Ground rules for college housing success

Kristi Cutts, Staff Writer

College housing
As a college student, you have many important decisions to make about housing. Will you live in a dormitory or an off-campus apartment? Alone or with roommates? And how will you cover expenses?
If these questions have your head spinning, you’re not alone. But approaching them thoughtfully can make your decisions easy to live with.

Choose carefully
Since many first-year students are assigned a roommate at random, many do not form a connection that will persist throughout their college career. Given that, whom you choose to share your space with is perhaps one of the more important decisions you can make regarding college housing.
Trust and respect are among the most important factors you should consider, both in terms of your comfort and sense of security, and for potential impact on your finances. For instance, if you and your roommates each appear as signees on a lease, failure to pay the rent on time could negatively affect your credit score – even if you chipped in your share on time.
Money discussions can be uncomfortable, but it’s important to recognize that when you sign a lease with a roommate, you’re not just agreeing to share a space – you’re entering into a formal financial agreement.

Lay some ground rules
If you choose to live with roommates, agree on house rules. Establishing a common understanding of sharing, chores, schedules, visitors, noise and food can help you avoid awkward and frustrating situations in the future (and maybe keep you from being the only one who ever does the dang dishes!).
One idea is to draft a rules document that each roommate can sign and retain. This way, if a dispute arises, you have a card to play – reminding a rule-breaking roommate of their obligation to you.
If a document sounds too formal, a conversation before move-in can accomplish the same goals.
Mutual respect will go a long way toward ensuring a healthy shared living environment. Remember, respect is a two-way street – be mindful of how you treat your roommates, their space and their things.

Pool your resources
If you have the opportunity to connect with a roommate before move-in, reach out and discuss how you can pool your resources and share expenses.
Even first-year students can benefit from this tip, as most colleges help new roommates exchange contact information before school starts. Coordinate and avoid duplicating efforts – nobody wants to live in a room with two mini-fridges but no coffee maker!
If you have a monthly subscription to a streaming service, consider splitting the costs with a roommate, friend or relative. Every bit of money saved will help in the long run.

Establish an emergency fund
A good best practice regardless of your situation is to establish an emergency fund. Such a fund can be a safety net if an unexpected expense pops up.
An emergency fund should be separate from the checking or debit accounts you use to cover your day-to-day expenses. Consider an automatic transfer into your emergency account each month so that you have something to draw on if you need it.
If you establish an emergency fund in an account that earns compound interest, the money that you set aside could grow over time without you having to touch it. For example, if you put $500 from a summer job into an investment account that earns a 7% return annually, that account can grow to $700 in five years. In 20 years, that $500 could be $2,000 without you having done a thing. Investing early will make growth more likely.
Traditional savings accounts are another great option for an emergency fund – but it should be noted that these accounts typically offer a much lower rate of return when compared to investment accounts. However, they’re less complicated to use and to draw on than investment accounts, so they offer some additional flexibility. You can think of a savings account a bit like a piggy bank – something you can set away something in and use whenever you need it.

If you need more money
If sharing space and expenses with a roommate still leaves you strapped for cash, don’t stress. There are steps you can take to boost your income or to manage your money better.
First, consider a part-time job. Picking up a few shifts at the coffee shop can help deliver the income you need to fit your college lifestyle. If a job isn’t in the cards, consider borrowing money from a parent or another trusted person.
Additionally, private student loans can help cover the costs of college if scholarships, grants and savings aren’t enough.
Finally, many financial institutions offer free credit consultations that can help you take stock of your situation. If you think you’d benefit from some financial coaching, reach out to a financial specialist.
Note: Financial Corner is a direct response to student requests for more information on navigating money matters. The tips are provided by Kristi Cutts, branch manager of UW Credit Union’s UW Oshkosh branch.