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Moving in together and savings
April 15, 2014 9:31 PM   Subscribe

My partner makes money and has savings. I am a grad student, have no savings, but will make money. How to handle potential cohabitation?

My partner has been working full-time for the past 8 years, making from 70k to 100k. He has no debts. I transitioned from undergrad directly to a PhD program, and never "made" more than 20k a year (no debts, small IRA). I will be graduating this fall and we're talking about moving in together.

I would like to, but if we do, I'm not sure how to handle this financially. I will make ~60k in my new job this fall but I have no real savings yet. If we move into a place together, it would cost around 2k/month.

I am mulling over:

1. I could stay home (low rent) while working for year, and save up some before we move in together.

2. We move in together but I'm not sure how to split expenses. We currently don't have a great method. We "take turns" paying, though he pays the more expensive dates.

We have talked marriage and it's been positive.

Any advice? Is there anything I'm missing/not thinking of? Thanks all!
posted by inevitability to Work & Money (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't sound like you've spoken to him about this and how he sees it working, is there a reason for this? The way I see it, you've got a few options a) he can cover you until you start earning money then b) you pay rent and expenses plus pay back what you owe him for covering you c) he covers you and you don't pay him back d) you take out a loan e) you stay put until you have a job and can pay your own way.

Personally I'd go for the last option. If you don't have any savings or a job, you're basically asking him to pay for everything, which personally I wouldn't feel comfortable about, particularly as you've never lived with each other before.

I understand you're talking about marriage and that might change things but until you discuss your expectations around money, you'll never know how he feels about supporting you or not. This coming up is actually a great way to find out how you both approach dealing with finances together.

FWIW, when my fiancé and I spoke about moving in together, it involved me moving interstate, giving up a well paying job to be unemployed and live with him. I saved up enough money to live off for a year so he didn't have to carry me - though he still paid for more than his share. It meant staying long distance for a while longer so I could do this but not feeling like a financial burden was worth it.
posted by Jubey at 9:43 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]

Ah! Sorry! I realized it wasn't clear. We won't be moving in together until the fall when I start my job.

We've started talking about this, but we both decided to mull it over for a week before re-visiting. Everything I've said here he knows.
posted by inevitability at 9:51 PM on April 15

There are two things going on here: 1) monthly expenses and 2) individual net worth.

You're not married so #2 above does not matter. If you are co-habitating, #1 is the thing you need to figure out - particularly if your income levels are not equivalent. The easiest way to solve this is to split the bills proportionate to your income levels.


Your bills are $2k/month.
He makes $4k/month.
You make $1k/month.

He makes 80% of household income ($4k/($4k+$1k))
You make 20% of household income ($1k/($4k+$1k))

Therefore, you split the bills according to what percentage of household income you bring in:

He pays 80% of the bills or $1600/month.
You pay 20% of the bills or $400/month.

What you do with the income you have leftover after bills (save it, blow it, etc) is up to you.
posted by shew at 9:53 PM on April 15 [4 favorites]

Speaking to the housing aspect of option #2, pick a place you are both happy with that you can each afford separately, even if you might not contribute equally. Is the 2K/month rent total, or each?. You will each be held fully responsible for the rent in the contract anyway, since you are not married, yet. And who knows what may happen?
Sounds like you have a small income at the moment, so you can contribute what you can afford now and decide how to settle the debt when your new job starts.

Other fixed expenses (utilities) should be split equally. Start a grocery fund that you share for that stuff, or just save receipts.

It seems you want to start saving more. Once you move in together and get a new job that should be easier. His salary and savings should not matter, unless he wants to carry more of the financial burden so you can save more aggressively. You will need a frank talk about that, which should be a part of any discussion about marriage.

On preview, I disagree with shew- split all the mundane household expenses evenly; he can use some of his higher income to buy you beautiful clothes, etc. !
posted by TDIpod at 10:03 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]

I agree with TDIpod on how to choose a place to live, and shew on how to split expenses. The end of cohabiting relationships can be a financial minefield. If you don't have a savings cushion, don't stretch far beyond your own means in housing, just in case you find yourself solely responsible for the housing costs for some period of time.

