#608: My partner wants to move in together, but I don’t feel comfortable combining finances with him.

Ahoy, Captain!

My partner and I have been together for about three years now. We don’t live together, but lately my partner has been saying that he would like to start cohabiting –  not necessarily immediately, just at some point. Mostly I’m the one saying “let’s not.” There’s a few reasons for that, but a major one is financial.

I work full time at a higher wage than my partner, who works part time. He’s frequently out of money by the time his next paycheque comes, while I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been straight-up broke, even when our incomes were more comparable. When we go out, I usually pay, which is not a problem for me; I’ve also occasionally lent him money for things he really needed, like a bus pass at the beginning of the month, and when something is clearly expressed as a loan, he’s fairly good about paying me back. However, I’m not totally on board with the way he prioritizes his spending. For example, his bed frame has been falling apart for the last year and a half. He said he couldn’t afford to replace it – but in that time, he’s definitely spent more than the price of a cheap Ikea bed (let alone a Craigslist find) on books and games.

I’m not criticizing him for spending his money on things he likes. It is, after all, his money! He’s a grown-ass man and he earned it. I’m also not his mom, and neither he nor I wants me to nag him about financial responsibility. Basically, I just slap a big ol’ Not My Problem sticker on about 90% of his cash flow crap and move on with my life.

My concern is that if we do move in together, I will start shouldering not just most of our financial responsibilities, in accordance with my larger earnings, but ALL of them. I worry that if we did get together, he’d know that the rent would get paid and food would get bought no matter what, so why not go ahead and spend whatever he feels like – not inconsistent with what I know about his spending habits. He’s also got a big pile of student loan debt, and if we’re cohabiting and eventually end up being common-law, I don’t want to take on responsibility for that.

It feels cold, but basically, I’m afraid that moving in with my partner will mean taking a financial hit. It’s not necessarily one that I can’t afford, but it is one that I don’t want.

I’m not immediately on fire to move in with my partner right now – it probably wouldn’t happen anyway, for a number of reasons – but should I mention this to him as part of my reasoning? If so, how do I do that? And if we do decide to make that commitment together, how do we address this problem as a couple?

Many thanks,

Not Subsidizing Anyone

Dear Not Subsidizing:

You are a smart cookie and you should keep listening to that voice that says “living together is not a good idea for us right now.” How to manage money and household chores is the kind of stuff people romantically and optimistically hope will work itself out because: happylovefeelings! and this is the kind of stuff that has people calling (very expensive !) movers and breaking leases  vs. (arguably more expensive!) grudgingly cooking every goddamn meal for 14 years. You don’t have to have 100% the same spending priorities or views about money, but living together successfully means creating some shared priorities around money and making sure that you can talk honestly about money. Some couples split everything down the middle, some couples do a more proportional divide based on income, some have one partner supporting the other outright and all of those arrangements are dandy if they work for everyone involved and if there are opportunities to renegotiate built in.

My first question is: Do you see yourself ever wanting to live with him? You say you’re not on fire to do it right now for a lot of reasons. Do you see this as a long-term, possibly permanent relationship, like a marriage? Is your sole objection to the idea of this about his finances, or is his question disrupting the comfortable status quo in a way that makes you realize that you don’t truly see this as a long-term thing and maybe now you have to decide whether to move forward together or split up altogether? Before you have big talks, I think it’s worth sitting with the question “5 years from now, where do I want to be living” as a daydream. What does that dream space look like? Where is it? Who is there with you? Is it in your current town or is it in Tierra del Fuego? If his question is shining a light on things in the relationship you’ve been spackling over as “good enough for now,” you owe it to yourself to figure that out. After three years you probably have enough information to decide either way. You might say “I don’t really see us doing that” or “that’s not in the plans for me right now” and find that he is happy to not live together if that’s how to have you in his life, so it doesn’t automatically mean a breakup. Just remember, dumping someone is NOT the time to fix them, so if you break things off just leave the money talk untalked and go with “When you brought up moving in together, I realize I really don’t want to, and if that’s the case, maybe we’ve run our course as a couple.”

If you’re down with the plan of eventually living together, but you worry that his expectation for living together is that you’ll pay the bills and replace the broken beds and he’ll buy video games, that’s something you need to find out for sure. So ask. Do it when you’re both relaxed and when you actually have time to talk.

“Boyfriend, you’ve been talking about wanting to live together, and I’ve been thinking about it, too. I confess I’m still getting used to the idea and I’m not all in, yet, but I’d like to know, how do you see that coming together? What neighborhood or kind of place would you want to live in? What’s your timetable for possibly doing this?”

Let him tell you the exciting stuff he’s excited about. What is he imagining, even? Does it jibe with your imaginings? Then ask him, “How do you see us managing shared moving costs and living expenses if we did that? How do you want that all to work?”

Then let him tell you. Just listen to him, this isn’t the conversation where you try to reshape things. Be very gentle, with him and with yourself. This conversation might bring up a lot, and I mean, A LOT, of Stuff, and it can’t be a trap you are laying for him (if that’s what it is, just break up now!) He may not have thought it all the way through until you asked him, and he may say some things that he doesn’t realize are unrealistic until he says them out loud. He may have some plans for getting his life in better financial shape and using the idea of the move as a savings goal, and those plans may be realistic or unrealistic in the mostly forgivable way that everyone expects certain milestones to change who they are.  If he carries a lot of shame about money and the financial disparity between you, it might be like pulling teeth to get him to say anything like “Well, since you earn more I was hoping you’d be the primary rent payer” out loud, but if that’s the truth then you’ll both hear it between the lines. Give him the chance to pleasantly surprise you.

Again, if you want to live with him eventually, I cannot over-stress the importance of making this first conversation NOT be the one where critique his financial priorities. It has to be less about fixing him than about you figuring out together how to regularly talk honestly about money and other logistical stuff. If you’ve got your prepared laundry list of Things that Need To Change, but it’s the first time he’s really thinking about it all and together you have no baseline, then the conversation probably isn’t going to go so well. He’s not oblivious, presumably, and the implication is already there when you bring it up, but I think you can say “Well, we handle money stuff very differently, and while we live apart it’s not really a thing we need to talk about ever, but if you’re talking about living together, then we have to figure out how to talk about it. I just wanted to get a sense of your plans and expectations around how this would work before we’re trying to make big decisions, and I want us to maybe schedule regular talks where we talk about money stuff and future plans. So I want us both to think about that more, and then you tell me when you want to talk about it next time, say, in a month or so?”

Then put on a movie or do something fun (something fun that doesn’t cost money – after you have this conversation, the next time you do things that cost money, expect that it will get a little bit weird and for you to both be a little self-conscious about Who Pays).

You’ve set the stage for both of you to think hard about money stuff. You’ve put it out there that it’s part of your decision matrix for moving in. Do some more thinking about what he said and about what your own priorities and boundaries are. The conversation wasn’t a test (honestly!) but if he said something really boneheaded like “I assumed you’d just handle all that stuff” then you have some information that you didn’t have before (or, maybe you had it, but it wasn’t out there like a fart in a car). Since you made a clear request for him to be the one to initiate money/logistics talks, it may be a long time before you have more money talks. Or, when a month comes up, you may say “I’m still thinking about some of the stuff we talked about last month, about moving in and money. Can we talk about it?” And that’s when you say stuff like “I want us both to be on better financial footing before we set up a household together, for example…”

For example…What kind of things would set your mind at ease and what would get you both on the right track? Has he enrolled in an Income-Based Repayment program for the student loans, which is a way of actually dealing with them, or is he just endlessly deferring/forbearing them into the File of Denial? Is he able or willing to get a full-time job, or a second part-time job or freelance thing, to pay down any debt and accrue some savings? Would you want each of you to have $X in savings before you moved in together, to cover moving costs and as an emergency fund? Do you set up some kind of proportional thing, like, you make a budget for household expenses and you pay x% and he pays smaller y% and you set up a few savings accounts (emergency fund, long-term stuff, fun) and both put x/y% of money in there, and once you’ve both done that all other money is yours/his to spend without judgment or having to consult the other partner? If you decided to change jobs, or go back to school, what would the plan for that be?Is it time for you to both save up together for a fun goal, like a trip away, and see how you do with a joint plan? What does he suggest, as this can’t be about you parenting him into good money choices or doing all the emotional work of figuring out a shared life? Keep in mind, it is all negotiable, and it all should be negotiated and not left up to gender roles or “I just assumed you’d be cooler about this” or optimism.


Related Resources:

  • Somewhere in the Offbeat Empire (hi, Offbeat Empire!) lurks a really neat notepad thingy that couples can use to have weekly talks about stuff, including money, so that you make a habit of talking about certain stuff routinely without it being a Big Make-Or-Break Talk. I can’t find the link right now (this is close, but I’m talking about an actual notepad thing with different squares for different topics). Readers in the know, find me This Thing?  We found the thing!
  • Things To Talk About Before Shacking Up, from The Billfold (Hello, Hairpin Empire!) – this is a good agenda for a conversation that definitely covers money stuff but doesn’t single it out.

If that all feels like “yay, the person I love most in the world and I will be Adulting together in our shared awesome future” then you’ve got a pretty good shot, maybe. If your gut reaction is “graaaaah so much WORK”, I hear you. I hear you. Do the thinking you need to do, and start the process and the conversation.







137 thoughts on “#608: My partner wants to move in together, but I don’t feel comfortable combining finances with him.

  1. Dear LW, when I moved together with a bf we always kept separate accounts. We would create a common account and every month right after pay check time each of us would transfer a certain amount into that account. Out of that we’d pay rent, groceries, gas, but not personal stuff like going out at night, clothes, shoes, hobbies, etc.

    For some reason, my now-husband and I still keep it that way, even though we move money freely from account to account where it’s needed. We both feel comfortable with having our own money for whatever strikes our fancy.

    If you two are different in spending habits, I strongly recommend to keep it that way too. But I don’t see a reason why you shouldn’t try to live together just because of that.

    1. This is how I and my partner work things too. We have had varying levels on differing income over the years and it’s worked great for us.

    2. I had that exact arrangement when I was married and it worked wonderfully. My husband’s income was maybe 1/3 of mine (he was disabled) so the amount he contributed to the “household” account was pro-rated to match, but we each had a proportionate amount of what we earned going to living expenses vs. personal spending money.

      1. Yep, this is how we work it too. A nice side effect for me, I’ve discovered, is that funnelling off a chunk of money into a separate household account every month actually makes me better at managing my money overall. When bills were coming out of my regular account by direct debit throughout the month, I was rubbish at remembering that that money was already ‘spent’. Now those regular expenses are taken care of and the money left in my account is the money I have to spend. The positive effect has also motivated me to funnel off another chunk of money into savings, instead of waiting to see what I had left over at the end of the month and saving that (protip: I will never have money left at the end of the month).

        This kind of plan is easiest to execute if you have a set amount coming in every month: I can set up automatic payments to the house account and savings account and know that I will earn enough to cover it. People in jobs with a more variable income might have to have a version with slightly more braining.

        1. “A nice side effect for me, I’ve discovered, is that funnelling off a chunk of money into a separate household account every month actually makes me better at managing my money overall.”

          Same here. I sleep much better at night knowing that all the money for my essential bills is safe in a separate account. I might run out of spending money before payday, but the rent will always be covered.

          1. This is exactly how most people do flat finances in NZ too. Previous places we’ve often had a flat account but here my flatmate owns the house so I just zip it straight to her the day after it comes into my account. In on Monday night, out on Tuesday night. I still have to keep track of things like health insurance but otherwise it’s all sorted.

