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There are simple ways to avoid the drama when sharing household costs. Save the Student reveals top tips to keep the peace without ending up out of pocket.

When it comes to owing your mates money, few things have the potential to escalate as quickly as the Who Bought the Last Loo Roll debate. Throw a passive aggressive Post-it note and an overdue water bill into the mix, and suddenly you’ve got more tension than fight night at the MGM Grand.

Unfortunately, whatever weird Mexican stand-off you find yourself in, the utility companies will still want to be paid on time – which is where we come in. Keep these tips to hand to save money and your sanity: NATO task force optional.

1. Sit down and speak up

Honest talk is your best hope of getting through this without brewing a turf war. Regular catch-ups are an opportunity to decide how to manage the household finances, to check bills have been paid, and to air any grievances.

2. Share the responsibility

The fairest way is to divvy up the bills so that everyone’s responsible for at least one of them. It also gives you a bit of traction against non- or slow-payers because, eventually, everyone will want to settle up. If you need help with the maths try or It’s worth having at least one or two bills in your name now – and managing them flawlessly – so you can start building a good credit score for later in life.

A credit score is a grading system used by banks and lenders when you apply for a bank account, credit card, overdraft, mortgage and so on, and reflects how well you manage money. The higher your score, the better the deals you’ll be offered.

Things that can help improve your score: getting listed on the electoral roll and managing your accounts well. Things that could hurt it include not paying bills on time or sharing financial products with people with a poor credit score or who don’t manage their accounts well (see Joint Accounts, below, for more on that).

3. Pay upfront and collect monthly

Some of the best deals (broadband and home phone, for instance) rely on paying in advance, which can be a Godsend because you only have to chase housemates for their share once a year. Things can get tricky if someone moves out early: agree what you’ll do about refunds if that happens and then stick to what you decide.

Similarly, rather than waiting for bills to drop once a quarter, collect some cash from everyone each month as you go. There’ll be less last-minute chasing, and you’ll have the funds to pay as soon as the bill lands.

4. Get a joint account

Set-up a joint account that has everyone’s names on it, and into which you all chip in a set monthly amount. Each person can then withdraw what they need to pay their allocated bill.

You could also go a step further and set-up direct debts paid directly from your joint account. If everyone pays in the same you won’t even need to work out who owes what for each utility (assuming you’re comfortable with an even split and don’t want to knock a fiver off the heating bill for that month you wore a second jumper).

Where things get dicey are if someone named on the account has a poor credit record or, for whatever reason, you miss bill payments: you all risk getting a black mark on your credit file. Either way, you’ll need to trust your housemates implicitly. Think carefully before going the joint route.

5. Make time to switch and save

However you arrange your household affairs, schedule some time every couple of months to check you’re on the best tariffs. Switching utilities is fairly painless now, and you could save hundreds of pounds over the year. At the very least do it when you first move in, and be ready to sign and switch quickly to grab the best offers.

6. Go all-inclusive

Some call it avoidance, we call it evasive action – and it can be less of a headache when sharing with strangers. Asking to bundle bills in with the rent can make it easier to budget, too, but you’ll be handing any money-saving opportunities to your landlord instead.

Other ways to save

  • Pay by direct debit to grab extra discounts (you’ll need to have enough money in your account or overdraft to cover payments, though.)
  • Already paying for heavy-duty internet, and only ever watch catch-up TV online? Ditch the TV licence and save the fee: find out here.
  • Cooking together works out cheaper because you can take advantage of bulk discounts – it’s also more fun than eating a Pot Noodle in your room.
  • You really don’t each need your own washing-up liquid: see what you use in common (toothpaste, loo roll, detergent) and stock up for multi-buy savings. A shared petty cash tin that everyone can dip into for household essentials keeps payback simple. Sorted.
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