How do spouses share expenses?

By Stew

I recently ran across a question on Personal Finance Q&A’s over at Moolanomy. The question itself was not all that remarkable, but the scene portrayed  in the lead up to the question portrays a marriage that might be headed for trouble in my humble opinion.

Here is a portion of the questions posted by a writer who identified herself as KJC. If you would like the entire context, click through here:

Our first mortgage payment is due August 1 and just last night we received our first payment voucher in the mail. Despite never discussing this, my husband is now telling me he thinks it is only fair if we pay the mortgage based on our percentage of gross income. Meaning that since my salary is higher, I would pay more. I explained to him that I had a problem with this for 2 reasons.

One. I really don’t make more when you take into account my $400.00/month student loan debt. Two. We both use the house equally and so I feel we should be responsible for the payment equally.

I asked him if that meant we should pay all shared expenses on a percentage of income basis. He replied, “yes”. He says that he shouldn’t have to pay for my student loan debt and in essence that was what he’d be doing if he paid for half of all the bills. My response was that I shouldn’t be penalized for marrying someone who makes less than I do.

I have several comments, as you can imagine:

  • What is the husband going to do if children come along and his wife decides to stay home with the children? Will he become a tyrant because he is the only person earning a paycheck?
  • Those of you who might be considering taking on large student loans . . . let this be a lesson to you.
  • Can you imagine sitting down and figuring out who is contributing what on a percentage basis toward the household income?  What if one spouse’s job provides the healthcare for the household? Or what if one job has a better pension? Or if one job requires employees to go to lunch or wear expensive clothing? How does that affect the percentage of household income? How about equity, what if one spouse brought a better car into the marriage? What is this a shareholder’s meeting?
  • I have a high view of marriage, one that I believe is biblical. There is no such thing as his and hers. My wife’s student loans are just as much my responsibility as they are hers – and vice versa. Every dime that we both earn goes into the same pot and is distributed in the manner that best benefits our household.

Yes, there are times when I mess up and buy something selfishly and there are times when Mrs. Stew might overspend, but our goal is to be an unselfish team when it comes to the area of finances. Remember, marriage is not a financial agreement, but there are financial implications to marriage. Let me share just a few passages of Scripture that have bearing on the situation that we find here:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate. – Matthew 19:5

You and your spouse are not two autonomous people, but one! It might sound like a crazy idea in our modern world, maybe old-fashioned, maybe a little scary, but the best way for a couple to operate financially is if all “accounts receivable” and “accounts payable” belong to both the husband and wife together. How can such a partnership work? It is difficult, and it goes against our human nature, but the keys lie in the next two passages:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her . . . So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it . . . – Ephesians 5:25, 28, 29

Everything that the husband does needs to be for the good of the wife. He must care for her as if he were caring for his own body, because, he is. It can be difficult for we selfish, lazy men to care for and serve our wives. It is even harder for wives to follow this instruction from the Bible:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

The command for wives to be “subject” is one that is often misunderstood and we do not have time to dissect it exhaustively. Being “subject” is not the idea of servant hood or slavery, but rather the idea that when there is a major decision to be made in the home, the responsibility for that decision ultimately lies with the husband. Not because he is smarter or the “master”, but because he is accountable for the repercussions, the wife is protected from that accountability. Furthermore, if the husband is obeying the command specifically given to him, things should work out okay for both parties – especially if the husband is smart enough to hear all that his wife has to say on a particular subject before making the final decision. A loving husband will invite and encourage input from his wife.

Both commands are difficult, but if both parties are doing their best, God will bless the union.

Article by Stew

Photo by Luke Wisely

11 Responses (including trackbacks) to “How do spouses share expenses?”

  1. dogatemyfinances Says:

    I was more alarmed that two people could be MARRIED and BOUGHT A HOUSE and not even talked about this kind of stuff. Seriously? I mean I was floored.

  2. Ron Says:

    Sounds like someone needs to sell their house and rethink their housing and financial situation. Either that or let her pay all of it and charge him rent.