        2. Hmm maybe I should get married to myself and have a separate account like this. . . the only times I’ve been able to keep even vague control of my money have when I was able to pay all my bills up front for an extended period of time.

          1. I do this with myself without the benefit of a legally-biding document//big, stressful ceremony ^_^.

            I used to have all my money sloshing around in one bank account. That worked fine, until one month when I mentally calculated wrong and didn’t have enough money to pay rent. Fortunately, the person I was dating at the time lent me the money, but I was *so* ashamed and vowed that would never happen again.

            Now, I have two checking accounts and a savings account. One checking account is my bills account (rent, utilities, phone, insurance), and the other is for everything else (food, gas, clothes, entertainment). My work direct-deposits my paycheck, and I asked them to split my check evenly between the two checking accounts*. The money that goes into the bills checking account? I don’t even look at it. It doesn’t exist. Well, until the bills come due, and it’s so nice to never have to worry about having enough money to cover necessities.

            This strategy has also helped me now that I am aggressively saving for school. The day that my paycheck is deposited, I go into both accounts and transfer a certain amount of money from each directly into savings. Again, once that money is in savings, it doesn’t exist for me. It doesn’t get spent. I find that it helps to do this transfer the day that you receive your paycheck so that your brain doesn’t get comfortable with a certain amount in your account. If you transfer the money right away, instead of giving yourself time to think “Ahhh, I’ve got $350 to spend”, your brain gets used to “Ahhh, I’ve got $275 for the next two weeks”.

            Using this system, my savings have grown more quickly than I would have imagined, and the unconscious anxiety that I used to have surrounding the mental math of having enough money to pay bills is now gone. It’s been a really nice change, and was incredibly simple to set up.

            *I calculated my total bills for the month, and this split worked well. You may find that a different split works better.

          2. Threading won’t let me reply to wee-ramekin below, but I agree with them that you can totally do this as a single person! It never would have occurred to me, but setting up the separate account for the purposes of managing shared expenses really opened my eyes to the fact that it is way easier to manage your money if you don’t have one all-purpose account.

    3. We do basically this, except we just deposit everything into the joint account, then transfer a set amount into our personal accounts. That way I know exactly how much I have control over and can spend how I please vs what I should check with husband on before spending.

      I like having extra money in there for non-essential purchases that nonetheless affect us both, like furniture, decor, vacations, etc., and we wanted to give ourselves the same set amount of me-money despite our disparate incomes. That’s why in our case most of the money’s in the joint account.

    4. I’ve got a later-in-life partner (I’m 56, he’s 62) and when I moved in he decided I could offer a monthly contribution but he would continue to keep the utilities in his name. He owns the place, but my dough helps cover heat, water and taxes. We sorta-kinda split the groceries, although no one’s keeping score. I cover Internet and phone because I need them for my work (I’m a freelance writer).
      I don’t know what’s in his checking account and he doesn’t know what’s in mine. Neither of us questions the other’s expenditures. If we needed furniture (and right now, we don’t) we’d probably split it. But we’d probably also be looking on Craigslist vs. the high-end housewares stores, because we’re both pretty low-maintenance.
      It works for us. I, for one, am grateful for the privacy.

      1. Similar setup here, except that I’m the homeowner and he gives me a set amount every week for shared living expenses. Each of us pays for their own clothes, books etc (or sometimes buys them for the other as gifts) and for big-ticket items, such as holidays or car repairs, we either split the cost or take turn-about. Works for us.

      2. I’ve heard of similar arrangements and wanted to raise a small warning. He owns the house, pays for it and you pay for utilities etc. If the relationship ends, he owns the house and you own nothing. It may seem easy for now, but if you break up your situations are not equal at all. And if he dies, that house might disappear under your hands and go to relatives, etc.

        Even if it works really well for you, I’m putting it out here, because a set up like it CAN be a (very gendered) trap

        1. My mother’s in exactly that situation now. Her husband died intestate, and he never got around to adding her name to the title of their hobby farm. So despite living there 20 years and investing who knows how much of her own money and labor and heart into the place, she inherits only 50% of it though she’s now liable for 100% of the mortgage.

          1. By any chance, is this in the U.S.? Has she talked to a lawyer? She might be able to put in a claim against the other 50% of the estate for what’s she’s put in. I mean, I assume she’s already looked into that, so it’s not an option, but I wanted to throw it out there.

          2. My mom just got remarried this year and the first thing she insisted on after the ceremony was that he put her name on everything. They keep their expenses and all that separate, but she said she was fine with living separately and didn’t have to marry him and she’s seen way too many of her friends get caught in that exact trap and she is insistent that she was not going to be one of them (and two of his three sons are just awful people and would absolutely kick her out immediately if something happened).

          3. (end of nesting reached)
            When She Was Good, thank you for the suggestion. Yes, she talked to a lawyer. It didn’t seem to be particularly helpful. She’s hoping to buy out her stepdaughter for a lump sum that doesn’t quite equal 50% of the equity. The whole thing’s a bit of a mess. She also got screwed over by the insurance company that forced her to sign away her own $100,000 policy in order to get a $5000 advance to cover funeral expenses.

            ks, my partner’s father was thrown out of his house by his stepson after his wife passed away unexpectedly. The title was entirely in her name, and she had a will allowing her husband use for the remainder of his life, with the property passing to her 2 kids afterward. It didn’t quite work out that way because son was an asshat.

        2. Yes, when my young man and I bought a house together, we bought it for cash, but we specifically had me put in a certain amount and wrote down the percentages — I think he has 81% and I have 19%. Plus we’re getting him a life insurance policy so that if something happens the house will be paid off.

          My dad did something similar when he moved in with his girlfriend, because he sold his house and they didn’t want him screwed should she pass away. As it happened, he passed away first, but I was pleased that they had considered this.

        3. Definitely consider this! As someone who was in this situation as the homeowner, by choice, we made it very clear through documentation that for legal purposes, my partner was a tenant, not an owner (lease and everything). Which meant if something had happened to me, he would have to move, but he wouldn’t have to take on the burden of a house that he could not have afforded on his own.

          If ownership of the property is something that you want in the event that something happens to you partner, then a will or other testamentary document (consult a lawyer in your jurisdiction!) and a life insurance policy on the homeowner with benefits to you or a trust to pay off the house would be a good idea.

      3. When I cohabitated with my partner and was the primary breadwinner by a significant amount, I kept an actual physical ledger in the kitchen cabinet with the bills in it and a running tally of his share (pro-rated to his income). We did not have a joint account because neither of us were comfortable with that for various personal reasons, and we both liked the transparency of “here is all the money we need to pay and here is your share.” I would pay all the bills, and he would pay his share to me and everything was clear in the ledger, so we never had any question about whether a payment had been made or how much was owed. It was a simple way of doing it without sharing an account or getting into each other’s finances too much.

        1. That sounds like it should work, but if one partner rents from the other, then rent is income and taxable. Not that IRS is checking divorce agreements, but (in US), filing a joint tax return makes sense financially but then looks commingled funds. Basically, this helps as long as it creates mutual agreement about finances. If you’re married, any income is assumed commingled and the lower income spouse has equal rights to “profit” including equity on home.

    5. This is how my husband and I do it — we got a joint account before we got engaged, and it ended up making things a lot less stressful for me. He and I come from different economic backgrounds (I was raised poor, he was raised upper-middle-class and has some financial reserves I don’t have) and also have disparate incomes (I make about twice what he makes), so while he’s frugal by normal standards, he spends money ridiculously freely by my standards. It’s been very helpful to draw a line between “our money”, which needs to be spent sensibly but has a lot of things it needs to pay for, and “his money”, which is actually his and I don’t get to have opinions about how he spends it, and “my money” which I will continue to hoard as a financial cushion for my family.

    6. We have a rather interesting household situation, where we have a triad and one single guy. Everyone pays the same rent (my SO is the main tenant and we’re subtenants) but the expenses are split three ways – everyone pays out of their own account, and we calculate the difference and level it out. I’m the one with salaried job, so I don’t nearly always put my groceries in the “shared” tab, so in effect I contribute a little more. But cats, groceries, furniture that everyone uses etc is split evenly. In effect that means pretty frugal living – I paid for some new furniture for the toilet and shower fully, because I wanted them to be nice and not having to hunt half a year for a good-looking second hand shelf – but generally we go by the least-affluent person’s limitations.

  2. Is the meeting notes thig this? http://offbeathome.com/2013/05/family-meetings

    I think I’ve seen it before mentioned here, but not sure if I am thinking of the same thing.

    ALSO, yes to talknig about this. Maybe he thinks you’ll just be his safety net/covering most of the things, maybe he’s just not thoguht about it, maybe he has a plan, but until you ask, you can’t make any moves/plans. So ask, honestly, openly, and don’t go into the meeting with expectations or ready to jump on him if he doesn’t have A Plan, but aim to move you both froward from this awkward situation to another (maybe also awkward!) situation.

    Good luck!

  3. I’ve had several relationships with people who made significantly less than I – sometimes by choice, sometimes not. I am very pleased to see the Captain suggesting an intro conversation of “how do you see things working?” which is not “why are your money priorities so messed up?” Even if you have been dating a while, there may be things that haven’t been disclosed or circumstances you’re not aware of.

    I’ve seen cases where 1 person makes more money work out and cases where it doesn’t. It’s really up to what you both want. (And it is 100% OK to decide you don’t want to be with him long term.) Good luck!

    1. My thinking is, if your goal is to NOT be the parent/arbitrator of how money is spent, then don’t set up the first serious conversation you have about money and the future with you as the Authority and the other person as the Fuck-Up.

      1. Also, just having a bigger paycheck doesn’t necessarily make one The One Who is Good With Money (oh hai). I know you weren’t saying that or anything, but it’s an assumption that I’ve noticed in these types of discussions before.

        1. For sure! The person with the bigger paycheck is also the one who is cushioned against mistakes and accidents.

        2. My husband had a bigger paycheck + bonuses, but,I was the one who paid the bills every month because he would let them slide. I had far better credit, but, I had been taught by my parental unit how to deal with savings and debt, and my husband had not.

  4. Two short things before I start telling stories. Some couples are fine and happy together when living in separate spaces and complete disasters and so incomparable if they move in together. Money is a big deal in our society and nothing really should be assumed about that when sharing expenses even with just roommates.
    I broke an engagement over finances, once. I discovered that he had 18,0000 or so in credit card debt(not school debt or car debt. Money spent on dinners out and clothes, etc.) and no realistic plans for paying it down(short version: he expected a windfall shortly, and I thought the windfall was not dependable and not actually likely to occur as soon as he thought, if ever. ). Debt is stressful for me. We discovered that he was happy with a level of debt that I was not. He also wanted me to change how I dressed in a way that would take more money, so, no.
    I married a guy who I thought was much more compatable(he was more compatable that THAT, yes, but…). However, we could have arranged things better. We didn’t have a money talk, or enough of one. I didn’t negotiate for something that would make me happier long term.
    If I were to do it again, we would each contribute a negotiated amount to household expenses, and put that into an account specifically for that. Paying everything out of mine, and then asking him for money was bad, because I hated asking him for money. Even if it was all “ours” I had a really hard time doing it, and therefore, MY checking account and savings were being depleted, and not his. When his savings account reached $10,000, it basically started burning a hole in his pocket, and a big ticket purchase was incoming. It wouldn’t have been as much of a stress on me if I my savings were growing past that and I could just regard that as his problem, not mine. But, it was all “ours” right? I was depending on his savings to make me feel secure, so, I felt insecure when he spent.
    Also, living together makes household upkeep a shared thing. If one person makes more money, sometimes the person earning less gets tasked with more domestic chores. Sometimes this works! Sometimes this does not, for various reasons. If you both have full time jobs and one just pays less, an even division of chores is probably better. People care more or less about household upkeep, though. Some people really don’t notice clutter, or filled trash containers, or, cat hair collecting in the corners of the room, or dirty dishes in the sink. When you live separately, this is not your space and not your problem. When you live together, this can kill a relationship. This can kill a roommate situation. Friendships have perished over this.
    Having separate spaces is nice for us introverts, too, even if it is a room of our own. Someplace to retreat to is wonderful.
    If you move in together, discuss it ALL. If the relationship is better in separate places, though, without combining finances or debating who does the cooking or the dishes, then….are you moving in together for a societal checkmark? Because you really want to be with this person this much all day and night? Because coparenting is in the future? What is the goal here?

