Things to Talk About Before Shacking Up

Lisa and Bryan are Moving In Together, and maybe you are, too.  Mazel tov! My husband and I have been there, I can’t help but want to help them. The key to a smooth transition is talking openly about everything that is going to come up before it comes up. So I made them a list of questions to talk about. It’s loooong. In the interest of not getting overwhelmed, I think that more smaller conversations are better than one big conversation. Actually that should be a disclaimer: Do not try to talk about these all at once. Take your time. Have many conversations.


1. Will you pay for a house cleaner?
After five years of living together, we just started doing this, and it’s a godsend. I felt guilty about it before—I mean, I have the free time in which I COULD be cleaning, I just really don’t want to spend it that way. Plus the place was never as dust-free as I’d like it. But it still feels weird to employ someone to clean up after you.

2. Even if you do pay for a house cleaner, how will you divide the other duties?
House cleaners just dust, sweep, and clean kitchens & bathrooms, basically.  So there’re plenty of other odd jobs someone has to do. My husband does the laundry; I cook (mostly); we do grocery shopping together; and we switch off on garbage and dish duty. I hate doing dishes, and I think that’s the chore he resents the most, too, so we have to work hard to make sure neither of us feels things are out of whack.  It IS a little hard to think that housecleaning is not some sort of barter because my husband’s income (as a lawyer) is more than mine (as a grad student) and his time is less flexible. But I’m getting over it!

3. Dietary stuff and food: Do either of you have any restrictions? Will you both eat the restricted diet, or will you make separate meals? Will you do your grocery shopping together?

4. If you both get up at the same time and need to leave the house at the same time WHO GETS TO BE IN THE SHOWER FIRST?
May require one of you go dirty hippie for the day, depending on how much time has been allowed.

5a. Decorating. Do you need new furniture? What do you get/ who does the internet research/ who chooses it / who actually goes and picks up the thing?
We jointly make almost all decisions, but which one of us initiates alternates. On a related note: joint purchases? Individual purchases?

5b. What do you do with your book and media collections?
We are old-skool and still have many bound dead trees (1000s) and obsolete plastic discs (also 1000s), and it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that the merging of the CDs into a unified, alphabetized-by-genre system was about as big a commitment as getting married.  There’s no going back.


1. How many nights a week will you spend together?
This was…not a thing for my husband and me. We were pretty serious pretty fast and have spent nearly every evening together during the years we have been in the same city. But I’ve had plenty of friends have to negotiate how much independent time they get to hang out with friends or go to drawing class or book club.

Related question: Will you eat dinner together? Another related question: If you’re both in the apartment but need alone time, how do you deal?  Read a book in the bath tub? (Must have bath tub.)

2. How will you spend the time you spend together?
When you’re not living together, it’s pretty natural to plan an activity as an excuse to get together. (Let’s have a picnic in the park!) It’s also sometimes nice to plan to make dinner at home and watch a netflick just to be together. But when you are living together, it is very easy to get sucked in to just vegging at home, which can feel kind of gross after a while.

I have really enjoyed having joint hobbies with my husband. We took a darkroom class together and go on photo-taking expeditions around LA. (FUN!) We go to the farmer’s market. We jog together on the weekends. We plan trips together. Having the activities be joint means both of us get to share in them together—I’ve seen other friends have disagreements when one of them has an expensive hobby (skiing, scuba diving, fancy cocktails out…) that the other doesn’t partake in. It’s a balance to strike.

3.  Who keeps your joint social calendar?
It is easy to say to your mutual friends, “Hey, partner and I should have dinner with you sometime.” And then you make a plan over the water cooler, and mutual friend and you are all settled on it, until it’s the day of and you tell partner and s/he is, like, “But I told someone else we could see them tonight!” Our solution: shared Google calendar.  This also goes for where we spend which holidays where and booking plane tickets and things. Either make a mental note to talk about it or send an email as soon as you think of it.  Actually, Google docs for all kinds of things.  We also have a running grocery/drugstore list and a list of chores to take care of at home.

4. What’s your timeline?
Having seen friends do the dating/move in together/get engaged/get married in under a year and a half and others stretch it out to ten years has shown me that people can have different timelines. Personally, I think talking about TOO much all at once and up front puts unnecessary pressure on a relationship, but it’s still something to be aware of. My husband and I these days tend to bring up big scary next moves over dinner and say, hey, you’re scared of this thing, and I am, too, but it’s out there, and let’s agree on a time horizon, then we can confront the big scariness together. Engagement and marriage planning, house buying, kid having. There will always be something looming in the distance.

