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Be the Expert: “We’re moving in together. How much should we each contribute?”

105 Comments- Get free updates of new posts here

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Let’s kick off our Money & Relationships series today.

One of the hardest financial steps in a relationship is when two people move in together and start sharing expenses.

Who pays for what? How much should each person pay? Does gender matter? What about income level?

Check out this question I recently got from Jesse:

Hey, Ramit.

Bought your book. Love it. Read it. Am following every piece of advice I can.

In my past relationship, my partner and I split finances 50/50 and that was never a problem. He made more than me. I was fine with that.

I’m in a new relationship and am going to receive a significant promotion in July. Now my new partner is saying that we should do things the Suze Orman way, splitting based on percentages. His argument is that bills and utilities should take an equal percentage hit on both of us.

My argument is that I think that’s a huge step. Yes, we’re living together. But we haven’t even been together for a year. In essence, I’d be supporting him, partly. But he doesn’t see it that way. I’ve always tried to keep money out of relationships by splitting everything equally. If you’re married, I think this is an entirely different conversation. But having only dated for 6 months, moved in, but still not ready to make a life-long commitment, I think that my position is entirely reasonable. He just doesn’t see it that way.

Part of the problem here might be that we’re both guys, and I think his ego is taking a hit because I’m going to be making more money. I’d love it if you’d talk about the problem, perhaps the psychological implications of people feeling like they’re not contributing. One suggestion from him is that we should live separately. He said that’d make him feel better about things. But again, I don’t understand this. We’d both be paying twice as much in rent, and he would take an even bigger hit financially.

Any help would be much appreciated.

What do you think? How should Jesse and his partner split expenses? Leave your comments below.

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105 Comments

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  1. Suze would say that there is something else going on besides the money. If he is giving you the ultimatum of “take on the bigger half of the bills or we should live separately” then maybe he is looking to take advantage of you financially. You do not sound committed to the relationships and he looks like he is looking for someone to take care of him. Run.

    • Funny when the shoe is on the other foot for women. Treat us equally, but don’t make us pay an equal share. I would say it’s very common for men to pay 100% of the mortgage/rent. I know I did and no one told me to run.

    • Wow. In the first comment, we have Ramit’s Rule of Internet Relationship Advice come true.

      The rule is: No matter what relationship advice you ask for, someone will recommend you break up. No matter what.

      Q: “Hey, my husband of 23 years and father of 4 children chews walnuts too loudly. What should I do?”

      – “BREAK UP”
      – “4 KIDS? HE’S OBVIOUSLY A CHILD MOLESTER. LEAVE HIM”
      – “I HEAR A LOT ABOUT THE 23-YEAR-ITCH. BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY — YOU SHOULD DITCH HIM.”

  2. 6 months isn’t enough time to make a commitment to pay a greater share. I make twice as much as my girlfriend and pay 100% of the mortgage. She lives with me for free, but we have been together 7 years (dated 3 years before she moved in with me). If we split – I would still have my apartment, so I am fine with this arrangement.

    I wouldn’t move in together after 6 months, personally, and if I did I would sit down and mark down expenses for everything and set it up more as if you were roommates, rather than a married couple. Ambiguous finances are the quickest way to ruin a relationship – and if you move in together, it is very hard make a clean, efficient break if need be.

    • I agree with Eric completely. It’s not just about the money. It’s about the time, and the amount of trust that you have (or have not) been able to build with each other in just six months.

      What I do wonder, though, is why aren’t you willing to pay more? If you have additional personal bills/expenses that would cause a “Suze” split to put you in a bad place, understandable. But if it’s a “just cuz” mentality..hmm…

    • I agree. At 6 months, I think it’s weird to move in together, but I know it happens. If you are not committed to a long, long-term relationship, I can’t see why you would subsidize his living expenses. That sets you up for resentment early on, and if it’s HIS idea and not yours, it makes it much worse.

  3. I think I agree with Jesse’s partner, actually. The “huge step” is moving in together and sharing expenses. Its certainly not much of a leap, if any, to begin sharing those expenses in a more balanced manner. Relationships are all about sacrifice, and if you are not willing to give a little more of your income (even though you will still have more leftover at the end of the bills than he will) I think maybe you aren’t ready for the selflessness that a truly committed relationship requires. I just feel that any couple, same sex or not, has this same issue. Maybe Jesse’s partner wouldn’t choose to live in such a nice apartment, or have all the cable channels, if he were on his own, etc. And I think that Jesse should try to be more understanding of that.

