Relationships. They start blissfully. Then as years go by and responsibilities increase, it changes.
Unfortunately, money becomes a hot topic. Many surveys even validate most couples argue about money.
Whether or not you’re married, couples who live together struggle with how to manage finances.
Being a couple does not mean you merge all finances.
Historically, couples operated in that manner when the husband was the sole breadwinner.
But now, it’s more common to find both individuals in a relationship generating income.
Some have also lived independently for a lengthy period or have been previously married.
These situations validate we’re in a new era of relationships.
It’s really up to you to discuss and decide the best way to manage shared expenses.
What are shared expenses?
Shared expenses are items where both of you benefit from having the service or item.
For example, your mortgage or rent is a shared expense. Both of you benefit from having housing.
Other shared expenses include but are not limited to groceries, household supplies, utilities, and pet expenses.
What if we disagree on how much to spend on shared expenses?
When identifying shared expenses, discuss limits for each expense.
It’s better to have this conversation before an issue arises and the topic becomes emotional.
It’s best to have an overall spending plan (aka, budget) developed to define these limits.
Discussing expense limits upfront will minimize conflict down the road.
How do we split shared expenses?
Some couples split shared expenses 50/50. This split works well if both individuals generate similar incomes.
However, it creates a problem if there is a significant difference between incomes.
A better way to split shared expenses is based on each person’s percent of total household income.
For example, if one person earns $200,000 and the other earns $100,000, the total household income is $300,000.
The person with the higher income will pay 2/3 of shared expenses ($200,000/$300,000).
The person with the lower income will pay 1/3 of shared expenses ($100,000/$300,000).
Once you’ve listed all shared expenses, defined limits, and calculated the split, you’re ready for the next step.
How do we manage finances?
Here are three financial management options that work well for couples.
Identify which one works best for your relationship. It’s okay if you create a hybrid using two of the options.
The “right” choice is the financial management option that works well for YOUR relationship.
OPTION 1: SHARED ACCOUNT
Some couples create a shared checking account for shared expenses.
Each person contributes to the checking account based on the determined split.
This financial management scenario requires monthly reconciliation.
Both parties make day-to-day decisions to stay within their spending plan limits.
And they both share the responsibility to pay bills on time.
OPTION 2: FIXED PAYMENT
Another financial management option is for one person to pay a fixed monthly amount based on the determined split. (To calculate this fixed payment use historic quarterly or annual totals.)
The other person is then responsible for controlling spending and making timely payments.
In this scenario, the person paying the fixed amount will be hands-off and involved with adjusting the spending plan only quarterly or annually.
OPTION 3: EXPENSE ASSIGNMENT
Some couples assign responsibility for each shared expense.
For example, one person pays utilities, while the other pays food expenses.
With this financial management option, scheduling quarterly or annual reviews is critical to ensure the expense assignment division matches the determined split.
Also, it’s a good idea to exchange expense assignments. It allows the other person to experience the difficulty in managing each shared expense.
It’s not unusual for couples to argue about how to manage finances.
To avoid emotional arguments, spend time early in your relationship listing shared expenses, defining limits, and calculating an equitable split based on income.
Next, determine which financial management option works best for your relationship.
It may take some time to figure out what works – but keep in mind your relationship is long-term.
For this reason, you’ll need to evaluate your financial management regularly (once a year may work for most established couples) and as circumstances change (e.g., new baby, loss of job, etc.).
If your relationship is important to you, take the time to make it work.
Stay PEF (positive, enthusiastic, and focused)!
(Update to original post from August 19, 2017)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Niv Persaud, CFP®, CDFA®, RICP®, is a Managing Director at Transition Planning & Guidance, LLC. Life is more than money. It’s about living the lifestyle you want and can afford. For that reason, Niv consults with clients on money, life, and work. Her approach capitalizes on techniques she learned throughout her career, including as a management consultant, executive recruiter, and financial advisor. Her services include developing comprehensive financial plans, divorce financial reviews, and retirement plans. Niv actively gives back to her community through her volunteer efforts. She believes in living life to the fullest by cherishing friendships, enjoying the beauty of nature and laughing often — even at herself. Her favorite quote is by Erma Bombeck, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say ‘I used everything you gave me.’”