    1. Agreed 100%

      I think there’s this idea in our society that it’s this natural progression of any “real” relationship to one day cohabitate. Like leveling up in a game or something. Only, some people are happier NOT doing that. I can live with my partner, we get along ok as housemates. When financial circumstances made it more prudent for us to move in together we didn’t have real problems. But I’m just happier not living with her. For me, seeing someone every day all day kinda wears thin. I’d much rather see someone a few times a week and be totally into them for those short hours.

      Ahem. So basically, if LW doesn’t want to cohabitate with partner (for any reason!) that’s totally cool. You may have trouble if his desires and yours don’t match up, but don’t think you’re less invested in the relationship then he is or anything. You just have a different template for what the perfect relationship looks like.

  5. Money and moving in is One Of Those Things, and I was bitten really hard by it in my very first super-serious relationship with the man who eventually became my common-law husband, and if I had it to do over again I would do a lot of things very differently (possibly including just breaking up with him). First, the Captain is totally right about everything. 🙂

    I think, from my sadder but wiser experience, I’d want to know why he wants to move in together first and foremost. If it’s because he sees You Together and wants to be on the path to You Together In Very Serious Ways, and you also want that, awesome! If it’s because living apart is inconvenient or he’s doing the math about how much cheaper it’ll be to live together, I’d really start thinking hard about where this is going and if you want to go there. One of the reasons why I was very hesitant–and ultimately refused to do–about legally marrying my common-law spouse is that I would be taking on his shocking amount of personal debt, which our status (married enough for most things, not so married as to destroy the rest of my life) insulated me from in some important ways.

    A random thought that might help, depending on your particular circumstances: if there is a reasonable amount of distance between your two domiciles, and he just wants to reduce that, a solution I have considered should I ever end up in a longer-term dating relationship again is to get two apartments in the same or adjacent buildings.

  6. Merging finances is one of the scariest things in the world to me – mostly because I know my own limitations. I do my best to manage my spending responsibly, but there are some times where I’m less-than-comfortable with my financial circumstances. I am terrified of being made less-than-comfortable by someone else.

    I’m currently in a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend, but before he moved for job reasons we were living together. Because I was anticipating him finding a job and moving, I set up all of the utility accounts and the lease in my name, and simply asked him for his portion of all of the bills. And he was always good for it, even though he was surprised at the expenses involved in moving in together. I’ve rented several apartments before this one and was trying to prepare him for the costs. Up to that point the only other place he’d lived other than his parents’ house was a room in a house rented by a co-worker of his (who was cheating him on the rent anyway). It was frustrating when he complained, while we were moving, that I had “too much stuff.” I replied, “No, dude, I have the appropriate amount of stuff to furnish a two-bedroom apartment. You have the appropriate amount of stuff to furnish one bedroom.”

    But sharing finances…I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that. It was hard enough being the one who ended up making the arrangements for the rental and all of the associated bills.

  7. I was going to recommend starting with separate shared and individual accounts, but Jae beat me to it! This is much preferable to loans, which the LW mentioned. Keeping a ledger in a relationship can be a source of stress and distance. I’ve personally come to prefer “I’ll get you this time, you can get me next time” arrangements.

    Something else to consider: there are factors besides income that should be included in relationship finance discussions. For instance, partners may have different levels of financial safety nets (parents, employability, etc.) or different level of financial needs, like ongoing medical expenses.

  8. I’m the lower-income person in my relationship by FAR; before we moved across the country a few years back we were both working full-time but I was making maybe 1/3 the amount just due to salary differences in different industries, but now my partner’s at a job that pays significantly more than before and I’m paid more by the hour but making less than before overall, due to being capped at part-time hours.

    When we first started living together I really wanted to split costs equally because I was raised with a lot of “don’t accept other people’s money, be self-sufficient” messages and felt self-conscious about having someone else “support” me (plus it was tied up in a lot of thoughts about gender dynamics in relationships I was uncomfortable with). We eventually moved to a split based more on how much we each made, and that worked well for a while.
    In our current situation, I realistically have to accept that my income amounts to a small percentage of household expenses. Sometimes that’s really hard for me to accept or feel ok with, but one thing that’s helped me feel better about it is being really active at taking care of domestic tasks. Working from home helps with this, for sure, but if I can take care of meal planning/grocery shopping/most laundry & cleaning/pet care/etc. I feel like I’m Being Useful even if that usefulness is mostly non-financial. I may not be paying 100% of our cat’s vet bills, for example, but I can schedule and take her to appointments.

    What’s worked well is to have a shared credit card but individual bank accounts. I suppose one large factor in why this works is that neither of us have a history of credit card debt so we can trust each other to use it responsibly! Something like a shared account we both contribute to would work fine for me as well. I don’t think I’d ever be comfortable merging my finances entirely, though.

    I think we probably should have talked things out a little more clearly before moving in initially, but as we were thinking about and planning this cross-country move (for my partner’s new job) we did talk quite a bit about what that would mean for me in terms of making money (the SF job market is pretty terrible for people who aren’t programmer-y types) and how we’d handle finances. And even though I do sometimes feel guilty or like a moocher for not contributing as much financially, I know it’s something that we can sit down and talk about if it need to be revisited.

    LW, I know my situation is a little different from your boyfriend’s! But I do think that having that conversation in advance of making concrete plans, and maybe (if you’re ok with it) seeing if there are non-financial things he could contribute to the household that might make up for less of a financial contribution, will be helpful.

    1. accidentalbeard — what you are describing “take care of meal planning/grocery shopping/most laundry & cleaning/pet care/etc” is SUPER VALUABLE WORK. Please, please, don’t under-value the services you are performing! Lots of couples end up in a “traditional” split of breadwinner + domestic worker — though often the gender roles are reversed! — because it makes a lot of sense financially (especially if there are kids, and when you take tax incentives into account).

      Those unpaid, domestic workers? They are NOT “moochers.” You are not a moocher! From what you have written here, you are absolutely pulling your weight. In fact, if you are working AND doing all the household work, that division of labor sounds like it might not be fair to YOU.

      It burns me up that traditional “women’s work” is so undervalued in our society. I think that has a lot to do with how crappy pay is for teachers, nurses, and other professions that we claim to value (but actually pay like shit). Sorry to soapbox, but domestic workers are not moochers!

      1. In my mind I know I’m not mooching, and most of the time I *do* really believe it, but it can be tough. So, it does help to hear that, thanks.

        The division of labor feels good to me right now; my partner will wash dishes when I am fed up with it (dishes are my least-favorite chore) and it is understood that if I say “ugh, I am just too worn out to cook today” we can get takeout or just gnaw on toast or something. I am not always the best judge of what’s “enough” work for me to do for it to be fair, as my brain is nearly always sending me “you aren’t doing enough!” messages.
        What does help is that my partner is definitely telling me, very often, that my work is valid, that I’m being extremely helpful at home, etc. So any weirdness I feel about it is coming from me, not from them. 🙂

        1. I can absolutely relate to feeling better getting outside validation that it is ok that my partner supports me – intellectually I know that it’s not a comment on my worth nor is it falling into traditional gender division of roles in a relationship (he does do a slightly larger chunk of the “grown-up-dealing-with-outside-world” work, but I also have an anxiety disorder that makes such things difficult for me, though I am improving). He has a good, steady, high-paying job. I was a student (part-time and then full-time) until I graduated in May. I was also working a part-time job that basically gave me pocket money in exchange for taking over my life (and by extension, his) by removing all ability to do social things on a schedule that worked for basically anyone else. In May, I asked for a raise. In June, I got a pitifully insultingly small offer, and I quit. My partner had actually been practically begging me to quit for the past year. Right now, I have no paid work lined up except for the occasional gig with a film festival that just this summer promoted me from volunteer to paid staff, and am not really looking for it – my goal is to find things, like the tutoring position I will probably have for a course I just aced, that will give me a) something to do with my time, and b) experience that will look good on a grad school application. My partner supports this fully. I’ve also taken over the household stuff that he (willingly) took on from me when I went back to full-time status, plus some additional work because I’m simply home (and not exhausted like before) more often.

          We’ve had to re-adjust our finances – we’ve officially reverted to our original agreement, where there is a joint account that joint bills (rent, utilities, groceries) get paid out of (this was set up so that I could officially contribute a small amount of my income to the household, and so that my name would be on those payments, which helps my credit/rental history, as previously I lived with my parents), and anything that is not genuinely a household expense is paid separately, meaning I cover my own clothing, toiletries, minor copays (I’m on his insurance), and any discretionary spending of my own. This agreement previously basically went out the window for the sake of convenience – it was easier, at the store, to just buy my face wash and whatever in the same transaction as the household stuff and whatever he needed, and slowly we ended up not keeping track of who owed who money for what. Now, because I have no real income coming in, we’ve budgeted out an “allowance” for me, and since that money is basically coming out of the “discretionary” money left after our joint and his personal expenses, it’s back to me being responsible for me (though since this is the first month, we’re having to do a bit of math, since I paid for a pair of shoes for him with my brand credit card, but he paid for some other things for me, etc, before the money transferred, so we are still working out if I need to give him back some of the money, and how much. I assume things will go more smoothly after this initial period). I feel a little weird having an “allowance”, but it gives me more financial autonomy than asking him for money would, and lets me budget, as it’s a fixed monthly amount that goes directly into my checking account – he can’t see what I spend it on, I know how much I have per month and if I spend it and then realize I want to spend more, I either a) don’t, or b) dip briefly into my savings and then make it up the next month. He considers it an investment in our future, effectively, and also is basically deliriously happy that we can now have a social life, travel more easily, do more things together, actually go out at night because I won’t have to get up at ass o’clock for work… Part of the agreement also includes that if I don’t apply to/get into a grad program for next fall, I start looking for paid work.

        2. It is hard! I am currently a stay-at-home parent fumbling my way towards a career change (I could go back to my old career, but I really really really epically DO NOT WANT), and so there’s the level on which all I do is bleed money outwards and feel useless.

          And then there’s the level where I’m doing all the cooking and laundry and most of the cleaning and all the vet/pediatrician/other appointment wrangling and most of the pet care and all of the grocery shopping and other shopping and taking the kids places and arranging playdates and all the paperwork and….

          as Mr Preposterice points out, someone in the family has to do that stuff, and he sure can’t do it when his hours get crazy. So.

          but in my head sometimes I’m a moocher anyway. because SOCIETY.