  4. To me, roommates split things 50-50. It doesn’t matter how much the other person makes, they still pay 50% of the bills.

    A couple who is in a committed relationship shares the responsibility of all the bills, so they should have joint finances, meaning it’s one pool of money and all the bills get paid out of that pool. IMHO, any other way is going to be financial disaster — how can you move towards common life goals (e.g. being debt free, retiring early, having kids, buying a house) if you don’t share common financial goals?

    It sounds like Jesse isn’t ready to take on the “committed relationship” aspect yet and maybe shouldn’t even be moving in together at this point.

  5. I think this is about control…each of you want the money split the way you want, and it seems to be having more influence on the relationship than a lot of other things (but of course, this is a money website, not a relationship one, so the focus is naturally money in your email).

    I think you both have to discuss your priorities and the meaning behind each of the splits you’re discussing, and all the other items you’re paying for together (food, etc.). Does someone have more choice in choosing the place than the other? Are you moving into one of your places? There’s a lot to discuss that affects the splits. If you can’t work out something to both of your likings (remember, those two ways of splitting costs aren’t the only ways), then maybe moving in together should wait until you can work this out. Imagine if you can work out money issues now, how much smoother the relationship will be.

    And for the readers…READ the email. It’s two guys. I see at least one person said “Funny when the shoe is on the other foot for women.” No women involved here. You made assumptions, including about how women behave. Fail.

    • The person that said “Funny when the shoe is on the other foot for women” was directing that at the first commenter, presumably a woman judging by the name. And the comment actually has some merit which deserves closer examination outside of this discussion.

      Personally, I’ve been in a situation where it was known that I was making half as much as my significant other (female and I’m male). At that time, she was perfectly happy splitting dinner tabs and taking turns paying for entertainment (movies, bowling, whatever). In a short amount of time I was able to turnaround my freelancing business and began making slightly more than her (2-3x what I was previously making). All of a sudden, the conversation turned to all the things I could buy her and the fact that I’m “supposed to” insist on picking up 100% of dinner tabs, etc.

      I’ve had numerous conversations with both males and females on this very topic and there seems to be some consensus (albeit a gross generalization): one person in the relationship (usually the woman due to prior social norms) has the mentality of “what’s mine is mine and what’s your’s is part mine.”

      I’ve even witnessed this in recent divorces as well. The person that put the least, financially, into the marriage still thinks that they’re entitled to more than 50% of the marital assets.

      I guess it’s like the saying goes,”A piggy with two nickels in it makes a lot more noise than a full piggy bank.”

      Personally, I think people should be entitled to whatever they put into something. Being in a relationship (married or not) shouldn’t entitle people to something that they didn’t earn. That just encourages people to be slothful if their partner is successful. Doesn’t seem like anybody wins if that’s the scenario.

  6. “Should?” Did Ramit just say “should?”

    The person who earns more tends to have more authority in financial decision-making. The higher earner has a choice: put their partner’s financial priorities first, or contribute proportionally to income. Any other alternative is going to leave the lower-earning partner at the mercy of some rather nasty psychological dynamics.

    I’ll add that I certainly would not date someone who saw “contributing proportionally to income” as “supporting me.” That’s not really an attitude of partnership.

    • Oh man. Nothing gets past you guys

    • “I’ll add that I certainly would not date someone who saw “contributing proportionally to income” as “supporting me.””

      How is it not? To some degree they’d be subsidizing your lifestyle at their expense.

      And if the shoe was on the other foot how would that change your attitude?

      I’m going to be really bold and assume that you’re either single or make less than your current partner.

      Lastly, I don’t see contributing less due to earning less as an attitude of partnership either. Sounds more like entitlement.

    • I’ve been with my current partner for 15+ years. There were several years when I was making more than twice what he made. There have been several years where he’s made more than me. We’ve followed the same financial policy in all cases – so yes, your implication that I’m only interested in this because it benefits me is totally incorrect. I certainly don’t see my partner as entitled when he’s the lower earner; he gives what he earns, just like I do, even though the dollar amounts are different.

