When 50-50 Doesn’t Add Up

by Nicole · 9 comments

in Living Frugally,Notes On Culture

Some Ideas About Sharing Expenses in a Relationship

I saw an interesting guest post at Budgets Are Sexy today about how a couple that lives together but isn’t formerly committed could financially work. The post discusses splitting things 50/50 and not combining accounts for shared expenses.

As a non-married person, this made me uneasy for several reasons. (Note: I am in a committed relationship and we don’t live together.)

In my relationships, I’m usually the lower earner, and this is not uncommon. According to Women Employed, 60% of low wage earners are women and 1/3 of the female workforce in the United States is a low wage earner (compared to 1/5 of the male workforce). If you want to look at a bunch of depressing/infuriating graphs about income disparity between the sexes, check out this study. And as my blood starts boiling, here’s me stepping off my feminist soapbox…

Regardless of which partner has less take home pay, splitting things 50-50 seems unfair to whoever is making less money. For example, I lived with a boyfriend who owned his own house and could not have afforded half his mortgage if I wanted to. That said, he had bought the house before me, and was unable to sell it, so if I had a shared role in the decision, I wouldn’t have chosen to live there. What we decided to do was have me pay the equivalent of 25% of my salary towards the mortgage, split the grocery bill, and have him cover the additional expenses with home ownership. Since my name wasn’t on the paperwork, this made me comfortable and he continued to get the equivalent of what his former roommate had paid in rent.

Some of my friends were appauled but the thing is, it was our relationship. We both agreed to the terms and this arrangement kept me out of the poorhouse.

Also another issue to consider is that most women do more household chores than their male counterparts, and these tasks are not compensated. To earn my keep when I lived with my exboyfriend, I did the dishes, cooking, and laundry as regular chores. We both spent an hour once a week cleaning the house together. So while I paid less as far as rent, I think I made up for it in other aspects.

In short, a 50/50 finacial split isn’t necessarily an equal relationship. Sure, having a rule like this avoids having to have the uncomfortable money discussion but discussing what you need and want sounds like a good opportunity to set some terms, financial and otherwise, that both people in the relationship can agree with.

While my current boyfriend  and I don’t live together, he is at my house a lot. (He lives with other people and I live alone so it’s easier.) We don’t go out much because neither of us make a lot money. We mostly end up going for hikes, cooking dinner, or watching movies. So he chips in $10-$20 a week to help with household expenses like groceries and helps me with some chores like dishes and cooking. If we ever move in together or when things get more serious, we’ll re-evaluate but for now, we both think it’s equitable. He is also clear that I won’t live with a boyfriend again unless we’re at least engaged. If you like it, put a ring on it indeed!

This is, of course, my unique experience. I think living together can work if everyone is clear on the communication.

And not until I am married will I ever combine my finances. As the Budgets Are Sexy post fantastically put it:

“If he can’t commit and sign on the dotted line for our happily ever after, then he can’t be allowed to sign on the back of my credit card.” (You can see the Budgets Are Sexy post here.)

I’d love to keep the discussion going about this.  So money when you aren’t married: Should finances be combined? And do you think 50-50 is fair?


1 Tracy @ Sew what... April 23, 2010

I think it is up to the couple, personally. And the reasons for not being married are also varied. I lived with a boyfriend and we split everything 50/50 until we got to groceries. He bought the groceries, he also made almost 2 times what I did. By the end of bills, I was BROKE. Plus I was responsible for my personal bills like my car payment and my insurance. It worked for us. When we split up, we were ok with one another. I also, did most of the cleaning, so I felt I made up for the “grocery” shortage.

The man I’m living with now pays for all the bills. I pay for groceries and my car note. I also pay our car insurances, every six months. We did combine our finances, but this is because we have son together and we live as a married couple. And the only reason we aren’t married is because I’m in the middle of going to college, and that’s just too much paperwork to deal with. I do almost 100% of the cleaning and cooking, plus I take care of our son. He works third shift and he works hard, so I don’t see that I’m contributing less to the house than he is. I am now unemployed, but that’s something we also figured out. And because I respect the fact that he is working so hard to pay our expenses, I do as much as I can to be responsible with the money and purchase intelligently and not be frivolous.

I do agree with most situations, not combining the finances and going as close as 50/50 as you can is the wisest choice, so that when the split comes, it’s easy and with less fuss.
.-= Tracy @ Sew what…´s last blog ..Food Waste Friday/Menu… =-.

2 broke207 April 23, 2010

OMG! you’re from maine!! that never happens. my boyfriend and i just bought a condo together because it was cheaper than renting. our parents and friends were aghast, but we figure if it doesn’t work out, we can always split the equity and call it a day. i actually make more money than he does, but we are on the 50/50 plan because i have more debt and it sort of balances out. although there are some customizations to the program. for example, i do all of the cooking and buy most of the food, and he does all of the driving and pays for pretty much all of the car expenses. finances are as unique as relationships, and it would be completely misguided to assume that the same plan is going to work for everyone. it’s actually a really good test of compatibility to see how well you can navigate shared finances in a way that all needs are met and no one ends up feeling ripped off.

