How a Woman Who Co-Owns a House With Her Ex Does Money

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Morgan (not her real name) is a 34-year-old government worker in Saskatoon.

So, Morgan, tell us a little bit about your finances.

Eeesh, how do I sum it up? I’m sure I’m like a lot of people: make enough to get by comfortably, wish I made more, wish I saved more. I’m the consummate Scotswoman—I like making and saving money.

What’s your living situation like? You mentioned when you wrote The Billfold that you were living with your ex?

I do live with my ex. We split up Boxing Day 2013 so we’ve been together in the same house for the last year and four months. It’s been awkward and had its challenges but we are working on it. Neither of us was in a place financially where we were ready to move out/on. I love my house for the proximity to my work and after-work activities like the gym and roller derby practice. It’s got a big back yard where I can let my cats out and overall has just been a really excellent place to live.

I was just offered a year term in the neighboring province which I’m really considering, and this will mean that we have to bring in renters. The ex will have to put up with roommates—which gives him the heebee-jeebees—but quite frankly if you want to stay, you have to adapt. I’m hopeful that we can charge enough for two renters to cover the cost of both of our shares of the household, meaning the rest will go directly into our piggy banks.

About what percentage of your income goes towards overhead (rent/mortgage, utilities, bills, food, transport, the basics of staying alive)?

About 46 percent. I just did the math. I take home $2,600/month and we each put in $1,200/month to the “joint account” (which is solely in my name). Actually for the last six months while he’s been working part-time, he only puts in $1,000/month.

Do you have an emergency fund or a savings account? How do you decide how much to put into that account?

I just did a mini overhaul of my money last year—we had been putting our money into the ex’s account, but after he started failing to pay his credit card bills (…grrrr) the bank started removing money from that account to pay the bills. A couple of bounced mortgage payments later and I had enough. I decided now more than ever it was important for me to have some type of savings to fall back on. I confess I hadn’t had much savings up until then. It felt like most of what I managed to save, went to this trip or that car repair … or this new pair of Crossfit shoes. Let’s be real. Anyway, I decided I wanted to be aggressive about my savings and so each month I put away $300 for savings.

Do you have a retirement fund?

I have a government pension. I started working for the government at the relatively young age of 26. I think I max out at 30 years, so I will just miss “Retirement55” by a year. I also have a mutual fund that gets $120/month as well as another from my time with a private firm. I’ll be moving it into a higher risk account shortly‚ after a visit with my dad last week wherein we talked about how that money might best suit me in the long run. It’s got just over $12K in it.

Do you have a budget? How do you know, each month, how much you can spend on discretionary items? Do you track your discretionary spending?

I have a budget in my head. I tried using Mint for a while but it didn’t do a whole lot for me. I think I have a threshold for things. When I know my bank account is low, I buy no-name brands and tend to eat less. But when it’s payday or a month I’m feeling particularly flush with cash, I’ll buy the GOOD feta cheese. In fact, I think that other than my Crossfit membership (which we get for a steal of a deal as part of our roller derby sponsorship—think 1/3 the price of a regular Crossfit membership), groceries is what I spend my money on. I have no kids. We have four cats and a dog. If I ever find myself with free time, it’s usually spent in the kitchen making yummy food.

How is your debt situation, and how does that affect the rest of your finances?

I remember one time as a young adult right before Christmas: I was maxed out on my line of credit, living in the red until each payday when I was back to $0.00, eating hotdogs and brown beans for supper every night. My mom could tell something was up (we worked at the same law firm) and finally made me spit it out. She wrote me a check for $500 (that she said she never wanted me to worry about paying back) in the mall food court as I sobbed into my French fries and I vowed to her then and there that I would never be in the same situation.

That was nearly 10 years ago and I do have debt—a $2,000 CC (which I just slashed in half with my tax rebate so is now only $1,000) and a $9,000 line of credit which I’m eyeballing for paying off ASAP. As I’m getting older and going through a failed relationship, it’s really hit home how important it is to be completely self-sufficient and if that means living with less, then I’m fine with that.

