When Addie and her husband DJ first got married and moved in together nearly 14 years ago, their finances weren’t in great shape. “We were poor enough that we had to stand in the grocery store with a calculator and decide we could only afford to buy one onion, not the whole bag,” she recalls.
Five years into their marriage, Medicare approved Addie’s disability, so the Utah couple no longer needs to count every penny spent. But those early years put things into perspective. “We’ve been through hell together, financially and otherwise. As long as we remain ‘whole bag of onions’ well off, there’s just no point stressing or fighting over money,” she tells me. “It’s just money.”
Financial troubles can become a trial by fire for many couples, especially after deciding to cohabitate. And one of the biggest questions every couple has to answer, no matter their situation, is: Who pays the bills?
Between mortgage or rent, electricity, gas, water and a slew of streaming services, deciding who pays what in a relationship can get pretty messy and it can take some couples a fair amount of time to calculate their perfect equilibrium in cohabitation spending. California-based psychotherapist Thomas Faupl explains that each person brings their own history and habits with money into the relationship. And if those things aren’t aligned, or at least discussed, it can completely destabilize a couple.
With that in mind, I talked to a few couples who were nice enough to detail how they decided to share their expenses.
Jesse and Kelly, Illinois, Dating for Six Years, Living Together Two Years
We’re not married and thus still have separate accounts, so when we first moved in together we decided to just split everything 50/50 — including the new furniture we needed and other upstart costs for the apartment and rent, which is $1,750 a month.
For a while, Jesse was fine paying all the bills, which are roughly $90 a month for internet, $65 a month for gas and $50 a month for electricity. He kept track of the bills on a shared spreadsheet, and I made sure to reimburse him every month.
However, last year he lost his job due to COVID, and we decided to get a civil union so he could go on my health insurance. That doubled my insurance payments so much that we decided it’d basically break even for him to cover the bills and me to just cover the health insurance. Soon after that, he got a job but stayed on my insurance, and that’s been the split ever since — still separate accounts, I pay for our health insurance, he pays gas, electric and internet, and we split rent evenly.
As far as going out, getting groceries or casual spending, we both trust that, at the end of the day, if we totaled it all up, we’d basically break even. I pay for some grocery trips, he pays for others. Same for eating out, airline tickets, all that.
We both know that any fretting or stress isn’t worth the negligible difference there is in who’s paying what. I’ve got more loan debt than he does, but also make a higher salary, so I guess we both come out pretty even overall.
I think we both came into things being laid back about money. We’re not big spenders but we don’t penny-pinch either. And so far at least, neither of us has raised concerns about one paying more than the other. That might change when bigger plans or expenditures come into the picture, but right now we’ve got good savings and will cross that bridge when we get there.
Kristen and Jeff, California, Splitting Bills for 40 years
All of our income goes into one checking account and all the bills are paid from that — no separate bill paying. Those bills include gas, electricity, water, trash, internet, phones, insurances (car, house, medical), property tax, mortgage, credit cards, Netflix and AmazonPrime.
We are a team with the common goal of living off the income that the team brings in. It’s been that way since the beginning and works well, no matter who brings in more. Neither of us have to report or explain our spending. Of course, we discuss and agree on any large purchases — vehicles, vacations, furniture or investments.
It works because we have similar viewpoints on finances and share goals for our future.
Salary was always irrelevant because it was never, “your money, my money.” It was our money, our house, our life together. Marital partners are worth more than their income.
Addie and DJ, Utah, Married and Splitting Bills for 13.5 Years
My husband and I are in our late 30s; he works full-time and carries our health insurance through his employer. His income can fluctuate a bit based on whether or not he has overtime available, while I’m disabled, so my income is completely stable, if low.
Any bills that we can choose the due date on we’ve assigned to me. I have them set on autopay to come out of my account the day after my monthly disability payment is deposited. This includes our homeowners association, internet and a large medical bill we set up a recurring payment for.
Bills that we don’t choose the due date for, my husband pays. This includes our two remaining utilities (electric and gas), auto/home insurance and mortgage. His pay date is every two weeks, and we leave only a working amount of cash in the account (the remainder goes to savings), so we don’t use autopay just in case something goes wrong, like one of us not noticing an absurd electric bill.
