ground rules was that the services paid out of the fund would be either repair services benefitting us both or housekeeping after a party we both agreed to host beforehand.

For purchases of objects, in case of disagreement, the one who insisted on having that specific object in the house would purchase it out of pocket and it would be for their personal use only (I'm very particular about my knives, for example, so I did have an expensive knife set that was mine and my friend would not use them if she didn't ask permission first)

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I've lived with roommates. I have experience.

Keep everything separated that you can.

Relationships change.

With that said, honesty is the way to go if you are truly friends....let them know you don't want to free-load even if they don't feel it is free-loading and that you would like to keep items used and owned by each individual.

For items that must be shared(furniture sure...but dishes...no) explain your budget and let them go wild with their budget but make it clear that your contribution will NEVER be considered lesser than theirs and any liquidation at the end of the co-habitation will be split in like percentage of initial contribution...and document it with signatures...just like your rental agreement.

Living together is a legal issue...not to be bypassed with the term 'friend'.

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    Could you expound a bit more on your experiences on living with roommates as applicable to this question? Your answer seems quite different from most of them, and I personally find it difficult to understand why it would be easier to each contribute towards significant purchases and then have to liquidate them at the end to return shares, rather than recording who bought items outright and letting them keep them. I expect it has to do with furniture wear and tear, but that doesn't seem like such a significant point to me, and I'd like to understand it better. Thank you. – Ed Grimm Jun 28 at 0:06

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