How should I best handle bills when moving in with my boyfriend?
September 28, 2009 9:44 AM   Subscribe

How should I best handle moving in with my boyfriend?

I haven't had a roommate for a long time, but will be moving in with my boyfriend soon. How do people handle bills and other expenses when they have a roommate, and especially when the roommate is your significant other? I'm a woman in her late 20's, would like to not get myself into a situation where I'm left with a gap in my own credit history, etc. Any other advice? I'm really looking forward to this, but want to make sure I'm handling it well! I've seen this question but am looking for input geared toward moving in with the future husband-type.
posted by belau to Human Relations (38 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Can you put each of your names on the various accounts (utilities, lease, cable, etc)? Call each one to see if they permit such a thing, and then do that.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:46 AM on September 28, 2009

It is important to know how they handle bills now. If he is borrowing money from you now it could be a problem in the future. Also moving in with each other for financial reasons can also backfire. At least it has in my experience. YMMV.
posted by mokeydraws at 9:48 AM on September 28, 2009

posted by sunshinesky at 9:49 AM on September 28, 2009

Our bills are in my boyfriend's name, and I write him a check, along with half the rent, every month.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:53 AM on September 28, 2009

YMMV, but when I moved in with my boyfriend, we set up a joint account in addition to our own private bank accounts. Each month we put an agreed-upon amount of money in there to cover rent, groceries, utilities and miscellaneous stuff like laundry detergent, etc. It was house money, and our money in our accounts was personal money to cover personal bills like student loans, credit card payments, etc. It worked out well for us because I never felt like I was always the one buying all the groceries and he never felt he was always the one paying the cable bill.
posted by kerning at 9:54 AM on September 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

Since you're thinking about this being long-term/permanent, you could put the bills in both of your names. For more incidental expenses, keep a common account which could be a checking account, a money-tin you each contribute to, or just a notebook where you record each of your expenditures and settle it once a month.
If your incomes are significantly different, you could contribute to the common {whichever one of the above} in proportion your incomes, or your projected annual incomes, if either of you has an irregular income, as a part-time worker or consultant might.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 9:54 AM on September 28, 2009

My ex-boyfriend and I moved in together and thought it would be easiest if we just had a joint account. It's not. Don't do this!

The biggest thing you will fight about is money, so get that squared away. Who will put their name on what? Only one of you can be the person to open up an account, but most places have a spot for another person's name, so if you opened the internet account, your boyfriend could call in and have access in case of issues. I suggest doing that, so the burden isn't always on you (or him) if service problems come up.

Split everything evenly. People suggested to me that whoever makes more money should contribute more. That's between you and your boyfriend if you want to work it out or just go 50/50. This INCLUDES groceries. Eating out can be a little touchy. Maybe have a 'fun money' jar that you both drop money into and use that for evenings out, or take turns paying.

But mostly don't get a joint account.
posted by caveat at 9:55 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

oops, my post was not a direct reply to kerning but I did not have a great experience with the joint account thing. Naturally, YMMV.
posted by caveat at 9:56 AM on September 28, 2009

Have you talked to him about this yet? That would probably be the first step, so that you two can both recognize any differences in viewpoint and talk it out.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:58 AM on September 28, 2009

Out of curiosity -- caveat what went wrong with the joint account? I know people who have had success with that sort of situation (see for example kerning), so I'm wondering what went badly for you?
posted by brainmouse at 10:01 AM on September 28, 2009

My boyfriend (and subsequent fiance/husband) and I got a joint account for bills. It worked great. He made more money than me so we agreed [before we moved in together] that he would contribute a larger amount for monthly bills than I did. Then we would transfer money into the joint account after each paycheck. This worked out great for us and I recommend it with the caveat that you need to talk to each other and spell out how it's going to work before you move in together.

You will also need to discuss who is actually in charge of paying what bills as necessary, who will be checking the account balance, what happens when eating out etc. It will also require some budgeting so you can coordinate pay dates with bill due dates. It does not have to be a big deal, but can cause problems if assumptions aren't adequately spelled out in the beginning.