Personally, I'd probably put off moving in together for a year and save aggressively. I'm overly financially cautious, though, so that colors my perspective.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:17 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]

I also think you should at least offer and expect to split your expenses evenly. If you cannot or don't want to spend that much on rent, now is a good time to tell him. If he is happy to pay more in order to stay in a nicer place, that's up to him. If he wants to go out to restaurants and is willing to pay for you, that's fine too. However, as the higher income earner, I have had a lot of resentment towards my partners expecting me to pay for a nice place just because I made $X amount or saved $X amount. (At least, without doing 90% of the chores at home.)

When you're married, it's different, because (in most states) your income/savings are legally comingled anyway. But if you're "just" moving in together, plan to pay 50% of your life together. If you're not willing to do that, then don't move in together at all.

(I also want to say that I did end up paying more towards the rent, with both my ex and my current partner. But with my current partner, it is my choice, not an expectation, and that made all the difference.)
posted by ethidda at 11:28 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]

I make in that range, and my GF is currently an americorps volunteer, which means she makes basically nothing, and we're planning to get married, so basically our situations seem pretty similar. When we moved in together, I told her she could just pay the same rent she was paying renting a room in a group house, which is about 1/4th of the rent of our apartment.

Since we're planning to get married in the near-ish future, and I easily make enough money for both of us to leave decently well off of, it doesn't really make sense to quibble about expenses. I basically only ask her to pay any part of the rent these days when i have some unplanned expense in the month and I'm a little bit short.
posted by empath at 11:29 PM on April 15

Clearly don't be tempted to have your name on a lease where you cannot afford to pay the rent alone - that's just common sense.

But other than that I think you need to have a chat about lifestyle choices - about what you each like to spend money on, about your priorities and preferences. What can each of you afford and what you both want. Even once you start your job he can afford a rather more expensive lifestyle than you. And evn if you both earned the same amount of money you may still have very different priorities and preferences.

So you each need to figure out what you can spend on necessities like rent, utilities, car, food, what you each want to save. And then you can work out what's left for lifestyle type stuff.

That would include things like small day to day luxuries like a nice bottle of wine with dinner a couple of times a week, personal expenses like clothing, hobbies, meals out, other going out, holidays etc. And you need to work out what you each want, can afford and how you want to bridge those gaps.

At the one end of the scale he may be happy to live a lifestyle you can afford in equal measure and put the rest of his disposable income into savings.

At the other end of the scale he may want to indulge in a lifestyle you cannot afford and be happy to make up the difference. Or not make up the difference and he gets to do stuff you don't (although that would be a dealbreaker for me personally, you're either living with somebody or not). Or any number of options in between.

So it's not just about affordability but also about priorities and preferences and about finding workable compromises for these things, that won't cause you to resent each other's spending habits.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:37 PM on April 15

In many jurisdictions, it is not legal to live in an apartment long term and not be on the lease - just FYI.


I really hate to see these types of relationship/financial questions.

In general, I think it is pretty easy - either both partners are comfortable with paying a sliding scale portion to enjoy their shared lifestyle together.... Or someone needs to dump their stingey ass partner.

If you both want to live together, and especially if the monied partner doesn't want to live at an economic level (housing, entertainment, luxuries) that fits into the lesser earner's budget - then the monied partner happily pays the difference in percentage, monthly.

Either you are in it together, or not.

Under a sane percentage division, should one partner fall into economic hard times, it gets handled like any other roommate situation in the same circumstances, barring an expectation of marriage.

If someone is that squeaky about money, they should not date outside their economic means.

When you love someone, you are generous and responsible towards them, and them towards you. You know each other's financial status by the time you find you are in love with each other. Either you both agree on your joint financial value and how that is applied ... Or not.


Living together does not necessarily put you on track for marriage - so either your guy thinks living with you is worth making this plan work respective of your current incomes, or he's not worth further consideration on your part. Any relationship should be worth more than greenbacks. YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 12:09 AM on April 16 [9 favorites]

When my partner and I were in the 'committed but not married' stage we split the household bills in proportion to income. Sometimes I has the higher earner, sometimes my partner was by a wide margin.

