In (budgetary) sickness and in health: building a financially equal relationship

When you commit to someone, you don’t commit to being a lesser or greater part of the relationship, and the same should apply to your pocketbook, Hamm writes.

Chuck Kirman/Ventura County Star/AP/File
Veronica Barber shows her ring to family members after she married Bart Maciejewski in Ventura, Calif., in this November 2011 file photo. Very few people enter into a financial relationship with the exact same amount of money and the exact same amount of income and the same debt level, Hamm writes.

When people get married or become fully committed enough to combine their finances, they often take the right step by merging their financial situations together.

What they miss out on, though, is establishing true financial equality within the relationship. There is still a sense of “mine” and “yours.” You have “your” debts, I have “my” bigger income.

Very few people enter into a financial relationship with the exact same amount of money and the exact same amount of income and the same debt level, so such inequalities seem natural. The problem is that these inequalities are pernicious and can end up damaging the relationship over the long run.

Your best plan is to stop this before it starts and establish a financially equal relationship right off the bat.

How do you do that if incomes are unequal?

The first thing you do is make it clear that all income is “our” income and all debts are “our” debts. When you commit to someone, you don’t commit to being a lesser or greater part of the relationship. 

When you’re sharing everything, debts affect both of you, as does income. Treating debts as “his” debts and “her” debts hurts both of you. They are collectively “your” debts.

The same is true for income. It goes into the same pool and you draw from it collectively to fit your needs and desires. For individual spending, you should be drawing roughly equal amounts from that pool.

If one of you deals with longer hours or more professional stress, deal with that separately from the finances. Talk about it and come up with a plan to share other tasks in a way so that you maximize the energy and time you have to spend together.

This all revolves around trust, but every successful relationship is built on trust. If you cannot trust each other enough to take steps to ensure this kind of financial equality, then you don’t trust each other enough to maintain a long-term committed relationship.

These measures are prevention against issues of inequality cropping up later on in a relationship. If you don’t guard against it from the start, a sense of inequality will grow and the roots will dig into your relationship, opening up cracks and eventually tearing it apart. Don’t let that happen.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

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