Dear Carolyn: Boyfriend and I are moving in together soon. He mentioned that he assumed we would get a joint checking account for "general expenses." I was assuming the opposite. I've never lived with a guy before, and I haven't had a joint checking account with anyone aside from my mom when I was 12.
I'm not tight with my money, but I'm nervous to see what happens when someone else starts spending it. I am foreseeing arguments over itemized grocery receipts and bar tabs. Thoughts on how to approach this? For what it's worth, Boyfriend and I have the same idea of what is reasonable spending, and he makes about one and a half times what I make. Am I being unreasonable?
-- (Attempting to stay) Financially Independent
A: The issue here is not about being tight with your money; it's about being tight with your trust.
And it's never wise to ignore an impulse to withhold your trust. Don't act on it rashly, either -- just in case that impulse ultimately proves to be unhealthy -- but heed it regardless. Such an impulse is a warning, and our internal alarms are to be explored, not ignored.
Specifically, it's essential to identify the source of the alarm, and to determine whether your reaction to someone is unhealthy, or whether that someone is unhealthy, or both. It's only when you know the source of a problem that you'll you have any chance of fixing it.
In your case, there are many possible sources, including (but not limited to) differences about money management, insecurity, discomfort with being assertive about your needs, haste to move in, a naturally cautious temperament, an untrustworthy guy.
The last is the most obvious -- as is the answer: Postpone the move-in date indefinitely.
If you do trust him implicitly with your savings, and you're just wary of surrendering so much autonomy at once, then just say that to him: "Moving in is already a big adjustment for me. I'd rather not change the way I handle money, at least not yet." If nothing else, it's worth finding out whether you're strong enough to voice a dissenting opinion, and he's strong enough to hear one without feeling threatened. Couples busy agonizing over whose couch to use or commute to shorten often blow past this crucial step.
If the source of your hesitation isn't this specific, but is just a nebulous sense of discomfort, then you're due for an in-depth round of navel exploration.
I get asked over and over again what my stance is on cohabitation, and so here it is again: Don't do it unless you'd marry each other tomorrow. If you treat moving in as marriage and the exchange of vows as a formality, and then the cohabitation doesn't work out, you'll walk away from it thinking, "Wow I dodged a bullet," and not, "I can't believe I was so careless about sharing myself, the most valuable thing I have."