Anything else would just feel weird to me.
Either you are in it together, or not.
posted by pharm at 1:43 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]

I would wait and go in with savings and a more articulated sense of what you want to do with your money. Splitting it proportionally is the fair thing to do, but it can sometimes mean that the higher earner might (despite themselves) feel an unspoken claim on discretionary cash, time (e.g. extra breaks from housework), etc. I think this is truer when a marriage-type commitment hasn't yet been made. You've just gone up in income by 300% - it will take a bit to make sense of it, and if you haven't spelled the money part out for yourself yet, it might have a tendency to go here and there. If you walk in with a firm plan, there will be less room for that kind of floating (or discussion).
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:59 AM on April 16

Agreed with a proportionate split, but if I were in your shoes, I would do what past-me failed to do and make sure that I had some liquid, accessible savings before moving in. Not necessarily tons, but 3 to 5k, socked away somewhere, to be used for the dreaded just in case. If you're making 60k and paying low rent, you could just put off moving from "autumn" to "new year"--which, as a bonus, would probably get you better deals on apartments, too.

I've seen too many relationships where someone wanted to leave and couldn't afford to do so, and so many more where one partner or the other would have really, really benefited from being able to walk away and go spend a couple nights in a hotel or something. You're making more money than anyone in these example couples, but it's still not a bad idea to have a just in case fund so that if you're furious and need a break, you can just do that and not worry about if this or that account has enough money to cover three nights of a hotel plus takeout plus the gas bill. It also means that in a worst-case scenario, your partner won't be able to figure out where you are by looking at your bank statement.

Probably you'll never need the money, but I strongly believe that every single person who's cohabitating should have an account like this. Just in case.
posted by MeghanC at 2:10 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]

Pointing out that financial arrangements are a thing that can be periodically re-negotiated, if one of you gets a fabulous job or loses a job or wins the lottery or whatever.

Also pointing out that this is a very personal thing you two can hammer out yourselves, so you can make it look like whatever you want and if a busybody tuts that it's not according to this or that percentage you can tell them to pound sand.

That said: there are two ideas I have, one of which was something a couple I actually know did.

1. He pays for the rent, and you pay for utilities and food. You're both contributing a valuable thing to your shared cohabitation that way, but utilities-and-food is less money in raw numbers than rent would cost, so it'd be manageable for you.

2. You each contribute a percentage of your paychecks - half, or two-thirds, or whatever - to a "house fund," and the "house fund" is where you get all the money for all shared expenses - rent and food, sure, but also "hey you wanna redecorate the living room" or whatever. You're each contributing an equal percentage, even though it's not the same dollar amount; and you each still retain some money for your own things (you wouldn't use the house fund to each shop for clothes for yourselves, for instance).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:49 AM on April 16

Couples I know that have made this work do two things:

1. They split all expenses based upon income. So she contributes 70% and he contributes 30% if that's how the pay disparity is.

2. They have a separate account exclusively for mutual household expenses. So he has his bank account, she has her bank account, and there is a third, joint bank account, from which all household expenses are paid.

I will add one other thing. If you anticipate this relationship ending in marriage, become formally engaged before you move in together. I'll catch a lot of grief for this, but I really believe that people who are building a financial future together should be legally obligated to each other.

There's an NYT article that discusses this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:59 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]

Another thing I'd recommend before setting up house together is for the both of you to attend pre-marital counseling. The Catholic church offers Pre-Cana, other faiths offer similar courses.

This allows you to really explore your attitudes about money, children, faith, lifestyle, etc. Really understand what each of you wants from the relationship and that you both are seeing this as a step towards marriage, rather than a try-out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:06 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]

Over time, I've seen more of the squabbles come from the "small stuff" like who has to always buy the dish soap vice the "big stuff" like rent. So I suggest you divide the fairly fixed (rent, electric, internet) bills as best you can, then have a house fund account where you each contribute proportionally and can each draw on for things like groceries, cleaning supplies, etc. Both of you have skin in the game then, so to speak, and anything left over a certain amount after, say, each financial quarter can be used for a night out for the two of you where you splurge. It creates an incentive to use the money wisely without either side monitoring purchases made from personal money.
posted by skittlekicks at 6:07 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]

