In today’s Dear Splitwise, we consider the troubles of a super-intense treehugger who lives off-campus with his roommates (and their girlfriends).
I live in an student-style apartment with 3 roommates, and we all have separate leases. The only thing not separate is the electricity, and there are a couple issues splitting it based on usage and our guests. Also, I’m an environmentalist, and every month, they hand me a $180 electric bill and asking me to pay for a third of it. To me, this is like saying, “Hey I need you to give me some of your money for something I need that you will not be using that will cause your friends to die, can I get that on the 20th?”
But first, there is this issue with my roommate’s girlfriend. She is quite a pain to everyone, and she stayed at our place for almost 3 weeks. Even after moving into her own place she still spent most of her time here. She is also always doing laundry, at least 2 or 3 times a week she washes 2 or 3 large loads and I suspect some of it belongs to her family members or that she just has a seemingly endless supply of dirty clothes from her old apartment.
When I first came to this place I was a guest of another tenant. When we calculated the utilities we split it by total cost per day and then figured who owed what by determining how many people were there for how many days, cost per person for 4 people a day and cost per person for 3 people a day, etc. I thought that the same rules would apply to my room mates girlfriend but when I asked him about it, he said no.
I am an environmentalist and a minimalist. I have school 11 hours a day, 4 days a week. I have one day a week where I mostly stay at the apartment. The only electronics I own are a laptop and a cell phone. I unplug the microwave (although I don’t use it) and other appliances when I’m not using them, and often my roommates leave them plugged in. I use the refrigerator and the washer for a medium load once a week, but I hang my clothes to dry. Also it is summer and we’re in Tucson I only like to use the air if it’s over 100. I may turn it on once a week but only for a few hours when I’m hot and overworked and then I turn it back off, but then they’ll turn it back on, sometimes for two days straight. I go through a lot of effort in my personal life to lower my carbon footprint and costs at the same time. To me if you are responsible for the destruction of an ecosystem and people’s homes, livelihoods and very lives themselves then you should be responsible for the amount of the poison (coal) you use to kill those people and destroy those ecosystems.
I know your site warns against the “guy at the restaurant with a calculator” role, but would this be an exception? I can look at the bill to see the billing dates and calculate everything if I have too, I can see how much everything costs per kilowatt hour and then configure my kilowatt hour usage compared to theirs. What is the right thing to do in a situation like this? If I’m technically paying for the electricity they are using, can I dictate how it’s to be used, when it’s to be used and use my authority to refuse anyone turning on the air, etc? Should I ask for my money back from when I was paying electricity as a guest if the girlfriend doesn’t pay?
Unplugged the Treehugger
First off, let’s talk about the girlfriend staying over constantly. You’re correct, she should be helping out with something around the house. That can include part of the bills, feeding everyone or random presents (who doesn’t like presents?!) Asking for the back pay of your electric bill from your couch surfing days isn’t reasonable, because you made a verbal agreement about paying before moving in, and it sounds like she didn’t. I’d have everyone in the house get together and iron the situation out. Show them this neat and trusty guest calculator to show them what her contribution should be.
Second, let’s talk about this electricity issue you’re having. I want to start out by saying I lived in Mesa, AZ when I was in my 20’s. There is a reason there is a law in that state that every building needs to have AC – dude, you’re living in a desert! You’re making a bunch of fancy moral arguments and thinking you might have a right to dictate how it’s used, but then in the next paragraph say you want the AC on when YOU’RE hot and overworked. You’re being hypocritical. Get over it.
In regards to breaking electric usage down by day you asked, “I know your site warns against the “guy at the restaurant with a calculator” role, but would this be an exception?” NO, this is not an exception, nor is this fair or enjoyable to anyone living with you. Household bills should be split evenly for each roommate. If you’re there for the month, then pay your share. If you were gone 3 weeks of the month on business, then that may be a leg to stand on when it comes to breaking it down any other way than an even split, but when you come home at night is not your roommate’s problem.
Personally, I’m having a hard time believing that your frustration has to do with your environmentalism – you’re using it as a crutch to pay less of the bills. The most environmentally conscious decision would be to move out of Tuscon in the first place.
If you feel this strongly about the way the electricity is used, then you should think about getting your own place or finding roommates who also “environmentalists and minimalists.” That way, you’ll be able to completely control the amount of resources that are being used in your living space and you’ll never feel ripped off again.
If you have a fairness or money sharing etiquette question you’d like Splitwise to address anonymously for you, email Dear Splitwise at firstname.lastname@example.org.