Financial Planning | Life | Personal Finance | Relationships & Family | Article
The Ultimate Relationship Litmus Test: Renting a Place With My Partner
by Sophia | 9 Sep 2020 | 9 mins read
To Walter, paying rent is a lot like paying a trial fee. What trial, you might ask?
Living with his partner of close to three years, of course.
He made the decision to move out during the circuit breaker period after his partner’s lease ended and she had to move in with him and his parents. After all, finding a new place in the middle of the circuit breaker was a near impossible task. The experience taught Walter a few things.
“Being a foreigner, our way of life at home contrasted with hers, along with everyone’s living habits,” he told me. “I often found myself having to balance both sides between my family and my girlfriend so everyone could get used to each other’s habits.”
Getting a BTO flat was out of the question because of her status as a foreigner. Walter didn’t consider buying a resale flat and instead opted for renting a whole place with his partner, if only for the reason of seeing how living together would work — in addition to getting a space of their own after months of being indoors because of the pandemic.
“To own a house here, you need to be married. But marriage is a big commitment,” he said. “And if you’re getting married just to own a house… then that’s a bit backwards. Which is why we chose to rent first, even if that’s not really the norm for couples in Singapore.”
What he said made sense, but there was still a huge caveat to all of this: rent in Singapore is no joke, and won’t come cheap — especially for entire flats as opposed to just renting out a room.
Walter quickly and succinctly acknowledged this, “A lot of people wonder why I’m paying rent when I could save and use all that money to buy a place of my own, but I look at it this way: money is spent to gain clarity. It’s not a long-term solution, but it’s a way to minimise future losses, like divorcing after getting the keys to your BTO.
“What if life falls apart after marriage and all of that?”
Trying Out the Game of Life
Walter is 28 while his partner is 27, and they’re both working full-time as sales executives in Singapore. Finding their current place took about a month, which was helped along immensely by the fact that the flat belonged to Walter’s cousin. This meant that a lot of the furnishings were already in place by the time they moved over; all Walter and his partner had to buy were simply mattresses, bedsheets, kitchen appliances and utensils, and monthly groceries.
They didn’t go in unprepared, of course. The couple had quite a substantial amount of money saved up and have a buffer amount of a few months of rent.
Yet despite this, Walter admits that ever since he started paying rent, his savings rate took a huge hit.
“I used to save a lot more money. Now I’m saving 60% less than I usually do, and I won’t deny it — it’s quite a huge chunk,” he said. “But having my partner is really helpful. If I’d moved out alone, it would have been so much more daunting.”
A few things have changed greatly for Walter. He spends much more time at home, eats healthier (because of cooking his meals with his partner), and now has to deal with utilities and water bills along with a whole slew of chores.
In particular, he enjoys saving money from eating at home. “It’s more comfortable having your own meals at home. We get to cook what we want to eat. I used to eat out a lot and that’s where the bulk of my expenditure was. Back when I was living with my parents, I didn’t really want to spend too much time at home as well, so when I spend more time outside, I inevitably spend more money.”
“I’m also more aware of food and grocery prices now that I’m renting a place with my partner,” he added. “You don’t really think about checking other supermarkets and figuring out the true price of things until you actually go and explore. I’m more conscious about brands and premium pricing now.”
He noted with some amusement that the biggest indicator of adulting, for him, was looking into his basket while shopping at NTUC with his friends, and comparing it with others.
“You can tell who’s living alone and who’s living with family.”
Still on the note of his shifting expenses, Walter also expected that a part of staying home meant higher utilities and water bills, but he’s learnt to be more conscious about how they used their electricity and gas in order to save money on bills.
One unexpected expenditure that did come out of renting a place is the service and conservancy fee that’s usually paid for by landlords at most places.
Walter had to factor that into his monthly budget and pay this fee, which goes into the maintenance of the entire building, from lift maintenance to refuse disposal to upgrading works.
“My utilities cost less than the conservancy charges!” he said. “That could be a shock to most people, especially if you choose to rent a bigger place since the charges scale with the size of your flat.”
In terms of learning how to take care of his own home, Walter’s gone through a bit of a learning curve. “After renting a place with my partner, I’ve learnt to like and hate certain chores,” he said lightly. “Within your first month of living with someone else, you’ll probably have disagreements because someone will always feel like they’re doing more than the other person.”
His advice is to put effort into working out domestic matters like these. “It’s not something you can avoid,” he reflected. “No matter how well you plan things out, there’ll always be problems — especially if two people are moving out for the first time together.”
Renting a Place With Your Partner for a New Lease of Life
Living alone with his partner has opened Walter up to something new: the joy of hosting friends and family at his place.
“It’s a huge perk that people don’t think about,” he said. “When you meet friends outside, you spend a lot of money. Even more if you drink after dinner. Now that I have a place of my own, I save a lot of money. Now we have a place for us to gather and can provide drinks from our own cabinet.”
I asked him if his friends chipped in to offset the cost of their gatherings and meals together so he could save even more money.
“There are no expectations for that now since the place is still fairly new and we’re throwing housewarming parties,” he said. “But the next time they come over again, we’ll start doing that subsequently and asking friends to chip in.”
And speaking of socialising, Walter’s also in the midst of getting used to having new neighbours and living in a whole new environment from what he was used to while renting this place with his partner.
“You get used to certain things,” he told me. “When you move to a new place, you might feel discomfort about your neighbours and their habits. Moving away means two things: shifting away from your old habits at home with family, and shifting into the habits of your new neighbours. It’s not as serious as dealing with housemates, but they still matter, especially if your neighbours are noisy or play mahjong every weekend or smoke late into the night, which means air pollution.”
“Have you encountered problems with your neighbours?” I asked.
“It hasn’t happened often enough for me to have to talk to them. I don’t even know how to talk to my neighbours yet,” he admitted. “Sometimes it’s awkward when we meet in the lift.”
He added, later, why moving out was the right choice for him: “You learn a lot more about yourself after moving out because you fall into certain habits when you’re on your own. These are habits you wouldn’t have noticed if you were still with family.”
Financially Leveling Up AKA Adulting (At Last!)
A little bit more than a month after moving in together, Walter and his partner are sitting down to discuss potentially getting a joint bank account to smooth over the financial side of things.
“When we lived separately, we didn’t have a lot of expenses together,” he said. “You pay for your thing, I pay for mine. But now we’re sharing all these things like groceries, electricity usage… so we’re now having conversations about what kind of joint account we want to get. We also think about what we want to spend on our credit cards. Do we get an account for miles or rebates?”
He acknowledges that both of them have different ideas on this front but is looking forward to taking that next step together with her.
Moving out, to Walter, was a big step — but only a single step in a long journey to freedom and independence as well as his future.
“That step turns into a journey and sets you on a path. If I hadn’t taken that first step, because it was daunting, I would’ve just remained in the same spot forever.”