I live in New York and lucked into the best possible situation more than six years ago — a rent-stabilized apartment. I pay $1,350 a month for a huge, beautiful sunny room with a balcony and my own bathroom in Brooklyn Heights. The living room has a fireplace and I’m close to public transportation. It’s the dream.
I do have two roommates, one of whom is the daughter of the original tenant and holds the rent-stabilized lease. But both of them own homes elsewhere and are almost never around. So I have the place to myself most of the time. I pay a larger share of the rent than they do, because I have the biggest room, and I’m fine with that. I think the overall rent is a little under $3,000 per month, which is a steal for a three-bedroom in this neighborhood.
Enter the boyfriend. We started dating two years ago and things are serious. I think he could be The One. We’ve been talking about future plans and he wants us to move in together. We spend most nights together as it is, so I understand the reasoning.
The issue is that I really don’t want to give up my apartment! I know that anywhere else I go will be a major downgrade in terms of what I can afford to contribute. And before you suggest that my boyfriend move into my apartment — he doesn’t want to, and I can understand why we would be better off getting our own one-bedroom place if we were to take this step together.
This has become a source of conflict between us, and I don’t know how to explain that it isn’t about HIM, it’s about the RENT. He makes a little more than I do, so he doesn’t have quite the same financial pressures. But I’m worried — what if it doesn’t work out? The rental market seems awful, and I don’t want to be in a position where it’s financially ruinous to break up. And this place has been a constant for me through so many challenges — breakups, the pandemic, the death of a parent. Still, I don’t want to jeopardize a great relationship just because I’m scared to give up my apartment. What do I do?
A friend of mine was in the same situation a few years back, only her boyfriend was the one with the (gorgeous) cheap shared-loft arrangement that he couldn’t bear to part with. “Is it the apartment or is it me?” my friend pressed when he dragged his feet over the cohabitation question.
Cut to the chase — now they’re married and have a baby and own a different home together (not as gorgeous as that loft was, but we all make sacrifices for love). Anyway, I don’t mean to play into traditional stereotypes about “successful” relationships, but if a version of that picture is what you envision for your future, then you will need to give up your amazing place eventually. (Assuming there’s no way for you to take over your lease and import your boyfriend, which — based on regulations around rent stabilization — doesn’t sound possible.) The question is, what will make you feel ready?
In fairness to your boyfriend and the relationship, you can’t just leave him in limbo. You need a plan that takes both your personal and financial needs into account. Here are the steps that you (and anyone, really) should take before you move in with your significant other.
1. Save up an emergency fund.
The best thing about your unicorn of New York real estate is that it enables you to live in a place that would be otherwise out of your price range. The second-best thing is that it should help you save money. And before you move in with your boyfriend, make sure to do that. Sock away enough so that you could afford to move out on a dime if the need strikes. This is sometimes called a “fuck-you fund” or, more politely, an emergency fund. It’s what you tap into when you need to come up with a security deposit and at least two months of rent immediately, under duress. Everyone should have one, coupled or not.
Moving in with a romantic partner is a huge leap of faith, in no small part because it’s expensive and arduous to undo. So you’re smart to take it seriously and make a contingency plan. If things go south, you might not be able to get your wonderful apartment back, but at least you won’t be stuck in a bad relationship (or tiptoeing around your ex under the same roof) because you can’t afford to leave.
2. Figure out a timeline.
Your boyfriend deserves the ability to plan his life, particularly in regard to where he lives and whether it’s with you. So sit down together and consider the factors that affect your collective timing.
First of all, how long will it take you to save up the emergency fund outlined above? Also, how much notice do you want to give your current roommates that you plan to move out? (Legally, tenants with a fixed-term rental in New York don’t need to give any notice that they plan to vacate at the end of their lease. But since you sublet a room in a shared apartment, it’s courteous to give your roommates a heads-up so that they can find someone new to take your spot. I’d plan on telling them at least six to eight weeks in advance.)
Perhaps more pressing: When is your boyfriend’s lease up? Even if he doesn’t have roommates to wrangle, he should know whether he should plan to renew or not. If his lease ends too soon for your liking, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell him that you want to extend your move-in timeline by another year, as long as you’re not postponing it indefinitely. Long story short, pick a date and make sure you’re both on the same page about it.
3. Work out your budget — and how to talk about it.
In terms of what you can afford, it seems reasonable to tell your boyfriend that you want to keep paying your current rent when you move in together. If he’s comfortable paying more than that, fine. Discuss your combined budget and look at what’s out there in your price range. It’s very common for couples to split bills in proportion to their income, so that’s one way to approach it; you can also explore other options for sharing your expenses. As for other guidelines, the typical rule is that housing costs (including utilities) should not exceed 30 percent of your gross income (that is, before taxes and other deductions).
While you’re at it, brief each other on the basics of your respective financial landscapes. This includes how much you make, any debt you have, and anything else that affects your credit. Your credit scores may affect what type of rental you can get, so it’s best to start these discussions early. Once you’re ready to sign a lease, you might also consider a roommate agreement, which outlines expectations for payment and who’s responsible for the bills if one person moves out before the lease is up. I know, it’s terribly unsexy. But the next best alternative is to do what my husband and I did when we first moved in together, which was rent a complete dump that was cheap enough for either of us to afford on our own if things didn’t work out (I do not recommend this).
Most importantly, this experience is valuable practice for learning how to talk about money as a couple. If he really is “the one,” as you said, then you’ll be sharing a lot more than just an address — you’ll be making major financial decisions together, ones that will become progressively harder to untangle. Overall, this is a good thing! Healthy, intimate relationships are built on mutual trust, responsibility, and vulnerability — that “oh, shit” feeling that you get when you’re falling for someone. For this to function, you need to work at your communication constantly. It requires effort, repetition, and time to hone. Be patient, and ask your boyfriend to be too.