Couple's therapist: Money is key, so 'talk out these big issues before moving in together'


Before you pack your boxes to move in with someone, there are a few money matters to discuss, experts say. Because finances can put a major strain on your relationship, it's important to establish open and honest communication with your partner about your financial histories, spending habits, and personal timelines.

If you don't develop healthy communication around finances, it's harder to set clear expectations, and that can cause friction: 36% of student loan borrowers who contribute to their partner's education report conflict with their significant other, for example, according to a recent study by the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) and the MIT AgeLab.

So, experts suggest, before you embark on your life together, ask your partner these money questions.

1. What does your financial history look like?

"When you move in with your partner, it's definitely important to know one another's credit scores," says Lindsey Metselaar, creator and host of the dating podcast "We Met At Acme."

Credit, in particular, can play an important role in the kind of home or apartment you're able to secure. Be open and honest about your score, and encourage your partner to do the same. And try not to be judgmental: Your partner's credit score isn't indicative of their ability to manage their finances responsibly.

Sharing your credit scores is a way to broach a conversation about your financial histories. Talking about debt, income, and your values around money can help you find common ground early on, suggests Metselaar.

"It's perfectly fine to ask what kind of credit history they have and what their spending habits are," too, Cynthia Borges-O'Dell, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Modesto, California, told Grow earlier this year. "Knowing this information about your partner will help them come up with a financial plan and set goals for the future."

2. How will you manage shared expenses?

Cohabiting means figuring out how to manage shared expenses like rent, utilities, and groceries. Will you split everything down the middle even if one of you makes way more money? Especially if there's an income disparity between you and your partner, discuss whether it might make sense for each of you to pay a proportional amount instead.

Whether you're contributing a percentage of your income or splitting costs 50/50, it's important that both of you feel the arrangement is fair.

"Ideally, you're able to talk out these big issues before moving in together and come up with a plan that works for both of you. It could be as simple as a percentage of each income goes to housing, expenses, et cetera," says Heidi McBain, a licensed family and marriage therapist in Flower Mound, Texas.

3. How will you manage your individual spending?

Whether you're more of a spender than a saver, sit down with your partner and talk about your spending and savings priorities. This can give each of you a better sense of what you tend to put your money toward in your day-to-day spending, what kinds of limits you should put in place, and which expenses are nonnegotiable.

"Each individual has their own idea of how much [discretionary] money they have, and they likely each have their own agenda for how and where it should be spent or saved. The numbers don't lie, so opinions quickly leave the equation once they are able to see the bottom line," Jill Emanuel, a financial coach at Fiscal Fitness Phoenix, told Grow earlier this year.

For example, if dining out is a priority for you and not your partner, consider budgeting for fancy dinners but setting a limit. That way, the partner who enjoys dining out is able to indulge, while the other feels confident they're keeping spending in line with expectations.

When you move in with your partner, it's definitely important to know one another's credit scores.
Lindsey Metselaar
Creator and host of 'We Met At Acme'

4. How will you manage unforeseen costs?

Talking about emergency expenses before an issue arises can help you avoid conflict. That way, when unexpected costs crop up, whether it's paying a handyman for some household repairs or dealing with a major rent increase, you'll have a plan in place.

This might mean setting up an emergency fund for household repairs, or splitting your expenses so that the person who earns more covers the more expensive repairs, while the one who earns less covers any repairs below a certain amount.

"Relationships are all about compromise. You need to figure out what works for you," says Metselaar.

5. What kind of timeline do you have for the future?

When you move in together, you and your partner should be clear about the reasons you're moving in together. "Is moving in together a step towards marriage, or simply a way to save money now and see where the relationship goes?" says McBain.

If living together is a step toward making a long-term commitment, then it's important to set expectations about how you plan to meet future goals, whether those involve buying a home or starting a family.

You may feel vulnerable having these kinds of conversations. However, you'll get to know your partner better, and you'll be better positioned financially to meet your goals as a couple.

And keep talking. "Have a monthly check-in meeting and ask what's working, what isn't, what needs to stay the same, and what needs to change," says McBain. "This also gives you both a space to talk about your hopes and dreams for now and the future, and find some common goals here too. It also gives you a set plan from the start, knowing that it might need to be adjusted in the future."

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