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First-time cohabiter looking for advice on merging lives
January 2, 2012 7:31 PM   Subscribe

First-time cohabiter with some questions on merging money/stuff/habits post-move. Advice appreciated.

I am planning a move in with my boyfriend in March and have a few questions. I have had roommates before but never lived with a romantic partner and I want to make sure we have thought of everything and covered all the bases. It'll be almost a year together by that point and we have spent weekends together, either at my place or his, fairly regularly. We have also vacationed together. But living together is a whole other thing :) So, some questions...

1) We have decided against totally merging the money, since he has support obligations from a previous relationship and doesn't want to confuse things with my money being in his account. So we have worked out a budget where I hand him a cheque twice a month for certain shared expenses, and we each have some money for solo things (my phone, his phone, my bus pass etc) and personal money. Is it easier to open a joint bank account? Can we even do that if we aren't married?

2) Right now, I'll be left with slightly more in take-home pay than he'll have, and he has resisted efforts to even that out somehow. In a few months though, his situation will change and it's possible he'll have more. How do we plan for shared spending e.g. furniture and such given that there will be an income disparity? He does not want me contributing more just because I have it, but seems to think that once he's the one with more money, it's fine for him to spend it on joint stuff.

3) I think we have too many gadgets. We is set on keeping the Xbox and Nintendo (his) and Wii (mine) but we also have an Apple TV and three televisions between us. I have a DVD player. His Xbox can play DVDs. We can stream Netflix on five separate devices! What to keep? What to get rid of? How to best set up everything?

4) Lifestyle habits, we are pretty similar. He routinely works out at a gym in his parents building, so I am not worried about having alone time at home. And it's a big apartment in case I wanted alone time and he was home. But I am concerned about sleep habits. It's been fine while on vacation and weekends, but he is on medication which makes him tired and he goes to bed a lot earlier than I do. He sleeps like a rock and I don't think I'll wake him by going to bed later, but I want to make sure we get quality time together too. Should I go to bed when he does and just bring a book with me? Or is it okay to sometimes stay up after he's gone to bed?

5) I am pushing for a cohabitation agreement, given his support obligations. I want to make sure it's clear what assets I have and what money I have been contributing. And I want to make sure that if g-d forbid something happens to him, his ex can't take my stuff, or stuff we purchase jointly. Is this something we can DIY or do we really have to see a lawyer about this? Any tips on how to draft such a document from any mefites who have done this before?

6) Finally, any other tips and suggestions? For what it's worth, we are both mid-30s professionals. He has done this before (obviously). I've had relationships, but not any that got to this stage. Marriage is the end-goal; we've just moved up the living together timeline somewhat for financial reasons.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
As to 1., you can open a joint bank account with anybody you want to.
posted by xingcat at 7:42 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Is it easier to open a joint bank account? Can we even do that if we aren't married?"

(I'm guessing you're in Canada or the U.K. based on "cheque") -- Maybe, and yes (in all English-language jurisdictions that I'm aware of). Your system doesn't seem terribly complicated, but you might like a joint account better. And you may want one for other reasons. Married people may have the option to have MORE rights in a joint account, depending on your jurisdiction, but generally any two random people who want to can get an account together.

"3) I think we have too many gadgets. We is set on keeping the Xbox and Nintendo (his) and Wii (mine) but we also have an Apple TV and three televisions between us. I have a DVD player. His Xbox can play DVDs. We can stream Netflix on five separate devices! What to keep? What to get rid of? How to best set up everything?"

None of us can answer this for you, but in a similar situation my now-husband and I jettisoned the least-worthy TV (we basically owned 3 and had good places for 2), and lived with the rest of it for a while, then got rid of the excess after six months or so when we knew we'd never what a DVD in THAT room or we'd always use the Xbox to do so in THIS room.

"He sleeps like a rock and I don't think I'll wake him by going to bed later, but I want to make sure we get quality time together too. Should I go to bed when he does and just bring a book with me? Or is it okay to sometimes stay up after he's gone to bed?"

