COUPLES: ON FINANCE

In a relationship money has never bought happiness, but agreeing on financial matters certainly does alleviate stress.

I surveyed my couples about their strategies. Here’s what I’ve learned from twenty of them. They have been in relationships ranging anywhere from two years to 28 years (go Bill and Brenda)!

The survey was broken down into three parts: newly dating, moving in together, and making long-term commitments (common law or marriage).

WHEN DATING –

How do newly dating couples organize their finances? What happens if one's in a different place financially, or carries a much higher debt load? There are a lot of variables, for sure, but here was the common thread:

Regardless of income, most of these twenty couples made an attempt to split entertainments costs 50/50 and/or take turns paying. Leah added, “We obviously treat the other person at times and that makes it very meaningful.”

At the beginning of one couple's relationship, Derek was living at home, and since he didn’t have any large expenses, he would generally pay since his partner had to spend a lot more money each month to live.

Here are a few ways you can do this:

1. Create a “Date Fund” 
Each month you put equal money into this fund to go on fun 
adventures around Ottawa. You can put some cash into one date can, or essentially just pay your own way places.
 
2. You invite? You pay!
Caveat: This would only work if both partners are pretty good about alternating with their invitations ... 
 
3. Quick Monthly Calculation
Do a quick calculation each month on what you covered, and ask your partner to do the same. Compare these numbers, and equal things out somehow. Maybe a quick e-transfer, or add in an extra date paid for by the person who’s spent a little less.
 

All in all, the consensus has been to make experiences fair at this point. You’re getting to know someone – and are not quite “building your life” together – yet.

APP SUGGESTION
Splitwise: This app is perfect for the 50/50 split couples, especially in the beginning when you’re dating. Instead of taking forever to tally up your receipts, simply input the bill you paid for and in real-time, it’ll update your partner. It reads, “you owe”, “you are owed”, and “total balance,” at the top so you can quickly see how fairly entertainment costs are being treated.

 

WHEN MOVING IN –

Next, I asked couples how they organized their finances once they were under the same roof, and I was surprised again with the consistency in their answers.

“Money is the last thing you want to feel you owe in a relationship,” said Mark. Obviously there were differences with each couples’ system, but they mainly revolved around dividing the expenses:

A. Split 50/50 (if incomes are proportionate)
B. Assigned a percentage based on income
 

Glassdoor (a growing database of millions of company reviews and salary reports) averages that an engineer makes an approximate salary of $61,140 versus a reporter weighing in at $41,666. If two people are both showing up to work, doing what they love (hopefully), and contributing – a percentage based on income seems fair.

“My partner makes 64% of our total income and I make the remaining 36%, so he pays for 64% of our total expenses and I pay the remainder. This allows both of us to save and have play money to be spent however we each see fit. We both have full-time positions,” one person wrote.

Another said, “Before we moved in together we discussed finances extensively. I actually make more than Nick does so we didn’t think it would be fair to split things evenly (50/50). I suggested that we break down finances comparative to what we were bringing home. In regards to how we split things right now, I pay all bills relating to the house (as I own it) - so the mortgage, property taxes, utility bills, home services (cable and internet), home insurance. Nick covers groceries, insurance for the car, car payments, gas, and generally our entertainment budget. We are also saving for our wedding right now so that is also split comparative to what we are making.”

APP SUGGESTION
Expenses: Right off the top, I loved how you could select on a sliding scale what percentage of the expenses you will be covering, and your partner. If you’re doing a 60:40 split, it’ll tell you that on a $100 dinner bill, you owe your partner $60 or vice versa owing $40. You can: pay without splitting, settle debt, and add a shared expense.

 

What about debt though?

The consensus is that, your debt is your own to pay off. If one partner is debt-free, they may cover a bit more of the entertainment costs. Sarah said, “Brad is very lenient when it comes to picking up the tab, since he knows that most of my extra money is being put towards my debt”.

And if one partner had children to a previous relationship?

Tara said, “At first we kept everything separate. I really struggle to merge because I had been a single mom for 8-years. I had control issues! I paid my bills and for groceries and he paid the house stuff. It was his house we moved into, so he was already used to paying that”.

Do we sign a co-habitation agreement or a prenup?

Out of the twenty couples who had reported to me, only one signed a co-habitation agreement (unmarried relationship). A prenup is for pre-arranging what would happen if a marriage collapses.

I did a little bit more digging, and found out that, “only eight per cent of Canadian couples actually have a prenuptial agreement in place.” This article from the Global News went on to say that, “of the eight per cent of Canadians who did obtain a prenuptial agreement, 12 per cent felt they had overspent on the process.” You can view the full informative piece by clicking here.

Here are a few ways you could organize your dollars:

1. The Ol’ Tally
On a specific day each week, or at the end of the month, tally up your receipts and make sure it’s in line with what you have discussed.
 
2. Joint Bank Account with Separate ‘Fun’ Accounts
This seemed to be popular for all of the bills a couples shares together: rent, utilities, groceries, and entertainment. Your own account may be for your personal: debt, cell phone bill, pet, coffee, or car depending.
 
3. One pays the rent, one pays the other bills.
This one seemed popular to those who previously owned a home going into a relationship.
 

It looks like the difference between dating, and moving in together – is that the word fairness shifts from entertainment funds, over to the income you both take home. Looks like this is the beginning of “building your life together,” so if you’ve arrived at this point – congratulations!

APP SUGGESTION
Goodbudget: For anyone who wants to use an envelope system to keep track of their money, this is amazing! The catch? You can only name 10 envelopes before you have to upgrade to a plan. Here’s a great article that explains this app, and envelope budgeting in more depth: https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/goodbudget-app-review/

 

WHEN MARRIED, OR COMMON LAW  –

You make the big leap into marriage (for better or for worse), in financial sickness or in financial health (wealth?).

Here’s how my A Date by Kate couples changed their finances accordingly:

Byron and Brad got a roommate in their basement to help pay for daycare and their mortgage.

Couples who weren’t doing the percentage-based-on-income method, switched to this method when they were ready to blend their finances a bit more.

Maternity/paternity leave would naturally lend one partner to pick up the financial difference, while the other one was busy growing the minds of their children. Both are equally important roles.

And my favourite of all time: Jessica and James chose the survival method – they divided duties based on how tired they were. Jessica added, “we shared cooking, cleaning, childcare and cash. Manage the 4 C’s together and you will celebrate your relationship!” This is some solid advise, my friends. There’s simply no “I” in “TEAM”!

APP SUGGESTION
HoneyDo: This app is less about the physical budget, and more about tackling to-do lists together. It lets you create tasks, and hold each other accountable for points. The points then lead to rewards based on: me time, us time, and fun time. ;) You can assign a task to yourself, your partner, or mark it ‘up for grabs’ which could get really competitive. You could add a financial chat as a weekly task that you get rewarded for? Perfect!

In the end, couples who had a solid budgeting scheme going from when they first moved in together, didn’t seem to change much. Their dialogue would simply open up a bit more about debt and investments; by this time it’s a combined goal to get ahead, and stay ahead.

 

SUMMARY –

I hope I could help foster a conversation with you and your partner about finances. Stay tuned for other blog posts like this one. Next up will be Couples: On Intimacy! 

 


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