This may seem absurdly unfair, but our mortgage is low due to a generous down-payment gift from a family member. Our utilities are also quite low as it’s cheap to heat and cool a first floor condo with only two outside walls. We also both have clean driving records and older model cars that are reliable and paid for to keep driving expenses low. Ultimately then, what comes out of his account isn’t much more than what comes out of mine.
For groceries, we don’t really put any thought into it. Whoever is available to go shopping picks up the groceries, no big deal, but most of it does fall on his shoulders. He simply has significantly more income than me. Meds for both of us are pretty cheap, and we’re fortunate to be able to get his insulin at a good price.
Both our debit cards are on all our digital accounts: Walmart Pay, Kroger Pay, Apple Pay, Amazon, online ticketing for public transit, etc. We both have a general threshold for when to discuss a purchase, but not a firm one. I might run it by him if it’s $20 and absurdly frivolous, but I’m not going to ask to spend $50 on a household purchase that we need.
All finances are an ongoing discussion for us. I came into the marriage with some debt I was working on, so we’ve been discussing this since before we shared a home. We both wanted to make sure we were taking a proactive approach to our finances. We kept things separate in the beginning because of that debt, but it was working for us so why fix what isn’t broken?
We have what I feel is a normal amount of stress about finances, not too much, but we aren’t in a position to not be sensible with our money. We regularly revisit the topic to make sure it’s working for us — not even in a formal way, just casually checking in with each other to see if we’re both content with the arrangement.
Mark and El, Late 20s, Living Together in the Bay Area for Two Years, Split Rent 45/55 Based on Individual Income
We split our power, gas and water 50/50. I buy the groceries (about $400 a month) and Venmo her for half, though I try to be honest about it (like if I buy myself protein powder at Costco, I wouldn’t expect her to pay for that). Similarly, we each pay for different streaming platforms: I have Netflix and HBO; she has Hulu and Amazon Prime. We each handle our own cars; I pay my insurance, loans, gas, etc., and she pays hers.
The rent split is based on total rent taken as a percentage of our total combined incomes and then applied to each of our individual incomes. Our situation would be a lot different if we made less. But thankfully we both make good money — I take $4,083 a month after taxes — so I don’t think either of us are sweating money here or there.
As such, our rent breaks down to $1,500 a month for me and $1,800 a month for her, which is a 45/55 split.
When we briefly lived together in the studio apartment she rented, we split rent evenly. But upon moving into our current place in January 2020, I brought this idea to the table and she agreed. It was an easy decision because she not only makes more money, but doesn’t have student loans like I do. Plus, the $1,800 for her share is still less than a studio in our area (she’d been paying $1,950 for her studio before).
I get a standard raise each year and offered to renegotiate, but she didn’t feel the need to. That said, if either of us got promoted and had a substantial raise, we’d probably want to change rent, but we haven’t talked about that.
Marty, 32, Chicago, Divorced and Did Not Split Bills
We lived together for three years, were engaged for 18 months and then separated six months after getting married. I did zero splitting for those three years and got hosed. Money was always a weird topic for me; I didn’t have a lot of it growing up, and so I just never brought it up when my girlfriend at the time moved in. Maybe at first I assumed I would pay for things up front, as she was getting her career started, but when that happened, nothing changed.
Candidly, I thought money was the key to happiness and stability, but now I realize I was living life with her and looking cool on the outside but inside I was miserable. I was working so much and spending money not on things I wanted or even on shared interests or goals, but mostly on things only she wanted.
Funny enough, she had convos about how odd it was for other couples to ask for splits at a dinner or on vacation. In hindsight, lots of red flags, but sometimes you’re just going through motions and checking off boxes. It wasn’t the reason we divorced, but it stung the most— like we were building a life that I was invested in and then the person who got the free ride opted out.
After we divorced, I had to buy her out of the condo, because an idiot lawyer boy (me) put the name of someone on a title that didn’t pay rent or any money toward the down payment.
So yeah, I highly recommend people don’t completely avoid discussing financials with their significant other.