The Rent Split That Saved My Relationship

published Oct 4, 2020
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young couple making morning coffee in their kitchen while woman cradles small dog
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When my boyfriend and I moved in together in October 2018, we were both excited at the prospect of saving money. At first, we assumed we’d go for a down-the-middle rent split, but the more we talked, the more we realized that might not be our best option. 

Because my previous living situation was cheaper than his, a 50-50 split was going to offer him a ton more savings than it would me, which didn’t feel quite fair. But the thought of pitching numbers back and forth until we landed somewhere reasonable made my palms sweat. 

So I decided to get creative. 

I suggested a rent calculation method that I’m surprised I don’t see more newly-cohabitating couples use: a split where each partner saves the same amount from their previous living situation.

In our case, it broke down like this: I’d been paying $1,260 for my studio, while my boyfriend had been shelling out $1,750 for the one-bedroom I’d be moving into. With an equal split, we’d each be paying $875, which represented $385 in monthly savings for me, and $875 for him. But with the split I proposed, we’d each be decreasing our rent by the same amount—$630 a month—a number we reached by subtracting $875 from each of our old rents, adding those two numbers, and dividing the result by two to find the average.

It was a relatively tiny tweak, shifting the focus from what we were paying to what we were saving, but it made all the difference. My boyfriend wound up paying two-thirds of the rent while I covered the remaining third, a split I never would have felt comfortable suggesting on my own even though it reflected the disparity in our incomes. There was just too much emotion and tension tied up in the topic of money for me, so to come up with an equitable solution informed by cold hard math? Huge relief.

It’s a relief that I want other couples to feel as well, but I know there’s more to it than just handing over the equation we used to divvy up our rent. It’s also about how to even broach the conversation in the first place.

You’re the expert on what kind of communication works best for you and your partner, of course, but here’s what worked for me and mine: One night before we moved in, we opened a bottle of wine and shared not only what we were most looking forward to, but also what we were most fearful about for the move-in.

Our positives were pretty closely aligned. We were both excited about seeing each other more often, taking this next step as a couple, and the rent savings. But we differed on the negatives. He was concerned about a loss of independence: we’d started dating days before he moved into his one bedroom, so he’d never really gotten to experience living alone. But for me, I’d been solo in a studio for the past seven years, so consolidating my life to move into an apartment I didn’t pick out myself represented a huge loss of control. 

That conversation served as a road map, bringing expectations out into the open where they could start dialogues instead of disagreements. We were both giving things up to live together, we realized, so it only made sense that we should split the rewards as well as the risks. I agreed to make sure my boyfriend got the alone time he deserved, while he promised to leave emotional and physical space for me to turn the apartment into a place that felt like home. And of course, we settled on a rent split that felt both reasonable and equitable.

While it can feel weird to wade into potentially negative emotions during such a positive, hopeful time, I really do think it’s the secret to cohabitating happily. If I’d had to guess what my partner wanted from the move-in process, I probably would’ve been way off. But with open and honest communication, we found our way to a living situation where wants, needs, and expectations are stated, giving resentments little chance to simmer.