Moving in with a partner is a major relationship moment, and it’s a super fun part of adulting — you get to live with your best friend! No more Craigslist roommates! Pants are totally optional now!
But as with most milestones, it’s not all fun and games. When my boyfriend, James, and I started talking about moving in together, you can bet money was on my mind.
My worry was for good reason, too: A 2015 SunTrust Bank survey found 35% of couples named finances as their biggest source of relationship stress. In fact, financial stress came in 10% higher than the next source: annoying habits.
That made me realize the next step in our relationship wasn’t just about learning to share recycling duties or closet space — it was also about finding out whether managing money together would make or break us.
My Budget Went From “Me” …
When James and I first moved in together early last year, we also took on a roommate and split everything three ways. James paid the total rent and electricity bill out of his checking account, and our roommate and I reimbursed our shares using Venmo. We split other utilities the same way — I managed the internet account, and our roommate handled the water bill.
Even though James made more than me, I split major expenses with him right down the middle. Why? He carries high student loan balances, and I’m debt-free — so while he made more money, he had more fixed demands on each paycheck than I do.
… To “We”
When James and I moved to a new apartment just the two of us this year, our money plan changed again. He had received several promotions and now makes significantly more than I do.
Being the money-minded person I am, I came up with a budgeting plan I felt was fair and presented it to him before we moved in — fortunately, he happens to be the most easy-going person in the world, so he agreed right away! We also agreed that if this plan didn’t work out for us, we would adjust as we went.
Our Money Breakdown
- Rent: $550/month; split down the middle 50/50
- Food: $250/month; he pays for all groceries, and we split dinners out, which are rare
- Utilities (internet, water, electric and trash): $105/month; he pays 60% and I cover 40%
- Personal expenses: Personal is personal. He covers his own gym membership while I cover my own Spanish class, and we each have our own budgets for shopping, entertainment, gas, auto insurance and so on. We also adopted the practice of “owning” things we bought. For example, James bought a $40 blender for our new home, and rather than me sending him half of the price, the blender belongs to him in the event of a breakup.
We each have separate savings and checking accounts, and we don’t have a combined account at the moment.
While agreeing to this plan was easy, living with it took practice. James is happy to pay for groceries but doesn’t want to do all the food shopping by himself. There are also certain things we buy that he never eats or drinks. (I love sparkling water; he can’t stand it.) Our solution means keeping track of receipts and subtracting things like my Topo Chico drinks from what he pays. I love grocery shopping, so more often than not I use my own card to pay for the food and Venmo him later. If you haven’t noticed, I use Venmo a LOT now!
But Not Everything Came Easily
What didn’t turn out to be so simple was maintaining our money-conscious habits as a couple. We’re not big spenders in general, but moving meant splurging upfront to furnish our home with a new rug, coffee table and TV stand, since all our old stuff was too big. We spent about $300 total on Craigslist, which we split 50/50.
We also dropped more on meals out and let our frugal living habits slip, like turning the AC off as much as possible. Our money-saving ways, both as individuals and as a couple, had been compromised in the name of convenience as we adjusted to living together. So we made it a plan to sit down together, do our individual budgets and set monthly spending targets as a couple.
Instead of randomly dining out whenever we felt like it, we decided to limit it to twice a month. We revisited our habits, like keeping the thermostat at 78 in the summer and biking rather than driving.
We also have to be incredibly organized tracking our expenses. Venmo is a lifesaver, but we must label every transaction very clearly to make sure everyone’s paid what they’re owed.
What Managing Money Has Done for Our Relationship
Moving in together has been a great experience, and overall a pretty smooth one. Money is a constantly evolving issue, so as James and I continue to make more money and start making bigger purchases, we’ll need to re-evaluate our spending again and again.
By co-managing our household finances, we've become closer as a couple. We’ve learned to keep the doors open for communication and really hear each other out about what’s working, what’s not and how we can reach a solution together.