Nothing kills the mood quite like paying the bills. But unfortunately, money is an unavoidable aspect of life — even when it comes to living life with your significant other.
Talking about finances with your partner can be awkward. And when one partner earns more than the other, it can be downright tense.
If you make more money than your significant other, should you bear most of the financial responsibility? Should your partner cover your half if you’re not earning as much? Or should it just be split evenly?
For such a touchy subject, we turned to the experts. Here’s what they had to say.
If You’re Struggling To Find Balance, You’re Not Alone
Every relationship is different, and when it comes to finances and sharing wealth, there are a lot of factors to consider. But generally speaking, these kinds of lovers’ quarrels are more common than you might think.
“Talking about and managing finances as a couple is one of the hardest (but one of the most important) conversations you’ll have,” says Nikolina Jeric of 2Date4Love.com. “In fact, it’s so important that it can make or break your relationship.”
“According to some statistics,” Jeric continues, “[seven] out of 10 couples experience financial stress in a relationship. And 45% of couples had arguments provoked by household finances.”
Samantha Moss, an editor at Romantific.com, agrees. “One of the most common reasons why couples fight and even divorce is money. That is why couples must talk about money openly and honestly.”
So, how can two people work around what CNBC called the leading cause of stress in romantic relationships? It takes a lot of talking, listening and experimenting.
Splitting It Straight Down The Middle
One way to handle shared costs is by splitting everything down the middle. But experts advise caution. While a 50/50 split looks good on paper, it may do more harm than good.
“Splitting financial responsibility sounds ‘fair.’ But other aspects of the relationship aren’t split that way. So, it’s really a red herring,” says couples consultant Lesli Doares. “What you are going to end up with is scorekeeping and lots of resentment.”
“A 50/50 split can cause issues, particularly when one person has a more extravagant lifestyle than the other,” warns finance writer Bitter to Richer. “I usually recommend merging finances.”
Research suggests couples with joint bank accounts are generally happier. Still, this is a commitment some individuals might not want to make.
You aren’t required to combine finances. Nor should you force it. Award-winning author Nita Sweeney suggests the cookie jar method.
The Cookie Jar Method
Sweeney and her husband keep their money separate — no joint accounts.
“Throughout the month, when either of us buys anything that benefits us both, we put those receipts in the cookie jar.”
No metaphors, either. They use Sweeney’s grandmother’s old ceramic jar. In addition to miscellaneous receipts, the couple also adds pay stubs and overhead expenses like utility and mortgage bills and taxes. Not included in the cookie jar are individual expenses.
“At the end of the month, one of us does the cookie to tally the money. We enter the expenses and income into a spreadsheet according to those categories,” Sweeney says. “Joint expenses, individual income and overhead.”
“The cookie jar spreadsheet calculates the joint monthly expenses evenly. We split those 50/50. But the overhead expenses are treated differently. The spreadsheet creates a percentage based on our monthly incomes and allocates the overhead expenses based on that percentage.”
Making It Equitable, Not Equal
The cookie jar method is effective because it’s equitable, not equal. By dividing major expenses according to each partner’s income, the financial burden is distributed more fairly.
“If you are earning three times as much as your partner is earning, asking them to foot the same amount of bills is not just silly, but a little difficult for them to even manage,” says Freya Kuka, founder of Collecting Cents. “Sharing the load and making decisions together is the foundation of the future.”
You and your partner can split finances equitably and separately, as in the cookie jar method. Or, Kuka suggests, you can “have a joint account for all household expenses while still maintaining separate accounts for everything else.”
Real-life power couple and lifestyle guides Ryan and Alex David also swear by this method. In addition, they suggest that “if there’s no joint bank account, divvy up the bills at the end of the month by using a spreadsheet or money app, like Mint or Splitwise,” Alex says.
Ultimately, it’s about teamwork and a level playing field. “Partners are called partners because they’re expected to go through the challenges of life together,” says Chris Pleines, dating expert.
“If one of the two partners is earning more than the other, then they should assume more of the financial responsibility,” he continues. “That doesn’t mean that the other partner would stop working or would not aim to earn within the level of the other partner.”
How To Talk About The Taboo
The experts seem to agree: equity is best. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make it any easier to discuss. Adam Kol, The Couples Financial Coach, offers some sage advice.
“This process involves both your hearts and your numbers. Income is just one factor. How each person spends matters. Their assets and debts, too. Consider who takes on what domestic and emotional labor. After all, these often are not compensated yet are invaluable.”
Kol encourages couples to be honest and vulnerable with each other. “If you feel embarrassed or afraid, tell them. If you’re worried about how it might affect your relationship dynamics, tell them.”
Likewise, Kol cautions against letting discomfort, guilt or shame drive you to make promises you can’t keep. Avoid criticizing your partner. Instead, focus on how you feel. “View your partner as a teammate, not an obstacle,” Kol says.
Finessing Your Finances Together
“The bottom line is, nobody should feel burdened by the relationship,” 2Date4Love’s Jeric concludes. “Like other things, partners should talk about finances. Be honest about it, and work together towards finding a solution that makes them both feel satisfied and safe.”
“A relationship is all about the 50/50 partnership, be it emotionally, romantically or even financially,” adds legal correspondent Mike Thompson. If you need a bit of extra help from your partner, ask.
“There is nothing to be embarrassed about,” Thompson continues. “This is the person you love. Just remember communication is the key, and you will be good to go.”
“If you feel too guilty about it, then when you do start earning a good sum, shoulder some of the responsibilities for a while,” he also says. “Take them out on random dates. Buy them things that they’ve wanted but couldn’t buy for themselves. This would maintain a healthy balance in the relationship, leaving no room for any bitterness.”
And that, in essence, is what we should all be striving for in our relationships: no bitterness, all balance.