The thorny issue of sharing money

July 2, 2015

Here’s an idea if you’re ever at a friend’s dinner party and the conversation dries up: ask the group how they and their partners split their finances. It’s a question that every long-term couple can relate to, and it’s surprising how many different approaches are taken.

The thorny issue of sharing money

Some people split everything 50/50; others contribute a set amount each to a joint account; still others choose certain household expenses to cover out of their own pocket. Some people maintain completely separate accounts and calculate expenditure, payments made and payments owed down to the last penny, exchanging handfuls of cash to balance the books each week; others only look at their joint account when they’re overdrawn. When I had a permanent, full-time job (before going freelance), Juan and I worked out proportional amounts of our incomes that we contributed to joint expenses. However, post-Oscar, we’re kind of winging it, with me covering nursery fees and him dealing with the mortgage and regular bills. Supposedly we are going to address who pays what and how much once we know roughly how much I can expect to earn each year.

I clearly remember the day Juan and I set up our joint account. We popped into HSBC more or less spontaneously, and it was only when the cashier started asking us in detail about how we wanted the account to work that it became apparent we should have discussed our decision in much more depth. Having grown up in a household where my parents had one account containing all of their money, it seemed (in my naivety), only natural for me to tell the cashier that we wanted all of our wages to go into our joint account each month. Juan looked at me incredulously and spluttered, ‘But I earn more than you!!’ We then proceeded to have the discussion we should have had in the privacy of our own home before arriving at the bank.

Speaking of people who out-earn their partner, I also have friends whose husbands have set up an account for them and deposit a monthly allowance into it – which is kind of reminiscent of the recent stories about wifely bonuses that have been circulating.

There are 101 ways to skin this particular cat, and really it’s a case of whatever works for you. But trust me, hardly anyone splits their finances in exactly the same way – which is why it’s such a fascinating topic of conversation…

How do you manage your finances as a couple? I’d love to hear about it!

PS: Why I love working, why working mums make excellent employees and how to eat healthily at work.

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    Reply Rebecca July 2, 2015 at 7:32 am

    We’ve been living together for 10 years and are now married, but we follow what we set up originally when we first moved in together. We pay the same percentage of our income towards joint expenses (house, bills, holidays). Food and other day to day costs seem to work out–for example I pick up groceries and he picks up dinners out etc. I’m going on maternity leave in August though so will have new expenses and less income. We will still have separate accounts but have worked out who will pick up which expenses for the time I am off.

    Although our accounts are separate, we make all financial decisions together which is the important thing to me. If it works, don’t mend it!

    • Reply Nicky July 3, 2015 at 8:55 am

      Thanks for your comment Rebecca – it’s so funny how everyone’s arrangement is slightly different! Hope everything works out for you financially during your mat leave – as you say, the best thing to do is to keep the communication going. A self-employed friend of mine didn’t mentionm money at all to her husband while on mat leave, until one day she had 0 in her account and burst into tears when he asked her why she hadn’t bought some trivial thing… oops!

  • Reply Rachel July 2, 2015 at 10:58 am

    Since getting a joint account years ago, it has made our life so much easier! Our mortgage and bills come out of it, but also everything else we do together – holidays, eating out etc.

    We used to put a % of our income into it each month, but we’ve recently started working it out so that we both have the same amount of money leftover in our own accounts each month. I think it’s so important to have honest discussions about money so no one feels like they’re getting a raw deal!

    • Reply Nicky July 3, 2015 at 8:53 am

      Oh that’s a novel way to do it – although if a couple earns wildly different sums of money it probably wouldn’t feel as equitable! We do the same in terms of using the joint account for shared activities or expenses. However, we’re not anal about it – for example, I have a standing order from my own account that goes to a savings account for Oscar.

        Reply Rebecca July 5, 2015 at 7:30 am

        I like this idea of having the same amount of discretionary spending , regardless of who makes what. We essentially do this and it works well for us–one of us makes a lot more than the other but we are a 50/50 partnership in life. I think it can be too simplistic to look only at your pay packet as your contribution to your life together.

        • Reply Nicky July 8, 2015 at 11:20 am

          Yes exactly! I pay for most of our childcare too but little else at the moment, as really my wages only cover childcare.

    Reply Rachel July 2, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Not at the stage myself where I have a joint bank account with a partner but my mum, after her divorce, gave me one top piece of advice and that was to never have your wages put into a shared account. I have to say I agree with her. Working out bills and joint outgoings and paying some each into a joint account is one thing but I think the financial security, if worst comes to worst, of each having your own account just makes a lot more sense.

    Rachel |

    • Reply Nicky July 3, 2015 at 8:51 am

      I totally agree – nothing is certain in life, and having financial independence really helps your self-esteem. Looking back, I must have been crazy to have suggested lumping all our finances together! We also have separate savings accounts, even though we’re happy to share that money with each other. Thanks for commenting! x

    Reply Lizzie Woodman July 3, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    I don’t earn anything as a SAHM ( although I would like this to change eventually) – we have a one joint account and I’m responsible for managing all the finances.

    • Reply Nicky July 4, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      Thanks for posting a comment – I honestly find it so interesting that everyone does things differently. My mum was a SAHM, so that was my starting point when Juan and I started discussing joint finances. To be honest, we probably wouldn’t be any worse off financially if I became a SAHM, what with childcare being so costly, but because things change so quickly in my industry I am hanging in there… x

        Reply Rebecca July 5, 2015 at 7:27 am

        Love seeing how everyone does this differently! When I go back to work, childcare will come from my salary–not because I’m the mother but because I make about 40% of what my husband does, so financially I would be the one to stay home if we decided to do that for our family. I’m sure we will figure out again what I pay for and what he pays for, which will look different than it does today as JINKYs!

    Reply Sabrina July 3, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    Oh yeah this is a minefield, and it’s hard not to read into it too much – I definitely form an unconscious impression about how feminist/progressive/egalitarian a couple is or how empowered/independent the woman is based on how a couple splits their finances. Even though it doesn’t necessarily follow… I also know couples where one or other partner (even married ones!) have joint accounts for some things, separate (but declared) accounts for personal expenses, but also secret accounts unknown to the other partner. You know, for “just in case”. What “just in case” means is never made clear so that leaves plenty to the imagination too (in case he leaves me? in case I need to leave him? in case I want to buy myself something extravagant that i don’t want him to know about?)

    • Reply Nicky July 4, 2015 at 7:41 pm

      Yes it’s true – I know people with secret accounts too! I think it’s always good to have your own money, but keeping it secret can look suspicious even if it’s completely innocent… x

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