5. Do you need a hello/goodbye routine?
OK, this sounds weird and micro-manage-y, but just hear me out. My husband and I kiss goodbye every morning when the first one of us leaves and hello every evening when the second of us arrives home.  It is what we do. My sister and her husband? Do not notice when one or the other leaves or arrives. They can have both been in the apartment for an hour before they actually interact. I think if I did that to my husband, he would think I was mad at him. So just, y’know, sort it out so there’s no miscommunication.

6. Privacy.
There are some things which happen inside a relationship which need to be aired out with friends (hundreds of them on the interweb!) and other things which are nobody’s business.  Agree on where the line gets drawn.


1. Whose name are the bills in and who pays them? Like, who opens the envelope and cuts the check or logs in to the website and types in the numbers?

2. How do you deal with joint expenses? Cut each other a check each time something comes up? Keep tabs each month and cut the check at the end?  Get a joint checking account and jointly contribute to it?
It took me a long time to work up to it, but I have to say, joint checking account is THE BEST. It is just so nice and comforting to not worry about keeping track—or cashing each other’s checks. We only have joint accounts at this point, actually. All paychecks are direct deposited to the joint checking, all bills get paid out of it (including credit cards, which are also joint), and there’s a twice monthly transfer to savings (also joint). Retirement plan contributions are withheld pre-tax.

3. What percentage of your budget do you spend on nonessential lifestyle stuff, especially food and booze?
This is one where we legitimately had to compromise early on. My husband would order take out or actually go to a restaurant six nights out of seven, I think, if left to his own devices. It makes my soul hurt not to have a home cooked meal most nights. I always chalked this up to our upbringings—his in Manhattan, mine in small town-Southeast. But we had to really talk it out. Nowadays we cook or have leftovers probably four or five nights and do something else the other two or three (which are not always the weekend ones). I think both of us have come to like this balance better than either of the extremes.

4. Spending.
When the marriage part draws closer, let’s say sometime after you get engaged, it’s probably worthwhile to talk about percentages of money spent on non-food and things, like clothes, personal care, furnishings, electronics, concerts and movies, and travel.  It’ll probably work itself out, honestly, but best to keep communication lines open in order to preempt bitterness.


1. What does your balance sheet look like?
Regardless of how early it is, a serious taking stock of all debts and assets and income is a good idea.  We didn’t do this until, oh, a few months before we were married, so it’s lucky neither of us had any surprises!

2. What are your goals?
Pay off the credit card and student loans? Travel? Buy a flat screen TV or a sofa? Buy a house? Go back to school? Save for retirement?

3. What is your plan for meeting your goals?  Do you have a budget?
I find a rough estimate of percentages of expenditures in various categories along with pretty regular checking in to to be really useful.

4. Carrying the burden.
I think it’s worthwhile to have some shared vision about roles. At the moment, it sounds like Bryan has less debt and more income than Lisa. Is that a forever thing?  Is that ok with each of you?  You can pause and let that one sink in.

For us, rotating is what makes sense. I worked while my husband was in law school. He is working now while I am in a Ph.D. program. He may scale back into something with less demanding hours and lower pay when I’m out and take on my career-trajectory job, or maybe he will become the primary caretaker of our future kid(s). To us, it feels fair. But to some other people, even if there’s no trading off, if each person is happy in their career, it feels fair. In the end, it’s up to you, but you both have to be in agreement. You also have to have a plan if one of you loses your job or goes through a dry spell.

And just one final note: There is nothing innate to a person about being “bad with money” or “never being able to earn money.”  Those are all choices. I have picked up new, good habits from my husband, and I think he has learned some things about financial management from me.  If all goes well, you can bring out the best in each other.


I think it would be irresponsible not to at least mention that moving in together can bring up a whole host of other issues not directly related to how you spend you money: How do you show affection? Where are you spending the holidays? How do you deal with your families in general—in stressful situations, in ill health, just when you want to see your nieces and nephews all the time? What part does faith play in your life, if any? Do you want to have kids? How do you want to raise the kids? How will you decide where to move, if one or both of you wants to move? What kind of a career do you want to have? Sex—all the questions. How do you want to confront health issues? What would you do if you broke up?

Now that I’ve written all these out, they seem really overwhelming.

