Who pays the bills? How couples manage their finances

“Money was never a matter of friction between our couple,” says Ana, 26 years old.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
11 March 2024 Monday 10:22
15 Reads
Who pays the bills? How couples manage their finances

“Money was never a matter of friction between our couple,” says Ana, 26 years old. She and her partner Jaime have been together for three years. “At the beginning of the relationship, since we didn't live together, it didn't make sense to have a joint account. It was a bit 'today I pay, tomorrow you pay,'” she explains to La Vanguardia. Today, after three years of relationship and having bought a house together, they share an account for day-to-day expenses, and then each one has their personal accounts. How do you manage finances as a couple?

“When the accounts get complicated, it's already a bummer. That's why now we have a shared account, where we put the same amount every month and we don't have to go around seeing who has paid what," she says. Ana is responsible for communication in an institution and Jaime is a businessman. They earn “practically the same.” Everyone has their personal and savings account, and then they share one for all everyday expenses, such as paying the mortgage or home insurance.

At the beginning of the month, both of you contribute a fixed amount of your salary to that common account. Then each person manages the remaining part of their payroll as they prefer. That is, he chooses the amount she wants to save that month and transfers it to her personal savings account. The rest remains in your personal account to use for your own day-to-day expenses.

“There are people who say 'what difference does it make if the money belongs to both of us'...and yes, but at the same time no, because if I want to save more money this month and spend less, and you want to spend more and save At least, if we only had a shared account, we would have a problem,” she says and adds: “And if it were the other way around, if we only had personal accounts, it would be a pain to see whose turn it is to pay for the groceries this week. It would be very difficult to make it completely balanced. That's why I think this formula is the best."

According to a Mastercard study from the beginning of last year, when asked about the person who currently assumes the expenses in their home, 50% of Spanish women between 25 and 39 years old indicated they shared them equally, 23% which is The other person assumes the majority, 16% say they assume all the expenses, another 6% say they take care of the majority and 5% say they do not pay any expenses. “The total number of Spanish respondents who do not live as a couple say that, if they did, they would like to share the expenses with their partner equally (93%) and only 5.5% express that they prefer that their partner assume the majority ”, notes the study.

“What I find most is that each member of the couple has their own money in a personal account, where they pay their salary and where their 'whims' come from,” and a joint account for common expenses, such as rent. , bills and leisure together. In many cases, the 'what's yours is mine and what's mine is yours' is being abandoned,” says financial consultant and popularizer, Pol Garófano Valls.

Psychologist María Palau points out that “today's couples tend to seek a balance between financial independence and joint contribution to their common goals. The most common thing I see in consultation is for couples to maintain separate accounts while also having a joint account for shared expenses.”

“When we came to live here, each of us had our own money and our own personal account,” says Malen, 33 years old. She is Argentine and has lived in Madrid with her partner for just under a decade. "Obviously, we shared the rent and many expenses for the car, the supermarket... At one point we used the Splitwise app, to keep a record and try to make it as equitable as possible, making it 'today I pay, tomorrow you'... .But in the rest of the things each one managed on their own,” he explains.

Today, already married, with a child and another on the way, they manage their finances in a different way. “We started sharing an account since we had the mortgage. Today, both of our payrolls go into the same account, of which we are both owners. All our money is there and that in the end is much better because it helps us keep records at the family level, to have shared planning,” says Malen and adds: “Before it was a more independent life, now practically all expenses are family expenses.” , and we assume that everyone can treat themselves, maybe some month I spend more on clothes or he spends more on going out to eat.”

“Generally, when there is no cohabitation, each person in the relationship manages their own money. Commitment and cohabitation usually mark a significant change in how a couple manages finances,” says psychologist María Palau. The arrival of children - he assures - "further intensifies the need for joint and responsible financial management, as new expenses and long-term planning considerations are added." For many people, she says, going from seeing money in a more individualized way to a more joint one is challenging on an emotional level.

Financial content creator Álvaro Morgado also observes that couples tend to manage their finances differently depending on the stage they are in. “A couple's finances are very different between couples and a life together. When they are dating, it is usually more strict to pay everything in half, Bizum here, Bizum there... When they move in together, they usually create a shared bank account, save to reach financial goals and see finances as a plan to build a long-term life together,” he says.

According to a report from the Spanish Association of Family Lawyers (AEAFA) at the end of 2021, economic difficulties are the fourth of the reasons most cited by the association's lawyers as the most common causes of separations. What are the most common short circuits that can arise around finances? What happens when both don't earn the same?

The most common financial reasons why couples go to the consultation of psychologist María Palau, "usually have to do with not knowing how to deal with financial inequality, not agreeing on shared expenses, individual debts and having different forms of to face them, as well as the lifestyles of each of the members of the couple.