      Maybe the problem is that I phrased it as “contributing.” I would not feel financially secure with anyone who did not see our money (both income and outflow) as a family responsibility, with joint decision-making and spending responsibility, no matter who was earning what. I think the framing of “at their expense” is exactly what I’m trying to get at. If someone sees a relationship with me as being financially (or in any other way) adversarial, I’m going to run like hell.

  7. Money is the ability to make choices. So I agree with the commenter who said roommates split everything 50/50 but in a relationship you have to have a little more balance. My boyfriend and I live together, and he makes almost twice as much as I do. So for the major bills – rent, electric, water, cable, etc. – he pays 2/3 and I pay 1/3. But for the rest of our shared expenses, we split 50/50 – things like groceries, laundry, dates. I didn’t go on 1/3 of the date after all. Then we have the rest of our cash to do with what we like.

    This arrangement works for us because if I ponied up cash for 1/2 of the rent, utilities, etc., I’d have very little left over to do the things I want to do and he’d have a lot. Therefore he’d be able to make all the choices about how I spend my free time, or at a minimum limit them due to less disposable income, and I’d resent him. We both agreed that was not a good outlook for our relationship. This is what works for us. Ultimately, we were able to sit down and have a rational conversation about our respective financial situations and come to an agreement. That’s what needs to happen here.

    • Perfect answer. Most of the bills should be split based on percentage of income.

    • So, you think paying half the rent would be unfair? If you did’t live together and had your own place, would it cost you more than what half the rent would be living with your partner? In other words, you were just fine dating him when you lived alone and had to pay your entire rent, but cutting your living expenses by paying half your rent living with him suddenly doesn’t work? My guess is before you moved in together he must have been subsidizing your lifestyle by paying for most of the dates?

      Why is it ok for lower earners to insist that higher earners subsidize their lifestyle? You still would pay less in housing by splitting the rent 50/50 than if you lived by yourself without him.

      It be in his better financial interest to get a roommate who splits things 50/50 and keep dating you. You’re actually a financial liability to him the way you two have things set up.

  8. My girlfriend and her (now) husband would have three different accounts. One where they split 50/50 for the mortgage, food, furniture, electricity, etc. Then they both have their own personal account where they spend it on whatever they want. She loves to shop and he loves buying dirt bikes. They have been happy for the last 15 years.
    As fore me, I would expect the guy to pay 100% of the mortgage. I don’t believe in paying the guy when he is having sex with me. ha!

    • So what you are saying is that you are a prostitute? Why should he pay when you are having sex with him?

    • Oh, Mike. If you knew me, you would NEVER use the word prostitute with me.

      However, I guess I can see it with an Amercian viewpoint. Though… I still don’t believe in paying if you live with the guy, cook for him, clean, iron, and have sex with him.

    • I rest my previous case. Entitlement with a capital “E.”

      It’s mostly (or in whole) those that earn less that think things should run proportional to income.

  9. If this were up to me I’d have you go 50/50 on the rent, utilities and other boring necessities.

    Then I’d advise saving proportionally for some mutually agreed upon fun stuff. The obvious candidate seems to be home furnishing, since your space is the current point of contention or a vacation, since vacations are paramount to a healthy relationship.

    This type of split serves a number of purposes:

    1.) You don’t feel like you’re supporting him, because your necessities are split equally.
    2.) You get to test the shared financial waters where the worst case scenario is he doesn’t save and you keep your money.
    3.) It keeps your bare bones expenses in check, which you’ll both probably be happy about if you lose your job or the relationship doesn’t work out.
    4.) You get a vacation and furnishings proportional to your income and don’t feel “dragged down” by his income.
    5.) Re-focusing the “calculated” (i.e. difficult) portion of your finances allows you to shift mentally toward aspirational and enjoyable things rather than quibbling over essentials.

    I could probably think of another 5 benefits of working this way, but don’t think I need to oversell it.

  10. You see the Suze Orman split as a sign of long-term commitment. I don’t know what your partner sees it as-it may be a sign of insecurity. It may be a sign of commitment to him, that he just doesn’t want to admit. This really sounds like a case where your partner not be aware of what his own motivations are, so a little digging might be required.

    But figuring out his motivations and goals for the relationship (and whether they’re compatible with yours) is much more important than the exact details of how you work out your financial split here.

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