Moving in with your significant other is a huge and exciting step that can radically change the nature of your relationship, hopefully for the better. When I moved in with my boyfriend a year and a half ago, I had mentally prepared myself for all the stressors I knew we’d have to face together: apartment hunting in New York City (I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy), the actual moving day (couches are so heavy and moving companies cost one billion dollars), and the fact that we would now be seeing each other every day and hopefully remain in love with each other. But one issue I didn’t think about was the fact that we would be sharing all of our finances. Rent, utilities, milk, toilet paper, shelves for the bathroom – I was no longer going out and buying stuff just for myself, everything was now ours and I had no idea how to handle this.
There is nothing fun about discussing money. Before moving in together it only ever really came up when we’d go out to dinner and we’d try to take turns covering the bill. Now I realized we needed some sort of system for keeping track of finances, however unfun that may be. I figured there must be some preexisting system that most live-in couples use but I realized I had no clue what that was. My girlfriends and I talk about basically all aspects of our relationships but I realized I had absolutely no clue how any of my cohabitating friends balanced their finances. I felt weird asking but I was dying to know! No one talks about this stuff, which is understandable. Money is a very personal thing and obviously there isn’t one blanket solution that will work for everyone. But I was curious to find out from other couples how they handled this relationship milestone and what I found was that everyone’s circumstances were pretty varied.
When it came to sharing our finances, my approach was that we should split everything as evenly as possible. My boyfriend and I make a comparable income so this made the most sense to us. It also seemed to be the easiest way to avoid conflict about who bought what, who spends more, etc. But for many couples, this simply isn’t their reality. One person may make significantly more than the other, and in that case, how do you know who pays for what?
It’s not always as easy as fifty fifty.
Emily, 24, who lives in Harlem, has been living with her girlfriend for several years. When they first moved in together, their financial situations were drastically different – she had a full time job but her girlfriend had been teaching abroad, had significant college debt, and basically couldn’t afford rent. So if they wanted to live together, and they did, Emily had to foot the bill. For the first few months she covered their rent, food, furniture, and utilities, even dipping into her own savings to do so. “We don’t have any models, any precedents. So we’re figuring it out as we go,” says Emily, a sentiment I think many of us can relate to. Eventually, her girlfriend found a job and they are now able to split their finances more evenly.
For Emily, and many couples, money can be one of the biggest sources of stress in a relationship. A bigger issue than imbalanced incomes and spending can actually be a difference in money values. Discovering that your partner tends to spend money freely while you feel panicked if you aren’t tucking away some money every month into savings can lead to conflict.
Save receipts and meet monthly.
So what’s the best way to tackle your own personal domestic financial crisis? Have an open, honest conversation with your partner, even if it makes you supremely uncomfortable. Julia, 32, did just that when moving in with a boyfriend in Manhattan for the first time. She sat her boyfriend down early on and said, “Money makes me nervous. Talking about money also makes me nervous. In order to not be nervous, let’s have one day each month where we talk about money so that we are always on the same page and neither of us have to be nervous about bringing it up.” They save all receipts from shared purchases and once a month comb through them to make sure costs are evenly split and that no one feels they are spending way more than the other. According to Julia, this system works for them, saying, “Having a monthly money meeting is a way to check in and maintain fairness in contributing to our home. Maybe one month he shops more and another month I happen to be able to get to the market more. Either way, we are both going to be aware of and responsible for the cost of what is spent.”
Use a big picture lens.
Saving receipts and combing through them each month may work for some, but for others it might sound like more accounting work than they could reasonably keep up with. A more laid back approach may be to keep a loose spreadsheet of who is buying what to help you both keep track to make sure one person isn’t taking on more than they can or want to. This is a system that works for, Erica, 26, who lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend. “I guess we sort of look at our spending with a big picture lens,” she says, “making sure it’s not totally lopsided and trying to even things out moving forward rather than constantly paying one another back.” An even more paperwork-free approach is simply assigning costs – one person takes care of utilities and toiletries, while the other is responsible for food. That way you know what you’re each responsible for.
Have regular check-ins.
No matter how you divvy it up, dealing with money is a chore, but taking some time each month to check in assures you both remain on the same page. This is a time where you can calmly address any issues about money, rather than waiting until the issue becomes so large that it turns into a big fight. So at the end of the day, it’s not about splitting costs evenly, it’s about knowing what works best for you two. It’s about communicating clearly what your expectations are for how you want to split costs and it’s about discussing your outlook on money in general with your partner. Then when the money conversation is over you two can take a moment to celebrate that you’re officially grownups over a nice dinner of ice cream because that’s what you always hoped adulthood would be.