I'm awake after my husband right now! And almost always am! He needs more sleep than I do as a general thing, one of us has to stay up with the sleep-averse baby, and I like some alone time anyway. Sometimes I go up and read while he dozes off, but if I do I most often get back up afterwards after he goes to sleep and be in another room until my bedtime. We have quality time in the evenings before bed. (Mornings are hectic with children.) Before we had kids we usually went to bed at the same time but I got up earlier. Whatever works. As long as you're both happy and rested, it doesn't really matter when you each go to bed. You can get together time in many different ways, at many different times of day.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:45 PM on January 2, 2012


In short: goon on ya for thinking about this now. I co-habitate with my S.O. and have for four years (we are not married.) Here are a few things I learned:

- Keeping finances separate is a good thing until you get some sort of legal arrangement in place. So number one: good idea! We opened a joint bank account no problem, and have a similar set up: x amount of dollars is contributed by each of us each month for shared expenses (eating out, utilities etc.)

- Don't know if you are both renting or if one of you owns a house (you say apartment in your post, so I'm presuming rent), but talk about the rent or mortgage, who will pay what (if anything), whose names are on the lease, and agree that you are both participants and residents in the space and therefore get a say as to what happens (like renovations.) Esp. if one of you isn't paying rent; this could become an issue later on if your s.o. who pays the mortgage wants to put turquoise shag in the living room, but you think that's a terrible idea but don't contribute to the mortgage (even if it's by design). That conversation gets thorny, quickly.

- As for devices: move in and see what sticks. If you end up loving the Wii, but never use the xBox, sell the xBox. That kind of stuff can work itself out. I pay for our Netflix account and he cancelled his because it didn't make sense to have two, of course. In the grand scheme of things, that's not a huge deal. :)

- Sleep times/time together: it doesn't really seem like your concern is going to bed at the same time, but spending time together while awake. I encourage you to think hard about what kind of family life you're expecting (because let's be honest: a family is what you're building here, and that's why it's different than a roommate.) I had to take a long, hard look at the differences in our upbringings and habits to explain why we were having conflicts about time spent together, among other things (like levels of acceptable cleanliness, etc.) Once you can recognize them, you can articulate them to your S.O. (for example, it's important to me that we eat a meal together every day. For him that was not a concern at all, which lead to some misunderstandings.) When you can point to differences in upbringing and expectations, you can have a (more or less) rational discussion about your feelings and how to change things so that you're both happy.

- Were your SO and the ex married? Are there children involved? If so, you might want to talk to a lawyer. Spend the $ and get peace of mind, esp. if you are planning some major purchases (like a tv, or furniture, or a house.) If no children, and the divorce is final, is your SO paying alimony/palimony? If so, what is the legal agreement they have? You should know what the liability is, and he should be forthcoming about it. I was divorced when I moved in with my SO. But my ex and I waived all rights to palimony/alimony/retirement/EVERYTHING as we had no children and no assets to speak of. Despite the fact that there is little to no chance of my ex demanding support, I am not on the lease for the house I live in, either. So, I try to keep my purchases to things I can take with me if I have to go: this way there is no doubt as to who owns what but I still feel like I contribute to the household (I don't pay rent). Cold and calculating? Maybe, but it works for us for now until we make things more legal. If you don't want to do that (and I don't blame you if you don't), write up something, have it notarized. Getting married and divorced taught me that although we marry for love, marriage is as much a business venture as it is a romantic one. I was very lucky. Others I know have not been so lucky (even when they were engaged to someone and never got married!)

tl;dr: Go with your gut, keep your head about you. You're asking all the right questions! MeMail me if you'd like more info (I'm in the US if that matters in terms of laws/etc.)
posted by absquatulate at 7:55 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


AUGH: all the previews in the world can't save from "goon" for "good". :P
posted by absquatulate at 7:55 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Definitely keep your finances separate right now. Giving him a check for major joint expenses like rent and utilities should work just fine (that's what we do). As for big purchases like furniture, my suggestion would be to trade off buying these (you buy a new couch, he buys a new bed), so that if you had to split up your possessions, you could at least divide things up fairly. I wouldn't open a joint account or buy big things jointly until you've been living together longer or get engaged.

