Moving in with your partner? Here's how to talk about splitting rent and other expenses

Morgan Hines
A couple lounging on a couch surrounded by moving boxes.

Last May, after weeks of hunting, my boyfriend and I found what we were looking for: A one-bedroom apartment with outdoor space, in-unit laundry, and a dishwasher within our discussed price range. It felt like discovering a New York City real estate unicorn.

But the stress of the search wasn't the only factor vying to overshadow the excitement of moving in with my significant other. 

We also had to navigate a big conversation topic: How would we split rent and other bills?

The question was different for me than it had been with past roommates. There wouldn't be a bigger bedroom or differing amenities to determine who would pay more or less, for example. And there were other factors to consider, too, such as income divergence. 

It was an uncomfortable series of conversations to have, frankly. Eventually, like so many couples before us, we figured it out. 

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But how could we have better approached our discussions about the costs that come with living together and how to share them? I spoke with experts to find out what conversations to have:

Creating a safe space builds trust

Shane Birkel, an individual and couples therapist, says it's important to understand that partners considering cohabitation are still learning to trust each other.

"For that reason, it is important to communicate as clearly as possible and not be offended if your partner wants to have a clear contract (verbal or written) about how to split up the finances," Birkel says.

He suggests approaching the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to make your partner feel safe. 

"If your partner wants to talk about this, try not to take it personally," he says. "It's not a sign that they don't trust you. It's just an opportunity for both parties to feel like they are advocating for themselves and can work together as a team."

Understand each other's 'money mindset'

Casandra "Coach Cass" Henriquez, a dating coach who helps women "find and keep" love, tells USA TODAY that couples planning to cohabitate should understand each other's "money mindset."

"The biggest key to peace in your financial homecoming together is understanding your money mindset," says Henriquez. "You may be dating someone who never thinks there is enough money and you may believe there is an abundance of money."

Understanding your partner's money beliefs will help you as a couple in the long run. Henriquez advised taking time to have deep, "judgment-free" conversations. 

Discuss financial goals as a couple

Henriquez adds that couples should have a conversation about their financial goals before cohabitating.

"What are your combined goals as a couple? Is it to buy a home, start a business, etc. Who makes more money in your relationship? Is it best to save one salary and live off one?" She lists questions. "In splitting bills, you can start with 50/50 but every situation is unique and depending on the goals and income you may want to change."

Talk about existing individual expenses

Individual expenses don't cease to exist when you combine households. It's important to discuss those responsibilities as you budget for your future together.

Henriquez says couples should consider those current and ongoing fees.

Expenses to consider might include credit cards, student loans, cellphone plans, streaming servicesand child support. 

How to decide how to split rent and other bills

Consider how much each person makes before determining how much each should pay toward living expenses, Birkel says.

"If one person makes a lot more than the other partner, is it fair to split the bills 50/50 or should the couple figure out something that would be based on a percentage of what they are making," he says. "There is no right or wrong answer to this question. The important thing is that both people feel good about it."

Birkel advises finding a percentage that feels fair to both of you if the income disparity is large.

And these discussions should be comprehensive, according to Henriquez. Sharing your goals as individuals and as a couple will help you focus on teamwork and building a life together. 

"If you just focus on 'you make more' so you pay more, (your) partner may feel like you are taking advantage of them," Henriquez said. 

Talk about what might happen if things don't work out

It's not a fun question, but it is an important one – what will we do if the relationship ends? 

"Of course, no one wants that to happen, but it's good to have a clear plan," Birkel said, listing questions: "Who is going to stay in the apartment? Who is going to move out? Will both people still contribute to the bills at that point or will the person moving out no longer be responsible for anything?"

Answering those questions can help you avoid stress should things fall apart. Birkel advises keeping a "spirit of understanding and compassion" while having such discussions.

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