Living Together to Save Money

hitchMore and more millennials are living together before they get married. Part of the reason is that progressives have won this particular culture war: there’s much less of a taboo now than there used to be about cohabitation. But another part is pure economics. Housing is expensive enough that young people in cities usually need to live with a roommate; and if you’re already making the compromises necessary to share a bathroom and a kitchen with someone, why not make that someone a person with whom you also share a bed? That way, instead of going to bed angry about toilet paper outages and fridge spill disasters, you can have make up sex.

The trouble is, no one tells young people in advance what they’re getting into when they elect to share an address. Roommates work out various ways of splitting costs: post communal receipts on the fridge and go over them once a month; set up house-specific joint checking accounts; install massive piggy banks on kitchen counters. Generally speaking, 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. Say you’re a lady living with a dude, and he likes to buy to dinner when you go out. How old school of him. Once you’re shacked up, will he feel the same way about your cable bill? What if he’s not into TLC or ESPN?

Do you split everything 50/50 even if one of you makes more money?

Or: What if one of you thinks you’re in it for the long-haul, and moving in together is a step towards marriage, and the other was just desperate not to spend a second longer with that passive-aggressive roommate who collected tarantulas, or that manic-depressive who was dodging the IRS?*

Sez NPR:

“They face all of the same issues that dating couples face: things about friends and how much time to spend together. But then they also find the issues that married couples face: who does what around the house, parenting responsibilities and managing money together” [Rhoades] says … 

Rhoades, who is a senior fellow at the pro-marriage National Marriage Project, says that can be risky, because breaking up is tough when you’re living together. She worked with one couple who decided to split up, but they were stuck in a lease together for two months. She spent several sessions helping them divide finances that had been joined, as well as mutual friends that they had. “That’s something that people often don’t recognize … that ending a cohabiting relationship is very much like getting a divorce,” Rhoades says. … But rather than advise people not to cohabit, she suggests taking the decision seriously and discussing its implications.

“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,’ ” she says.

When Ben and I moved in together, we did not talk about it in advance at all. No conversations about Marriage, about how we would handle money or the future or anything. We were idiot kids who figured, hey, we’re moving to the same place, why not find one apartment instead of two? The fact that things worked out was pure luck. And I am so grateful. God knows the last thing I would have had the emotional strength to do, during those first turbulent post-college years of getting and losing jobs, would have been to try to scrape the peanut butter of romance off of all our possessions and finances.

* True stories from my experiences in the trenches, vetting potential Craigslist roommates

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