3 Lisa April 23, 2010

Living with some one is a scary thing financially. I have been dating my boyfriend for almost four years, living together for two of those years. I was the one who bought a house, even though I make literally half as much money as he does. Since I bought my house, I’ve started grad school and been contemplating taking a lower paying internship, neither of which would be financially possible without him unless I relied heavily on student loans (something I’m trying to avoid at all costs). We each pay our own individual bills and split utilities and groceries down the middle. He pays me half of the mortgage for rent. Hopefully, we’ll get married in the near future, but until then I prefer to keep our finances separate. We both know about each other’s debts and spending habits, and we have a plan for paying our combined debt off after we’re married based on the loans that have the higher interest first, no matter whose they are.

4 Annie Binns April 23, 2010

As a married person, I still believe in splitting expenses. We split based on % of combined income. It doesn’t get more fair than that, in my opinion. We don’t combine bank accounts, so we are free to do what we will with the remainder (i.e. we choose and pay for our own cars, credit cards, etc). I hear from friends that this isn’t the “teamwork” that we should have as a married couple; but we have never had a single argument about money. It’s important to note that we both save for retirement in our company plans; and we happen to have a similar spending patterns (we are both savers, not spenders).

5 J. Money April 23, 2010

Glad you found the post interesting enough to write on! It’s def. a sensitive topic that’s for sure, but that’s why it’s perfect for blogs 😉

6 Simple in France April 24, 2010

Nice topic–I have to agree with you that the 50/50 rule seems arbitrary. I completely agree with keeping money separate when the relationship is not a ‘for good’ type of commitment. That said, paying 1/2 of someone’s mortgage doesn’t make any sense. Do you get your own room +bathroom? Hah! No, if you move in with someone who is established, it seems paying roomate share is fair–to me anyhow.

I also like the way you factor in housework! When we first moved in together my husband wanted to help me with house work, he really did. He just was woefully unprepared to do it. So at first, it was more work for me to teach him than for me to just do it myself. . .in time, he got better, but PHEW! It was a lot of work at first. At the time, we were unmarried, and we’d just moved to a rather high-rent area following his job. I had planned to go back to school . . . if we wanted to stay together, it meant he had to pay the rent for about a year–I paid groceries and utilities and took care a lot of the household chores. It was basically that or break up so that I could go to school in a place with cheaper rent . . .It worked out for us!
.-= Simple in France´s last blog ..Where would you be without debt? =-.

7 Chris lynn April 24, 2010

It’s true,

Rationalization of 50/50 doesn’t make any sense in terms of budgeting. If one earner is making 80k a year and the other is making 30k a year, splitting expenses is ridiculously in favor of the top earner. I’ve watched couples tear themselves apart playing the 50/50 rule and it never seems to end well.

In my case, I am the low earner and my wife is the bread winner. Although that wasn’t always the case. Ten years ago it was the opposite, she’s just being nice to me now and keeping me around because I cook, clean and fix things.

What we ended up doing was using my salary initially to bully the mortgage to zero quickly and save what she was making. To have this work in our situation, my awesome wife and I understand we are financial partners, my money isn’t mine and her money isn’t her’s. We pool our resources and direct it. It worked out so well, the house is paid for, she got to head back to school and become a nurse. I hung up my spurs as an Engineer after the house was paid off and she finished school. Now do handy man jobs and day trade when it’s quiet in the winter. I also make sure she and the kids come home to a nice clean house and a decent meal.

So no, 50/50 doesn’t work primarily because it’s a short term solution and still assumes people are living separately while living together. The only long term solution is to make sure you understand your partner is your equal in friendship and use whatever financial solutions at that time to make both your lives better over the long haul. Start cutting the household kitty down the middle and it’s asking for trouble.

8 veganprimate April 25, 2010

I’m with you. 50/50 is unfair when one person makes less. I think if each person paid a percent of their income, that would be more fair.

I also don’t believe in combining finances EVER…not even if you’re married. Nobody thinks their husband or wife will screw them over, but it happens. If you have a joint credit card, one person can rack up serious debt and then take off. The other person is left having to pay it off. I don’t think that is the case if the card is only in one person’s name, although I may be wrong.
.-= veganprimate ´s last blog ..I’m doing it =-.

9 Nicole April 29, 2010

Thanks for these comments (sorry I haven’t piped in sooner, I’ve been getting them via email all week though). I’m glad people are having conversations about money and coming up with things that work for them and their partner. That’s what it’s all about!

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