Maybe you don’t have to know all the answers right away.  Maybe it’s better for some of them to come up organically.  Sure, in hindsight, I could point to friends who were surprised by any of these issues and ran into problems in their relationships. But it’s also fine, I think, to take things one step at a time and to know that most decisions are reversible. You can find a new apartment. You can sell the table you hate and buy a new one. You can spend the holidays apart and be unhappy and together the next year. All it takes to have a successful relationship is communication, compassion, and a willingness to make it work.  Coulda called that one commitment to stay with the alliterative pattern, but that isn’t exactly what I meant.


Katie Wilson lives in L.A. (with her husband). 



30 Comments / Post A Comment

maiasaura (#924)

For splitting joint expenses (everything from dinners out that are not official “dates,” to groceries, to rent and household expenses) my boyfriend and I use Splitwise and just even it out at the end of the month. It’s designed for roommates and I’m sure is great in that situation too, but we use it all the time and it’s awesome. It tracks everything and then we have a set “settling up” day at the end of the month after rent gets paid. For us, it was better than a joint account at this point, since we live together but aren’t quite ready to merge finances that fully. We never have to worry that someone’s not getting a fair deal, and also never worry about whose turn it is to pay for something. Whoever comes out having paid more at the end of the month will get paid back.

ciphressinchief (#1,880)

@maiasaura Even easier: my boyfriend and I have a google spreadsheet where we log all shared expenses. We have it set up so it automatically sums how much each of us has spent, based on the name next to the entry. Whoever’s behind (usually me) pays for utilities. After every month, I hide the old entries so it’s not super long. We also keep the usernames and passwords for all our online bill websites in the spreadsheet. No settling up and it calculates everything for you!

@ciphressinchief This is exactly what we do, and I love it. I also have a tab for recurring expenses where I enter rent and utilities by month, with a formula to calculate the average for each utility and the average overall. Really helpful in seeing the big picture of what has to get paid, and about how much that will be.

I had almost none of these conversations prior to moving in with my boyfriend and we seem to be fine. We did not have to discuss how we will spend our time together, honestly? What? We spent it the same way we did before, and when we’re getting antsy about being home, we say “hey let’s go out,” we check our budget, and then we go out. It’s not that hard.

The finance stuff IS important – both when moving in and getting married – but of course it’s buried halfway down the page so by the time I got there I was so annoyed I didn’t even really bother.

90% of these “important conversations” will end up happening organically – “Oh hey, we have to open an account with the gas company, how should we handle paying the utilities?” – you don’t have to have an entire sit down about who literally opens the bills (seriously?) and pays them and how you split them etc etc.

Caveat: I moved in with my boyfriend after 4 years of being together, so we had already had many of the “important conversations” about goals, life, cleaning styles, etc that newer couples may not have. However, we have not yet had the conversation about who will pick out, purchase, and be there to receive the delivery of any new couches we may purchase. Hopefully that doesn’t doom us to divorce.

wearitcounts (#772)

@polka dots vs stripes yes. before i move in with someone, i probably would expect them to have a pretty solid idea of how much alone time i need and whether or not i’m a “say hi to me when i walk through the door” person (A LOT and, no, leave me alone for at least 20 minutes).

EM (#1,012)

@polka dots vs stripes I really liked that point! I have found when a lot of my friends moved in together, their relationship changed from having lots of dates and planned activities to a lot of just sitting around. “Spending time together” can take a on a different meaning when suddenly you spend all your time together.

Also, after four years, definitely- I am moving in with my boyfriend soon and we’ve been together for two years, so I feel like we’ve covered a lot of this ground too. But a lot of people impulsively move in together; I did it once, because I had to move suddenly and my ex said “Come live with me!” and then it was awful, a horrible mistake. I wish I had a list then.

@polka dots vs stripes Yeah, some of this seems unnecessarily complicated. Financial things are important, but how many nights to spend together and how specifically to spend those nights together? Coordinating social calendars? House cleaners? Hello/goodbye routines? Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?

I moved in with my now-husband in 2007, and since that time, most of these things have been non-issues, some of these things have been things that come up organically and we have a quick bickering over it and then it’s resolved, and really only the financial questions have been of any importance. (Fortunately, we’re both terrified of being broke/in debt, so we’re both content living within our means.)

@Michelle Our relationship was pretty much sitting around anyway, especially once we graduated college, so maybe more active couples would have a harder time adjusting to just hanging out, but that was our M.O. to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong, lists and discussions are be good, but I feel like this piece buried the important stuff and led with ohmygosh, make sure you talk about how many nights you might spend together or who organizes the social calendar!!

