ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO SHARING STUDENT BILLS
Living in a student house can be very challenging, and sometimes the frustration can lead to some priceless post-it notes. This post shows how these unspoken dialogues can get hilariously out of control.
If you found those entertaining then Oonagh O’Hagan’s wildly entertaining book ‘I Lick My Cheese’ will be essential reading for you. Now, although all of these issues could have been resolved if only everyone had been mature and communicated like adults, wittily told stories of student house clashes between Princesses and Neanderthals make for great conversation pieces.
However, in my experience something that has never been a welcome conversation filler is bill sharing. Because it is quite possibly the least sexy conversation in the world, it’s one of those things that people sharing a house may just assume will resolve its self.
Well take it from me, it won’t! Here are a few tips and pointers to prepare you for the not so wacky world of adult financial responsibility…
In my humble opinion this is the best system because it’s the simplest, and if you’re lucky enough to have a landlord who uses this arrangement (and doesn’t exploit it to pocket a bit extra from you) congratulations, you’ve saved yourself a lot of hassle!
PRE PAYMENT METER
Pre-payment meters are the opposite of simple. I’m not saying that they’re complicated, they’re not. Once you’ve got that top up card (or key) it’s ready to take to the newsagent to charge with hard earned banknotes. The problem I’ve always had with this system is that it is always hanging over you. You live in fear of running out of electricity at an inconvenient moment.
Now, add onto this the stress of trusting everyone in the house to put the same amount of money in, and take the same amount of trips to the shop in the typical British weather and hey presto! There’s a whole new ongoing daily frustration to deal with! I recommend having a kitty in the kitchen and everyone putting a fiver in every Monday, and then taking it in turns to make the mission. There’s some advice about how to arrange this system with your housemates below.
PayPoint is a system where all bills are paid at a local newsagent. This is quite efficient and everything is documented, which (as you’ll see in the next section) will help you to get that money out of your housemates.
THE INTRODUCTORY MEETING
If you don’t have this meeting you’ll regret it, so make sure the initial discussion happens the first time you are stood in the same room together with all (or most) of your housemates. Sometimes this happens surprisingly rarely once everyone is moved in, so when that situation happens start the conversation by saying ‘we’d better work out how we’re going to tackle bills’.
Now, what if one of the above categories doesn’t apply? Well, it looks like you’ll have to find a bill-keeper. Basically one person takes on this role and collects money from the others. Simple! All you need is someone mathematical, honest and organised, as well as being headstrong enough to collect the money without compromise. No, I don’t know anyone like that either.
So, whose name are the bills going to be under? If no one volunteers you could suggest a ‘spin the bottle’ system, which can make the subject seem a bit more playful (which will make it easier to bring up awkward discussions about bills in the future).
Now, is there a computer in the room? If not do you have data on your smart phone? Hope so, because you’re going to suggest that the agreement is put down in a group email that is to be sent when you’ve all come to an agreement. Then just start typing!
TWEAKING THE SYSTEM
OK, so there are always going to be special circumstances that may need to be agreed upon. If someone is on holiday are they still expected to pay bills? Personally I’d suggest yes, as many houses have bills included in the rent, so it should be assumed that this is a variant on the same situation. Of course this will help everyone in the long run as it’s always best to keep things simple!
What if a housemate brings a partner over frequently, should they pay a bigger percentage of the bill? Now, despite this section being called ‘Tweaking the System’, you can count on one thing, someone will always ask ‘why didn’t we bring this up in the introductory meeting’? So do yourself a favour and bring these things up in the introductory meeting!
The partner situation can be resolved by having brought it up at this friendly start of term bonding session, and saying ‘of course we’re all friends here, so whatever partners spend time in the house are bound to be open to contribution or negotiation’. Warning, you’re very likely to be ridiculed at this point.
IT’S ALL IN THE EMAIL
Having a group email in place, you more or less have an established system which will make future transitions go more smoothly. For example if someone new moves into the house, because the group email already exists you can easily add the new housemate and remove the one departing. So plan for that introductory meeting, you only get one chance. Good luck!
OTHER USEFUL LINKS
Want to take a seriously focused control of your finances? Then this student budget calculator could be the answer to your prayers! It’s aimed at parents, but getting a grip of this stuff could be rewarding in the long term. Of course there are other bills aside from the sensible house ones and some great deals can be found on Student Money Saver’s bills and finance section. Unfortunately there’s no free gas and electricity, but there are a number of offers to save you money, use less water and keep your phone topped up, so check them out!
Article courtesy of Sylvia (Student Moneysaver)