There's no such thing as universally fair, there's only what the two of you decide feels right for you. By many standards, earning $60k/year and paying $1k/month in rent is about normal; living with him isn't costing you anything extra, as that $1k+half-utilities is about equivalent to costs you'd have if you lived on your own, so you pay what you pay. On the other hand, you could look at it that he'll have an extra $40k income beyond what you do, and will be able to save more; so it might be considered more fair for him to shoulder more of the burden so that you can "catch up" on savings.
Consider also, how much financial concerns can bleed over into other aspects of the relationship. If he's paying more than half the expenses, what the emotional implications of that will be: is he "taking care of you", are you less independent? Do you owe him anything, are you supposed to take more responsibility for household stuff (cleaning etc)? Is it implied that your job/time is less important, or his needs take priority?
posted by aimedwander at 7:26 AM on April 16

It has worked well for me, living with both platonic roommates and committed-but-not-married boyfriends, to split everything down the middle--regardless of each partner's income.

With platonic roommates, it was a peacekeeping measure; with boyfriends, the same, because I usually earned more than they did (but was happy to live thriftily at a level they could afford 50% of).

How this worked would be: Rent is split 50/50. Other expenses that are shared--everything from utilities to groceries* to restaurant checks to gas for the car during a road trip--go on a monthly ledger sheet with the initials of the payer beside each expense. At the end of the month (or whenever), figure the total for each person, split the remainder, and settle up.

It was the most straightforward way for both partners to feel dignified and like even contributors to our household, and it mattered not one bit who had more savings/net worth as long as both of us were working and earning enough for the month.

*the payer would bring home the receipt, at which point the other party circled every item they were going to consume/use. this prevented making one person pay for, say, the other's particular brand of soy yogurt (yuck) and it was kind of fun, too.
posted by magdalemon at 8:21 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]

I've split the rent/utilities roughly down the middle- mostly as a peacekeeping measure. (finance person vs phd/post doc person) However, we are also happy to live in a place where this doesn't cause too much of a burden on the lower income earner.

In an ideal world, I would prefer to split the rent according to income- it's sometimes absurd that I have so much more discretionary income/savings, but it's also a pride thing, and I can understand that angle as well. If I want fancy dinners, or vacations, I pay for the bulk of it for the two of us.

I would plan on moving in together either before or at least 2 months after your new job. A new job is extremely stressfull, and you don't need apartment/relationship drama at the same time.

When you move in together, make sure that everything is written down. I don't care if you plan on getting married tomorrow- you are gaining a new roommate (who happens to be your lover). having it in writing makes future discussions/recalibrations waaaay easier. I also highly recommend having rolling conversations about financials- we probably talk about money every other week, and recalibrate who is paying for (non rent/phone/utilities) stuff on a regular basis.
posted by larthegreat at 8:53 AM on April 16

My finace and I have pretty different incomes (he makes over twice what I make), but we split rent and everyday expenses 50-50. We intentionally chose an apartment (and intentionally choose other lifestyle things like how much to spend on groceries) that I can afford half of. Fiance will sometimes pay for a fancier dinner or trip on his own as a gift, but otherwise we split things evenly. Honestly, this is what I am comfortable with until we are married and our finances are legally combined, for a few reasons:

1) Splitting a one-bedroom apartment is ultimately cheaper for me than getting it on my own. So, even though we are splitting 50-50, I actually pay less in rent than I would be if we weren't living together (and my rent now is lower than when I was single). Obviously if he demanded a super-expensive apartment or something, it would be a different story.

2) Although we are very happy to be getting married, we're not yet! I am an independent person and I personally LIKE feeling like I am paying my own way, at least for now.

3) Our other expenses (outside of household expenses) are also uneven. I don't have student loans and I receive some money from my parents. On the other hand, my fiance is paying off student loans, has higher medical expenses than I do because of an ongoing condition, and sometimes helps a relative out with expenses. So, it's not like he has tons and tons of money to spend on random shit, while I am feeling dirt poor and going into debt. We both feel like we're spending on household expenses at a level we are comfortable with.

4) When my fiance does splurge with fun money, it's usually for things we both enjoy, like a fancy new stero system we both use or a trip we go on together. I don't require this or anything, but I think it just makes the whole situation all around feel good. :)

In your case, a $1000 rent with a $60k salary seems totally affordable/reasonable, so I would go for splitting things 50/50 if I were you.
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:19 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]

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