  3. Stew Says:

    Yes, Dog, there is almost a sense in which we have to wonder if this sstory is for real…it is true that couple have money problems, but, boy…

  4. Lynn Says:

    I am one of those people that just doesn’t understand the splitting of the bills thing with a husband and wife. Are you in it together or not? We pool all of OUR money and pay all of our bills from the combined money. I hate my husband’s student loan but its still paid out of OUR money. The only thing that is based somewhat on percentages is our blow money. My husband gets $250/mo and i get $100/mo. My income in the last couple years has started to inch closer to my husbands so he should get 220.00 and I should get 130.00 if it was based on exact percentage. But I am a saver and he is a spender so I don’t mind that he gets more money.

  5. Gina Says:

    WOW – I am w/Ron and Dog too … didn’t they talk about this before the purchase of the home and I like Ron’s solution. But, wow! I guess they get to learn the lesson of communication AND finances at the same time – TOUGH!!

    Since my income is twice that of my husband, we follow a similar principal to Lynn … we both put in 80% of our income to cover all expenses and what is left over is “blow” money. I too am the saver and my husband likes to play golf. He is very good at keeping his hobby w/in his blow money budget. However, right now, whatever is left over is going towards OUR debt snowball but soon it will go to OUR savings.

    I will admit that in our first few yrs of marriage, I had a big problem w/my husband using me as his ATM (UGH!). After a while I realized that if he needed cash I could just transfer that out of his account into mine – my checking is separate for tax purposes (he is set up as beneficiary) and we are joint owners on his checking and our savings. That is when I came up w/the % idea. Even though all the medical/dental/life/disability/daycare expenses come out of my income, the % plan works well for us.

  6. Stew Says:

    Ha! Gina, you really call it “blow money”?

  7. Eric A Says:

    So who paid the down payment on the house, and how was that not a catalyst for a discussion on finances to come.

  8. Gina Says:

    Yes. I know, sounds a little sinister now. Maybe I should call it “fun” money. Since we are getting out of debt we don’t “spend” money that is not in the budget.

  9. Adam Says:

    My wife and I are in it together. We had over $150,000 in debt when our marriage started and we discuss it like it is both of ours although the majority of it is mine.

    When we got married we became one unit, so why should we run our finances as two? Sometimes I just don’t get what some people are doing out there. It just seems like a recipe for financial disaster.

  10. Angie Says:

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!!!! Wow, I can not even believe that two people would act that childish or should i say him!! When two people unite in marriage it is what it is-UNITED!

  11. Rosie Says:

    Ok. so I have been with my partner for 8 years now (married for 4) and we have two young children. What we were doing was pooling all income and paying all bills from that. Everything was “OUR’s.” We each got equal spending money and whatever was extra was either spent, put towards debts, or saved. Even though I make a fair bit more than he does and have less debts this “united” system works well if the two people are responsible, honest, respectful and have similar spending values.
    Over the time that we have been together though things have changed. No one is perfect and no system is perfect. He consistently spends more than me and has made some poor life choice decisions which incurred financial costs. So for me this sharing everything system is no longer working for us. I have feelings of resentfulness as I work hard, make more money and feel like I am being taken advantage of. This system is also not helping him take more responsibility for his actions as there is less individual accountability. Also as friends of ours (who are engaged) stated, with the united system there is less personal financial incentive to work harder, get that raise, etc. Looking back the “United system” while good in theory (and seemingly more romantic) has some flaws.

    The divorce rate in Canada for 1st time marriages is around 37% for the US the divorce rate is 50%. and in an article I saw the number one concern of those seeking legal advice in divorce was money not kids, MONEY (ouch). So, lets face it money is a huge issue for couples in marriage and the solution may be slightly different for everyone and things may change over time.

    The sharing of joint expenses is something that my husband and I are both interested in looking at now. We are still on the fence about the 50/50 split or a % split but this system is forcing us to think and talk about how we manage money and what is fair. Our hope is to hash it all out so that there are few surprises and therefore less hurt feelings around money. This system isn’t perfect either though like what if one of us losses a job or gets really sick and cannot work or if I want to work part time to stay home with our kids more -these are great things to discuss ahead of time and that is what this system forces couples to do. So, while it may seem cold,businessy, and things may get a bit heated—I do think it is worth looking at. Cheers.