I think those points in particular might put a lot of stress on people; life has ups and downs, and some weeks you may spend more nights apart from your partner and some weeks you might spend less than you had “planned,” but that’s how life goes. If you or your partner are feeling neglected, yeah, it’s important to talk about that, but I feel like laying out a schedule would just add stress to a relationship. And same goes with scheduling stuff socially – I always check with him before I confirm something – not that hard. Once in awhile we’ve overscheduled ourselves, but since we haven’t confirmed plans with anyone, we usually have the flexibility to change things. Making “rules” about organizing our social schedule could just encourage resentment (“you didn’t alert me 48 hours beforehand! it’s 45 hours! I’m not going!” an extreme example, but still).

Impulsive move ins: yes, you should maybe sit down and talk. About these things, though, not necessarily. I don’t know why this article struck such a nerve with me. I think it takes a serious topic (life decisions with another person) and emphasizes all the wrong things about it.

oiseau (#1,830)

@polka dots vs stripes I agree – some of the points she brought up are maybe things you should think about and consider before moving in, but definitely not dealbreakers. I think the real questions are deeper and have to do with LOVE and CARING and IS HE ACTUALLY A JUICEBOX (I made that terrible mistake once – worst decision ever).

EM (#1,012)

@polka dots vs stripes I vote you write another one! Seriously. I am excited about cohabitating in a few months and I want to consider all of the important factors because I am an insane Type A list-making person.

@polka dots vs stripes This is definitely a YMMV article. I thought it was dead on. These are all either topics I discussed with my fiance pre-living together, or topics I wish we’d discussed because they came to a head later.

But I’m a spreadsheets and schedules and lists person. “Figuring things out as they come up” is my own personal hell. For a more go-with-the-flow type, yep, this article is unnecessary. I wish I’d read it before moving in, though.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@TheclaAndTheSeals I agree. I love my boyfriend, and we did not talk about ALL of these before moving in, and none of them would be dealbreakers. But last night I cried at him that “I never get to spend any quality time with you now that we live together!” because sitting around the house and doing chores in the same area does not satisfy my social needs. (I live with a grad student – mid-December is not an emotionally stable time in our apartment)

This list is very helpful to me because I am the kind of person who would want to like, WRITE OUT A CONTRACT WITH ALL THE ANSWERS. I am going to have save this on my hard drive somewhere, since ya know, I won’t be moving in with anybody anytime soon.

@redheaded&crazy Also the hello/goodbye routine made me laugh. Normally the work routine at my house (I live with my parents) is like this:

dad: goes to work before I get up
mom: gets up
me: get up and go to work
mom: goes to work

So normally I just say bye to my dog and whisk myself out the door. But one time when I left for work before my dad, I didn’t say goodbye, but I had to run back to get money for the bus. He’s all “Were you … leaving just now?” Me: “yes?” Him: “but you didn’t say goodbye ……. ????????”

me: ………. (in my head: DAAAAAAA-AAAD) okay …….. goodbye?
him: goodbye! have a great day at work!

And THEN, he brought it up later that night and I said “I guess I just didn’t realize it was important since you’re usually gone?” And he said, very seriously, “Oh no, it’s very important.”

jfruh (#161)

@redheaded&crazy I’m totally this way! If my wife leaves the house and I’m home and doesn’t say goodbye, I get real sad.

Smallison (#155)

@jfruh I’m the same way! I can’t imagine my boyfriend not saying goodbye. And if he comes home and doesn’t give a hello kiss right away, I tend to get a little huffy.

@redheaded&crazy I leave for work before my dude even gets up, and kissing him goodbye while he’s half-asleep is the best thing about my morning. Luckily he doesn’t drool.

thatgirl (#1,965)

@cuminafterall Yes, this. I love the way his eyes get really big when he’s sort of surprised by my flopping on the bed to kiss him goodbye. Also, he always tells me I look good, which is adorable because even if his eyes are open, his glasses are halfway across the room.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@Smallison It doesn’t even occur to me, because I leave before my boyfriend and am always in a hurry, but he always tracks me down – “you aren’t going to leave without saying goodbye, are you?”….(I was going to leave without saying goodbye! I’m horrible)

jfruh (#161)

My wife and I eat VERY different kinds of diets and almost always eat different meals (to the extent that when we do something that both of us will eat, it’s kind of An Event). I don’t think we really had a big conversation about but there was never any assumption on either part that we’d have Family Meals prepared by one person or jointly, though we do almost always eat at the same time if we’re both home. A lot of people I know find this kind of horrifying, though? I wonder if part of it is that we were both full-grown adults (well, in our late 20s/early 30s anyway) when we moved in together and had been cooking for ourselves for years. When we had our kitchen redone a couple of years ago, we got to lay it out exactly the way we wanted and thus it’s now well set up for two people preparing different meals in parallel.

