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3 Things to Consider When Moving in With Flatmates or Your Significant Other

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Joanne Poh

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Once upon a time, when rent in Singapore was actually affordable, few locals ever tried to leave their parents’ homes before they had to.

These days, despite the sky high prices, more and more people in Singapore are turning to rental property—whether they’re newlyweds who are renting a place under the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme before their flats are ready, or, more likely, foreign employees who are working here without the benefit of a cushy expat package.

As anyone will tell you, moving in with someone, whether it’s your significant other, a group of friends or a bunch of anonymous flatmates, is essential in Singapore, as getting a place all to yourself is freaking expensive.

While living with other people can save you big money (you’ll pay half as much for a common room in a condo as you would for a tiny studio), here are some money issues to take note of before you and your flatmates start trying to poison each other.

 

Splitting the grocery bill

If you’re moving in with friends or your significant other rather than unknown flatmates you’ll only see once in a blue moon when they’re not locked in their rooms, you might choose to do your groceries together and then split the bill. This is especially likely if you’re a couple, since you’re going to be cooking together most of the time.

But even if you make sure you only dig into the shared grocery stash whenever you’re having meals together, you should consider the possibility that one of you might have a much bigger appetite than the other.

This can be especially pronounced for couples when one half is waif-like and the other is a bottomless pit. It’s not fun when each time you enter the kitchen in search of a snack, you discover that the bag of keropok/box of cereal/stash of cup noodles has mysteriously vanished.

It’s okay to share toilet cleaner, detergent or sponges for the kitchen sink, or even stuff like salt or cooking oil. But think twice about splitting the groceries if you are living with three 200kg guys whose favourite hobby is eating.

 

Which services you should split the cost of

One of the benefits of living with other people is the fact that you can split the cost of things like your electricity bill, a cleaning lady and wifi.

But difficulties arise when there are disagreements as to what services are essential, and what you’d rather not have. For instance, I don’t watch TV at all (yes, all those TV show references go over my head), and would therefore never voluntarily sign up for cable TV, which many Singaporeans consider their only weekend plan.

This would create problems if my flatmates wanted to subscribe to such a service. If I refused to chip in, would I not be allowed to use the TV in the living room? In the same vein, if one of the flatmates doesn’t want to contribute to the cost of a cleaning lady, does that mean only his poop doesn’t get cleaned up?

Ultimately, some give and take is going to be necessary when you live with other people. Just make sure you’re not being made to share the cost of your flatmate’s Steam account.

 

What constitutes reasonable use of utilities

If the cost of utilities isn’t factored into your rent and you share the bill with your partner or flatmates each month, be aware that this is an innocent-looking little arrangement that has the potential to blow up later on.

One thing you’ll realise when you move in to your new place is that when people live on property they don’t own, they tend to be a little more careless with appliances like the air con and the dryer—appliances that can be quite expensive to operate.

While HDB-owning Singaporeans hardly leave their air con units running all day, walk into any share-flat populated by students or working professionals and you’ll see that “forgetting” to turn the air con off before heading to school or work is scarily common.

And while most homeowners in Singapore dry their clothes using the good old pole-out-the-window method or one of those wire racks, in a share flat almost everyone is going to use the dryer if there is one. And those machines are big electricity suckers.

If one of your housemates invites his entire clan from his country to stay in the flat during the holidays and then washes and dries 50 loads of laundry, don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling peeved about having to pay for part of his share.

To avoid such disagreements, it’s a good idea to have a discussion with all occupants of the house and set some ground rules.

Decide what constitutes reasonable use of the utilities—for instance, using the air con when you’re in your room is fine, but leaving it on when you’re out. Using the dryer for your own clothing is fine, but constantly inviting one’s girlfriend/boyfriend/friend/family member to stay over and do their laundry is not.

Believe me, there are some pretty weird flatmates out there.

What precautions should you take when moving in with flatmates? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.