How to Stop Money From Ruining Your Relationship

How to Stop Money From Ruining Your Relationship

There comes a time in every young person’s life when they have to venture out of their parents’ house and into the world of autonomy. Unfortunately, as we all find out eventually, being independent is really expensive. That’s why when securing a first apartment, most people need a roommate to split costs and save money on living expenses.

I’ve heard plenty of Craigslist horror stories, and had no interest in taking a chance on a stranger when I ventured out on my own not too long ago. So I did what most young women in a committed relationship would do, I moved in with my boyfriend.

However, one of us earns quite a bit more than the other, and at the time I had no idea what that would mean for our new living arrangement.

Here’s why your partner lies about money >>>

Significant Others Are Not Roommates

Moving out with a significant other is completely different than sharing space with a stranger or acquaintance. A roommate splits bills with you down the middle to the very last cent. You write your name on food in the fridge so grocery budgets aren’t meddled with. If they don’t pay rent on time, you can kick him out and find someone else.

For the rest of us, living with a boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t really work this way. One person buys take out, the other grabs the DVD rental. I went grocery shopping, he picked up more dog food. Money just gets messier when you’re romantically involved with the person you live with, but you’re still two single, unmarried people with your own money and financial goals.

So how do you keep order in the household budget without treating your loved one like a roommate?

The Most Effective Budgeting Tip for Couples

When one person in a relationship earns far more than the other, splitting expenses down the middle can leave the lower-income partner financially strained — not to mention, resentful.

Jennifer de Thomas, a CFP in Portland, Ore., said she has many clients who are unmarried and living together who struggle with splitting costs evenly. An even split is often considered “intuitively fair” — that is, until years later, when the lower earner has no savings and the validity of that intuition comes into question.

She explained, “A percentage of income is much more fair, and reflects more closely how more traditional families handle budgeting.” So, if one person earns 60 percent of the household income, it makes more sense for him to cover 60 percent of household expenses instead of forcing the other person to stretch his dollars.

Remember That Time Is Money

In addition to putting money toward living expenses, a partner in a relationship can also take on additional tasks to contribute his equal share. For example, I hate doing dishes and my boyfriend is allergic to grocery shopping, so I cover all the supermarket runs and he has dish duty for life. Some might say he came out on top in that deal, but those people don’t know how much I really, truly hate doing dishes.

Taking on chores and other household duties in place of contributing money toward bills might be a compromise couples are willing to make when the income disparity is large, or when one person spends a greater amount of time away from home than the other because he’s working.

Read: How You Can Finally Stop Fighting About Money in Your Relationship

What About Saving Money?

When it comes to saving money rather than spending it, things get even trickier. Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP, said it’s important to determine where the relationship is going before deciding whether to save separately or as a couple. “If this is a forever kind of commitment, consider saving equal amounts into a joint account each month to be utilized for travel, big purchases or even an eventual happily ever after event,” Storjohann said.

However, don’t neglect your own needs; if you decide to save jointly, make your personal savings the first priority, so your “own accounts and assets are still being built upon should things not pan out as hoped,” Storjohann said.

On the other hand, Daniel Larsen, a financial advisor in Austin, Texas, fully advises against a shared savings account before marriage. “Due to the fact that an unmarried significant other has no legal claim to the savings of his or her partner, it is usually best to keep saving considerations separate until marriage,” Larsen said. It’s important for both individuals to save for their own futures, because as Larsen puts it, “relationships can and do end abruptly.”

To ensure your long-term financial goals are met, it’s probably smarter to keep them separate from shared daily living expenses — just in case.

Related: Jeff Yeager’s 5 Money Tips for a Healthy Relationship

Don’t Let Money Problems Become Relationship Problems

Couples should definitely pay close attention to their finances, even if they’re unmarried, and be transparent with each other. However, if you believe in your relationship, there’s no reason to nickle and dime each other. Anne Nicolai, an editor who is well acquainted with this concept, explained that when she shared expenses while living with a significant other, “The less I worried about the numbers, the better the relationship felt for me,” Nicolai said. “In other words, when I made more than my partner, I paid for more … when I made less, I paid for less. The problems occurred when one or the other of us started counting. Once you do that, it’s a sign that the relationship is ending.”

Living with a significant other solely for financial reasons isn’t the best idea — if there isn’t anything more substantial than a lack of money holding the two of you together, the relationship won’t last — and will probably end badly. If you’re fair and trusting with each other, the numbers don’t always have to add up perfectly.

Nicolai summed it up perfectly: “The question is not about math; it’s about maturity. If you must keep score, play golf.”

Of course, if you’re unsure about the future of your relationship, it never hurts to be prepared. According to de Thomas, a cohabitation agreement is something unmarried couples who share bills might want to consider. The equivalent of an “unmarried couple’s prenup,” putting together a cohabitation agreement forces the couple to address the responsibility each is able — and willing — to shoulder. Keep in mind this can also be expensive, but it is a good form of protection should things not work out.

Take the quiz: Are You and Your Partner a Good Money Match?

Photo credit: buru9

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  • pinkmommy

    I want to be fair with my boyfriend and it be fair for me as well… He lives with me (in my mortgaged house – i’m the only person on the Deed) and basically brought himself, his clothes and toys. The household bills are $1700 per month excluding my personal bills and FOOD expense. Although my kids stay with me 50% of the time, I suggested splitting household and food 50/50. He doesn’t want to do that because “he isn’t ready for a mortgage payment” and “he wasn’t prepared to pay that much” when he makes about 10k more per year than I do. Currently he pays $700 a month (and has paid late two months in a row which makes asking for it even more awkward) and has only contributed to groceries a handful of times in the past year. Am I not being fair with the anticipation for him to pay 1/2 of $1700 household bills and 1/2 groceries every month?

    • Melissa Parker

      Your asking him to pay 50/50 doesn’t seem fair – I am wondering if you have your children 50 percent of the time if you also receive child support- if so, it seems logical that you should come up with a fair arrangement on the cost of food, electric, etc… no doubt your children contribute to expenses and its not his obligation whatsoever to have him pay any part in their expenses. He is not your husband or fiancé but rather your boyfriend. Why not come up with a fair number based on that fact? On the other hand, it sounds like he is a little too comfortable with his “pay at will mentality” as well as not covering hardly any of the grocery expenses. It sounds like a perfect recipe for resentment and breakup- so why not take a quiet evening to discuss how you feel and tell him that you need a regular contribution from him. He may not be ready for a mortgage payment but OMG- let him go out and pay rent, food, etc. on his own and see if he can get away with not paying the landlord for a 2 months and see what happens. If he cares about you, he will at least pay his own way- not letting you be the only responsible one- and “no whining on his part’ or being late helping out! You are providing him with food and shelter and seems like he’s taking full advantage. Sounds like he needs to man up or Get Out!

  • Be fair using Evenfy! A nice app for that!

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