The persistent gender gap means that, in heterosexual couples, income inequality is no exception. According to the study “Women and Finance” by Mastercard, 55% of Spanish women consider that women are even less economically independent than men, even above the European average (50%). “The majority of Spanish women claim that this is due to the fact that women take on unpaid jobs (71%); they earn less than men (54%); they decide to be full-time mothers and abandon their professional careers (44%); or they choose to depend financially on someone else (11%),” the report indicates. The majority of women surveyed who say they are not financially independent (66%) believe that they will never be able to be.

“This is a very sensitive topic for me, because it was accompanied by a loss of confidence. I was not working for a long time and I know that it will not be balanced for a long time, or ever,” warns Catalina (this is not her real name), a 34-year-old architect. She and her partner, a 35-year-old entrepreneur in the hospitality sector, have been together for nine years.

“At first, we earned more or less the same. We had an account on Splitwise, where we put the rent and all expenses. We kept it 50-50 for many years. Then I lost my job and entered a dynamic of low-paying jobs. Then I started my own business and at first it obviously didn't generate what was expected,” she explains. During all that time, they went from “50-50” to contributing what each one could to the home economy. “It wasn't a certain percentage, but more of a “whatever you can,” she says.

When his son came into the equation, this changed. “Before I became a mother, I thought I would be able to continue working,” she remembers. But her job, which involved spending some weekends away from Barcelona, ​​was not compatible with parenting. Her partner also worked weekends and evenings. “Maybe I could earn more on those weekends of intensive work than my partner, but when it came to deciding who would stay with my son, there was no doubt. A little because I wanted to stay, but also because it was never an option for my partner to leave his job at that time," she says and adds: "There began an economic dependency where he began to pay for everything. And the little that I could earn, he invested in paying the freelance fee and maintaining things to resume work once he could.”

Almost two years later, he was able to re-enter the job market. Catalina feels that it is difficult to balance the amount of money that each person contributes to the family economy, but also that there is an imbalance in the distribution of unpaid care work. “During the day, my son is in daycare, my husband rests and I work. And at night, which is when we could share the care, I am alone, because he works,” she explains. The fact of having income again - she explains - “made her not feel so much that pressure of economic dependence, which was a very sensitive issue and generated problems for the couple. “These fights don’t come up as much as they used to.”

How do experts recommend managing finances when each party's income is not the same? Psychologist María Palau explains the importance of always maintaining open, honest and respectful communication about money, which - she assures - “in many relationships it continues to be a taboo topic.” Also, set common financial goals, talk about how to achieve them together and commit, while still respecting individual needs.

According to an ING study from mid-last year, talking about money can be more uncomfortable than talking about sex. “25% of Spaniards prefer not to talk about money with anyone while 17% prefer not to talk about sex,” it is indicated, while referring to the fact that “49% of Spaniards prefer not to say how much money they earn.” .

But this difficulty in talking about money seems to be greater outside than inside the home. According to the report, 55% of those surveyed prefer to talk about money with their partner rather than with their friends and the biggest taboo seems to be talking about money with co-workers, since only 1 in ten reported doing so.

“When there are significant differences in income, communication and mutual agreement on the contribution of each party to the relationship is crucial,” says financier Álvaro Morgado, noting: “There is no rule about who should pay the bills. The important thing is to find a balance that feels fair to all parties.”

“You can resort to percentages,” suggests the financial consultant, Pol Garófano Valls, and explains: “Each person allocates, for example, 20% of their income to a common account and, although at the level of numbers they will never be the same, the effort of each member of the couple will be equitable.”

The most important thing, he believes, is transparency and “talking things over with your partner and reaching an agreement in which both parties feel comfortable, even if in some cases it is an uncomfortable conversation.” As he observes, “healthy management of finances as a couple involves a joint vision, common objectives, mutual trust, a minimum of financial education and being realistic.”

For Álvaro Morgado, “it depends a lot on the stage in which the couple finds themselves. If you have been in a relationship for a short time, you should be independent in managing your finances, pay for everything halfway and start talking about money openly. I don't think it's sustainable for one of the two people to feel obligated to pay for most things to charge more.” In the “living together” stage, she recommends starting to “see money as a whole. It's not that you charge 1,500 euros and I charge 2,000 euros, it's that we both charge 3,500 euros. You create a lifestyle and consistent goals, always with some independence for each person's whims.” He advises having a common account and allocating a specific budget to each spending category.

Psychologist María Palau advises adapting the contribution to expenses based on each person's capacity, being flexible. “A rigid allocation can lead to arguments and unpleasant emotions when financial circumstances change. Managing finances as a couple is a dynamic process that requires adaptation, commitment and continuous communication,” she says.