‘Not tonight, love. I’m tired.’ That was me last week, talking to my marginally better half, Ed. We weren’t talking about youknowwhat though. We were talking about our household budget. Sexy.
Sometime ago, Ed helped me manage my finances to bring me out of a £2,000 overdraft. It worked out well for him too because we’ve been able to save since and I’ve not been shackled by the ridiculously high interest repayments I’d ended up with. We’re still not footloose and fancy-free though. I want to buy stuff all the time; Ed doesn’t want to buy stuff all the time. We compromise somewhere between that but generally I prefer to talk about anything other than the household budget. We are not alone in the struggle. I asked my mates on Facebook how they talk to the people they’ve chosen to spend the rest of their lives with about money – and the results were quite surprising… For the interests of privacy and the future of my friendships, all names have been changed.
Sharing is caring…sometimes
The first question I posed to seven couples was: do you share a bank account?
Most people said yes and that the decision was driven by an event that brought the need to pool resources such as a wedding or moving in together. It normally works that each member of the relationship will deposit a regular amount of cash into their joint account. But not everyone does that. Ladies and gents, may I introduce to you, the Receipt System.
Alice and James, 30, are to be wed later this year. Alice tells me: ‘We keep all receipts from purchases for food, booze, household goods, vet bills etc. They all go in a tin and then at the end of the month or thereabouts, we sit down together and add up how much each has spent and the difference and who owes who and how much. We always have a laugh and some bants doing this. I always make James cross off any cigarette related purchases and he scans, in a lighthearted manner obvs, for things like bikini waxing strips. The bills for the house and mortgage we split half and half.’
Another couple, Rachel and Max, who are both in their 40s, says they’d also started off with the Receipt System but abandoned it after a few years. ‘I did ask for receipts in the early days to record in a manual book,’ Rachel explains. ‘If Max forgot to hand them over I would moan. However one day he did say this was too controlling and restrictive. I had got carried away with my accountant-like monitoring so I agreed and ditched it.’
‘We always have a laugh and some bants doing this. I always make James cross off any cigarette related purchases and he scans, in a lighthearted manner obvs, for things like bikini waxing strips.’
For richer, for poorer
So far, so good. But what about the big stuff? For example, what if one of you loses a job or gets into an enormous amount of debt? We’ve all heard the horror stories. Most of the couples I asked had spoken about it, but a few hadn’t. However, that being said, I was broadly touched by the response. All of my friends said their debt would be shared.
My colleague Martin says: ‘I couldn’t do what I do if my wife didn’t do what she does. It’s a 50/50 partnership.’
It is the same situation for Laura and Tom, who have also talked about what happens if one is not able to contribute as much as the other to household expenses. ‘Recently I went freelance’, Laura says, ‘but up until this point we had been fairly evenly matched on salary. This did mean discussing months where I might not be able to contribute at my usual levels but we’re lucky to have reached a point where we could hopefully sustain ourselves short term on one salary, if needed.’
Laura and Tom’s situation has got to be pretty standard. Most couples will at some stage experience being unevenly matched on salary. Meet newly-ish wed Claire and Matt, 32, who both earn vastly different salaries – something that has posed challenges.
‘I earn just over four times as much as my husband’, Claire says. ‘It wasn’t always this way, so how we have managed it has changed over time. I used to earn roughly the same and we always split things in half. Then, as my wage went up and Matt’s went down as he went into a new profession and was self-employed, what we now do is have a spreadsheet of bills for the month and split it in half.’
‘In reality most of the time Matt’s wages just about or doesn’t cover the half for the essential stuff and I’ll pay the difference. How much this annoys me and the unsteady income has a been a source of many arguments as you can imagine.’
‘We have had some terrible rows after one of us…me… has overspent and built up debt on the credit card.’
Cash seems to be consistently the number one source of arguments for loved up Brits, but what exactly are we splitting hairs over? Spending, it seems. Every single one of my friends said arguments started over disagreements on how much should be spent on particular items.
Alex, 33, says his overspending has caused problems before with his wife. ‘We have had some terrible rows after one of us…me… has overspent and built up debt on the credit card.’ What about a resolution? Alex says a subsequent pay rise (his) has eased conflict over overspending fears, but what do others do to sort things out?
Claire says she and her husband take a walk if they can’t sort things out after a certain amount of time. ‘We talk about it but if it’s heated, we might go for a little walk and put an end point to how long we will talk to it – say 30 mins – if it’s not resolved we will leave it and come back to it another day.’
By now, dear reader, you’ll have gathered that romance isn’t just about flowers. It’s about hard, cold cash, and sometimes – drawing up legal agreements. Lots of couples co-habit and buy together without getting married. If both couples have different cashflow or have contributed vastly different amounts into investments (such as a deposit), agreeing what’s fair is vital.
Recently, Ed told me that I was welcome to spend as I liked with the joint account we both pay equal amounts into – providing it didn’t exceed £20.
This is something Alice and Tom of the Receipt System were careful to do. ‘I put quite a fair bit more into the deposit for the house than Tom,’ Alice tells me. ‘So there is a legal agreement that if things go tits up then I get a certain chunk back, he gets a certain chunk – basically what we both put in – and then any extra money we would make on the house would get split in two.’
No, no limits
Recently, Ed told me that I was welcome to spend as I liked with the joint account we both pay equal amounts into – providing it didn’t exceed £20. He was joking (I expect) but it got me thinking about what kind of threshold couples set themselves for spending and where the bar sits for when they need to consult each other on purchases.
Back to Rachel and Max, who’ve been together nearly 20 years. ‘We discuss big purchases such as holidays or furniture, TV or phone contracts, something that both of us benefit from. But spending on ‘stuff’ – clothes, gadgets or nights out isn’t specifically discussed. We have been together a long time and we have a good sense of what we can just go ahead with.’
‘Ollie likes to think that he has completely overhauled my financial health and he would swear blind to you that I am in a better place because of his ‘wisdom’.
Often it seems couples don’t tend to talk about a spending threshold until one of them feels it has been breached. Alice says: ‘Tom has brought home things that I think to myself, ‘do I really want to pay half for things like irons and curtains that cost three hundred quid? I would never make these big purchases without checking with him first. I have never contested it though… apart from those *expletive* curtains which I refused to pay for…’
‘You make me a better person’
I admitted earlier that my partner, Ed, had helped me clamber out of an overdraft. I wanted to know whether other couples felt their partners had changed their attitude to money or saving, for better or for worse.
When is it the right time to tell your BAE about your debt or your billions?
Mary, 35, has been with her partner for nearly a decade and says her partner has made a difference but that increased earnings also played a major role. ‘Ollie likes to think that he has completely overhauled my financial health and he would swear blind to you that I am in a better place because of his ‘wisdom’. It is true to an extent, but I have always been fairly sensible and with increased earnings during our relationship I am in a position where I can save more now, but I have to admit that he is a good influence.’
When’s the right time to share?
Now time for the billion dollar question and my new business venture. When is it the right time to tell your BAE about your debt or your billions? Is it time for the world of dating apps to include three months’ worth of a candidate’s salary, just like when you get a mortgage?
Not surprisingly, nobody took me seriously, including my colleague Martin, who went as far to say:
“Other than the obvious security issues, I can’t think of anything more unattractive than checking someone’s bank statements before asking them on a date.”
I still think the idea’s got legs.
What about you? Have any of the couples I’ve talked to got similar experiences to you and your BAE? How do you share cash and how do you settle disputes? Let me know.