When Laken Howard from Bustle.com asked us to collaborate on this article about money, how could we resist? Don't underestimate the importance of finance in a happy union.
When you're planning to move in with your partner, it's understandable to be super excited — it's a big step, and you should be happy. However, there are also a lot of very real issues the two of you need to discuss beforehand, and as uncomfortable as it may seem, finances are at the top of the list of things you need to talk about before moving in together.
Arguments about money are some of the most common in long-term relationships: A 2014 survey by SunTrust bank found that 35 percent of people said finances are the number one relationship stressor they face, and it's not hard to understand why — money does make the world go 'round, after all. So when it's time to take the next step in your relationship and move into a place together, it's imperative that the two of you aren't blinded by giddy excitement and instead make an effort to have a mature, forward-thinking conversation about how money-related issues will be handled.
I spoke to Monica Parikh, owner of School of Love NYC, and Aimee Hartstein, a licensed clinical social worker, to figure out what the must-ask questions are when it comes to you and your partner's financial situation. Here are seven things you should bring up before you even consider signing a lease together.
1. How Will We Split Rent And Utilities?
Obviously, this is the number one priority when you're planning to share an apartment with your partner. Sure, it's fun to browse Pinterest for cute towel racks, but that towel rack won't help you when rent and bills are due and the two of you are arguing about who is paying what. Whether you're combining your finances or keeping things separate, the two of you should have a solid plan for contributing to things like rent, bills, groceries, etc. It's not always the case that things have to be split 50/50; all that matters is that each person is making a fair contribution given their financial situation, and that you're both on the same page.
Also, you should talk about whose name the bills will be under, as well as who will be responsible for cutting the check for rent each month. If you and your partner really trust one another, here's one smart option: Opening a joint bank account solely for rent — you each put in your share every month by a predetermined date and then take rent money from there rather than your personal banking accounts.
2. Do You Have An Emergency Fund?
No one likes to think about the potential for bad things to happen, but the reality is that sometimes, life can be unexpected in a not-so-great way. Maybe there's an unforeseen medical emergency or an accident, or you need to buy a last-minute plane ticket home because of a family emergency. Whatever the case, you and your partner should discuss whether you both have money set aside for situations like this, and if you're going to keep these emergency funds separate or combine them.
3. Do You Have Any Debt?
Ahh, the dreaded "D" word. Trust me, no one wants to talk about debt less than yours truly (Sallie Mae, please stop calling me), but when you're going to be living with someone, it's important to know about their financial history. Whether it's credit card debt or student loans, Parikh and Hartstein emphasize discussing your debt with your partner, and talking about whether you each have a realistic plan for tackling it. Some things to consider: Is it good debt (i.e. a mortgage) or bad debt (i.e. gambling or credit card debts)? an your partner discuss their debt without getting defensive? Are they acquiring more debt or making headway in paying it off? Debt is something the two of you can tackle together in a mature way, as long as your communication is open and honest.
4. What Kind Of Income Do You Earn?
As Parikh and Hartstein point out, talking about income can be a bit of a taboo in relationships. But if you're moving in together, it's essential that you both know what to expect from one another in terms of financial contributions. Even if you and your S.O. aren't comfortable giving an exact figure, it's imperative that you're both honest in saying, "I earn approximately X" or "I can contribute X per month." If one person can take on a larger share of the bills and is comfortable with that, it's totally okay to compromise. Just make sure one partner isn't slacking off or putting unnecessary financial strain on the other.
5. Are You A Spender Or A Saver?
People can obviously fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, but it's a good idea to have a rough idea of whether your partner is the type to save, save, save or spend, spend, spend. If you're both on extremely opposite ends of this spectrum, that doesn't mean you're incompatible long-term or unable to live together — you just have to be more open to compromise and negotiation. When it comes to your personal finances, both you and your SO should not try to control or change one person's habits. However, you should be aware that your personalities could clash and cause arguments about money if the two of you aren't careful to pre-plan and compromise.
6. Do You Have A Retirement Savings Plan?
It can be weird to think about something as far-off as retirement when you're in your 20s or even 30s, but it's never too early to start planning for something this important. This doesn't have to be an immediate discussion, but especially if the two of you are thinking about combining finances, it's something you should feel comfortable talking about and potentially start saving for. Plus, as Parikh and Hartstein note, planning for retirement shows good judgment, forethought, and responsibility, which are all very good qualities in a long-term partner.
7. Would You Be Willing To Plan A Budget Together?
I don't think sitting down to make an Excel spreadsheet is anyone's idea of a "fun date," but it's nevertheless something you and your partner should take the time to do before moving in together. Aside from the obvious expenses like rent and bills, there are a ton of costs when you move into a place together: Decorations, furniture, toiletries, pet costs and more. It may not sound romantic, but someone has to buy toilet paper and Draino. If the two of you take the time to look over your finances and decide who will absorb what costs, it will decrease the likelihood of any resentment building up or arguments breaking out because one person feels like they're burdened with a lot of small costs that add up. Make a budget together now, and enjoy smooth(er) sailing when you get to move in together and have one never-ending sleepover.