          1. I wonder if it would help when those moocher thoughts cometo quantify hours spent on being the ‘person doing the stuff’ and then seeing what it would cost to hire personal assistants, cleaning persons, etc. That dollar value is what you are contributing to the household.

  9. I am the lower-income, also the worse-at-saving-money partner in my LTR, and we just never merged finances. We have lived together for maybe 8 years now, and we still put our 2 separate rent checks in the envelope & sometimes one check is bigger than the other because one of us bought plane tickets or something & we are settling the difference.

    When I worked FT, everything was roughly 50/50, with him treating more often for fancy meals or travel. Now I don’t work FT, and our new deal is that I do the bulk of the chores & he buys all the groceries. There are a zillion ways to play house, as long as you can keep checking in with each other & no-one is afraid to raise issues or admit to feeling stressed about money or chores.

  10. I think the Captain’s advice to LW is totally sound. One sort of footnote to the letter for those who may be reading and worried about a potential marriage partner’s student loan (or other) debt: in the U.S., there is no way for a loan that a borrower took out before the marriage to become the legal obligation of a later spouse, unless that spouse affirmatively chooses to take it on, e.g., by co-signing. (In some states, debt taken on by one spouse during a marriage can be the joint obligation of both spouses.) There are definitely other ways that debt can affect you: most obviously, it saps your spouse’s income and may limit their financial contributions to joint expenses; less obviously, it could jeopardize property or accounts that you hold in common with your spouse. But it won’t show up on your credit report, the lender can’t garnish your wages, etc.

    1. It’s definitely worth researching the specifics of where you are. In the UK it’s a bit different – if you have any kind of joint finances (mortgage together or joint current account) then the other person’s debt (other than UK student loan debt) will affect your credit rating and you will have to inform credit agencies when you end the joint finances if you want them to delink your credit rating. For UK based people I really recommend the Money Saving Expert website for great free advice on personal finances. I’m not sure of the equivalent anywhere else though.

  11. The good Captain is right as always.

    That said, if living together and shared expenses does become a Thing for you two in the future, you could work it maybe similarly to the way me and the mister do. He is Bad With Money. Not maliciously or carelessly even, just in a “I went from a comfortable middle-class upbringing where I never had to think about money as a child to spending my entire late teens and young adulthood homeless until meeting you and have literally never learned this stuff” kind of way. I am the daughter of an accountant and studying to be one myself, so I am in charge of the finances.

    What that means, is we have one joint bank account that both our wages (when we’re both working) go into. It is the most basic kind of account that we can pay bills from and the rent, electric, council tax and regular grocery deliveries are all paid for either automatically or online through that account. We were given cards for it, but we stashed them out of the way. After that, there is a small fund for unbudgeted essentials that goes into another account. If we need extra groceries, run out of toilet paper, or whatever, we use that account. And after that we each have our own individual bank accounts for discretionary spending. A budgeted amount is automatically transferred to those accounts each month, and whatever is in there is ours to spend as we wish.

    It isn’t possible for either one of us to leave the other carrying all the major expenses, because that is automatically taken care of the way our accounts are set up. The only way for it to be a problem is if one of us snuck around behind the other, using the bills account card secretly to spend money. But if that is a concern, there are way more issues to address than budgeting skills.

    1. This budget system. I wish that we had done this one. All the essentials budgeted and taken care of, the incidentals that come up, and then individual accounts? This would have helped so much.

  12. Hmm. Having been with someone who didn’t earn regularly while I did caused a lot of problems. He was happy to go hungry at the end of the month after spending all his wages at the beginning. This did not change. So our different viewpoints could never be reconciled. A subsequent partner had the same outlook as I did and what a relief that was. Follow your instincts.

    1. Right — the issue isn’t so much “working full-time and having a 401(k) and having a budget and saving all your receipts it the BEST WAY,” it’s “if you merge finances you need to be on the same page about this stuff.” And I think that people mostly don’t change as far as how they prioritize things like this — sure, I have gotten better with budgeting and saving over the years (and some of that is getting jobs that allow for not living paycheck-to-paycheck), but I am never ever going to put 25% of my pay into my 401(k) or start saving for a mortgage (ps — can we also discuss how home ownership is not everyone’s dream? kthx).

  13. In addition to the other points the Captain brought up, I’d advise some self-reflection to make sure the money issue isn’t just an extension of something else that’s bothering you. It sounds to me like LW’s concern isn’t just that LW’s Partner is bad with money; LW is afraid that he will be straight-up irresponsible and leave LW to pick up the slack. Are you at all worried that that will spill over to other areas, LW? Does Partner take LW for granted and/or take advantage when it comes to non-monetary things? Partner meaning well but losing track of money is one thing; Partner not even attempting to get a handle on things in the first place because LW will just cover it indicates a deeper problem, IMO. Sometimes money is the problem, but quite often it’s more of a symptom (or even a tool, in the case of passive-aggressive sniping or partner-parenting).

    If it is just the money thing and LW otherwise wants a long-term relationship with this partner, then at some point they’ll just have to get comfortable talking about money. I know I hate hate HATE talking about money (I grew up with the idea that it was a very personal, impertinent topic), but I’m very glad that my husband and I started talking about it well before we needed to. By the time we combined households and finances, we had a good handle on our financial goals and priorities and we were able to tailor our financial system to mitigate our bad habits. In our case, that’s a joint account for household stuff and separate accounts for personal stuff, since we’re sometimes bad at balancing Thing I Want vs Rent to Pay. Talking about it early, in a casual way, also helped us figure out ways to discuss spending without judging/parenting each other. Maybe once the ice is broken on this “how do you see our finances playing out” conversation, you can start having smaller conversations more often about how you generally relate to money.

    1. Oh dear Lord THIS. THIS SO MUCH. My husband is a good man, but his attitudes regarding finances (in which he was very much the Grasshopper in the old fable rather than the Ant), spilled over into just about every facet of our lives together. He has been okay with having utilities shut off for nonpayment, been okay with remaining under- or unemployed when I was working two jobs (one full-time, one part-time) and going to school full-time. Which in turn has led to me filing for divorce tomorrow morning. He’s a good man, just not willing to work for things that he finds boring or less important than having fun.

  14. Oh my goodness yes. Have the money conversation before moving in even if you aren’t that worried about it. And for the LW, I would suggest pairing this conversation with one about household chores- that way it isn’t just about money. These are the two things that tend to be the nastiest surprises for people who start living together, and they are both good illustrators of each others’ ideas about responsibility and daily life. I do premarital counseling, and these are *the* two conversations I make sure couples have (if necessary, in front of me) before they get married. It’s fairly easy to phrase this as “I want to know our expectations before we do this big thing”. In fact, you might think about finding a Prepare/Enrich facilitator near you- they’re most often used for premarital counseling, but it works fine for couples moving in together too, and it can be entirely non-religious if you want it to be.

  15. I’m in a similar situation, but reverse with my boyfriend. We knew each other for over a year and dated for 4 months before moving in together. I would not have been so quick to take his offer to move in, except (for lots of good reasons) I moved my pet parrot to his house after our 3rd date, and I saw how perfectly he dealt with the accompanying destruction and noise (that went far further than him simply saying that he’s not a “thing” person and is “easygoing”).

    We did talk about money before I moved in. The agreement was that I would quit the job that I hated, get therapy for childhood issues, and start freelancing (or something that would cover my base bills and stress me out less). He agreed to pay my cell phone and housing expenses… but our basic living expenses are extremely low (if it came to it, either one of us could pay both our essential bills on about 10 an hour full time, excluding his credit card payments and my student loans).

    It really helps that we agree on how to spend money (we DO need a new mattress and bed frame, but would rather dine out – lol). Our values are similar.

    Also, shortly after moving in with him, I loaned him the last of my savings (around 3k) to save his business (which has since grown), and helped him sell an expensive piece of equipment (which he’s not paid me back for in 3 years)… so our situation might be a little more different/balanced.

    We do NOT combine finances otherwise though: my health insurance, car insurance, car payment, student loans, etc is something that I pay myself.
    If I have a good month, I treat him to dinner. If I want something special from the grocery store, I buy it. If I feel like drinking and he doesn’t, I pay for the wine. Etc.

    I don’t do more housework than he does. He actually does most of the cooking and laundry (I am scared of the basement where the washer and dryer are). I try to keep the house clean.

    His taking the burden of paying rent/utilities/cell phone off me is a gift of freedom to pursue my art/freelance/noncorporate interests that I really appreciate. I try to make him feel appreciated. Every so often, usually when *I’m* feeling depressed from a short month, I check in and ask him if I should get an 8-5 and help out more. So far, he’s been totally supportive for the past 3 years. I feel pretty confident that he would tell me if he wanted me to pay more towards housing and groceries, etc.

    We’re both generous and we appreciate eachother.

    It could be a little easier because our relationship roles follow along traditional gender roles, and both of us similarly grew up in families where the mother made less money (which set a bad role model for me in retrospect – I was such an underachiever!).

  16. Definitely have the talk. All the talks. If doing it free-form on your own doesn’t work so well for you, consider something more formal along the lines of marriage counseling that is structured to go over pretty much the same sort of stuff. This doesn’t have to mean that marriage is on the table–such counseling is just a potentially useful tool without you doing the heavy lifting. It can be accessed through various organizations, not all faith based, I think.

    Both of my serious relationships started as LTR that progressed to moving in together for logistical reasons, first because I was moving across the country for grad school and it didn’t make sense to do that and then move into 2 separate apartments; and then in the second because I was unwilling to become a homeowner by myself. In both cases, we did not have any discussions about how any of it was going to work out. And in both cases, it’s proven to be a serious mistake in different ways.

    The first time, I added my partner to my checking account, so we had a joint checking account out of which flowed all of our expenditures. My entire paycheck was direct deposited into this account, so my entire income went toward household expenses. My partner’s paycheck was deposited into a savings account at a different credit union, and each month, he deposited most of it into our joint account. Over time, that meant that 100% of my income was spent, while my partner accumulated savings. Moreover, my partner earned more money working full-time than I did as a grad student, so he contributed about two-thirds of the finances for our household. He never let me forget it, even though I compensated with more sweat equity in terms of chores and maintenance and the invisible work of planning and coordinating projects and so on.

    I handled all of the finances, so I put all of the utilities etc in my name. I’d been a single adult for so long that I just followed my usual procedures and didn’t think about it. Years later, he came to me in a rage insisting that his name get added or replace mine on the bills because I was screwing him over or something (according to unnamed friends of his, I guess). The name on bills does affect personal credit ratings, so this does matter to some minor degree.

    Eventually, I broke up and escaped that abusive relationship. But I was cautious about merging my finances to such a degree. My current partner had been burned by an ex financially and had a different set of concerns. Hir ex had taken out credit cards in hir name and run up huge debt, and my partner had to file bankruptcy to escape the problem. Plus the obvious destruction of trust caused by identity theft by an intimate partner. So in your conversations about finances and so on, be sure to talk about comfort levels, fears, precautions, etc.

