‘You Bought What?!’ How Real Couples Navigate Day-to-Day Spending

How Real Couples Manage Spending

My boyfriend, Nick, isn’t just spending-shy … he’s camera-shy too.

My boyfriend, Nick, and I started dating as penniless college students.

Back then, we didn’t disagree about money because we didn’t have any.

Now that we’re in our thirties, living together in Montreal, Canada, both working full-time—him as a computer programmer and me as a senior communications manager—things are a little different.

Our mutual overspending landed us tens of thousands of dollars in debt in our twenties, and now that we’re living debt-free, I definitely want to start enjoying my money again … within reason. Nick absolutely disagrees, clipping coupons and scanning weekly flyers for sales on items we need—and absolutely nothing else. I’ll give you an example: Nick has had the same pair of “jeans” for at least five years. When the bottom wears out, he takes them to the tailor and gets them cut into shorts. “I don’t want to waste a good top half,” he tells me.

Every now and then I want to splurge on a nice vacation, a weekend road trip or a spa day, but Nick doesn’t want to spend a cent.

So we decided to keep separate accounts, which frankly has saved our relationship. We spend it how we want while contributing equally to our joint monthly expenses (although he covers our $300 utility bill, and I pay roughly the same amount for our cell phones and home insurance). We don’t question how each other spends their money and neither one of us has ever missed a joint payment.

I don’t remember my parents having separate accounts … but then again, they’re now divorced. Nick and I have found a solution to our different spending styles, but I couldn’t help but wonder—do other couples disagree on spending? (And do they have any advice for us?!) So I asked two couples how they, jointly, manage their money.

RELATED: How to Have the Money Talk: A Conversation Every Couple Needs to Have

  • Tarah Marvell

    It’d be great to hear stories about how to handle couple finances when one person make significantly more than the other.

    • Amy

      Or couples who are long-term couples who *aren’t* married.

      • Tahnya Kristina

        Oh Amy – story of my life. Every time I tell something that I live with my long term boyfriend of 14 years they ask me “So why aren’t you married?” I am so over hearing the question that now my standard answer is “You are asking the wrong person in the couple, go and talk to Nick.” Thanks for reading.

    • Tahnya Kristina

      I think finding a balance is key. It shouldn’t be “My” money and “Your” money, it should be “Our” money even if couples keep their accounts separate, the money is still spent on the couple for things such as living expenses, vacations, bills etc.

    • KateSF

      I have heard of a model that works well in this situation. For example, let’s say Person A makes $6k per month and Person B makes $3k per year. If your joint expenses as a couple total $3,000 per month, a 50:50 split isn’t fair. Person A is contributing 25% of their income, while Person B is contributing 50% of their income, which can create conflict.

      Suze Orman suggests splitting it based on percentages. So, using the numbers above:
      –Total Expenses = $3,000 per month
      –Total Income = $9,000 per month

      Expenses are 33% (3,000 / 9,000) of what you’re bringing in together as a couple. So that’s what you each contribute.

      Person A (who makes $6k per month) contributes 33% of their income to expenses, which equals $2,000.

      Person B (who makes $3k per month) contributes 33% of their income to expenses, which equals $1,000.

      $2,000 + $1,000 = $3,000 – boom, expenses covered in a proportional way. You now each have 77% left of your income to do with as you please. Does that make sense?

      • KateSF

        ** Correction, in the second sentence, it is supposed to say “Person B makes $3k per month” not year! Sorry

        • Tahnya Kristina

          Thanks for sharing Kate. I am a huge fan of having a plan. I love budgeting and calculating numbers but that’s because I used to be broke and I am NEVER going back.

  • Paula

    Nice piece. Anytime you write an article people always give their opinion on what you should have written about (smile). If you had written what one person suggested another person would recommend a viewpoint close to their heart. Thanks for sharing this one.

    • Tahnya Kristina

      @Paula – Oh that is so true. But sharing our opinions is what makes learning so great!

  • pamb

    I don’t get how one partner can spend money on nice vacations and not the other. Does this men they go on separate vacations? Or one partner just pays for both? I don’t get it…