We lived together for more than year before combining our finances, so for that first year this meant that we paid for our groceries separately (though usually we’d go to the grocery store together). Now it all comes out of our joint account but we still split up in the grocery store and meet at the checkout line with my food and her food in separate carts.

Weasley (#1,419)

This is great and it makes me laugh to think about how my SO and I moved in together on a whim thousands of miles away from where we normally live without discussing any of this. It was two months after the fact where we looked at each other and said, “Oh, wow, this really good have turned out poorly. Glad it didn’t.”

oiseau (#1,830)

My boyfriend and I just sort of smooshed our lives together organically over the course of about 6 months, without any of the above conversations, and we’re fine.

I think the main issues to discuss with a future housemate/live-in lover are:
– Cleanliness levels. What level of clean do you prefer? Does your partner have a different definition of ‘clean’? (BIG deal if there’s a mismatch here)
– Alone time. How much to give each other? Make sure that if one person wants their own space for a while, the other doesn’t feel suspicious or slighted.
– Figure out how to pay grocery bills/shared expenses. One person may resent the purchase of an expensive candle or bottle of fancypants hair serum, especially if you take turns buying groceries and they put it on your bill. I have seen a lot of ugly arguments/awkward relationships while standing in shopping lines…
– How you deal with the other person when they are depressed/sad/unmotivated/in a rut. It’s a big deal! Do you ignore them? Try to help them pull out of it? Run away? Get sucked into their beer/chocolate bingeing?
– Make sure you’re BOTH willing to put in major effort to keep the house clean/cook/shop/etc, etc, even when you don’t feel like it!!!

ThatJenn (#916)

Hah, the hello/goodbye routine makes me giggle because my partner and I discovered just a few days into living with each other that we both preferred almost the exact same routine for when one of us was leaving the house, and it matched what our parents did while we were growing up (well, mine during the few years they were married to each other, anyway).

We had basically zero of these conversations because we hadn’t had time… we moved in together unofficially about two weeks into dating, and officially two months in. We did agree on some ground rules based on that: we needed to keep our finances totally separate and make sure neither of us was financially dependent upon living with each other, at least until we’d had time to really discuss these things in detail. But as we move towards marriage we’re always looking for money-related topics to discuss! We plan to have an all-out financial date where we bare all about our financial situations and I think it’d be good to have a discussion about non-financial expectations we have, too, on a different night.

I really like this list. It’s not about rooting about deal breakers; it’s about uncovering any assumptions you have about living together that could potentially be issues.

One financial question to add (assuming you’re splitting expenses to some degree)- How much money can we spend on non-essentials without consulting the other?

Catface (#1,106)

I would add certain aesthetic considerations to this excellent list. It would make me deeply sad to live with someone who wanted all the walls off-white or who insisted on Danish modern furniture or granite countertops.

eraserface (#1,628)

My thoughts….if you’re going to live together, you should have a joint checking account. This cutting each other a check thing is very weird to me. Then again, I may be the unusual one…my husband and I only started living together when we were engaged. We have never cared too much about which money is in which account…we always knew all the accounts, no matter whose name is on it, are “ours.”

@eraserface Yeah, I’d agree. My boyfriend and I are not engaged, but we are currently in the process of opening a joint bank account. We are each going to put the same amont of money per month into this acount from out personal ones, and pay for all joint expenses from this account (rent, utilities, groceries, etc). Some of our friends think this is a huge step, but I think of it instead as a way to keep the expenses equitable (and subsequently, happier and healthier).

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@myrna.minkoff We have been meaning to do this for awhile but keep not getting to the bank.

cmcm (#267)

Oh my gosh, thank you SO much for having this series right now. My boyfriend and I are going to Talk About These Things this week, ahead of me moving in with him in January. eeeeeeek

shart_attack (#2,833)

Just moved out of the apartment I shared with my live-in boyf of 3.5 years. We’re having these conversations NOW. Blergh.

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