I'm happy to answer any specific questions you may have about this via mefi mail.
posted by Kimberly at 10:05 AM on September 28, 2009

Best answer: Make sure the lease is in both of your names. That should be easy enough. Utilities usually are in one name only. The easiest way to do that is so alternate- cable in his name, gas in yours, etc.

When we were talking about this we came up with three basic financial options, which we called communist, socialist, and capitalist, for convenience.

1- Cuban option: all money except retirement and savings go into one account, from which all expenses are paid. This eliminates having to figure out who pays how much when one party earns more than the other. This is only for people who really trust each other (both financially and otherwise) and who are willing to have very little privacy. I think of this as more appropriate for people who are already married, own property together, have kids, etc.

2- French option: create one account from which all shared expenses will be paid, like rent, insurance, gas, cable, car expenses if you share a car, etc. Figure out how much needs to go into that account to cover monthly expenses, and then contribute from your respective salaries in the proportion you think is most fair. We chose this option, and we are contributing roughly in proportion to our respective salaries. If you make $60k and he makes $30k, you contribute 2/3 and he contributes 1/3. Then you keep separate accounts for everything else. We liked this option because we could have some autonomy with our money and we could buy gifts or take each other out with our separate money. At the same time, we are learning how to run a household together and we have to trust each other enough to have a shared account.

3- US option: no shared account. Put the bills in both names and you each pay whatever is fair from that. You pay electricity, he pays gas, you pay rent and he gives you half, etc. If you are early in the relationship this is likely the best choice. More like roommates than potential lifetime mates.

In any case, you need to sit down and look at how much each of you take home each month, what your expenses are, and have an honest conversation about what you can afford and what you are comfortable with.
posted by ohio at 10:06 AM on September 28, 2009 [21 favorites]

Strange... my partner and I use a joint account and it's been perfectly fine. I guess this depends on the dynamic of your relationship. We each put in a set amount each month and use it to pay for groceries and any shared expenses (e.g. meals out). Exactly the same way kerning does it, basically.

There was a period of a few months before we got the account and we tracked expenses manually using a spreadsheet. We had agreed to split everything 50-50 but accurate tracking and reporting is key to make this work, otherwise each party might feel they are spending more than their share, unaware of how much the other party has put in. The joint account was way easier and way less stressful than this arrangement.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:06 AM on September 28, 2009

The joint house account has worked without a hitch for me and my partner for more than eight years, so there's a data point for you.

Talk about what each of your expectations are around house chores - if he's the one who can't stand dishes left in the sink, and you're the one who hates a dirty bathroom or pile of papers on the kitchen table, then make who does what around the house based on things like that. But each of you should be willing to compromise on things, too. If there are chores that you both equally hate, take turns doing them or make a game out of it (whoever does the chore faster or better or whatever the metric is gets points towards a treat).

Money and chores are the things with the most potential to be points of contention, so talk about them before you actually have to do anything about them.
posted by rtha at 10:11 AM on September 28, 2009

The biggest thing you will fight about is money

Uh, that's not necessarily true.

OP, as long as you have your own sources of credit, aside from utilities -- credit cards, student loan repayment -- there shouldn't be a "gap" in your credit history. Could you clarify what you mean by that?
posted by palliser at 10:12 AM on September 28, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far and the previous mefi post. I've definitely been talking with him about all of this but neither of us were sure how to do utilities. I had a situation where I was living with someone and the electric bill was in his name - when I moved out and tried to set up an electric bill, I had to pay a $200 deposit because I had no history with the electric company. General good credit did not count in that situation, so it really sucked that I had never put bills in my own name (but had paid them consistently!).

My sister gave me the advice to take turns buying bigger items. Will probably wait to set up joint checking until after getting married. Not sure how groceries will work out yet. Awesome thing is he's one of those guys that puts the toilet lid down. How did I get so lucky?
posted by belau at 10:12 AM on September 28, 2009

My boyfriend and I keep separate finances, but split everything pretty evenly. We each write a check each month for half the rent, and we've got it worked out so that each of us pays half the bills (ie, gas/electric is in his name, phone/internet is in mine, and so forth). We each buy our own food for the most part (I'm vegan so our tastes don't overlap much), but we try to alternate on things we share. For household stuff, Target lets you pay with two cards, so we make one run for everything and split it that way. We've split or alternated on all major furniture purchases.

