Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Living Together Before Marriage - The Frugal, and Not So Frugal, Side of It

Before I got married I lived with my fiance' for around a year. My goal was to see if I could live day in and day out with this person. I could see we were heading towards marriage, and for me, it was a chance to "try it on" if you will. I guess I thought that was why the majority of people chose to shack up, but according to this study, I was wrong:

Almost half of cohabitors of both sexes said spending more time together was a reason they moved in together, with only 9 percent of men and 5 percent of women citing "to test the relationship before marriage," the study of 1,294 unmarried Americans ages 18 to 34 indicated.
It is probably for the best. As you all know, my relationship ended in divorce. I'm not alone there - according to the study 50 to 75% of people that get married have lived together first. However, census data tells us that almost half of marriages end in divorce. Let me tell you, from a financial standpoint, two of the most expensive things you can do (and most stressful) are getting married and getting divorced.

Which brings me to another reason people move in together... cost. The old idea that two people can live much cheaper together than apart is not necessarily true. There can be cost savings, but there can also be hidden expenses...

Ask any "saver" who has ever tried to live with a "spender." Just as water will seek its own level, spending levels change when these two types hook up. The spender may end up saving more, but you can also bet that the saver will end up spending more. It is hard to be a financial curmudgeon when your partner is throwing dollars around like a ticker tape parade! After all, they always look like they are having so much fun...

The idea is that by living together you can save on gas, utilities, food, home furnishings, and of course, rent. I agree that couples who are actively working together to save money this way can do it, but I also submit that purchasing habits change when two people live together. For example, take food. I know I experienced this, and Get Stuff Done has mentioned it on her blog - living alone I tend to eat less expensive, more vegetarian meals. When I lived with someone, he liked big meals, and hey I'll admit, I enjoy eating them with him, but it was a kind of shopping I hadn't really done before then - at least not to that level. I don't have facts and figures from that time of my life unfortunately, so I can't do an exact comparison, but I would guess we spent at least twice, if not a lot more, on groceries than I do now. Also, my ex loved wine and I too, became a regular wine drinker and that added up in a hurry! That increased the cost for him as well, because I know for a fact that we bought better bottles of wine together than he did as a single man.

Which gets me into another spending element - people tend to buy better things when they are going in on something than when they are buying it for themselves. The Blu-Ray player that was $150.00 on sale might have been good enough when we are alone, but suddenly the $599 one with all the extra features is a lot more appealing when someone else is chipping in. It slips in slowly and isn't even something you would notice, but those spending habits creep up. I suspect a little of it is altruistic - you love your partner and want something nice for them. You might be willing to sacrifice yourself, but are hesitant to ask you partner to. The same goes for home furnishings - ever notice how many people move in together and need new furniture? Beds, for obvious reasons, are frequently the first to go.

Utilities are another area that doesn't really save. Think about it - twice as many bodies to wash, dishes to clean, trash to throw out. Even electricity, which you would think people can share, is used by different people different ways. My electric bills are considerably lower than what my ex's were when he lived alone in the same house, simply because we use power differently.

Then there are those great savings on rent... of course, after you've been settled in for a bit, the place starts to feel a little cramped. Maybe one (or both) need an office or extra closet space. Maybe an extra bedroom for a visiting family member... next thing you know your hoursing costs just went up. That's what happened to me - my ex's apartment was just too small for us, and that's how we ended up with a house that I am still paying for.

That isn't to say that two people can't save money by living together. I think they can. Especially, if they are both on the same page in spending and have the same financial goals. Having someone to help go through the budget and sort out financial decisions can be fabulous. There is nothing better than having someone you can work with and who will help you achieve more.

Photo by: interpunct


Anonymous said...

I can say that if I lived alone my grocery bill would be nothing close to $400/month. But, H is a big guy and loves to eat. So we spend. :)

It's really sad to think that half of marriages end in divorce. :(

Dawn said...

Yep, that's exactly what I mean. Fortunately he has you with your fabulous grocery shopping skills!

Dr. Faith said...

Very interesting post. I stay with my boyfriend on the weekends and have noted on more than one occasion that I spend so much more on food and entertainment when I'm with him that when I'm alone.

I always assumed it was because I didn't live there, so I can't really cook in the kitchen and the weekends are "special" - but this post has made me realize that if we did live together I WOULD spend more on food than I do now (I'll sometimes not even eat dinner because I just don't really "feel" like it that night).

Thanks for the thought provoking post. =)

Kari said...

When I come back to blogging (after my break, which is soon) this was going to be one of my first posts.... because I have taken the moving in together plunge.

For now it is saving me quite a bit and him just a small amount.... well I'll talk about all of it in the blog post :) we just moved.

Dawn said...

Dr. Faith - Exactly! Even though I love to cook and eat quite well, there are times when a bowl of cereal sounds fine or maybe toast with peanut butter. But when I was married we always had big meals. I am sure there were times when my ex didn't feel like a big meal either - but as a couple you get into a routine. Plus there is something to what you said about time with a loved one being special - it is, and that does make it easier to spend, even once it stops becoming dating and starts being full time.

Kari - Congrats!! I am very happy for you. I will look forward to reading all about it!

Miss M said...

Mr M moved into my place when his roomate decided he wanted his best friend to live there instead. It wasn't a conscious act but more a necessary one. Plus it meant he could help with the rent! Many couples in LA decide to live together because of the cost of living, a 2 bedroom apt doesn't cost twice as much as a 1 bedroom.

Dawn said...

Miss M - That is a great way to save. A two bedroom wouldn't cost twice as much here either, and as long as you can keep the other spending down it can certainly be a great savings. Of course, in my story it was during the middle of the housing boom, so we bought a house, which was definitely *more than twice* what I was paying. I think it all just depends on how couples manage their money.

Hungry in Columbia said...

I live with my boyfriend now, and we are always changing the thermostat. I always bump the temperature up (even if I'm hot) to save money. Hour later, it will be back down because he changed it. Grr. Frustrating.

Dawn said...

Hungry - Ha! I have to smile, just because I know exactly what you mean. I tend to like it hotter in the summer and cooler in the winter than most people do, not only to be frugal but because I just happen to like it that way.