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How to split expenses with your partner

Q. My girlfriend and I read your last article about a couple moving in together. We’ve been considering a shared living situation, too, but we are having trouble coming up with a fair way to divide our expenses.  Do you have any suggestions?

A.Fair is a powerful word that elicits a great deal of emotion – far more than most people realize. When people believe that they have been treated unfairly, they usually become defensive, resentful and even angry.  To ensure your move is as smooth as possible, you’ll need to talk through the particulars of your finances and be willing to make compromises.  You’ll also need to define “fair” for yourself.

People typically think that splitting expenses 50/50 is the most equitable arrangement.  But a down-the-middle split doesn’t always work for couples who move in together.  Let’s say that one of you makes $25,000 a year, while the other brings home $40,000 annually.  If the disparity between your incomes is significant, then is a 50/50 split may not be reasonable.  

The same might apply to your food budget. If one of you eats two-thirds of the food and other eats one-third, then you may not wish to split the food bill in half.  Maybe one of you requires—or prefers—a special diet. If you don’t eat the same foods, does it make sense to split costs 50/50? 
If one of you wants cable and the other does not, should you divide this expense evenly?  If you decide to split all expenses down the middle, and one of you gets a raise, will you adjust how you handle household costs?

And what if one of you carries a heavy debt load and the other one of you does not? Are you willing to help pay for something that you did not buy?

You will have to sort through the answers to these—and other questions—if you want to minimize surprises. As for how you end up splitting expenses, I cannot tell you what is fair for your relationship. The two of you must decide this together by having a thorough and honest conversation about your expectations.

I suggest you sit down together and draft all the expenses you believe you will be sharing, including rent, utilities, cable/internet, food, and household products. Discuss the expenses that you have, but that you will not be sharing.  Once you have a clearer sense of what each of you expects, then you can sketch out how you will split expenses.  You also need to talk about what you will do if one of you cannot or does not pay his or her share of the bills. 

Because this relationship matters to the two of you, take the time to discuss how you will split expenses before you move in together.  If your partner is unwilling to do this, then this spells trouble, both for your relationship and for the future of your shared finances.

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

The material in this transmission is provided for personal, non-commercial, educational, and informational purposes only. ACCE makes no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this transmission and assumes no responsibility for errors, inaccuracies, omissions, or any inconsistency herein. You should consult a professional where appropriate.


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