For what it's worth, neither of us really cares that much about who pays more - we're both always buying each other little things or paying for dinners and such, so there's no animosity or analness surrounding the split. He could care less, and I make sure it's even just for the sake of it, and it's never an issue at all.
posted by Fifi Firefox at 10:14 AM on September 28, 2009

My boyfriend and I also went the joint account route, and it's working great so far. We have a joint checking account and a credit card in his name that I am an authorized user for (we only did that because this card has been his for years but gets better rewards than anything else we could find). We also maintain our own checking, savings, and credit accounts.

We deposit an equal amount of money in each month (I have this as direct/auto deposits) and pay for all joint expenditures from the account, from rent to the electric bill to eating out (together). All individual purchases (clothes, eating out without the other, etc) comes out of our individual accounts. We are both on the lease but the rest of the bills are in my name (logistics--he already had accounts for his previous address with the same companies when we moved in, and I didn't).

Now, my boyfriend and I are nerdier than the average person when it comes to money. We each maintained spreadsheets to track our spending, and created a new spreadsheet to keep track of joint spending. We are totally open with each other about money, and trust the other to not make spontaneous or foolish purchases. We don't agree on everything--I think our computers work fine, he wants a new one; he thinks I have too many clothes but I keep shopping--but we have budgets, save for large purchases and are open to discussing almost anything. We have identical philosophies when it comes to spending, saving and debt, and we like to read personal finances books and blogs and debate them. So YMMV.

The important things here are to 1) make sure you are on the same page with your boyfriend and to 2) make sure you are protected in case the relationship goes sour. In my situation, either my boyfriend or myself could assume full responsibility for the apartment and its bills if required, whether it was from a layoff or a breakup. We each have an emergency fund that would enable us to continue contributing to household expenses or move out if things stop working. I feel that the protection also extends to your question about building your credit rating--why do you think there would be a gap in your history? You'd continue to have your own credit cards or student loans. You should both be on the lease. If you open a joint checking or savings account or credit card, you should maintain your individual accounts as well.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:15 AM on September 28, 2009

caveat, do you have any specific things you can point to as a problem with having a joint account? Was it that it was far too easy to overdraft? Did one of you resent the other for using the money in a way you did not agree to? It's not a perfect solution, but a joint account is a common way people handle money in a relationship. So, if you had tips on why it wasn't a good idea, that might help to poster avoid them.

When you mention credit history, I think as long as you have at least two accounts in your name, that should not be a problem. You may have a car or personal loan, or even a credit card in your name only. I remember an episode of Mad About You where all of there accounts were put on hold because the bank thought the husband had died. While that was surely an exaggeration, it struck me that it might be a good idea for each partners to have something in their name only to insure against mistakes or even asset seizure.
posted by soelo at 10:18 AM on September 28, 2009

Fiance recently moved in. He's on the lease and gives the landlord a check for half every month. For all other shared expenses, including utilities and groceries, we pay with a credit card (mine), for which I've added him as an authorized user with his own card. Then, every month, he pays half to me. Any other expenses go on our individual credit cards, which are our own business. It's worked well so far, particularly since some IRS nonsense (taxes filed incorrectly years ago, recently corrected to accurately reflect that they owe him money) meant that the IRS recently emptied one of his bank accounts; had it been a joint account, I would have been screwed.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:27 AM on September 28, 2009

Another vote for a joint account for shared bills only. Make sure you agree in advance which things are acceptable to pay for out of the joint account, and how much it's OK to spend on those things without checking with the other person first.

Don't do this if either of you are uncontrolled spendy types who may accidentally spend the bill money on toys! If one of you is much more responsible than the other, probably better for that person to pay all the bills and collect the other person's share from them each month.
posted by emilyw at 10:28 AM on September 28, 2009

Girlfriend moved into my apartment just recently. The biggest help, in my opinion, was that we discussed ahead of time how the bills will be split up. Currently, all the bills are in my name and we keep a spreadsheet of who pays for what; whoever's in the red at the end of the month pays the difference to the other person.

