You may not be on a relationship escalator [1], but you feel that moving in together is the best next step for your polycule. You want your relationship to thrive in this new situation with a minimum of friction. Or maybe you moved in together already and you are wondering what to do with the friction that is already happening.

There are some practical and legal steps to take to make your home a good place for everyone who lives there. Our goal here is to get ahead of small issues that might become big issues, and big issues before they become massive issues, because in the worst case scenarios roommate and money problems can turn into legal problems.

Starting with a conversation

Communication is key to making sure you and your partners and metamours are on the same page. Everybody has their own thoughts on how living as roommates should look, and it’s easy to assume that your norms are someone else’s norms too. This applies to everything when you’re moving in – how do chores work, what’s the maximum level of dust before you need to dust fans, are groceries communal?

Getting on the same page for the basics will ease a ton of tension and prevent arguments in the future. Of course it’s impossible to think of every little thing that might come up, and most people don’t want to sign a 40-page roommate code of conduct, but you would be amazed how many problems you can avoid if you take an afternoon to hash out who has to deal with the dishes.

Money can be a proxy for other feelings.

Money matters are the focus of most of the big arguments that come with a polycule living together.

It could be something as small as one partner feeling like they are footing too much of the grocery bills for the household, or it could be something major like someone taking a lower-paying job than they had when the agreement was made and not being able to pay their agreed part of the rent. When money is involved in an argument, it’s always a high-stress environment – but much of the time, it’s a high-stress environment that is leading to money arguments.

Things that you would normally not mind too much can suddenly become the focus of a money fight if you’re having a bad day. Someone mooching from your side of the pantry and eating the last of your pop tarts is a little annoying, but if you spent all day driving in this record heat wave and come home to your snacks being gone, you might snap at your partner that they need to buy their own groceries.

Just to be clear, this is not a thing that is unique to poly folk or families or even personal matters. When I regulated businesses, there were a lot of cases where feelings were clearly at the root of the issue, but money is what we were arguing over.

Invisible contributions can add up.

When you’re looking at budgets and contributions, intangibles matter. A lot of things have financial impact even if they don’t look like they involve actual money. When you’re having a conversation about who contributes what to the household, make sure you’re looking at things like these. 

  1. Time spent caregiving for dependents is the classic example. This has a huge financial impact, though the actual dollars can be hard to quantify. A stay-at-home partner taking care of a child full-time is making a massive contribution to the household, but until recently society hasn’t valued it at all.
  2. Time contributing to the well-being of the home with cleaning and repair, or on the other side of the coin, someone making a mess. If you’re a breadwinner but you come home and throw your muddy work boots on the rug and never do your rotation on the dishes, that’s a new problem that someone else has to spend time and energy fixing.
  3. Use of resources: food, utilities, energy etc. If you’re the sort of person who needs the house to be at 70 degrees at all times while your partners would be fine with 75, that’s going to add up in the summer heat.

Decide early how expenses will be split.

A reality of the world we live in is that incomes can vary wildly and need to be taken into account when planning to move in together. It may seem simple at first glance, four people move into a rental home so obviously just have everybody pay 25%. If everybody is making basically the same amount of money and has generally the same amount of monthly expenses, this can work out great.

This is the same as those college math problems – assuming a perfectly smooth orb in a vacuum gets hit with exact force at an exact angle, predict where it lands. The real world isn’t that pretty most of the time, and extenuating factors can make huge differences.

If everyone is making similar incomes it really doesn’t matter, but if you don’t it can get messy. For example, if you have everyone contribute $1,000 to the rent, then one partner might have nothing left over after that and another partner might be eating caviar and flying off to exotic vacations. This isn’t a legal problem but it is going to put a strain on the relationship. And if someone has to break the lease because they can’t afford it, it can become a legal problem.

Another example – if you have a polycule of four in a home, but one of them is a full-time caregiver that also does all of the household cooking and cleaning, you might all agree that it’s fair that they are contributing enough to the household that they don’t need to pay rent.

Much like polyamory in general, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. Every relationship is different, so every polycule looking to move in together should sit down and communicate long before signatures hit dotted lines.

There is one helpful tool that I can confidently say is one-size-fits-all though.

Have a freedom fund.

A freedom fund is a savings account with enough for moving expenses and about two months worth of rent. When you are living together with a romantic partner and things start to go south, at some point you’re going to have to make the choice to wait out the lease or leave. A freedom fund is the lifeboat on the ship – you don’t get on board expecting an iceberg, but you will feel much better knowing that you have a plan just in case.

No one should have to worry about being homeless if they break up. A freedom fund makes sure that you’re not staying in a bad situation just because the outcome could be worse if you left.

Next time in Part 2, the legal realities of living with your chosen family.

 [1] Contribution and value of unpaid care.