You and bae have been dating for a while, and it’s pretty darn serious. You hate being apart, your lease is almost up, your roommate’s moving to a new city, and — quite frankly — you’re sort of fed up with never knowing if your favorite straightener is at your place or your S.O.’s because you basically already live together. Clearly, these reasons alone (particularly the hair straightener one) are not sufficient evidence that it’s time for you and your partner to take the major step of moving in together, but they may be a sign that you should start to seriously consider it. And once you’ve asked the important questions of your potential romantic roomie and wisely considered all the pros and cons, assuming you decide it’s a go, we’re totally on board and excited for you. Movin’ on up, girlfriend!

A couple plans a budget

We wouldn’t be very good gal pals, though, if we didn’t oh-so-gently remind you that there are some unique considerations you should probably keep in mind if you’re living with a romantic partner sans rings on your fingers. (Don’t worry — we hate the “why buy the cow” rhetorical question as much as you do. We’re not gonna go there.) Kate Ryan, a wealth management adviser at TIAA, is on the same page (AKA #TeamYou). Generally speaking, she says, the key is clear communication. Isn’t it always? “All couples, regardless of age or length of relationship, should discuss joint finances explicitly before moving in together to prevent serious legal complications if the relationship ends,” Ryan tells us. “Draft a written agreement specifying how property and money will be divided if you break up, and keep very detailed financial records on how much each of you contributed to the purchase price and to ongoing expenses and maintenance.”

We’re certainly not wishing a breakup on you, but it’s hard to argue against taking these kinds of precautions… just in case. Love is important, but so is protecting yourself and your hard-earned money! Here are four specific suggestions that will help you do just that.

A couple updates their budget

1. Agree to a plan for paying joint expenses. There’s no single right way to do this, but make sure you and your S.O. are both on board with the method and totally clear on how these expenses will break down between the two of you. “Perhaps you’ll split it evenly or the person who earns more will cover a larger portion of the bills,” Ryan suggests. “Whatever you decide, make sure to discuss it at length and make no assumptions.” She adds that it might be helpful for both you and your significant other to complete a budget separately, and then to create a shared budget sheet. “This will facilitate conversations around each partner’s feelings regarding how much they’d like to designate toward housing [and] what each can realistically afford and commit to.”

2. Get clear on who owns the property (or whose name is on the lease agreement). According to Ryan, cohabitation becomes much more complicated if you and your partner have decided to buy instead of rent. No matter how much either one of you contributes to monthly mortgage payments, only the person or people whose name or names are on the title actually own the home. For legal and financial reasons, it may be challenging to get both of your names on the title, so make sure you and your S.O. have open conversations about what will happen to your home if the relationship goes south. Similarly, if you’re renting, make sure you both understand who is actually listed on your lease agreement, so you can create a backup plan if there’s ever trouble in paradise.

A couple pays their bills together

3. Understand your rights. Since you and your sweetie have yet to tie the knot, you lack a lot of the rights automatically conferred to legally married couples (Social Security benefits, retirement plan benefits, etc.), but you can still take steps toward securing some of those rights if they’re important to you now that you’re living together. “Estate planning is critical to make sure your live-in partner has a say in your care and finances if you become ill and inherits what you would like them to,” Ryan explains. This sounds super morbid, but if you and your S.O. are at a point where these considerations are important to you, you may want to consult with a lawyer or other expert sooner rather than later.

4. Avoid racking up shared debt. Debt, in general, is obviously not such a great thing, but it can be especially bad when it’s tied up with a former romantic partner. “As if paying joint bills wasn’t difficult enough, unmarried couples should avoid taking in large amounts of debt together in the event they break up and one person is left weighed down by loans they can’t repay alone,” Ryan advises.

How do you handle — or plan to manage — joint expenses with your S.O.? Tweet us @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)