Figuring Out Financial Equality in A Marriage

Abby Dalton lives in Massachusetts with her husband and their cat. She occasionally blogs about money at Make Love, Not Debt.

It’s easy, in a marriage, to hold onto little grudges without even being aware you’re doing so. The other day, for instance, after a particularly grating work meeting, I came home and decided to unleash a tirade on my husband. He didn’t volunteer to do the laundry often enough; he hadn’t cleaned the bathroom properly; and on and on it went.

This happens every once awhile, these situations where things that linger in my subconscious only come out when I’m annoyed about something totally unrelated, and it’s something I’m working on (and to his credit, he’s working on the laundry portion).

But it raises the ongoing issue of equality in a marriage – something I’m sure many people struggle with. While chore division might be the more palpable manifestation, in our marriage where our income levels are unequal (my husband being a graduate student, and being employed full-time myself), finance is the main area in which I feel we’re constantly working out the scales so that no one’s tipping too far to the side.

Figuring Out a Financial System

In some ways, our financial equality needs to be viewed on a much longer, broader scale. I make more money now, so I contribute more to our savings and retirement accounts; one day, my husband might out-earn me, and those roles will be reversed. It would be wildly stressful and time-consuming to constantly feel as though there’s a lack of equality based on this bigger picture. But then there are the smaller things that I find I still harp on, though I try not to.

My husband and I dated for about six years before we got married, and as a result, we got accustomed to splitting things – dinners, drinks – fairly evenly. I kept a running tally, and we cut checks down the middle, and no one was contributing much more than the other. Now that we’re legally bound, and share a joint checking account in addition to our own personal checking accounts, I find this ongoing calculation is a hard habit to break.

My husband has a much better “go with the flow” attitude than I. Whereas he’s happy to pick up a check here or there (paying for groceries, an oil change, etc.), I almost always ask him what he’s paid for something and how much I should reimburse him for it. He doesn’t view this as necessary – what’s $20 once in awhile when I’m paying for his health insurance? – but it’s a habit I can’t seem to shake. Similarly, when I cover something unexpected, I tend to tell him how much he owes. It’s not ideal, in a relationship where everything is, theoretically, “our money,” and I’m working on it.

Do you divide your money with your spouse or is it all a part of a pool from which you can both take?

Photo Credit: winnifredxoxo

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Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dmitry I Oct 5, 2012, 10:29 pm

    first off i like this blog and been following for awhile. second while the title was enticing, it was very hard to read the post as there were quite a few errors in grammar and spelling.

    • Him and Her Oct 6, 2012, 5:39 pm

      Hi Dmitry – There was some initial miscommunication between us and Elle, but everything looks ok now. I hope that you’ll continue to keep reading Couple Money and Make Love, Not Debt.

    • Elle Martinez Oct 10, 2012, 5:44 pm

      Thanks for the eagle eye Dmitry, hopefully it’s fixed.

  • Dominique Brown Oct 7, 2012, 12:47 pm

    My wife and I both have stable jobs, so I can say that we rarely have
    problems on how we split our expenses. We both put all our money in 1 pot, then take a set amount of personal money at the beginning of the month. The rest of the money goes to paying expenses, savings and investing.

    • Elle Martinez Oct 10, 2012, 5:44 pm

      Thanks for sharing your system. We have something similar with our money.

  • frugalportland Oct 9, 2012, 2:55 pm

    I feel like the longer I am single the harder it will be to share money in a marriage. Is that true?

    • Elle Martinez Oct 10, 2012, 5:43 pm

      Not necessarily. I think much of it is about how you work with each other. My husband and I have laid back vibes and similar goals which typically means less arguments. i think the further apart you are with goals the harder it can be (but doesn’t have to be).

      • frugalportland Oct 11, 2012, 1:57 am

        Fair point — but how long does it take to go from “mine” to “ours” in a comfortable way?

        • Elle Martinez Oct 11, 2012, 8:48 pm

          For us the first year was a learning process. It’s not that we didn’t feel like combining money, it’s just that it took time to find a system that felt like second nature.

  • John Preston Oct 10, 2012, 7:26 am

    My wife and I don’t have any trouble with the income side because we are both on the same page when it comes to spending. I know not all couples are this harmonious. However, we do struggle with time equity. Since she is a part time stay at home mom and I work full time, we wrestle with who should be doing what around the house.

    • Elle Martinez Oct 10, 2012, 5:40 pm

      John, we have so much in common! While money discussions are fairly benign, it’s those chats about chores where we disagree at times. 🙂 Let me know what you two figure out, lol