    When I went into this relationship, I had a vision of separate checking accounts and a shared account strictly for household expenses. It did not work out that way. I have a separate checking account, but the joint account became the account for paying household bills plus all of my partner’s discretionary spending. This became a problem because my partner is disabled, and now we are effectively being audited by the feds, who insist that zie is my dependent. Apparently, if we don’t divide household and living expenses exactly 50% (regardless of income disparity), then zie is considered my dependent (leaving aside that I can’t support both of us, and it required both of our incomes to cover the living expenses). And because are finances are so intermingled, there’s no easy way to address these assertions. We are now hiring a lawyer. I imagine such a scenario doesn’t apply to most people, but it was a complication that I was completely ignorant about and unprepared for. If we had had frank conversations about not only our personal expectations and thoughts, but reporting requirements and legal constraints, then maybe we wouldn’t be in this pickle.

    Also, common law does not apply in all places. You might consider researching this before shacking up so you don’t get taken by surprise a decade down the road in terms of how the state views who owns what and who is legally responsible for what, etc. The flip side of this coin is that if you should move in together without marrying and subsequently break up, there are no clear legal precedents about how shared property is divided. It’s a great big grey zone that becomes a war zone when the parting is not amicable. There’s no way to predict if it gets ugly enough to go to court whether you would walk away with 0%, 50%, 100% or any other percentage of stuff. I managed to avoid that nightmare in my first break up, but risk assessment is about imagining the worst-case scenario and taking steps to avoid getting there rather than telling yourself it could never happen to you.

    1. In fact, there are only a few places in the U.S. that still recognize common law marriage; if you think it might apply to you, check if you’re in one of them, and be careful using words like wife, husband, spouse, or married if you are. Ditto if you’re outside the U.S. but think it might apply. (If you actively want to be married, there are more reliable ways to get there.) On the other hand, there is someone I refer to as my brother-in-law, because that fits the relationship shapes, and since this isn’t a common-law state, there’s no chance that it will affect anything legally. (The random person I’m chatting with at Starbucks doesn’t care about that paperwork.)

      This is not legal advice etc.

  17. Something that stands out to me is that this isn’t just about money management. Like the bed–that’s not just a difference in finances, it’s a difference in priorities. Even if he was making a lot more money, he might still be spending it on other things because the bed just doesn’t bother him that much and there’s always something he wants more.

    So even if there’s an agreement on how to proportion money that goes into household funds, there’s still the “person who cares about X is the one who makes X happen” that can become a problem. Sort of like when one person is more comfortable with mess than the other, and so the one who cares ends up doing all the cleaning. There needs to be an understanding about how to negotiate those priorities, and then trust that the partner will follow through.

    (I am much more like the boyfriend, where things like beds might be low-level occasional annoyance, but easily ignored, while going out to eat with friends might make a big difference in my week, so I wouldn’t want to give up on something I look forward to in order to fix a problem that isn’t much of a problem for me. But sometimes that’s what it means to live with other people–saying “well the bed makes a big difference in her life, so we’ll need to plan some fun inexpensive things for a while so that she’s not stuck in a bed that makes her miserable.”)

    1. I’m more like him, too, and I can also see how annoying that can be. But I agree with you; sometimes the temporary thing (i.e., dinner with friends) means more to my quality of life than getting the Dutiful Thing fixed.

    2. ‘there’s still the “person who cares about X is the one who makes X happen” that can become a problem’

      Totally! Everybody has their own quirks and preferences. The key to making this work is the “If it’s important to you, then it’s important to me” attitude. A great couple I know uses a system where when they’re talking about something that’s important to one of them, they’ll use a scale from 1-10 to communicate how important it is.

      1. Yes! I just heard someone describing his take on the household chores – he said that cleaning the mess was not a priority for him, but being a good husband was. So he cleans. Apply that to anything, including a new bed or a meal out.

    3. Seconded

      LW, when you take a look at how this might work, I urge you not to think about “what you can do to make this work” or “what you can handle”. If you find yourself thinking of strategies for how to handle your boyfriend’s money problems or how to insulate yourself from being hurt by your boyfriend’s money problems, then you should probably not move in together. Your boyfriend wanting this does not turn it into a thing you need to solve or manage.

      1. YUP.

        LW, if moving in with your boyfriend is going to cause your current level of happiness to go down, I’d advise that you not move in with each other.

        What I’ve learned from former relationships is that I need to ask myself if a Big Change relationship-wise is going to make me happier than I am currently. For example, right now I am single and very, very happy. If I were to get into a relationship right now, it would have to be with someone who I was reasonably sure would add to that happiness. Relationships require a lot of work – even (and often especially) the good ones. Relationship-work is a considerable outlay of time, thought, and emotional resources. Someone is going to have to add a lot to my current happiness levels to make that expenditure of my time and energy worthwhile.

        In your case, if you are very content with your home and financial life right now, there is a possibility that moving in together could cause an unnecessary drop in your happiness levels. That’s not to say it DEFINITELY will: I think the Captain’s scripts are a great way to find out that information. Your partner may have some great ways of assuaging the fears you talk about in this letter. With those fears eased, you may find that living together WOULD augment your happiness. You may also find that you don’t really feel at ease after these conversations. That’s good information to have to; you wouldn’t ever want to *dread* moving in with someone, especially if you’re currently pretty happy with your set-up. Either way, you have some more information to base your decision on.

        Good luck!

      2. 100% yes to what charmed.omega said. if your thoughts are how to avoid or mitigate damage, then your thoughts are giving you valuable information..

        I am a little bothered by a small detail in the original letter. the LW said ‘When we go out, I usually pay, which is not a problem for me’

        this is the kind of thing that over time, being the one that is always expected to pay (even if there are notional token protests) can become a huge issue, unless it is balanced out in some other way in the relationship…..balanced tangibly, practically…i look it as a kind of energy balance, all of the energy is being expended in one way…what is the boyfriend doing to balance out this?

        LW also said’ I’ve also occasionally lent him money for things he really needed, like a bus pass at the beginning of the month, and when something is clearly expressed as a loan, he’s fairly good about paying me back. ‘

        this is a huge red flag for me, the ‘fairly’ good at paying me back…this is the kind of behaviour that grows and grows..people get used to having the minor details of boring bus passes etc paid for…in my experience that kind of behaviour does not change.

        I also second the commenter above who said that you can love and enjoy being with someone and still not live together, I am learning how to walk a middle path between single and co-habiting, with my SO..we see one another every weekend, we spend a lot of time together, and for now (maybe for ever) I don’t want to live with him, I am happy as it is…we have had many discussions about this…he would perhaps perfer co-habiting, but for many reasons (some also financial) the current situation works. I have finally learned not to follow societal timelines about relationship events…you can forge your own path.

  18. Somebody mentioned (I am almost certain it was here and not somewhere else) in an earlier but recent post about online games for saving up money, and one of them had the word “pig” in it? Can anyone repost/point me to them? I’ve poked around but I must be overlooking them.

      1. I think it was Smartypig, but Disapproving Pig is totally going to be the name of my new band.

  19. Wooo, thanks for this post Captain. I am not the LW but might as well be! I’ve been with my Sweetie for over two years now and there is talk of moving in together early next year, when their current lease is up and I am done with grad school and have a non-academia-world job.

    The finances thing is one of the issues I am super wary about. They are on their first stable monthly paycheck job after freelancing for four years and are learning how to adjust to a reliable cash flow. While I understand the limited income and living one unreliable pay check to the next, I am concerned their spending habits make it worse and that is not a risk I want to expose myself to. Like they’ll spend money on fun things (console games, booze) and not serious things, like dental care or car maintenance. And savings, what are they?!

    A related thing that confuses me is the mismatch between their gender expectations of paying for ALL the things but on the other hand they say they are perfectly happy to let the woman be the breadwinner? IDK. It’s like a child asking for pocket money to buy their parent a present? Is that just me? I don’t see how they can be comfortable being the “kept” person while still feeling less manly if they can’t pay for stuff? To the point of being willing to get themselves into debt/burn through savings to keep up the appearance of “I can support you”? Ack.

    I do NOT want to parent them, nor do I want to financially support them (it is likely with my qualifications and drive that I will end up earning more than them over the course of my career, but who knows), but if I’m not careful, I’m headed that way because nagging and being overly “responsible”? They are things I have learned from Mum, the unlearning of which takes time, patience and dedication.

    So yeah, as you put it Captain, there are issues that can be spackled over when you aren’t living together, but if you’re planning to move in together, maybe not so much. So thanks for the scripts and gentler ways into the awkward conversations.

    Umm. Yeah.

  20. I had a fiance once upon a time that I had severe reservations about having move in, for pretty much the same reasons here. He didn’t like to work and had a spotty employment history on a good day, hated every job he had, and spent his entire paycheck within 12 hours on say, crap for The Sims. Without even paying the bills first. Meanwhile I’m a clerical worker and I just don’t make enough to have a stay at home spouse who can’t ever pull his own weight or take care of himself (of course he lived with his family and didn’t really have to) or pay half the rent here. And what happened if I became unable to work (note: I had a dying parent at the time and this was really triggering my issues)? We would totally end up with his parents or homeless. I was not cool and froody with this. But he was just not going to improve on this level, and he got sick of my nagging, so he broke up with me.

    Hoo boy, did he ever do me a favor and I am glad he did it. It was such a RELIEF to have my finances under my control and not need to float him along or worry that he’d drain my bank account–he wanted in on that and I wasn’t cool with that either.

    Definitely don’t move in with him unless he can support himself without your help. If that means you can’t life partner with or marry him, so be it. Some folks may be comfortable with having a dependent spouse, but I’m not one of them, and a guy needs to be able to TCB whether I’m around or not.

  21. Okay- you are all so kind about this. I am 60,have read a few stories above that I could relate to and made perfect sense. Was married to someone that had not a clue about money and had entitlement issues- which what not taking care of business of daily life or having any concern about how you are managing daily life. This with raising kids, working incessantly with raising kids and trying to stay two steps ahead of the devil with money with him. Here is what my grown daughters said about their father- “mom, you need to not have to be a financial detective, a psychiatrist and a support system in a relationship” Their issue becomes the center of your relationship. It is the endless battle ,the unsaid and the said- you cease to exist after a while because you are in a constant state of bandaiding a cancer. You are not a bank. you are not his mother. The simple fact that you are lending money for a simple bus pass is very telling. I am not as tolerant of money issues as I once was. I have seen and heard too many women get caught up in this kind of life and they get lost in this kind of disfunction.

  22. I love every single thing about this post and I will be referring back to it as the comment thread develops. I’ve always been the lower-income partner, but my partner is getting ready to retire just as I hit my mid-career stride and my income takes a jump, and we have some business to work out beforehand, let me tell you. It’s exactly the usual, gendered middle class 21st century scenario – dude who worked his whole life while a wife (not me, his ex) took care of EVERYTHING else, to the point of infantalizing him; former SAHM who turned the mad executive skills learned in that setting to a career path and still seems to end up being the one doing the laundry – and it’s enough of a subject of tension now, it will not stand when he’s home all the time or working just for his own discretionary money. I’m really trying to navigate this rather fraught thing with love and an attitude of teamwork and partnership, but it’s a little hard and scary!

  23. One thing I noticed about the letter was that it didn’t enumerate a single thing that the LW found rewarding about the relationship, and he or she alluded to other issues besides the financial: “There’s a few reasons for that, but a major one is financial.” Granted that the LW is seeking advice about a problem, and so absence of positives is not necessarily informative, but many (most?) of the letters to Captain Awkward give at least some context of the good before seeking advice about the not-so-good. Anyway, the letter gave off a very lukewarm vibe about the relationship as a whole.

  24. I’m in a similar situation to you LW, but I already live with my SO. I make almost exactly twice what he does, and he always is out of money before his next check comes in (his is mainly spent on comics and going out with friends). It’s been some fits and starts, but after a few years we have a pretty good set up.

