How to Keep House (Digitally)

Next year I will be living with six amazing ladies. Soon the treadmill of Carnegie Mellon classes will roar to life beneath our feet and we will still need to keep the house livable. Here are three tools we’re considering:

Alice.com

I found out about Alice through Brazen Careerist, a young-professional network I joined a few weeks ago and absolutely love. One of the bloggers at Brazen works at Alice. Not only is the company cool (can you say nap-time and employees being assigned representative animals?) but the service looks useful. Alice allows users to buy their dry-goods online, and have them delivered. They claim that the products they carry cost on average 20%-30% less than those same products on other online stores, and delivery is free. Their business model is to collect purchasing data from their users and sell it to relevant companies–they also provide those companies a venue to sell their products without having to compromise with big-box stores.

Alice looks to have several advantages for our house. First, it will allow us to buy cheaply without trying to get Costco-sized loads of groceries back to our house on the bus. Second, it will allow us to track our purchases as a group, easing possible tensions over who-bought-that-last-roll-of-toilette-paper-and-why-is-it-scented. Finally, Alice.com will send us reminders when it thinks we are out of a product, thereby saving us from costly and annoying last-minute detergent-runs to CVS.

PayPal

With a landlord who wants one check a month and six ladies needing to pay, the logistical issues are clear. Include in this scenario that we also have utilities, some of whom allow payment online and some who require checks, and strife seems eminent. PayPal is half of the solution (the second half is below). The idea is to have each of the ladies deposits her rent in the house-manager’s PayPal account, which she then transfers to her checking account, and then sends off to the landlord through a check.

Why not just use checks? Because PayPal allows for a group-accessible paper-trail, a history of who transferred what, when. This should help keep all of us in the loop, and enforce effective communication.

A Piece of Graph-Paper Stuck to the Kitchen Refrigerator

Ok, not as technical a tool as the first two, but because the goal of these tools is to facilitate communication and make all group financial decisions obvious and public, sometimes a non-technical tool is the best. The kitchen refrigerator is central to the house and everyone will have to look at it every day. The graph paper would have each of our names listed on it in rows, with a column for rent and a column for utilities*:

Model Monthly Expense Sheet

This chart serves several purposes:

  • it allows every lady in the house to keep track of the group expenses (with openness as a default),
  • it gives every lady a way to see who owes what, and
  • it helps all ladies to be familiar with the large costs associated with the house.

I am so excited to be living with these lovely ladies. This will be my first time living with peer-managed finances–I guess I am nervous that dealing with so much money will hurt our relationships. As I am a logistics geek, I am dealing with these nerves by planning. I hope that the systems I create will form a structure for our strained relationships to rest on when life gets rough.

*Neither the names nor the numbers are our actual names or numbers. You may notice that the names are those of the Norns and Fates of Norse and Roman legend. We’re still trying to figure out what the name the house, since there are six strong women living in it–being Fates seemed kind of cool.

Inspirational Quote:

“We are not creatures of circumstance; we are creators of circumstance.”–Benjamin Disraeli