We discussed the following before we decided to move in together: in case things go south, who moves out? Does that person have somewhere to go? Are we getting pets? Where do the pets go in that circumstance? Can the person who stays in the apartment afford it on one income?

Then, of course, there are more pedantic questions - it sounds like you're moving into his apartment, so where do your clothes go? Is there space in his closet? Do you need to buy anything in the way of clothes storage? If you're going to redecorate, who pays for anything that you buy for that effort? Do you have any space in the the new home that one of you can retreat to if you need some alone time?

Discussing chores is also a good idea. Are you sharing cooking responsibility? Will one person do dishes the night that the other person cooks? You may also want to set up a cleaning schedule for the whole apartment.

Anyway, I think the key is communication. Be honest, don't hold grudges, and if something's bothering you talk about it. It's worked great for us so far.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:28 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I see I should have been more specific and yes, you guys are right. It absolutely does have a lot to do with the dynamic of the relationship and what's understood beforehand.

If you trust your partner to spend money wisely and can set firm rules you both agree with, a joint account can be really convenient and easy to manage. If one person is less-than-stellar with their money (be honest with yourselves) it can become a bit of a nightmare. In my personal experience, money was frittered away on weekday lunch, small purchases that turned into bigger things and suddenly, the budget was off and we were in a bit of a hot spot.

However (which I should have clarified) we used the joint for everything. A bills-only joint would probably work really well. But think about it seriously either way.
posted by caveat at 10:35 AM on September 28, 2009

What I have always done (and it rocks) is the following:

-Rent is a check by person A (both names on lease, one person send the check in total every month)
-All utilities are paid by person B (only their name on the sheezy)
-Grocery receipts are magneted to the fridge

When rent time comes around, person B (in this case, it has always been me) go through the pile of receipts and all the bills and determines what single amount needs to be transferred to person A (half of rent - half of utilities +/- whatever the balance needs to be on groceries). Historically, I transfer that to person A online (BofA is nice like that).

Everyone has their responsibilities and nothing is left in a fuzzy in between state (and you don't have to trade money back and forth for every single little bill). If it get spread out to three people, if gets a little weirder, but a spreadsheet can still keep track of it. If you have someone who is terrible with money or deep in denial about their piece of the pie, keeping a spreadsheet makes a lot of sense...

Good luck!
posted by milqman at 10:41 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

As a somewhat simpler method to the spreadsheets and magneting things to the fridge:

really simple little webapp. Link the two of you on there, you each enter what you spent on things, and it figures out who owes who what. (It also works really well for more than 2 people and things that aren't bills, if you have a group of friends who owe each other money all the time)
posted by brainmouse at 10:44 AM on September 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

When my now-husband and I moved in together, we split the bills as easily and evenly as possible. Since he moved into my house, all the bills were already in my name. It ended up working out that I paid all the non-rent bills (cable, combined cell phone plan, utilities, groceries, etc.) and he paid the rent. It came out just about even, and meant that I didn't have to change the names on all the utility accounts.

We are married now, and still do this. He pays the mortgage, I pay everything else.
posted by tryniti at 11:03 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm chiming in as another successful joint-account couple. My now-husband and I set one up and put an agreed-upon amount into it every month, and used that for all the groceries, bills, etc. That worked for us for three years before we got married, and still works great - we have never had any issues about money. We either finance our big purchases (sofa, fridge, etc.) and pay them through the joint account, or just save up in that account and buy them. I highly recommend the joint account on top of your personal accounts - it really makes it feel more like a "we" instead of "you" and "me."

We have the utilities in alternate names - I have electricity, he has the phone line, etc., so that we both have a credit history.

I agree with backseatpilot that the real key is to talk about how everything is going to work beforehand, and to keep talking about it and evaluating it as you go along. It's great that you are, so i'm sure you'll work it out. Good luck!
posted by ukdanae at 11:28 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Aside from the joint account/no joint account issue for bills, etc., you'll probably be seeing a lot more about the day-to-day workings of each other's finances. My partner and I just moved in together, and while it's going swimmingly I am certainly both more aware of how he works and remembering a lot of hangups I've encountered elsewhere (with myself and others).

