News: Smart money moves for flatmates to avoid share-house hell

Published in the SMH, 10 February 2017

Furniture going begging on the kerbside and no car to get it home? Not a problem. When you're a group of five 19-year-olds who have just moved into a share house, you just wheel it home on your skateboards.

"Our lounge is fully furnished and we didn't pay a cent for any of it," says Harry Gregg, a political economy student. Signing a lease in December came in handy too. "My Christmas present I got nothing but a fridge; someone else got a washing machine."

As the academic year cranks up, many university students like Harry and his mates, Arlo, Isaac, Nikita and Tom, will be moving into their first share house.

For Harry, part of the motivation was cutting living expenses. "My first year out of home I moved into student accommodation but it was becoming ridiculously expensive," he says, adding it was $304 per week including bills.

As first-time renters, it took about a month to land a place in Sydney's inner west, but when they did, it was cheaper than they had hoped. "Our preferred figure per person was about $200 a week, maximum $220, and we are very lucky that we are only paying $180."

House rules include splitting bills equally and buying their own groceries. But they haven't discussed what to do if someone falls behind on their rent.

"I suppose we would do our best to support them," he says, adding: "I guess we are lucky in that everyone in our house has either Centrelink or parental backing if they lose their job."

Money issues can be the reason share houses fall apart. Yet a 2015 study by QUT academics, Dr Chrisann Lee and Dr Laura de Zwaan, found first-year university students are often not well-equipped with financial literacy skills. "There was a high proportion of students where there wasn't much training at all when they were in school so they were calling out for some help when they got to the university setting," says Lee.

Last year QUT ran three workshops to help equip students with budgeting skills, and Lee and her colleagues are advocating that financial literacy should be among the generic skills taught to university students.

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