How To Share Finances With Your Partner

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Mixing love and money isn’t easy. Couples cite sharing finances is as one of the biggest stressors in a relationship — it even comes out ahead of addiction or emotional abuse.

Why is it so hard? Because differences in income, debt, savings, spending habits, and values can be rife with power struggles. Sometimes on partner is passionate about the family budget, and the other doesn’t care about money at all. Finding common ground can be extremely difficult but balancing a chequebook together doesn’t have to be a battle.

Below are a few different ways to share finances with your partner:

Split everything 50/50.

Many couples choose to split costs halfway down the middle. These means each person contributes equally to fixed and variable expenses, regardless of income. The easiest way to do this is to add up all your regular costs each month, and divided it by two. This is how my husband and I approached our finances when we first moved in together. We opened a joint chequing account together, and each contributed the same amount to it. From that account, we paid all our joint expenses. It worked great for us because our incomes were similar (less than a $10,000 difference in our salaries), so everything felt very fair. In a partnership where one person makes significantly more, splitting all the bills equally can leave the other partner feeling like they are carrying a heavier burden on their paycheques — because they are.

Split everything proportional to income.

In my opinion, this is one of the most fair and equitable ways to split costs when there is a big difference in incomes in a couple. Say one person in a relationship is making $70,000 per year and the other is making $30,000, for a total household income over $100,000 per year. When it comes to splitting bills, the higher earner would cover 70% of the cost because they earn 70% of the household income, whereas the lower earner would cover 30% of the cost because they only make 30% of the income. This means if your rent is $1,500 per month, the higher earner would pay $1,050 (that’s 70% x $1,500) and the lower earner would contribute the remaining $450 each month. This makes perfect sense mathematically, but sometimes people don’t feel like it’s fair because the dollar amount can differ significantly.

Split financial responsibilities.

I know of a few couples that do things this way, but it’s not my favorite. Essentially one person agrees to pay some expenses, such as the mortgage and a car payment, and the other agrees to pay the other expenses, such as utility bills and groceries. Usually this is a shortcut to splitting costs in a way that seems fair consistent with either of the above methods: for example, the higher earning taking on the higher bills. But sometimes it can become very unfair very fast, because the partner taking care of the variable costs can find that those become very high unexpectedly. Suddenly they never know how much they’ll owe each month, whereas their partner is dealing with easy fixed expenses. Nevertheless, this method can still work very well for some couples, just make sure that your estimates are as accurate as possible so there are no surprises.

Don’t split anything; everything goes into — and out of — a single account.

This is a very traditional approach to joint finances, and still one of the most popular choices, particularly after marriage. Both partners deposit their entire paycheques into a joint account, and then all bills, including both joint and individual expenses, are paid from this account. Some couples have “rules” when it comes to personal spending from the joint account, such as they have to tell their partner if they’re making a purchase that exceeds a certain amount, like $100. This approach is awesome for full transparency and sharing with your partner, but is hard to manage if your money personalities are very different.

But there is no “right” way to manage money with your partner

How comfortable you feel sharing finances, and what income and expenses you even want to share, depend entirely on your relationship and your individual personalities. Sometimes super financially savvy people fall in love with people who are terrible with money, and merging finances puts the fiscally responsible person at too much risk. Other times major personality differences or diverging goals make it difficult to share money without one partner feeling like they’re giving up too much. Some people come into relationships with major assets, others come in with major debts.

Sharing finances is NOT easy, and it takes time to find a method that works best for you and your partner, so don’t feel frustrated if you have to try a few different methods over the course of a few months or years before you get it right.

One important thing to remember is circumstances can change with time. It’s not uncommon for one person to support their partner while he or she finishes school. Sometimes people are laid off from their jobs or become temporarily disabled, and need to rely on their partner to carry them through months of years of unemployment. In many cases one parent might decide to work part-time or even leave the workforce entirely to stay home with children.

In other words, how you share finances and the reasons you choose the methods you do can and will change with time, so you should always be flexible to new ways of tackling bills and managing income.

This is how my husband & I manage our money

After tying the knot in October 2015, my husband and I decided to combine all finances in the New Year. Since we’re both good with money and committed to growing our net worth, I thought this would be easy. It wasn’t. It took a surprising amount of planning, strategizing, and bargaining before we finally hacked out a budget that works for both of us.