    A concession I made was letting him chip in half his share of expenses twice a month, rather than all at once. I’d prefer he be able to manage money to the point where he can hang onto it for 2 weeks and give it all at once, but this works out well enough. We also try to do a monthly budget check in, where we each set one achievable goal. (For example, mine this month is to pack lunch 3 times a week)

    Not to say there aren’t occasional money arguments. Most recently he was talking about wanting to buy a car, but coming up blank with ways to afford it. My response of “dude, I’m not buying you a car” was a little blunt, but got the point across.

    I guess what I’m saying is, if you do the thinking the captain advises and decide this person is worth it, it’s doable. My guy is probably never going to be super responsible with money, but everything else I get out of the relationship make it worthwhile.

  25. Dear LW:

    Please listen to the Captain’s excellent advice. Please also listen to your own wants and needs.

    If you love the thought of life with the boyfriend, then thinking of how to make that life together should be great. If the thought gives you the heebie jeebies maybe you’re done with him.

  26. I just want to say:

    It’s perfectly OK to want a long-term, committed, serious relationship with a person – and not want to live with them.

    We all seem to have this idea that relationships need to “level up” somehow in order to be considered “real” or “serious”. A bit like how some people see defacto as less committed or serious than married, and then not-cohabiting as another step down.

    The levelling up / ladder-of-relationship-seriousness is not actually a thing (I’m reminded of the BDSM escalator fallacy).

    1. Thank you so much, came here to say this! Relationships are not a competition! Not with each other, and not with arbitrary standards! So many exclamation points!

    2. 100% this. It’s closely related to “If you’re single you’re failing at something and must not be happy.”

      My Dad and his GF bought two separate houses. They tried cohabitating and it didn’t work out, but they decided not to break up over it. It’s unbelievable the amount of crap they get from every single person who hears about their arrangement. I even have to defend it to my friends that have never even met them. They’ve been together for over 10 years now, their relationship is pretty leveled up as far as I’m concerned. People seem to think my Dad is defective because he wants more personal space than the average person. I think he’s just kind of particular and doesn’t want daily arguments about dishes, decorating and home repairs.

      1. My aunt and uncle are MARRIED to each other and keep separate residences and have been together since my cousins and I were about six or seven (we are in our 30s now).

      2. Man, I have been trying to talk my parents (married 33 years) into this arrangement forEVER. They may love each other but they are terrible roommates (one is a slob with a side of hoarder-ish behavior, the other one gets super anxious when surrounded by things and hates clutter). This one issue has caused SO many problems and stress in their marriage, but for some reason they’re kind of entrenched and won’t even hire a cleaning service.

        1. My parents actually DO do this now! Well, sort of like. Both of them have some hoarding tendencies and each criticizes the other person’s tendency to save the specific things they save, so. This probably helps a lot. (Both are also MAJOR EXTREME INTROVERTS, which probably also factors into this.)

          House 300A is my (maternal) grandma’s house, the same one that she’s lived in since she was a newlywed – she’s now a 98-year-old widow and her oldest child is well into his 70s. Grandma is no longer completely independent (boo cataracts that caused need for multiple daily eyedrops and such).
          House 300B is next door to grandma’s house. My father owns it. It’s not in the best shape but he stores a lot of stuff in it and putters around sort-of-fixing it and retreats to it when he is out of cope with Dealing With Humans (which is a thing that happens semi-regularly for him).
          House 400 used to belong to someone else in my mother’s family – when that person either died or went into assisted living (I forget which now), Mom bought it. It is in the best shape of the three houses and has the most available bedrooms, so when family-with-kids wishes to visit (usually this is me + Spouse + Kids, sometimes it is just Kids on their own and we meet halfway to transfer Kids to a grandparent, sometimes it’s the daughter and grandchildren of Mom’s died-15-years-ago best friend, who are considered family by Mom) they stay in House 400. Mom mostly lives there, and Grandma was temporarily relocated there while some remodeling was done on House 300A and then went back home when things were fixed.

          This is incredibly weird, I know, but it really does work for them at least so long as Grandma is still with us, which I hope is for a while yet.

    3. Definitely! But they need to be told if that’s the case so that they can move on if they do want the escalating-type relationship.

    4. Thank you very much for saying that, I really appreciate it. Another commentator above said something like, “If you don’t want to live with your partner and the idea freaks you out, then you should break up!” and that actually stung. I love my partner very much (I know that didn’t come across in the letter; I prefer blunt and to the point when it comes to talking about problems) and we have a lot going together. I don’t want to end the relationship; I just don’t want to shoulder an unfair financial burden.

      1. You know, a lot of people on here have suggested permanently living apart, and that is a totally valid way to be if that works for you (I would love to take a tour of Helena Bonham-Carter and Tim Burton’s adjacent brownstones). But for what it’s worth, I spent a long time in a relationship where I thought that maybe I wasn’t cut out to live with a romantic partner even though there was a lot of love there, and I did not move in with that partner or combine finances in any way. Once that relationship ended, I was amazed to find out that actually, I like living with someone… when it’s possible to have these sorts of awkward conversations and negotiations, and where I feel like everyone is contributing to the best of their abilities. I really like being part of a team when it doesn’t feel like I’m the hardest-working member. If I had continued in that relationship, maintaining separate households would have been kind of a missing-stair solution, where we were working around the fact that we did not work very well together in some key ways (finances were one of those ways!). I didn’t fully understand the compromises I was making until I was out of it, is what I’m saying. This may not be your experience, and I don’t want to tell you how to be in a relationship, but maybe it’s something to think about when you’re contemplating the future.

      1. Taking a wild guess here that the bdsm escalator fallacy is that idea people seem to have that being a 24/7 total slave is somehow better than being a part-time submissive which is somehow better than being a person who likes bottoming in scenes only, etc and vice versa. When really whatever works for each person is the very best thing for that person.

  27. Something that I noticed wasn’t really mentioned in comments- stuff changes. Jobs, incomes, babies… If you are already in the habit of talking properly- honestly and without blame or accusation and with a goal in mind- you’ll work it out with minimal conflict in a way where everyone gets to be happy.

    Also bare in mind ‘happy’ can change too. We went from even split to proportional split, to merged accounts from which I pay all bills and we kind of just spend the rest on whatever (I funnel a bit extra into our offset home loan account for savings). There’s no even, no counting, no ledger. We are tight with money so big stuff is planned but even discussing that there’s no sense of asking permission. That wouldn’t work for everyone but it does for us (10 years, two kids, 3rd baby on the way and we have just bought our first house).

    I guess I’m saying be creative, be flexible and stay communicative. Be open to change if it’s not working, or if there’s a shift in circumstances. Be willing to try, fail and re-evaluate (as long as ‘fail’ means you BOTH try and are both honest with it all!)

  28. Interesting timing. My husband and I have completly joint accounts and have managed to make it work with a LOT of conversations, check ins, and discussions about goals. We have an app on both our phones for grocery lists and on it we put a list of long term savings/spending goals (ie new computer, new flooring for the house)

    What makes this post interesting timing is we just found out that some money we are expecting will be a lot more than anticipated. So our plans for said money is shifting. We’ve been planning on buying a new washer dryer to go with our new baby and cloth diapers. And our old one is dying. So with increase of money, I suggested upgrading the quality of appliances we were looking at. Husband countered with, do that and do this other thing. Then tonight he apologized for just assuming that he could exercise control over my money as well. I appreciated his check in but the apology was unnecessary because I’d not been looking at it as partner gets x and I get x but as we get 2x and I didn’t see it as him telling me what to do with my money, but the next phase in the discussion of plans about our money. However this was our agreement before marriage and it works really well for us because of our many, constant conversations.

    One piece of advice I got from my parents is if you ever decide to do joint accounts with someone, see how much money they are comfortable spending before they check in with their partner. If one person has that number at $20 and another at $200, there will be problems. Husband and I have a number that we will spend without checking with the other person. We have a number where we will check. We will also recheck if an expense is much bigger than anticipated. I thought this thing would cost $300 and we were both okay with that, but now it is going to be $500, are we still okay or should we talk again?

    Again total joint accounts with lots of conversations on spending and saving priorities work for us, but isn’t the right answer for everyone. Also we have in the past used things like Mint to track spending and each had a discretionary amount we could spend. That worked really well for us too.

    1. “see how much money they are comfortable spending before they check in with their partner. ”

      THIS IS GREAT!!!

    2. Back in my youth, my future ex-spouse and I attended a seminar on this very topic. We all dutifully wrote down our numbers and, at the appropriate time, shared them. At one table, the smartly dressed young woman wrote down $35 and her jeans-and-tee-shirt clad fiance wrote down $375,000 (this was some years ago). The woman was taken aback (and the seminar leader was nonplussed, to say the least). When asked to explain himself, the young man said: “I bought a farm. We’re going to be farmers.”

      The financial issue, in that case, simply revealed MUCH wider differences.

      1. I think if my husband spent $375,000 without telling me, he would DEFINITELY “buy the farm”!! Sheesh.

      2. I have not shut my jaw, and I read “I bought a farm. We’re going to be farmers,” about five minutes ago.

        I honestly have no words.

  29. Just a quick note on paying proportionally for shared expenses. This is how we first did our fiances when moving in together, but thanks to a significant income disparity it still meant that the higher earning partner had significantly more “fun” money left over, while the lower earner didn’t. Our incomes evened out after about a year, so the issue got shelved, but during recent underemployment we moved to a system were both incomes go into one joint account, shared bills and savings are taken out, and then the remainder is split right down the middle and transferred to our individual accounts to be spent or saved as we wish. I have to admit that even though this was my idea I felt rather nervous at entwining our finances this much, but it seems to be working out so far.

    I suspect that one of the reasons I’m not too concerned is that I ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS have my own modest emergency account. I am the only one with access. That money means I have options should I need them, and I am aware of how lucky I have been to be in a position to be able to save up this money. Having this account gives me a far greater sense of peace and strength in the way I think of our relationship. I am with my partner because I want to be, not because we are dependent on each other financially (though I know other people for whom the latter is seen as a strength in their relationship). This does not mean that I don’t love or trust my partner. It is simply a reflection of the way that I see my emergency account as one of the safety nets that means I can love fully and completely, because I want to, not because I have to.

  30. I don’t know if this is an option, but a couple of friends of mine that were dating moved in together as flatmates (they both need new ones) in a two bedroom– with the understanding that they were treating it like a flatshare, that is, finances split down the middle, usual rules about what’s mine/what’s yours, shared space vs own bedrooms that you’d have with any other flatmate. It worked for them – they were both reasonably mature, used to flatsharing, etc. which helped. They said it worked for them, when neither of them had been keen in actually “move in together”.

    They did move in together-together a few years later (with the consolidation of property, the “we don’t need two televisions/copies of Farscape/4.5L casserole dishes, etc. but by that point, they kind of already trusted each other to be a good other-half-of-the-household, if you see what I mean.

    Which is not to say I’m recommending it, but I do think that if you think you wouldn’t want someone as a flatmate (and there are lots of people I love, that I would live in a tree that was on fire, rather than share a house with), then you really don’t want them as a living-together partner.

    1. My husband (then-boyfriend) and I did this. Worked really well. We had two rooms (on weekends we generally slept together in his bed). Alternated paying the rent, had completely separate finances. If one of us had to buy something big for the house, the other would write them a check for half. Etc.

