Welcome to Taking Stock, a space where we can take a deep breath and try to figure out what the current state of the economy really means for our finances. Every month, personal finance expert Paco de Leon will answer your most difficult, emotionally charged questions about money. These last two years have forced many of us to reprioritize our finances, and there’s no clear road map for getting through the pandemic yet — but Taking Stock is here to help us figure it out together.
Last time, we talked about how to split expenses as a couple, what it means to share financial responsibilities equitably, and how to manage the feelings that inevitably arise from the process. This week, we heard from Refinery29 readers about their own experiences (both good and bad) dividing up finances with their partners.
Kelly, 31 - New York
Kelly and her partner live together in an apartment in New York, with her making $80,000 per year and her partner making $90,000. "We split everything 50/50," she tells Refinery29. "We've been using the Splitwise app to track all shared expenses (going out to eat, take out, utility bills, home décor, cleaning supplies, etc)."
So far, Kelly says this arrangement is working out pretty nicely. "My only complaint is that I tend to be the person paying the higher cost items up front. The utilities are all in my name (my choice) and I am the person who does the majority of the grocery shopping every week. He mainly pays for takeout and dates which are not as frequent and not a lump sum out of pocket," she says. "He'll sometimes not settle up with me for a while. Ideally he'd be settling up with me weekly or monthly, but he's sometimes waited as long as two months."
"I've felt angry about the up front costs I mentioned above, but we've discussed [it] and he's trying to be better about settling up with me more regularly," she says. "We've only been living together for less than a year so we're still getting into a groove."
Even though there's a small setback, Kelly believes that her and her partner share a similar view on money. "We both have had massive debts in our lives (I'm currently working through student debt and credit card debt from my COVID layoff and he's struggled with credit card debt in the past) so I think we both value financial freedom and living within our means," she says. "At different points throughout our relationship we've discussed supporting one another in saving and being more frugal, and I've found that to be a really nice positive in our relationship. I've felt pressure in past relationships to overspend and it's really nice having a partner who wants me to be financially safe."
They currently have separate bank accounts, but that may change depending on the status of their relationship. "I told him I wasn't comfortable [combining] until we decided to get married and he understood," she says. "It's definitely something we would consider in the future."
Afsah, 25 - Pakistan
Afsah is from Pakistan, and she tells Refinery29 that it is typical in her culture for men to take care of all financial responsibilities — even if their partners work. She says that her husband, a banker, mainly takes care of the bills, monthly groceries, household supplies, food, medical bills, insurance, and other things, but because of the current state of the economy, she also needs to contribute. “I am a pharmacist and I focus on saving money for trips or miscellaneous things like gifts or hosting dinner parties,” she says. “In addition, we have one joint account in which both of us deposit money for our son — the money in that account has to be used only for things related to him.”
Although Afsah and her husband are in a good place with their split now, it took them a while to adjust to their routine because of their cultural background. “It was difficult for my husband to accept being paid for or let me pay for something without thinking he has to pay me back. For me, this was liberating,” she says. “I was able to overcome the guilt I felt as I watched him worry about expenses earlier. Now I can plan family holidays or focus on buying something expensive like a new fridge or car without the guilt of feeling that I am adding to the financial burden on my husband’s shoulders.”
While their situation isn’t exactly 50/50, Afsah says it still feels like a good balance. “I can save money without worrying about bills and food,” she says. “He provides the stability a family needs, and I focus on adding some luxury.”
Skye, 26 - New Jersey
Skye and her husband both work in non-profits and church ministries, which she says puts them in the lower middle class. “We are pretty savvy with our money, so even though we live in an expensive state, we manage just fine with our moderate income of less than $100,000 combined annually,” she says. They currently live together in a single family, 1,600 square foot home that they bought over a year ago.
“We don't split all of our bills 50/50 per se, where I pay half from my income, and he pays half from his income,” she explains. “We share a checking account and a few savings accounts, and do not have any accounts on our own. When our paychecks come in, both his and mine go into our shared checking account and bills are paid from that account.”
“We view our money as just that — our money,” she says. “There is no ‘his money’ and ‘my money’ in our household. Some people may not like the idea of this, but it really works for our relationship and dynamic.” Skye tells Refinery29 that sharing joint bank accounts with her husband creates a sense of mutual respect and commitment between them. “I've never felt like I'm pulling all the weight, and he doesn't feel like he's the only one supporting our family,” she says. “I have only experienced truly positive feelings when it comes to money since we've joined our accounts.”
When it comes to larger purchases, Skye says that they consult one another on things that cost over $100. “We also use a monthly budget and have two line items for our own individual spending, to spend on ourselves any way we see fit,” she says. “This helps us feel like our money doesn't control us or our relationship.”
Liv, 29 - England
Liv and her husband have been splitting finances based on a percentage of their pay since they moved in together in 2016. “When we first started splitting finances, we didn't have a joint account, and there was a lot of faff about figuring out who owes each other what after doing things like the grocery shop and paying bills,” she says. “We only got a joint account when we got married, despite me suggesting we should have got one much sooner. My husband admits that it's much easier to manage now we have a joint account.”
The pair receives their pay into separate accounts and a percentage of that is deposited into a joint account. Liv says this was useful when their salaries were quite different, but now they both make roughly the same amount. “We also now own a home together, so while we continue paying percentages into our joint account each month, we'll also top it up whenever we need (i.e. paying for building work or things like a sofa etc), and we're less precious about figuring out percentages for that,” she says.
Nancy, 30 - New York
Nancy and her husband have had a shared credit card since they first moved in together. “With the exception of some things here and there, we charge almost everything to that card so that we can share the points, which we just recently used up for our honeymoon later this year!” she tells Refinery29. “When the bill comes every month, my husband Venmo charges me my portion, since the credit card was originally opened in his name. I have all the login information for this account and check it fairly regularly.”
When it comes to rent, Nancy says the way they’ve split it has fluctuated. “When we originally moved in together, it was a 50/50 split because we were in a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment that was in our budget (it was top of my budget, and very much doable for him). During the pandemic, we got a deal for a two bed, two bath for about $550 more a month than what we’d been paying. I [started paying] $100 a month more, but he covered the difference,” she says. Since then, they’ve moved into a different space. Nancy says her pay hasn’t increased much while her husband’s has, so he has absorbed the added rent into his portion.
Currently, the couple shares a brokerage account and a savings account. “We put money from our bonuses, paychecks, wedding gifts, etc. into both. We each have our own checking accounts and our own personal credit cards,” she says, adding that they’ll likely combine them after she legally takes his last name in 2024. But there are perks to the separation. “One reason is because I like having my own accounts, and because I’ve always been taught that women should have their own money and accounts,” she says. “An additional reason is that we really like to surprise each other. So when we buy each other gifts and such, it’s nice to have separate accounts and credit cards so that we can keep what we get a true mystery.”
“I think that the best part of our financial arrangement is that we’re not forcing it. We know that, with time, our finances will get increasingly entangled,” Nancy says. “But for now, we’re just making that shift one small step at a time. And when I change my last name, we’ll definitely be moving some accounts around to make it all a bit easier and consolidate it more. But again, we won’t rush it.”