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4 Financial Topics to Discuss Before Moving in Together

Foster relationship resilience by doing some preventative self-help.

Key points

  • Living together means sharing a financial life at a level you may not have experienced before.
  • Major life transitions naturally bring about feelings of excitement, fear, and loss.
  • It's important to have proactive conversations about each partner’s financial needs, expectations, and relationship with money.
Source: AdobeStock/fizkes

Moving in with your significant other is a major relationship milestone. It’s important to honor both the positive and negative emotions, practice compassion for yourself and your partner, and take time for honest conversations and planning as you prepare for the big move forward in your relationship. Money management is one of those conversations.

Because financial conflict is one of the primary reasons couples seek counseling and file for divorce, you’ll want to focus on prevention. Living together means sharing a financial life at a level you may not have experienced before, including perhaps a shared lease or mortgage, utilities, groceries, services like pet sitters or house cleaning services, etc.

4 Key Financial Realms to Agree Upon Before Moving in Together

Before moving in together, have a conversation to discuss key financial considerations. Before you get started, learn how to talk with your partner about money.

1. Decide How You’re Going to Organize Your Money.

Choose between one of four models:

  • Pool all your money and share everything (this may be reserved for couples who have had a longer-term relationship and have developed more trust and relationship experience with each other).
  • Create a joint account for joint expenses but maintain individual accounts for your own spending (this is a nice balance of learning to work as a team while also maintaining some of your own independence and privacy).
  • Live like roommates and simply divide up bills and expenses (this may be a good option for newer relationships or if finances have been a very loaded issue for you in the past).
  • One person assumes virtually full financial responsibility for the other. (This may occur in cases where one person is a student, has a health issue, or is a stay-at-home parent. It is extremely important in these cases that the financially dependent person be included and aware and have access to the financial resources in the household, or there can become extreme imbalances in power and control in the relationship over time.)

There is no right or wrong way as long as:

  • You and your partner agree and are clear on which option you are doing.
  • You both feel the arrangement is fair.
  • You are both honest and maintain financial fidelity.

Financial fidelity means that if you agree that everything is joint, you can’t have secret debt or secret assets; otherwise, you are committing financial infidelity, which can be an enormous betrayal of trust. According to a 2022 TD Bank annual Love and Money survey, nearly one-third of Americans (32 percent) said they are keeping a financial secret from their partner.

If you have joint accounts, you should both have access to those accounts and agree on a system for paying bills. If you are paying bills separately, you might consider having an agreement that if somebody is late paying their bill, they are responsible for the late fee. There are even some apps you can use for tracking expenses, like groceries and bills, and dividing them evenly.

You may want to consider if you are going to use separate banks or switch so that you are both using the same bank for ease of transferring funds.

If you are choosing the first option and sharing everything, you may want to consider using an app to keep track of your bills in one place and make sure you are not double paying subscriptions like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon and are developing a shared system to organize your assets and liabilities.

2. Create Your Household Budget.

Mutually agree upon the household budget for any shared expenses. Separate out any personal expenses for which you are each independently responsible. This can be challenging when there is an income disparity between partners or if one partner is more of a spender and the other is more of a saver.

To create a budget, consider enlisting the help of a financial planner, taking a personal finance course together, or working on the program in my book, The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life. Revisit the household budget on a monthly basis to make sure you are staying on track.

3. Discuss and Establish Your Financial Boundaries.

Have conversations about your financial beliefs, relationship with money, comfort levels, and financial needs and expectations. For example, early on, my husband and I agreed we would not make purchases over $500 without consulting one another because if one of us overspent, that impacted the financial health of the other. Discuss with your partner if you are more of a saver than a spender and learn about their financial styles and decide how you are going to establish a happy medium and healthy financial boundaries between the two of you.

Establish an emergency plan. For example, if you are both working and living paycheck to paycheck, and one of you loses their job, what will you do?

4. Give Your Behavioral Health and Behavioral Economics a Check-Up.

Also, before moving in together is the time to express any concerns about any financial problems due to compulsive spending, gambling, substance use or addiction, or underlying mental health issues. Additionally, explore if there are any psychologically unhealthy finance-related behaviors in the relationship, such as overly taking financial responsibility for another in a way that enables them to abuse substances or underfunction. There is a powerful connection between our mental health and financial health.

Seek individual or couples therapy or 12-step support (Spenders Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous) if you or your partner are struggling with compulsive spending, debt, or gambling. Financial abuse and neglect are never OK, and it is never too late to leave a relationship, even if you have signed a lease, agreed to move in together, or already live together.

Wherever you are in the process of combining a financial life with a partner, it can be extremely helpful to enlist the help of a therapist or counselor for individual or couples sessions. Having a few sessions before moving in together is akin to pre-marital therapy and is a smart, proactive way to save headaches and set your relationship, and new life together, up for success.

While these are agreeably difficult conversations to cover, they are much easier to discuss prior to living together and prior to a problematic situation. You and your relationship are worth the preventative self-help.


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