      Three years later we’d worked out expectations well enough that we bought a house and set up a joint account and joint credit card, to which we contributed equally* and paid all the shared expenses. Several years later we got married, which changed absolutely nothing about how we handled stuff. (We paid for the wedding 50/50 from the joint account too.)

      Generally we pay for joint things out of the joint account, unless one person really wants something and the other doesn’t — one of us might come home after a long week and say “I want to go out to eat” when we have leftovers in the fridge and the other person doesn’t feel like spending money on food, and thus the one who wants to go out will pay the tab.

      * Similar salaries, which made determining this easier; it takes a harder discussion to not split equally.

  31. Agreeing with several others here about the importance of the LW following instincts. Sometimes people can adjust their priorities according to partner(s)’ expectations, but sometimes not. Things can quickly get unfair on multiple levels, particularly if you add the intimate level of give-and-take and proximity that cohabiting requires.

    I’m the low-income partner. This will be my first year, ever, doing paid writing. My partner has supported both of us comfortably since we started living together.

    We’re not married yet; in the interim, we’re in the process of making a Living Together agreement. It’s not really a bells-and-whistles legal whatnot but it can be. We’re just typing up the following:

    – Who pays rent/utilities/groceries, how much of it and when the payment should happen.
    – Deciding how you hold the ownership of the house. We rent, so this isn’t our issue, but this is obviously important if you are an owner
    – Ownership of contents. We’re in the process of cataloguing our belongings and deciding if it belongs to me, him, or both of us
    – Our financial status – being honest about the income, debts and savings we have
    – What will happen in the event of a break-up (this was super hard to write but we did it) – who will leave our shared living space while we get things sorted out? Who will take what items?
    – How often to review the agreement. Circumstances change–for instance, last year took a cut to my pay, which changed what I could contribute.

    We’ll print it out and sign it one day. I guess it can be scary to do it all in writing, but these are things to at least think and talk about.

    I’d also be firm and fair about housework. I cook (those meals on my blog are what we eat), do almost all the cleaning, laundry, and household shopping; he does the dishes a few evenings a week, takes out the rubbish, orders take-aways or treats me to meals, helps with laundry.

    While we were working out the knots during our first 2 years of living together, there were some people who felt I shouldn’t complain when he slacked off his chores as he was the one paying the rent. Perhaps it’d be true in their relationship, but not mine.

    As people have already said, what’s coming out of this is the fact that living together peacefully is actually a different creature to being in a committed relationship. My partner and I have very similar priorities and values for home life (friendly clutter but no dust or mould! MORE BOOKSHELVES!) as well as everything else, so despite those initial bumps we live together very happily. LW, your gut feeling and your own wants and needs are very important here. What feels right for you?

  32. not the LW, but this is really useful advice in the post and in the comments and I’m going to keep this all in mind for the future

  33. LW sounds like a person not interested in combining finances with anyone at this point in life, at least not with someone who doesn’t share similar habits and values around money (possibly also similar amounts of it). More to the point, LW admits s/he isn’t ready to live with Boyfriend yet, but in any case I have experience to share for couples with disparate finances.

    I have been supporting myself on a shoestring budget in an expensive city for several years, and I was brought up to expect that I would never depend on anyone financially (definitely an anxiety-inducing combination!). My wife of one year comes from a culture where adult children usually live with their parents until marriage and beyond; young married couples sometimes live in one of their family’s homes. On top of that, in this specific family my wife was never expected to know anything about household or business finances. Before she and I combined finances, she had little practical experience of managing money, except how to save up already-disposable income for something really expensive that she wanted. And as an immigrant to my country, she had to wait a long time and jump through many hoops just to get a work authorization. So when we first moved in together and got married, there was no question of what we would live on. It was assumed I would bear that responsibility.

    But it’s not a given that the primary earner has to be responsible for making sure rent is paid and groceries are bought. I did all of that at first, but I got overwhelmed juggling all the balls, while my wife felt powerless. Simply saying “my money is your/our money, really it is!” didn’t mean much when I was the one in control. I still work full time and earn most of our modest income while she works part time and freelances, but I have mostly handed her the reins on our bank accounts and household expenses. She is responsible for getting the rent check out the door every month, making payments on our utilities and credit card, and watching the balances on our checking/savings/credit accounts to make sure nothing is overdrawn (a real risk with our tight budget). She has the information she needs to be an informed participant in our joint financial decisions, and she has figured out for herself – without my input or pressure – that she does need to earn something because I don’t make enough to support us comfortably, much less save for the future. Since we made this shift, her motivation is up, my stress level is down, and our power dynamic around money is healthier. We both *worry* about money, but we don’t *fight* about money.

    This outcome was possible only because I was prepared to trust and respect her as a rational, capable person, and because she was prepared to take our situation seriously and be a responsible partner, despite being at a disadvantage experience-wise. We avoided the “me Adult, you Fuck-Up” trap. Like the plague!

    Important note: my wife’s impulsive spending was actually worse when I was in charge of our money, because when one partner is acting like the parent, it sets the other partner up to act like a rebellious teenager – “I’m gonna do this unwise, irresponsible thing just to prove a point!”

  34. I also want to point out that while the LW says “I’m not criticizing him for spending his money on things he likes,” um, in fact s/he just did: “he’s definitely spent more than the price of a cheap Ikea bed (let alone a Craigslist find) on books and games.” It is not a given that a new bed frame should be a higher priority than leisure activities. I think books and games count as self-care items. A sturdy bed is good to have, too. But when you are living on very little, non-emergent household repairs are low on the list of priorities, and I actually think that is smart. It sounds like the LW has never had to choose between “frivolous” things like entertainment and “practical” things like home furnishings. But if you are poor, and you already have a place to sleep, why would you spend money on a new sleeping place? To someone with a small bank account, a new bed seems like the more frivolous, overluxurious expenditure. I used to let stuff like that go unfixed for years, and I don’t apologize for it.

    1. LW here: I think you’re taking that line a little personally. I know what it’s like to have people criticize your spending habits (hint: you are very wrong about my background), so I tried hard to express the problem in terms of “my partner’s priorities don’t match up with mine, and that worries me”, not “my partner is a dumbass” (which, lest it need repeating, he’s not). Hey, I spend money on things he doesn’t understand all the time. The point is, that’s not a problem for me as long as we’re talking about his money and my money, but it could easily become an issue as soon as we’re talking about “our” money.

      1. Okay, point taken, and thanks for reading/responding! I do still think that line comes across as critical, though. CA already covered the need to avoid specifics, in any preliminary conversations, about your opinions of his priorities. This is definitely one of those things.

      2. And also there are different comfort levels about buying things off Craigslist (generally or in specific instances), which I totally understand. I used to buy most of my household furnishings there (and also actually bought my HOUSE off of Craigslist). This horrified a friend of mine who lives in an area where bedbugs are a serious and continual problem – she draws the line at anything cloth or upholstered at all coming from any secondhand source Because Potential Bedbugs.

    2. If she has to sleep in that bed (or if he expects her to sleep in that bed and gets annoyed when she won’t) or if he constantly complains about the bed, I can understand her being irked. I try not to judge my close friends’ spending habits but when I hear them complain about not being able to afford X over and over and over while there’s evidence of lots of nonessential spending, I do find myself in these conversations, “You could probably afford X if you didn’t do Y.” “Well, I really want to do Y.” “Okay, but you’re choosing Y over X instead of not being able to afford X.” which generally shuts down the repetitive “Why can’t I have X!?” conversations.
      (Mind you, I don’t mind people complaining about money. Just, if I’m going to have to listen to it loads, I’d rather it be realistic. I’ve definitely complained and then followed it with, “well, I could afford it if I choose to do Z, but I really don’t want to, so really I’m just whining right now, sorry!”

      1. Please be careful with that, though? Sometimes what looks “nonessential” or shift-able with ease if something else just mattered more expense-wise really, really isn’t.

        To give one of the smaller/sillier examples from my life that still seems to illustrate the point:

        A few years ago, SecondKid needed to wear toddler size 7XW shoes. There is ONE place I know of that sells those shoes other than possibly ebay if they happen to come up there: Stride Rite, which tends to be fairly expensive. Just buying shoes at Payless or Kmart (the two places that sold 7W, though not 7XW) was a non-option, as they actually would not go on her feet! But people who love to make a sport of second-guessing other people’s household budgets (and I’m not saying this is you – I am just supersensitive on the topic because my mother used to do this all the damn time when I was a kid and try to get me to internalize it) will still be all “WHYYYYYYY do you buy expensive designer shoes for your small child who will outgrow them soon ANYWAY?”

        1. I can see how that would be irritating! I try never to comment on people’s spending choices unless it’s in response to consistent whining like I stated above – for the most part, I really don’t care what you spend your money on, as long as you can meet any financial obligations to me. (Which includes only my roommate and my family.)

  35. This was the hardest thing my husband and I have had to do to date — combining finances. His ex-wife cleaned him out before leaving, so he was very much “we do not share bank accounts” and I was very passionate about extending our partnership to include our finances.

    We talked it to death, which was really obnoxious to both of us at the time, but worked out for the best. We also set everything up beforehand and talked through what money would pay for what, how much things cost, what we want to save for, what we needed for our own autonomous spending, etc. We looked at a lot of systems but right now, everything goes into a joint account for our household expenses, etc., with a certain amount coming right back out to separate, individual accounts for “fun money” (nights out without the other, non-essential clothing purchases, fantasy football league fees, etc).

    We also have a beast of a spreadsheet that lives in Google docs where we track our budget and expenses. It was horrifying to set up, and it’s a challenge to maintain, and there was *so much crying* and uncomfortable discussions around it, but the bonus is that now, we simply don’t have awkward money conversations. We’re both aware of how much work it took us to get here, and what it takes to maintain our household, and most importantly we have the same goals for our financial future. And we’re committed to working the system, and open to making changes if it isn’t working. It also helps we’re well matched, in that I’m very aware of day-to-day expenditures and he’s more focused on long-term, bigger picture planning.

    Short story long: I can’t imagine how hard it would be to just throw in together and not plan to talk about the money. Talk about the money. If you’re sharing a house and a life together, regardless of how you *do* money, money will happen. Best be prepared.

  36. Do not enter into a financial co-dependancy with someone you feel isn’t responsible with their personal finances, or someone you *know* isn’t responsible. Trust your instincts LW.

    Does your partner know how to pay bills and set up direct debits or standing orders, how to manage his finances through online banking, at least roughly what his current balance is at any time, what payments (if any) he has going out (and when and how much they’re for), what debts he has (if any) and if they’re getting paid off etc.? Do *you* know what debts he has (credit cards, loans, overdraft) because if you become financially co-dependant those will likely impact on you in a few different ways (credit rating – don’t know how it works where you are, but where I am your own rating and ability to get credit can be affected if your partner ends up on there as a financial link; if he can’t pay off a debt you may end up having to help him out; if your situation requires you to take out credit, you being the financially responsible one and earning more may leave you having to take out a joint credit in your name).

    It really is no small thing to share financial responsibilities with someone. Good luck LW, I hope there’s some useful sctipts and suggestions for how to approach this with your partner *jedi hugs*

  37. Hey LW,

    You’ve rightly identified money as one of the points the rubber meets the road in relationships. Being incompatible in this area can be a relationship ending source of conflict.

