USA TODAY International Edition

Money talks don’t have to be tense

Set up a comfortabl­e discussion with partner

- Morgan Hines

Last May, after weeks of hunting, my boyfriend and I found what we were looking for: A one- bedroom apartment with outdoor space, in- unit laundry, and a dishwasher within our discussed price range. It felt like discoverin­g a New York City real estate unicorn.

But the stress of the search wasn’t the only factor vying to overshadow the excitement of moving in with my significant other.

We also had to navigate a big conversati­on topic: How would we split rent and other bills?

The question was different for me than it had been with past roommates. There wouldn’t be a bigger bedroom or differing amenities to determine who would pay more or less, for example. And there were other factors to consider, too, such as income divergence.

It was an uncomforta­ble series of conversati­ons to have, frankly. Eventually, like so many couples before us, we figured it out.

But how could we have better approached our discussion­s about the costs that come with living together and how to share them? I spoke with experts to find out what conversati­ons to have:

Creating a safe space builds trust

Shane Birkel, an individual and couples therapist, says it’s important to understand that partners considerin­g cohabitati­on are still learning to trust each other.

“For that reason, it is important to communicat­e as clearly as possible and not be offended if your partner wants to have a clear contract ( verbal or written) about how to split up the finances,” Birkel says.

He suggests approachin­g the conversati­on with an open mind and a willingnes­s to make your partner feel safe.

“If your partner wants to talk about this, try not to take it personally,” he says. “It’s not a sign that they don’t trust

you. It’s just an opportunit­y for both parties to feel like they are advocating for themselves and can work together as a team.”

Understand each other’s ‘ money mind- set’

Casandra “Coach Cass” Henriquez, a dating coach who helps women “find and keep” love, tells USA TODAY that couples planning to cohabitate should understand each other’s “money mindset.”

“The biggest key to peace in your financial homecoming together is understand­ing your money mind- set,” says Henriquez. “You may be dating someone who never thinks there is enough money and you may believe there is an abundance of money.”

Understand­ing your partner’s money beliefs will help you as a couple in the long run. Henriquez advised taking time to have deep, “judgment- free” conversati­ons.

Discuss financial goals as a couple

Henriquez adds that couples should have a conversati­on about their financial goals before cohabitati­ng.

“What are your combined goals as a couple? Is it to buy a home, start a business, etc. Who makes more money in your relationsh­ip? Is it best to save one salary and live off one?” She lists questions. “In splitting bills, you can start with 50/ 50 but every situation is unique and depending on the goals and income you may want to change.”

Talk about existing individual expenses

Individual expenses don’t cease to exist when you combine households. It’s important to discuss those responsibi­lities as you budget for your future together.

Henriquez says couples should consider those current and ongoing fees.

Expenses to consider might include credit cards, student loans, cell phone plans, streaming services, and child support.

Decide how to split rent, bills

Consider how much each person makes before determinin­g how much each should pay toward living expenses, Birkel says.

“If one person makes a lot more than the other partner, is it fair to split the bills 50/ 50 or should the couple figure out something that would be based on a percentage of what they are making,” he says. “There is no right or wrong answer to this question. The important thing is that both people feel good about it.”

Birkel advises finding a percentage that feels fair to both of you if the income disparity is large.

And these discussion­s should be comprehens­ive, according to Henriquez. Sharing your goals as individual­s and as a couple will help you focus on teamwork and building a life together.

“If you just focus on ‘ you make more’ so you pay more, ( your) partner may feel like you are taking advantage of them,” Henriquez said.

Talk about what might happen if things don’t work out

It’s not a fun question, but it is an important one – what will we do if the relationsh­ip ends?

“Of course, no one wants that to happen, but it’s good to have a clear plan,” Birkel said, listing questions: “Who is going to stay in the apartment? Who is going to move out? Will both people still contribute to the bills at that point or will the person moving out no longer be responsibl­e for anything?”

Answering those questions can help you avoid stress should things fall apart. Birkel advises keeping a “spirit of understand­ing and compassion” while having such discussion­s.

 ?? TIJANA SIMIC/ GETTY IMAGES ?? Understand­ing your partner’s money beliefs will help you as a couple in the long run.
TIJANA SIMIC/ GETTY IMAGES Understand­ing your partner’s money beliefs will help you as a couple in the long run.

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