If you're good about keeping track of things, it shouldn't be a problem to switch off buying things like groceries. If you want to be really organized, you could save receipts and add things up at the end of the week/month/whatever. But we just sort of trade off and figure that it evens out.

Since this is new, my advice is to be optimistic, but be careful not to get rid of too much of your own stuff when you move into his place. I'm so glad I moved in with my dude, but I was ruthless about selling my furniture. If things hadn't worked out for us, I would have had very little to my name. There's nothing wrong with living together for a month or two and then figuring out what to keep. Good luck!
posted by pourtant at 8:18 PM on January 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


When my then-SO, now-husband and I moved in together, we kept most of our finances separate but opened a joint account for joint expenses, ie, rent, utilities, etc. We still do this now that we're married. It makes things super-easy - we each deposit our share of the monthly bills in the joint account and pay them from there, but the rest of our individual funds are kept separate. We have ours all in the same bank, so we can do easy online transfers, but separate banks would be just as easy as long as you deposit your expenses with enough time for the checks to clear before you pay the bills.

As for the sleep thing, I routinely stay up much later than my husband and he doesn't care. I just asked him if he'd mind if I stayed up later and he said no. I suggest discussing this with him, but most people wouldn't mind, I'd imagine.
posted by bedhead at 8:35 PM on January 2, 2012


I live with my girlfriend. We have separate bank accounts, but a shared credit card (it's in her name, but I have a card too - it's really easy to add a second name to the account.) We pay for all expenses on the shared card, then I give her a check at the end of the month for half the rent + half the utilities + half the credit card bill.

Things like restaurant meals together, groceries, etc go on the shared card. Things like clothing, meals out while not together (lunch at work, with a friend), we pay for individually.

It's really easy and works very well for us. We may merge our finances more in the future, but this is great for now.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:38 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and I go to bed before my girlfriend most nights. She comes to bed when she's ready to sleep. We usually get up around the same time - I just need more sleep than she does. It's a total non-issue for us; we spend a lot of time together, and we have time together in bed in the mornings.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:39 PM on January 2, 2012


Right now, I'll be left with slightly more in take-home pay than he'll have, and he has resisted efforts to even that out somehow. In a few months though, his situation will change and it's possible he'll have more. How do we plan for shared spending e.g. furniture and such given that there will be an income disparity? He does not want me contributing more just because I have it, but seems to think that once he's the one with more money, it's fine for him to spend it on joint stuff.

Money issues are a very common source of relationship tension; talk this out now and make sure you can come to some sort of shared understanding, or you will fight about it later, guaranteed. You sound a little unsure of his position, so that's a clear indication that you need to talk about it!

If you want an alternative to dividing expenses in half, you can ratio it (SOCIALISM!). If your monthly take home pay is A, and his is B, and rent is X, you can pay A*X/(A+B) and he can pay B*X/(A+B). The formula is always the same, regardless of changes in income. Make sure you agree on what happens if one of you loses a job.
posted by eddydamascene at 10:42 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


You've only been dating for a year, he has prior financial obligations and you're moving into his place? Keep finances separate and split the bills down the middle. Take major purchases as they come but ideally don't make any for a while. I wouldn't worry about a cohabitation agreement at this stage of the game, your stuff is your stuff. He has no claim to it, his ex certainly doesn't. I don't know why you think she might unless you live in a country with different property laws, in which case yeah, talk to a lawyer. Your bf shouldn't be part of that conversation though. If and when you merge finances, marry or buy a place together you can deal with merging assets and you can only put what you're comfortable with in both your names. A couch is not major, if you are thinking of setting up a contract over furniture then you might be moving in together too soon.