I’ve stopped finding my value in the clothes I wear and the things I own. I think a large part of that comes from finding like-minded people in the roller derby community. They value things like community and relationships more than “things.” My debt feels like a heavy burden considering what I make, but I know that if I stick to the sticky note repayment schedule that I made six months ago, that it will be paid off in June 2016. I saw that sticky note system post on The Billfold a few months ago. I thought I was the only one!

I actually hate owing money and I (deflect the) blame (onto) my ex. He had a “enjoy now, pay later” mentality that I got caught up in the first year or two we were dating. I managed to get a handle on it though when I started to feel that naggy feeling in my mind like I had in the food court and I smartened up. My ex didn’t and he’s about to declare bankruptcy. Ask me how that makes me feel about co-owning a house with him…

Okay, how does it make you feel to co-own a house with him?

I have to laugh because I think it’s a lot like our relationship has been. I was always ready to commit and do the work to get what I wanted and he would always be laissez-faire about things and put stuff off. For example: “we’ll get engaged when the snow melts” (which: WHAT?!?!?).

Now we have this thing that neither one of us wants to let go of (for various warped reasons) but we can’t do it on our own. It’s scary. I don’t know a whole lot about bankruptcy and I’m scared of what it means for my future and the investment I made in it. We are due for our first mortgage renewal and I think that if he begins the bankruptcy process prior to that, it will be bad news when we go to renew our mortgage. On the other hand, asking him to delay filing doesn’t help the situation either (is it even legal, Billfold readers???). I have questions that I need to get answered and it ticks me off that I allowed myself to get into this situation at the expense of my own financial well-being. I know we could sell quickly if we had to, but it’s just another thing I have to worry about. I feel ripped off, and worse yet—by my best friend.

Most people at this point are like “why don’t you just toss him out!?!?” but he struggles with mental health issues and I struggle to be understanding. In fact, I feel like I’m walking a tightrope between being understanding and allowing him time/space to sort out his financial/mental health and well being, and being taken advantage of.

Do you feel like you earn “enough,” whatever that means to you?

Does anyone??? A friend of mine was dating a professional wake boarder who essentially had no living expenses and got an allowance. We were talking about money at supper one time and my ex said, “you must have a ton of zeros in your bank account” and he said something really profound: “nah bro, the more you make, the more you spend.” LOL. It stuck with me though so every time I see my wage increase (thank Union Negotiators!), I don’t let it go to my head and keep my spending on par as if I had just started working here.

What would enough look like to me? Honestly, not a lot more. If I were debt-free, I think I would be really comfortable right now. I make a decent wage, and it would allow me to travel and get Feta cheese EVERY TIME I went to the grocery store.

Where do you think you do really well, finance-wise, and where do you feel like you can do better?

I am really good at getting my bills paid on time. In fact, all of my bills are set up to auto-pay more than the amount needed so I currently have surpluses on my electricity, power, and phone/cable bills. I regularly get “do not pay” notices from them. I could definitely do better with sticking to my self-imposed budget. I find I start to make some real headway and then “reward” myself with a roller derby travel trip or some new workout gear.

What are your long-term financial goals?

Again, to pay off my consumer debt. After that I would love to sell the house—split with my ex for good—and buy a tiny little one-bedroom home and get to paying that off ASAP.

I used to think I wanted to move out to the farm where my parents currently live when they retire into the city. But now I realize that it probably won’t fit into my long-term goals. For one, it’s expensive to live on the farm (gas and parking money when you work downtown is hella expensive) plus the upkeep of the acreage. Ick. Not to mention I’m sure my parents are planning to use the sale of the farm as part of their retirement plans. Our realtor guessed they would make “an easy mil” based on the location. There’s no way I could ever afford to buy them out with that—even if they were being generous.

What surprised you about “doing money” as an adult?

It’s continuous. It feels like it never ends. Yes, some days go by where you don’t think about money. but everything costs money, even dreams. You have to work as hard at saving money for your dreams as you do at the gym to get the gains.

Do you have any other thoughts or advice for Billfold readers?

Honestly I don’t feel like I’m really in a position to be giving advice. I feel like I’m just faking it most of the time. Yes, I have money in the bank, but if an emergency hit or I lost my job I wouldn’t be prepared to get through it for the long haul. But I’m working on it. Maybe that’s my advice: it’s never too late (or early) to start.


This story is part of our relationships month series.

Photo credit: Kyla Duhamel



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