Moving in Together? Talk About These 4 Essential Things First
I’m probably not the best person to ask about successfully living in sin; I’ve cohabitated with four different boyfriends, none of whom I’m still with today.
But, despite my failures, I still want to live with my next BF before committing to marriage.
And I know many other millennials feel the same way.
If you plan to move in with your partner, there are a multitude of emotional and moral considerations to make -- like if they brush their teeth in the kitchen sink, or care whether your DVR will be filled with “The Bachelor.”
But since this is a personal finance blog, let’s talk purely about the money.
Financially speaking, what should you do before shacking up? What conversations should you have so even if your heart gets broken, your wallet won’t?
Since my track record clearly isn’t great, I decided to solicit some expert advice.
Here’s what I learned…
4 Steps You Have to Take Before Moving in Together
The first time I lived with a guy, I didn’t think twice.
It seemed like a fantastic idea: Together all the time! Endless foot rubs! No need for an extra toothbrush!
Needless to say, it wasn’t quite as idyllic as we’d imagined, and things ended rather abruptly.
The second time, I thought a little bit harder: Did I really want to go through it all again?
At this point, I won’t live with a guy unless we’re talking seriously about marriage.
Why? Because it’s a pain in the neck if you break up.
Not only do you have to deal with the emotional wreckage that accompanies any breakup, you also have to address the tedious details of money and couches and leases.
“Recognize ‘Hey, this is more than just where do we sleep?’” says Sheryl Garrett, CFP, founder of the Garrett Planning Network and co-author of “Money Without Matrimony.”
“[You] hang out all the time together, but making that decision about cohabitation is a bigger step.”
Learn from my mistakes, and do these four things before moving in together:
1. Request a DTM
At this point, you’ve probably already had a DTR (Define The Relationship).
Now I propose you have a new talk: Define The Money.
Unlike a DTR, which is probably better to have off-the-cuff, a DTM might take some preparation, so make an appointment with your partner.
“Schedule a time to talk so that your partner doesn’t feel blindsided and so that you can each do a little homework beforehand if need be,” suggests love and money expert Farnoosh Torabi.
She recommends clarifying you aren’t worried, but that you want to open up the conversation, since you know how it can “unnecessarily complicate things in relationships.”
2. Get (Financially) Naked
When your scheduled money date arrives, it’s time to bare all.
Before Torabi and her boyfriend (now husband) moved in together, they held their DTM in a comfortable setting: their favorite bar.
“We ordered a round (one round only) of margaritas and proceeded to jot down the following on a piece of paper: annual income, bank balances, outstanding loans and credit card balances and approximate credit score,” she writes.
“Then we swapped papers, revealing our details at the same time. This exercise gave us a simple, quick apples-to-apples comparison and helped us understand our relative strengths and weaknesses.”
If you need a softer approach, Torabi suggests asking your partner questions like, “How did you pay for college?” or “Would you say you’re a saver or a spender?” to stimulate easy conversation.
3. Ask the Big Question
No, not that one -- the other one.
Are we going to merge finances?
If your DTM doesn’t reveal any red flags about your boo, then it’s time to make a financial plan for your joint household.
Whether you’ll merge finances is the chief question you should consider.
A common strategy, according to Garrett, is to keep the majority of your finances separate, but also open a joint “household account” for shared expenses like rent, utilities, groceries and insurance.
If you decide to go this route, you still need to determine whether you’ll both evenly pay into the account, or base contributions on factors like income and household duties.
“Let's say one of you does all the cooking and makes less money, and the other one does all the eating and makes more money -- maybe you want to have a higher contribution coming from that party,” explains Garrett.
4. Sign Away
Whatever you decide, put it into writing with a cohabitation agreement.
It may seem extreme or unromantic, but it’s a wise move.
Within it, include guidelines about who’s responsible for different bills, expenses and maybe even household chores.
You likely won’t have to use this document on a regular basis, but it’s an easy way to see what living together will be like.
If your lifestyles aren’t going to jive, this conversation might make it apparent.
And, in the event of a breakup, a cohabitation agreement will help to protect both of your interests and reduce additional headaches.
It serves as a “dissolution agreement,” says Garrett. “Basically, how do we separate our stuff if we become invalid?”
So be sure to address questions like: Who gets to stay in the home? Who gets the pets? The furniture? How will you divide any shared debt?
Talking money may not be sexy, but it’s essential to any relationship.
Getting honest about your finances -- before taking the plunge -- will make the process of moving in with your partner much easier.
But if you think having a DTM means he’ll stop leaving the toilet seat up… Girl, you have another thing coming.
Your Turn: Are you planning to move in with your partner? Have you had a DTM?
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.