    Also keep in mind the cost to you if a) you guys do stay together for a long time and b) he doesn’t change his financial habits. It will make you poorer for that entire time. It will make it less likely that you’ll be able to buy your own home one day (if that’s a thing you want). It will impact your ability to have tiny humans and then provide for them the way you want (I’m not sure if you mentioned gender, but if you’re female you’ll be relying on his income during any maternity leave, for example).

    This all sounds very mercenary, but I basically lived it, and right now I’m financially way behind my peers and sometimes it’s galling. At least you can see it – it crept up on me, because my partner and I got together as 19 year old students when we were both poor and both not super concerned with the future. Then I gradually got more interested in a more stable life style and having a nice home and maybe children one day and he *didn’t*. And when we finally broke up over a decade later my finances improved over night because it turns out he was costing more money than he was adding (and influencing my own financial habits in a bad way). This stuff matters more and more to me as I get older – I *like* being able to take travel holidays and replace broken things and eat out in restaurants some times. I know money sometimes doesn’t work out for various good reasons but I’d at least like future partners to share my goals and priorities and put the same effort into it that I do.

    The other thing you mention is his broken bed, and you are right that’s about priorities. It’s about how you choose to keep your house, and if you’re living together it will be a big deal. For example he might end up treating replacing broken furniture as your luxury spending, and not a household necessity. You just bought a whole new bed! So he gets to surely buy that new games console! Or if nothing else you’ll have to struggle to justify it and end up wondering if you’re some kind of spoiled princess for wanting nice non-broken furniture.

    Basically, yes to everything the Captain said. Have the talk. Think hard about what he says. This stuff matters big time in a both a day to day way and in a long term life way. This sort of choice can impact your *retirment savings*.

    Obviously, you can also try it and see without committing to forever – maybe a year of living together will demonstrate one way or another if you can make it work. But also the more you entangle your lives the harder it gets to untangle them – both logistically and emotionally.

    1. This is soooo true! I am recently divorced from an otherwise lovely man who just couldn’t deal with money in an adult manner. When we got together, we made about the same amount of money until he lost his job and didn’t work for three years!!! He finally got a low-paying job, but at that point, we were so far into debt that there was no coming back.

      When I was single, I never carried debt, but with him, we got to the brink of bankruptcy. We could never agree on how to deal with money, or more importantly, debt. It was never how much either of us made, but how we handled spending.

      Now that I’m on my own and carrying the entire mortgage we used to share by myself, I am shocked at how much extra money I have. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it on my own, but in reality, I am rich without him. Where the fuck was all our money going? I can’t possibly tell you.

      My point is be very, very careful about this. You may start out dealing with things equitably, but if he isn’t willing and able to pull his weight, this will inevitably end up being a huge, stress-inducing, relationship ending problem. If I had never gotten together with my ex and everything else had been the same, I would easily be $150,000 richer today. That was a pretty expensive relationship. And not worth it. At all.

      1. chiming in to third here — I was terrified about money before my divorce. One choice that has paid off was getting a tiny cheap rental apartment because I was so worried about covering expenses. Turns out… I’m not rolling in it, but anxiety about money is just not an issue. I’m putting away savings. And funnily enough from hints he’s dropped my ex is in debt. Just like he was before we were married, and just like he wasn’t during our marriage. Now I understand where that window of financial stability for him came from: my pocketses.

  38. My SO and I have been living together for over 4 years now; I resisted moving in with him for over a year before that, and we’d been together for 2ish year before THAT.

    Now, I thought part of why I was so hesitant was because of the financial issue, specifically the difference in income and safety nets. At the point we started talking about cohabitating, I had debt and he did not; I also had (and continue to have) ongoing medical expenses that he does not. I thought I would never be able to contribute (what I thought was) my fair share because I was never going to get out of debt, I didn’t want to saddle him with my financial crap, etc.

    But once we started actually talking about all the big things – why he wanted to live with me and what his expectations were, how I got into debt, how we actually manage our money, and all of the other things the Captain and the commenters have mentioned – I figured out what my actual issues with moving in together were. Lots of it wasn’t financial at all (e.g. we’re both introverts who had been living alone for 5+ years, so cohabitating would be a big change and that was terrifying). Some of it WAS financial, but not the way I thought it was. Such as: I was really anxious over the fact that I couldn’t and didn’t want to fully run the household finances. I’m female, all of the women in my very large extended family who were married to/cohabitating with men were in charge of their households’ finances, so I somehow absorbed the idea that that had to be my role, too.

    And it turned out that any issues we foresaw were things we were willing and able to work through. For example: keeping separate finances and agreeing to split all normal household expenses down the middle solved about at least five different issues we might have had otherwise. We’ll probably never fully share them, and now we both know that that’s okay. We may eventually have combined accounts for household expenses/savings only, with our own separate individual accounts too, but there’s no rush on that.

    It may not have worked out that way. One or both of us may have had concerns that were insurmountable, and in that case we would have happily continued to maintain separate homes. But either way, we wouldn’t have known if we hadn’t discussed and figured it all out beforehand.

    And we STILL talk about these things; it’s not like the conversations on how to manage our household stopped when we moved in together. Things have come up that we hadn’t previously thought about, such as how we like to handle our income tax and refunds (he likes getting a large refund, I like actually getting that money throughout the year and keeping refunds/amounts owed as small as possible). And things change. He used to cover a significantly larger share of our shared discretionary expenses (e.g. vacations) and big ticket items, but I’ve been able to take on a larger portion of these as I’ve reduced my debt. Our income discrepancies have decreased, and then significantly increased for a very brief time, and then decreased again – at this point while I still make less, it’s really not that much less. And I’m still happy to pay a slightly higher proportion of my income toward keeping the household running, because let’s be honest, my SO is doing a higher proportion of the chores.

    If one or both of you are not prepared to have extensive discussions regarding finances, chores, priorities, etc. both before and while living together, or to even give them a lot of thought, then you’re most likely not ready to live together. And that’s okay! After all, living with a partner is a big change, and it’s fine to not want it now, or to never want it (if that turns out to be the case).

    And sure, money isn’t everything and it can’t exactly buy happiness. But being comfortable with the money you have and secure in the way you manage it can give you one heck of a peace of mind, and that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

  39. LW, partner and I got together in college, when neither of us had anything, so in some ways it was easier to have the conversations because there was no real money to speak of – and also no real expenses (hurray for prepaid room and board!). During college and the first year after, we took turns paying for things. Then, as many people have already talked about, we made a joint account and moved money into it every month, and that lasted maybe another year. Then we got sick of that and used the joint account for everything and moved money to personal accounts for our own use. Then that got to be too much of a hassle after another two years and we stopped using the personal accounts and just had the joint account. When we got married, partner agreed to do the laundry for both of us in return for not having to deal with the finances AT ALL, so I do all the things with money, including balancing all the accounts and credit cards. This does mean that partner can’t buy things without me knowing, but when I pointed this out, partner insisted that not having to deal with the finances AT ALL (I also file the joint taxes) was best for partner. This has been working for the last two years, and seems to be more stable than the other things we’ve tried, but we check in every few months anyway to make sure everyone’s still happy with the situation. I make at least twice what partner does, and we’ve talked about how does that affect what we decide to do and who gets to make the final call about joint things (it’s almost always joint, because we have similar spending habits).
    My point is, if you decide that you do want to move in with your partner, and you work out a good way of dealing with money, it doesn’t have to be that way for ever. You can change things after more conversations. You can have regularly scheduled check-ins about how things are going, and if anything needs to be adjusted. Life might happen and everything renegotiated to deal with Life.
    I recommend a book called “When She Earns More” by Farnoosh Torabi. Torabi has some opinions I really disagree with, and the book is definitely oriented to heteronormative people in pairs, but the overall ideas are interesting, and has lead to some good and useful discussions with partner for me.

  40. I haven’t read all the above comments but:

    After 2 and half years living in the same *room* (not really by choice) me and my beloved have come to the conclusion that we likely *are* actually a two house couple or at the very very least a “two bedrooms in the same LARGE house” couple. This is okay! Maybe the LW and their partner are similar? Is asking their boyfriend “What ways do you think living together would be different from what we do now?” a good idea perhaps?

    On money… we have separate accounts and intend to keep it that way indefinitely. (heh, matches the separate houses, different surnames, etc etc)

  41. I think a third option here is “I don’t ever see us combining finances or getting more serious than we are now or getting married…and I’m okay with that.” I have been at points in my dating life where I was 100% “If you are not husband material, I am not wasting one more second on you.” And also points where I was okay with things being more casual and dating someone who had major “forever” dealbreakers because we were both happy with the relationship in the moment. As long as both people are on the same page (and one is not pining for engagement/marriage), I think there is nothing wrong with this. But, it does mean that sometime soon, you probably need to have a conversation where you tell that to your partner and allow him to move on and find someone who DOES want to marry him if indeed that is what he desires. Or he may be okay with saying, this is our level of committment for now and it may never get greater.

  42. This is such a fascinating thread and I have really enjoyed reading everyone’s different viewpoints on how they share/don’t share finances in their relationships. My husband and I married when we were 20 and just celebrated our 23rd anniversary, and if I had a nickel for every money argument we’ve had, our retirement account would be much fatter.

    After reading through this thread, the word that sticks in my mind is “commitment.” When you’re truly committed to a relationship (and I mean mentally, not necessarily by marriage), I think it’s easier to have the mindset that incoming money is ours and not mine & yours. Throughout our years together both my husband and I have spent time as stay-at-home parents, and now I earn more than twice what he makes; we’ve had some extremely lean times, and times when we didn’t have to buy gas $5 at a time. But at no point have either of us thought that he should have more spending power because I was a SAHM, or that I should have a bigger voice in a car-buying decision because I out-earn him. And when the time comes to support aging parents or his disabled sister, the money we use will be OUR money, not his or mine, with no record kept of how much we spend on his sister vs. my mother. Our commitment to each other makes that mindset so much easier.

    Having said that, no matter how committed you may be, it is still wise to plan for what-ifs. One of my dear friends divorced last year; they’d been married 20 years and she’d been a SAHM for the last 10, and she has struggled so hard to find a job to support herself. Another friend was left a widow at the age of 28. Things happen, people leave or become disabled or lose their jobs, and it’s always wise to have a plan.

    So my advice, looking from the other side of a 23-year marriage, is to talk, talk, talk and listen, listen, listen: about finances and income and what you want and what he wants and your goals for this year and your goals for 2034. Be respectful and patient with each other above all else. And follow the Captain’s advice; that is good stuff. 🙂

  43. I don’t want to derail, but I have a similar question. The difference here is that my boyfriend does not have any pressing debt like I do, but I do feel like he spends money on things he shouldn’t when he could be saving it or putting it toward something more important, even when he’s spending the money on me. It’s one of the reasons I’m hesitant about us living together. I’m sure it would be easier on me for paying rent, etc. but I doubt that it’d get any better with him buying a reliable car, etc. He tends to be “cheap” too, and that is even more frustrating. I like these ideas for how to broach the topic, but like I said, it’s just a slightly different situation since I’m the one making steady income and the one with all the student loan debt, etc. I’m paying it down, but it’s still more bills than he has.

    1. Yeah, but even though you have more debt, you’re still getting at the ‘maybe we have different ideas of how to handle money.’ If you two stay together, your debt will become a shared problem to solve– even if your boyfriend is never responsible for paying any of it off, it will still impact how you two handle joint finances. Can you guys talk about money and other awkward stuff now, or do you mainly just think of it as ‘not my problem’ and move on?

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