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When shacking up for the first time, divide and conquer the bills (and the lease)

By Virginia K. Smith  | November 4, 2014 - 11:59AM

In a rare, accurate trend piece about millennials, NPR looked into the preponderance of young people now choosing to move in together before marriage—more than 65 percent of nuptials now start off with unmarried cohabiting, as opposed to 10 percent just 50 years ago. This likely has as much to do with skyrocketing rents as it does with changing social norms, and, as with any roommate relationship—even the romantic ones—there are plenty of logistical concerns that crop up when couples are living together for the first time.

This is especially true when it comes to sharing the bills. As The Billfold puts it, "roommates expect to keep their money separate, since they know the arrangement is temporary. Romance, though, works like peanut butter, slathering everything—especially money—in a sticky layer of complexity that is hard to remove." 

This doesn't mean you should resign yourself to another decade with roommates, more that you and your S.O. should have a serious discussion before committing to a lease. (An expert from the National Marriage Project interviewed by NPR issued a somewhat chilling reminder that "ending a cohabiting relationship is very much like getting a divorce [...] You don't want to wind up in a relationship where you think you live together because it's a step toward marriage, and your partner's just thinking, 'She lives closer to where I work.'")

Besides getting into the nitty gritty of your Future Together, it'd also be wise to have a frank discussion of how you plan to handle the bills. As we've written previously, 50/50 tends to be a sound arrangement, and splitting up responsibility for utilities between the two of you is an easy way to diffuse resentment. Venmo can be your best friend.

You may also want to strategize about the state of the lease: one couple interviewed by NPR agreed that only one of them would be on the contract (she had more furniture and was the less mobile of the pair), meaning that if they split, it'd be the boyfriend who had to move, not her. Of course, being the sole person on the lease can also make you more vulnerable to a partner skipping out if things go south, so unless you have particular circumstances, it may be wisest to get both of your names on the paperwork. It's fraught, for sure, but worth it not to deal with Craigslist roomies anymore and, y'know, to live with a person you care about (we hope, anyway).


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