Sharing Expenses as a Couple

a couple being served in a restaurant
••• visualspace/Getty Images

How can a couple equitably split expenses if they each earn different amounts? Some couples pool all of their money together into a fund that's jointly “ours.” But what if you don't want to do that? Some couples prefer to keep their money separate, even after they're married. They each chip in to pay for certain shared expenses, like the mortgage or rent.  

However, splitting up costs by raw dollars — such as splitting a $100 item into $50 increments each — isn’t a sustainable solution if the two people have wildly different salaries. If one partner is making $200,000 a year, while the other is making $20,000 a year, it might be tough to ask each partner to share in the cost of the mortgage. What can you do?  

How to Maintain Separate Accounts, But Still Be Fair

If you’re committed to maintaining separate accounts, try this tactic: Split your expenses based on a certain percentage of your income. For example, you might agree that each of you will chip in 35 percent of your income towards housing costs.

The higher-earning partner will pay more dollars (in raw money) while the lower-earning partner will pay fewer raw dollars. But both partners will be paying the same percentage of their income. You could do this with every budgeting category — groceries, utilities, veterinary care and more.

Other Options

Remember, this advice applies to couples who want to maintain separate accounts and both chip in for shared expenses. That's not the only strategy that couples use to maintain "separate" pools of money. Here are some other ways that couples can maintain separate money:

  • Allowance: Each partner gets an "allowance." This can either be the same amount of money (in raw dollars), or it can be proportional to their income. This allows each partner to spend their allowance on whatever they want while maintaining the bulk of their money in a shared pool. This is a particularly helpful strategy if one spouse is a shopaholic while the other tends to be more frugal. 
  • Selection: Each partner pays for certain bills. One partner pays the mortgage, while the other partner pays for groceries and car insurance. If one partner earns more than the other, he or she might elect to pay for the more expensive bills.
  • Performance Bonus: One partner focuses on bringing as much money into the relationship as possible, while the other, lower-earning partner focuses on cutting back costs as much as possible. This way, the partner whose time is "worth more" can maximize income, while the lower-paid partner can exercise frugality and help the duo save as much as possible. The partner who focuses on saving money should keep a tally of how much he or she saved each month, and receive an "allowance" or a "performance bonus" based on that amount. After all, a penny saved is a penny earned.
  • Spousal Salary: What if one partner is a full-time parent, while the other partner works outside of the house, but the two partners want to maintain separate accounts? The partner who earns income could pay a "salary" to the full-time parent. It sounds radical, I know, but I've heard of success stories from happy couples who enjoy maintaining separate accounts, even when one partner focuses on domestic work full-time.