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What to do when moving in to share expenses doesn't work out

Q. Last year, I moved in with my boyfriend to save money.  I thought this would be a great move, since we could share expenses and my cost of living would go down.  But I’m not saving any money, and now I’m in debt.  I don’t know what to do.

A.  As I see it, you have three choices. You can accept the situation and live with it. You can change the situation by changing how you respond to it. Or you can leave this situation.  If you choose to accept the situation, you need to realize that you give up the right to complain.  In addition, if no changes are made the situation will more than likely deteriorate and you will probably end up with even more debt.   If you choose the second or third options, you need to look closely at your personal circumstances.  Why have you gone into debt, and what can you do to keep it from happening again? No one is going to fix this situation for you; you need to make a choice.   

You may have expected to save money when you moved in with your boyfriend, but your boyfriend probably had expectations about the financial arrangements, too.  Beyond agreeing to divide the rent and utilities, however, I’m guessing that the two of you did not discuss your expectations. The truth is that our expectations can often cloud reality.

As for the debt you have accrued, you need to take a closer look at what is happening.  Have you experienced unusual circumstances that have caused the debt? Or is your debt owing to a decision you have made, such as buying a car? Are you spending money on things you don’t need?  Have you equitably divided your other expenses?  Or are you paying for things your boyfriend should be responsible for?  Is it possible that he is already paying his share of the expenses, but that you simply expected him to pay more? 

In addition to considering why you are debt, it is important to get a handle on what you owe. Gather all your information and record what you owe and to whom.  What are your monthly expenses:  rent, utilities, phone, gas, insurance, groceries, clothing, hair care, medical, donations, entertainment, hobbies, etc.?  What debts do you have?  How much do you owe, what is the monthly payment, and what interest is accruing on your debt? 

This information should give you insight into what is happening each month.  Perhaps you are paying for the groceries and didn’t realize how much it would cost to buy food for both of you. Or maybe the two of you need to discuss a more equitable division of all the other expenses.  If you are paying for things your boyfriend should be responsible for, then you need to stop. Whatever the case, it’s time to have an honest conversation with your boyfriend about the state of your finances and any changes that you may need to make.

If, after gathering all of your information, you are still at a loss as to why you have the debt you have, see if you can get your boyfriend to come with you to an appointment with a non-profit credit counselor who will review your budget and debts and develop a plan of action that will work for you.

I encourage you to do the hard work of evaluating your situation. Then you need to be prepared to make some changes. This isn’t a situation where things will shake out on their own; nothing will improve until you decide to do something about it. 

Bonnie Spain is the executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Black Hills, a United Way member agency. For more information, email

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