Believe it or not, I’m the spender in our relationship and my husband is the saver. I’ve always focused on out-earning my spending, and my husband tries never to out-spend his earnings. Both approaches lead to the same end, but they’re opposites, and that made creating a household budget to satisfy both of us challenging.

But we did get it!

Now we put all our income, and take all of our expenses, out of one account. We allocate the same amount to each of our TFSAs and RRSPs, despite differences in income and financial assets. The rationale behind this is simple: now that we’re married, legally everything is split 50/50. In other words, it doesn’t benefit the higher-earning spouse to put more into their personal savings accounts, because at the end of the day, half of it belongs to their partner anyway. We agreed on equal amounts of discretionary spending each month, which means we now transfer a fixed amount out of our joint account and into our individual accounts. This gives each of us the freedom to buy whatever we want, without the other person worrying that we’re going over budget.

Creating a joint budget was challenging, particularly in the wake of an economic recession where job loss always a possibility for my husband. Then I introduced a lot of uncertainty to our household income by leaving my full-time job to pursue my online business. Nevertheless, we hacked a system that works for us right now, and that’s all that matters! This the first time I’ve merged finances with someone else, but I’m thrilled to feel the power of two incomes working towards our shared goals and building a life together.


19 Comments

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  1. Anne

    How much do you transfer to your TFSA and RRSP and how much to individual spending accounts? Just for me to get an idea how it would look like in reality.

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    • For a couple, this depends entirely on how much disposable income they have after they pay their bills. My husband and I live relatively cheaply, so we have a few thousand dollars each month that we split between savings and spending.

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  2. This post came at the right time! We won’t be living together before we get married and I never put much thought into how our bills would be split. I always thought we would pay 50/50. But now, I am thinking proportional would be better for us because our income isn’t at the same level. I will definitely discuss this with my soon-to-be husband and see what he thinks.

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    • Proportional to income is definitely the most fair way IMO but it takes some getting used to for some people. No matter what combining finances takes a lot of communication and trust! Most important thing is you find what works best for the both of you. Good luck Sylvia =)

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  3. We follow the “Split financial responsibilities” method. We have a spreadsheet to track the items that we update lazily. The main reason we went this way was that I own the place we live in, so I needed to keep the vast majority of the housing expenses. Otherwise, we would have gone for a 50/50 joint expenses approach. We actually found that me, the one with the “fixed” expenses, was spending more money than we’d budgeted because we’d forgotten about maintenance in our budget! Oops! My boyfriend also doesn’t care that much if he spends a bit more than I do because he’s saving so much money not paying rent…

    Sometimes I think about how great the “everything comes out of a single account” route would be in the future. For example, we both use each other’s computers and share one tablet, so who should be shouldering those costs? Kitchen stuff generally comes out of “shared” funds though.

    Getting to an agreement on how to share expenses took some time before we were both happy with the plan and we still iterate on it occasionally. We’ve got it in a good groove now though!

    Congrats on moving to fully shared finances! That’s a huge accomplishment.

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    • Thanks Leigh! Sounds like you have a great system too!

      I honestly think ours worked out so well because we were pretty much even in income and lifestyle, and then I was a student while he was working full-time so even though I came into the relationship with more financial assets, he caught up pretty fast in 2 years! I think there would have been a lot more headaches if things were a lot difference between us.

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  4. I’m a huge fan of married couples treating money as “our” money and “our” spending, saving, investments, etc. (Assuming a certain level of non-negligent/non-abusive/non-manipulative behavior that maybe isn’t a fair assumption).

    Although I don’t think it’s necessary prior to having kids, having a kid shatters any illusion of independence that you had from your spouse. Even if you get divorced, you’ll still have to deal with your former child’s parent’s money issues, so I think it’s better to deal with money proactively in the hopes that it will foster a healthy marriage rather than guard money in the hopes that you will have a happy divorce.

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    • That’s a good point! Children definitely link you & your bank accounts to your spouse forever. I agree that taking care of your finances within the marriage is better than trying to keep them separate for an easier divorce.

