How Do You Split Expenses With Your Spouse or Partner?

by Hank Coleman

How Do You Split Expenses With Your SpouseIf you live with your spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend and you haven’t figured out a solid system for managing your individual and shared expenses, then there are several things to consider when it comes to budget items like rent, utilities, Netflix, and even furniture. It’s often a struggle to split expenses when you’re in a relationship.

Some couples divide up expenses equally. Some couples divide expenses based on each other’s income levels, and others let one person pay for the couple’s collective expenses.

How to Split Expenses With Your Spouse

There is no “correct” way to divvy up your expenses, but if you’re dealing with someone with different views on money than you or you simply want to organize your expenses for less conflict and more financial stability, then here are a few options to consider:

Debt-to-Income Ratio

Rather than looking solely at each other’s income levels to determine who pays how much for what, your first move might be to calculate who is paying off more debt in relation to their income. Eliminating debt may be a personal responsibility for one or both parties in a relationship, but allowing the person with more debt to pay off more of their balances could lead to greater long-term financial stability for the couple.

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Don’t assume the person with the largest debt burden should prioritize their debt repayments, however. If one person has high interest debt on a small balance (such as credit card debt) and the other person has a bigger debt load but low interest (such as an auto loan or even fixed rate student loans), then you might want to pay off the highest interest accruing debts before focusing on the mountain of low-interest debt the other person has.

Assuming you don’t pool your incomes together into a joint bank account, this approach can help you decide how to most efficiently allocate your financial resources to minimize the negative consequences of debt while covering the bills in a fair way that works for the relationship.

Disproportionate Usage

Does one of you watch Netflix all the time while the other person barely watches TV? Is one partner more prone to taking hour-long showers while the other spends just a couple minutes freshening up? If there’s a clear division between one person using something significantly more often than the other, then perhaps dividing the expense beyond the typical 50/50 range would be useful.

This might entail paying a less-expensive utility bill in exchange for paying for other utility bills or dividing expenses into percentages based on usage (this might be complicated, but it still works for some couples).

Ebbs and Flows in Income

If one person works while the other person is going to school to finish their degree, then is fairness even possible? In some cases, the breadwinner might trade off money for the other partner’s willingness to do more chores around the house, but this agreement should be carefully discussed by you and your partner.

Sometimes the projected income increase that could follow as a result of obtaining an advanced degree could be enough of a justification for the current partner who’s working to financially support both parties – again, it depends on you and your partner’s personal preferences to work out an arrangement.

This can be difficult if your partner is reluctant to discuss money, but unless you two both have solid, well-paying jobs that cover your combined expenses (and then some), then finances can be a tricky arrangement that requires patience and organization to work through.

Financial Stability Over Fairness

More likely than not, you and your partner won’t earn the exact same salaries and carry an equal level of expenses. Disparities in income levels, debt loads, and even financial management strategies will differ from each other at varying points in your relationship, and it could lead to interpersonal conflicts over money if you’re not prepared to handle the rocky financial moments.

Even if you or your spouse (or live-in girlfriend or boyfriend) are terrible with money, avoiding the problem altogether or leaving one person to manage all the income and outflowing expenses without any input from the other is not ideal unless you specifically plan it that way.

By acknowledging from the get-go that your financial situation will probably never be truly equal, you can move forward and proactively organize your budgets, shared accounts, and debt repayment plans in ways that will emphasize financial stability for the relationship over purely what’s fair or not.

What do you think? Did I miss any tips? How do you split expenses with your spouse or loved one?

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About Hank Coleman

Hank Coleman is the founder of Money Q&A, an Iraq combat veteran, a Dr. Pepper addict, and a self-proclaimed investing junkie. He has written extensively for many nationally known financial websites and publications. Hank holds a Master’s Degree in Finance and a graduate certificate in personal financial planning. Email him directly at Hank[at]MoneyQandA.com.


Hank Coleman has written 590 articles on Money Q&A. Learn more about Money Q&A on Twitter @MoneyQandA and @HankColeman.


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