Also if you are moving into his place and he has kids do not expect to show up and redecorate the place on day one. Changes are going to have to be gradual, sounds like he is fine with keeping the place essentially "his" and you living there for now. Which is totally reasonable if he has partial custody. Make sure you're on the same page on that though because I've seen it cause major hurt feelings when the new SO shows up and isn't allowed to repaint the living room.
posted by fshgrl at 12:05 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


one more thing- does he own the place and you're going to contribute to the mortgage? That's fine for a while but I'd only let that happen for a while (say a year) without a more formal lease or joint ownership thing. Because if you break up and you've been paying half the mortgage for 4 years you're not going to be happy.
posted by fshgrl at 12:07 AM on January 3, 2012


I've done this twice.

The first time, the other party was already using Quicken to track all his expenses in great detail, and we earned roughly the same amount. In this case he found it easy to just keep tracking what we spent, and tell me each month how much I owed him (it was usually that way round because the mortgage came out of his account).

The second time, neither of us had any interest in tracking things to that level of detail. So we got a joint account and we agreed how much to put in it each month. That account covers all the bills and the groceries, and usually leaves some over at the end of the month which we save up for "house stuff" like furniture and roof repairs.

Occasionally one of us is desperate for some house article that we can't afford from the joint account; then that person buys it as a kind of gift for the house.
posted by emilyw at 1:33 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Find out what (if any) rights cohabitors have in your area. For example, in England and Wales you would have very few - essentially no more than roommates. The rights you have may suit you both fine, but it's not uncommon for the law to be different from the way you think it should be. I think it's a good idea to make up a cohabiting agreement that at least sets out what is yours, his and joint. Would help if you split up, but also if one of you dies.
posted by plonkee at 4:05 AM on January 3, 2012


We've been married for 10 years and still have the arrangement described in 1--a joint account for household expenses and separate accounts for personal stuff.

We think it's fair to pay into the house account in proportion to our incomes, but my wife's income is highly variable. Through experience, we've found that about 40% (pre-tax) is the right amount to cover mortgage, utilities, groceries, and the like. I deposit a check every two weeks into the house account, and my wife pays in as she's paid. We have a household credit card that we use for most household purchases, and we pay for it out of the household checking account.

We each have separate checking accounts, but also separate savings accounts. We have a general sense of what the other makes and has in savings, but we don't meddle much with each others' finances. This works because we have similar financial and life goals, and we both make enough so that there's always a cushion, but it might not work as well for other couples. For instance, I don't pay any attention to what she pays into the house account--I haven't looked into that in years. She could be paying nothing, for all I know, but we trust each other on that account, and there has always been enough money to pay the bills.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:57 AM on January 3, 2012


I can speak to the effectiveness of the joint account system. You each put in X dollars every month, preferably on auto transfer from your other accounts, and the groceries, utilities, etc. get paid out of that account. This worked much easier than one person paying the other back. You don't have to keep track or keep score as much, because as long as you both put in your money and keep the rest of your assets to yourselves, it works automatically. Of course you still need to agree as a couple about what you're spending on, but as long as your lifestyles and budgets aren't drastically different, this system works smoothly.

If you're slightly higher earning, just pay for a few more treats out of your own pocket - nice dinner out for the two of you, that sort of thing. This respects his ability to pull his weight on the day to day living expenses but lets you maintain a bit of luxury for the two of you that you otherwise wouldn't get.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:45 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


6) Really think about and talk about your household cleaning styles. For example, my partner is a "wait until things are really dirty and then blitz clean the whole place" type, while I'm more of a "clean a little bit every single day" type. Therefore, we have different dirtiness-tolerance levels, and different expectations about when certain cleaning tasks should be done. Understanding this from the beginning would have prevented some arguments.
posted by neushoorn at 6:19 AM on January 4, 2012


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