--What is the monetary threshold above which you get antsy? Does he have particular habits that make you cringe? Let's say that you both make similar amounts of money, but he constantly insists that he has none, so you have to pay the bills. Meanwhile, he is always playing new things on the Xbox or insisting that you get a new TV. Or, y'know, he's been "about to propose" for years now, and he comes home with a $4000 Kevlar canoe. Ouch.

--How many credit cards do you both have? How do you pay them off? Is one of you ashamed or secretive about them?

NOW is the time to discuss these issues.
posted by Madamina at 12:04 PM on September 28, 2009

My boyfriend and I split rent 50/50 with a direct transfer to our landlord's account. That is the most awesome thing ever, no checks, no cash, no waiting for the landlord to come by and collect, no hoping the USPS doesn't lose my check.

Then we split up the remaining utilities. I pay electricity and he pays internet/phone. I pay the cell phone bill (shared account) and he transfers money to me. We have to pay fuel in our new place, and have no idea how much that will be this winter. If it's too much, we will split it.

He pays for the groceries, I do most of the chores. So even though the monetary split isn't even, it's made up for in other ways.
posted by rhapsodie at 1:33 PM on September 28, 2009

This is the rarer option, but my husband and I have just one joint account (well, two, one for checking and one for savings) and no personal accounts. We have lived this way from the time we got engaged, which was before we even moved in together! This is totally shocking to many people, but it works for us.

The other shocking twist to the story is that he is horrible with money. I would be embarrassed to tell you what his financial habits were before we met, and so would he. However, this worked in our favor. He knew that he was not good with money, and was more than happy to have me do all of his financial planning.

Since then, he has never had another overdraft, we have a retirement fund and decent savings, and his credit score is phenomenal. Besides that, there is a huge amount of trust and respect between us. Both of us now spend money fairly and equitably, and neither of us is ever left in the lurch.

This won't work for everybody! Of course this will not work for everybody. Some people need a lot more financial autonomy, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, I just wanted to throw out a bit of a contrarian viewpoint, because so many people automatically write off the "only one account between two people" stance these days. It is still a possibility, and it can still work. You just have to do what's best for your situation.
posted by srrh at 1:43 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I want to add a 4th option onto ohio's 3 options (communist, socialist, and capitalist), but I don't know what to call it.

Both parties put all their money into a joint account, then each one takes out a set amount for personal spending each month. I think of it as useful for couples who are very established/married/kids/etc. The joint account is considered the "family" account and everyone contributes everything they have to the family. All expenses relating to the house, the kids, school, food, car repairs, savings, etc, all come out of that account, hopefully with a lot of discussions about the right things for the family to spend money on and how much to save. Especially works for families who have budgeted their money.

Then, each party gets a monthly "allowance" out of that joint money to become their own personal money, to spend on Manolo Blahniks or XBox or a canoe or whatever, no questions asked. The monthly amount could be based on personal income, or it could be "based on our family goals, this is how much the budget says we are each allowed". This way, the goals of the family are met, and each person gets to retain a certain amount of individual decisions.

I don't recommend this option for people who are just starting to think about moving in with the SO, but I've seen it on many Personal Finance sites as recommended for getting your family spending under control.
posted by CathyG at 1:59 PM on September 28, 2009

I've lived alone, with a boyfriend that I eventually married and divorced, roommates in a foreign country, roommates in the US where I am from, and now happily married... this is what I have learned....

Any contract or agreement (verbal or written) is only as good as the relationship of the partners and character of said partners.

I could espouse. But why bother?

Simple is best. The most responsible (organized?) party should take on the burden of paying on time and having utilities in their name, collecting monies as agreed.

As for groceries and percentages on rent and other bills ... who's kidding here! By the time you share a bed, I should hope hope that sort of thing is a non-issue. The person who makes more $$ pay a higher share... or they don't honor you as a partner. Seriously.

Mr.Jbenben and I don't keep track of who pays what... but when we first moved in together and got married, I paid the rent and such out of my earnings. Why? Because he moved into my flat, everything was already in my name. We also saved ridiculous amounts of money together, because our expenses were straightforward and easily tracked. We took extravagant vacations that our savings more than covered, because we could.