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  5. My wife and I will be celebrating our 4th anniversary this February, and we have tried many many ways of doing our finances. At first we deposited everything into one account but that led to a lot of problems as one was never really sure how much was actually available to spend. Now we do kind of a mix of everything. We have the one “family” account that all of my wife’s income goes into and most of mine. The bills are all paid through that account as well as whatever else my wife wants (she is the one who mainly uses that account). I then have my own account where I deposit a small portion of my 9 to 5 income and all of my side hustle income and I pay the debt with that income and will eventually invest with it later down the road when the debt is paid off.

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    • That sounds like a great way to split the cash to manage your bills! It’s interesting how much we think some things will be easier, and then in practice they cause so many problems. My husband & I thought depositing the same amount into one account and keeping the rest of our money for ourselves would be easier, but we just spent so much together going out to dinner and concerts that separating it was harder than not! I definitely agree that trying a few different approaches to find one that works (and even changing that as circumstances change!) is the way to go.

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  6. Irene

    I think that once you’re married or have been together for a long time, combining finances is a good idea. It makes you more of a team and working towards financial goals together is an important part of being a couple. My husband and I combined finances when we were together about 6/7 years, and I think it has made us more money as a result.

    I also think that keeping your finances separate doesn’t prevent a financial meltdown/divorce. If the other person makes terrible decisions and is in debt, at some point or another the spouse is dragged in. You’re better off being totally transparent from the beginning and sharing the windfalls and the burdens.

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    • I agree! I also feel like my husband & I have more powerful savings power with two incomes combined. I also agree that keeping finances separate doesn’t spare you financial catastrophe or divorce — if you’re in it together, you’re together, period.

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  7. Kristan

    My partner and I aren’t married and haven’t lived together very long yet, so we still keep our finances separate and split costs 50/50. Whether or not that will stay the same long-term remains to be seen, but in the meantime we use an app called Splitwise to track/split our expenses, and it’s been a lifesaver!

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  8. Hetty

    As soon as my husband and I got married we ‘ve combined our income and it works out great. We get the same amount in our TFSA, RRSP and savings is in both our name. We each have a weekly allowance. When any bigger purchases need to be made, we talk about it and decide to buy it or not. I find this the easiest way and so far it has been working great for us in the last 7 years :)

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  9. We also started out splitting everything 50/50 and essentially managing our own money. But we did have quarterly savings goals that we were each responsible for meeting. This allowed us the freedom of our own discretionary spending, while still paying all the bills and meeting the savings goals – it really kept us on the same page. We pretty much continued this until I left my full time job to home full time with our toddler, now we pool everything but do adhere to a strict budget so that we are both mindful of our spending. We have found this works really well for us too. I think it helps that we are 100% on the same page in terms of money. That has been a huge relief for us!

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  10. My partner and I split our expenses 50/50 – but we often would “gift” each other and that’s clearly stated between the two of us (for example, he bought me a new coat I needed anyway and told me it was his gift to me so take it out from his ‘spending portion’).

    As of savings, we haven’t made clear goals regarding this – unfortunately my partner was laid off for 5 months so ‘saving a lot’ wasn’t high on our list. But he will start working again next month :) I have my own savings going already and we hope to hash down a combined savings plan when he’s working again.

    Combining finances with a partner is a lot of give and take, especially in the beginning when we’re trying to figure and feel each other out financially! But SO important otherwise we would end up resenting each other in the long-run.

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  11. We have a joint account and a consensus budget. It took some negotiation and some compromise. I audit periodically, like twice a year, because my partner’s a spender and doesn’t track the money in his head– so mostly my partner lets me handle the money and OK’s big purchases with me before-hand. (Unless the house breaks. We have a line item for that, and as long as we stay in line with that on a three-month rolling basis, I don’t get involved.)

    We’re so lucky we were able to get onto steady financial footing pretty early on. Not having to worry about how a bill will get paid or whether a check will bounce makes the negotiations much less emotional. When we slip up, it’s a disappointment and not a disaster, and there are places where we can make it up later.

    One of the things we vetted out early on in our relationship: we have similar big-picture goals, including kids and homeownership, so it’s easy to iron out questions like “how many times a week should we eat out” and “what’s a reasonable amount of money to spend on clothes”.

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  12. Alicia

    LOL how about the husband pays for everything [If it is easily possible] and no-one ever cheats and no-one gets divorced.

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