About three months after moving in with my boyfriend (who is now my husband), he approached me with tears in his eyes. “I can’t keep paying for our meals out,” he said. “I’m blowing through all of my savings, and it’s really stressful.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” I asked him. “I had no idea!”
In truth, we hadn’t had many conversations about our finances up until that point; we had merely decided how much rent we would each pay, and that was it. He is a furniture designer, and I was working as an art critic, so we were way more focused on how we would arrange our furniture—and whether I would get rid of a white chaise lounge that he detested—than our financial situations.
In fact, we were arguing about the wrong things leading up to our cohabitation, according to financial experts. “Couples moving in together tend to focus on trivial things like decorating,” says Christine Moriarty, a CFP who has taught financial-planning workshops for couples for more than two decades. “But what you really want to discuss are practical things like who is doing what chores, whose name to put on the lease, how to divvy up the bills, and each person’s spending and savings habits.”
Moving in together is not merely a romantic decision, notes Moriarty; it’s a legal and financial one as well—and an increasing number of unmarried couples in the United States are making that commitment. Indeed, the number of unmarried partners living together has tripled in the past two decades, from six million in 1996 to 19.1 million in 2018.
My husband and I lived together for two years before we got married. Because we never established firm rules about our finances and responsibilities early on, we had to work those things out later, during incredibly stressful times, like after the birth of our first child.
With that said, here are the top five things you should consider before moving in with your partner, according to Moriarty.
1. Who Is Signing What
When you move in with someone, you must determine more than just how to split the rent or mortgage payments and who will pay for what streaming services. You should also talk about whose name will be on all the legal documents, such as the lease and utility bills, Moriarty says.
She recommends putting both of your names on everything for two reasons. First, if both of your names are on the bills, you’ll both be responsible for paying them—even if the relationship doesn’t work out. Second, if your name is on a bill, even if you aren’t paying an equal share of it, you can call the landlord or utility provider to discuss changing or canceling your lease or plan.
2. How to Pay the Bills
You should also discuss how you will pay for your shared expenses. Will you open a joint bank account and transfer a certain amount of your incomes into it? Or do you feel more comfortable Venmo-ing your partner at the beginning of each month? “Just like people have different aesthetic styles, they also have different money-management styles,” Moriarty says. “There’s no right or wrong way—you just have to figure out what works for both of you.”
Deciding how to do so requires open, understanding conversations, as well as compromise. “If you’re not ready to have those sorts of conversations, you’re not ready to move in together,” Moriarty adds.
3. How to Divide the Chores
You’ve picked out bedding you can both tolerate and established the perfect cozy nook for binge-watching your favorite show. But who is going to wash those sheets? And who is going to clean crumbs off the cozy nook after you eat a delicious snack while you’re watching?
Instead of just waiting and seeing, Moriarty recommends sitting down with your partner and having a formal conversation about who will do what around the house. Start with what you both like and dislike about housework. Maybe you both hate opposite things—I hate cleaning the floors and my husband hates washing up after meals, for example, so we both do that for each other. Or maybe you flat-out refuse to clean a toilet but are willing to pick up the dog poop. “You can make it work if you set expectations at the very beginning,” says Moriarty.
If one person has the means to contribute more to the relationship financially, household chores and running errands could also be a good way for the other person to chip in.
4. Check Each Other’s Credit Reports
Checking your partner’s credit report might not be very romantic, but it’s even more important than sharing your salary with each other, notes Moriarty. “A credit report tells you how someone is managing their money,” she says. It will also give you a glimpse at how much debt your partner owes, and for what, as well as if they’ve improved or changed their behavior with money over the years. “Keep an eye out for red flags,” Moriarty says. “You don’t want to be on a lease with someone who is not reliable and responsible.”
If you have debt (like student loans or a car loan), it’s a good idea to disclose that information to your partner before moving in together.
Your debt, Moriarty notes, is your responsibility. But if your partner knows how much you pay each month, it could help you both make a fair and equitable household budget.
5. Establish Regular Money Dates
Even if you set firm financial groundwork with someone before cohabitating, you still need to continue having conversations with them about money throughout the relationship. For example, what if one of you loses your job and needs help paying your portion of the bills? Or what if you decide to get married or start a family?
Moriarty recommends having regular weekly or biweekly money dates with your partner to stay up to date on financial matters and commitments. These dates don’t need to be long, and they don’t need to be expensive. It’s enough to just sit down together on the couch, chat about what’s going on with your finances and then enjoy some ice cream together.
Brienne Walsh is a writer based in Savannah, Georgia. She contributes to Forbes, Rangefinder and MarketWatch, among other publications.
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