Right now, we pay everything out of a joint account. A little harder to keep track of, FYI. I miss the simple days. We sometimes over-spend beyond our comfort zone, but not beyond our means or saving goals. This over-spending would be way worse if we had poor communication or didn't share savings goals.

You get it?

Keep your $$ separate until your commitment is formal. Contracts with Landlords and Utilities should reflect household abilities. If groceries (FOOD) is a conflict... don't move in together.

That is all.
posted by jbenben at 2:32 PM on September 28, 2009

Also, for fun: my partner and I each contributed $50 every two weeks to what we called the Italy Fund which we were planning to use to take a vacation to Italy. After almost three years of contributing to it, we changed our plans and had enough to pay airfare and lodging for a month in Australia.
posted by bendy at 3:09 PM on September 28, 2009

You need to have an conversation about what will happen to the apartment lease and bills/utilities if you break up. You might want to do it in an email so you have a "paper" trail.

I wasted a few thousand dollars over the course of almost a year due to a recently signed lease and a breakup with the live-in girlfriend.
posted by gregr at 3:12 PM on September 28, 2009

I do the same thing as Kerning
posted by radioamy at 3:16 PM on September 28, 2009

This is what I do. I have a separate account which is nominally a joint account (even though my girlfriend has never got round to filling in the forms to get access). We each put £X-hundred into this account each month (guesstimate the amount). Then everything that could be considered a joint expenditure comes out of this account (bills, rent, grocery shopping, cinema tickets, restaurant bills, etc.).

If an excess of money builds up in the account, I divide it 50:50 and transfer it to out to our personal accounts. If the relationship ends, this arrangement should make it easy to make a clean break.

I would recommend either putting both your names on your bills, or share them so that one of you should take care of electricity, the other cable/gas/water whatever. That way when you need evidence of living at the address, or whatever, you are both sorted. I've previously had a problem getting bank accounts and library cards etc. because of this.
posted by jonesor at 3:38 AM on September 29, 2009

My SO and I went the joint "house" account route and couldn't be happier. When we moved in together, we created the spreadsheet of common payments (rent, utilities, etc.) figured out how much was needed to satisfy living expenses and agreed how much we would each contribute to the joint account from each paycheck.

We never fight about money. There are never hurt feelings because somebody feels like they're paying for everything. It's awesome.

A couple of hints:

Purchases with the house account outside of living expenses are agreed upon by both of us prior to the purchase. For us this works out well and we both trust that the other won't go buy a kevlar canoe from the account (ouch).

When estimating monthly expenses, add a 10-20% buffer to account for seasonal variations (heating where we live bumps the monthly expenses up considerably, but paying extra during the warmer months eases the transition). As a bonus, the amount in that account will likely grow over time and you can treat yourselves to a romantic dinner and talk about those poor folks who always fight about everyday expenses. Or, you have a built in emergency fund for when the unexpected happens.

If you can, do what bendy suggests and set aside additional common money aside as a vacation will not regret that. Our vacation fund works like this: 100 each from each paycheck (400/month). We just got back (yesterday) from two awesome weeks in Honduras and one of the reasons it was so nice is that neither of us had to dip into our "private" accounts to pay for anything during the vacation.
posted by GoodPuppy at 8:40 AM on September 29, 2009

My fiance and I use the "French option" as described by Ohio. Works great. We never argue about money although we do have elaborate discussions with zero guilt involved. I think we're pretty lucky though as we have similar incomes and similar attitudes towards money so obviously YMMV.

The important thing for me was to mentally accept that he is my forever husband material, not a roommate. What's mine is basically his and we just have some allowance that we agreed to set aside for ourselves for a sense of autonomy. There isn't a right way (same amount vs proportion of income), there is only the way that works for you guys.

The most difficult bit was trying to create a joint budget, ie, how much should we put aside each month for vacation? For groceries? For emergencies? For going out? It was more difficult in terms of doing the math but it was a very good way to get to know what each of us thought was an important part of life.
posted by like_neon at 9:03 AM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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