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Revealed: how real couples manage their money together

What’s the best way to manage your money in a relationship and overcome the inevitable arguments that come with the territory? We speak to three couples to help you take control of your finances together.

15 March 2020Frankie Jones 9 min read

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Some names have been changed for the purpose of this article.

2,455. That’s how many arguments the average couple has each year according to this research. And topping the list of reasons for fighting is money (followed by sex and chores) - it’s the number one issue couples argue about around the world.

Whether you love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is a great time to reflect on how well you and your partner handle money matters and how you can improve this for 2020.

So, what’s the best way to manage your money in a relationship and overcome the inevitable arguments that come with the territory? We speak to three couples about everything - from who pays on dates to dealing with debt - to help you take control of your finances together.

Ironically, studies show that spenders are more likely to attract savers and go on to squabble about their differences, rather than sticking to their own kind. But even if you and your partner are like two peas in a pod, an argument about spending is likely to arise at some point or other.

Jon & Kelly

  • Age: Both 31
  • Location: Essex
  • Occupation: Jon is Lead Customer Service Officer at TFL, Kelly is a Marketing Coordinator at a Law firm
  • Annual salary: Jon earns £43,000, Kelly takes home £48,000

Romford-based renters Jon and Kelly were introduced seven years ago by Kelly’s sister. Despite the fact they’ve been together for almost a decade, they chat and tease each other with the fondness of a couple in the midst of the honeymoon period.

Nevertheless, the two admit to having very different money management styles. Kelly confesses that she’s not very controlled. “I spend a ridiculous amount in Pret” she gushes, while “[Jon’s] very good at saving.” (Jon jokes that there’s a fine line between stingy and careful, and he’s definitely the latter). When they bought their home two years ago, Jon had been saving up for years in preparation, while Kelly had only begun saving a few months before.

Kelly credits her reluctance to save to making up for lost time. “My mum never had money and we never had lavish holidays, so I like treating myself now.” In contrast, Jon’s mum always had a good job, and his motto has always been to save for a better life. If they were to crave a change of pace at some point (they both like the idea of moving to Thailand), Jon would prefer to have the relative security of a financial safety net.

Robert & Paullette

  • Age: Robert is 45, Paullette is 47
  • Location: Essex
  • Occupation: Robert is a Recruiter, Paullette is a PA/Insurance and Conveyancing Manager
  • Annual salary: Robert takes home £48,000, Paullette earns £43,000

Paullette met Robert at a party in 1999 and tracked him down after asking his cousin for his number. Their familiarity with each other - and their respective roles within the relationship - are obvious. Robert is the comedian, with Paullette taking the more sensible, motherly stance (“we have a different way of doing things”, she says, ever diplomatically).

Paullette adopts a similar approach to spending as Jon. “I don’t really treat myself as often as I should” she confesses. While Paullette’s vice is having a nice car, Robert splashes his cash on drinks, taxis and designer labels. She balks at the ease with which he’ll spend £200 on a night out (“he used to buy random shots for strangers”), although he makes a point of mentioning that he’s recently started saving.

Despite this, the couple say they always plan ahead. Robert’s currently in temporary employment so he makes sure he’s equipped financially if the job ends suddenly or is extended. “I refuse to argue about money”, Paullette reveals, an attitude she says has been the backbone to their happy relationship.

Melissa & Johannes

  • Age: Melissa is 30, Johannes is 32
  • Location: London
  • Occupation: Melissa is a Creative Consultant in the fashion industry, Johannes works for an African Private Equity firm
  • Annual salary: Melissa is currently on maternity leave, Johannes brings home between £60,000 - £70,000

Melissa and Johannes are reminiscent of a modern-day Brangelina. They’re a power couple in every sense of the word, a self-confessed “tag-team”, balancing work and childcare duties effortlessly without sacrificing their pre-marriage lifestyle.

In their house, which they share with their young daughter, “the difference is that [Melissa’s] a lot more conservative than me,” concludes Johannes. Because of his upbringing, he admits that he’s very liberal with his money. Brought up surrounded by children who would resort to alternative ways of making money, his mum made sure he was never caught stealing.

For a long time, Johanne needed to attach tangible goals - like buying a home - to saving in order for it to make sense. “Bargain savvy” Melissa, on the other hand, is much more comfortable with the concept of saving.

Johannes praises her for teaching him the value of money and not relying on ‘the bank of mum and dad’. (Melissa was encouraged by her own mum to get a job and fund herself as soon as she was old enough to get a job.)

Combining your money is something you might start to think about when you’ve been with someone for a while. Maybe you’re saving for a joint goal, like buying a home, so it makes sense to share the responsibility. But when your money management styles clash, this can cause rifts in your relationship.

Jon & Kelly

Jon and Kelly pay into a joint account each month to cover costs like their mortgage, bills, food shopping and meals out. Earning similar amounts means they’re happy contributing the same amount to the shared pot, although this wasn’t always the case (Kelly put more money in when her salary was much higher than Jon’s).

They find this method works for them because it means they can manage their money both separately and apart. “I don’t really ask you what you’re spending on and you don’t really ask me” says Kelly.

Melissa & Johannes

Melissa and Johannes also opened a joint account which they use for anything house or family-related.

Melissa’s in charge of working out how much they’ll need for the essentials each month. This seemed like a no-brainer for Johannes, who admitted to giving Melissa his money to look after while he was saving up for a car a few years ago. “She’s better at budgeting than I am” he says sheepishly, “if there’s £100 in the account, I will use it.”

Robert & Paullette

Robert and Paullette moved in together soon after they started dating, which meant they started discussing money and opened a joint account fairly early on in their relationship.

Paullette manages all of the bills, shopping and direct debits that come out of this account, but the one thing they stand by is saving individually (“it’s the only thing we do separately”). She sees this as the key to healthy money management as a couple. Robert also pays for things like his life insurance and gym membership from his personal account.

According to this research, men become “increasingly uncomfortable” when their girlfriends or wives contribute more than 40% of the household income. And as women start earning more, this modern day dilemma is affecting straight couples everywhere. Even in same-sex relationships, people still pigeonhole partners as the “more masculine” or “more feminine” one, expecting them to perform the stereotypical gendered duties.

Melissa & Johannes

Melissa and Johannes take it in turns to shoulder the burden of being the breadwinner. “We’ve never had a job where we get paid the same”, and it’s not uncommon for one of them to be the sole earner in the relationship. When the couple relocated to Ghana for Melissa’s job, it took Johannes 6 months to find a job. He then moved into full-time work when Melissa fell pregnant with their daughter.

When it comes to dating, Melissa says she doesn’t ever recall paying on a date. “I think it feeds into the romance” says Johannes, laughing as he remembers one of their early dinner dates. (Confusingly, the prices on the menu were written without the decimal place, which left him assuming that something which actually cost £7.50 was £750. He had to phone his friend while Melissa was in the toilet to borrow some money).

Robert & Paullette

While Paullette currently earns £5,000 more than her husband, he confesses that “I’d always want to earn more, to look after my wife”. His dream is to earn enough money so that his wife no longer has to work, and can spend her days doing what she enjoys. He’s adamant that not a traditionalist - he’s happy for Paullette to earn more than him, just not at all of the time.

It’s safe to say that no one really likes talking about money, particularly when it comes to debt. It can put a real strain on your relationship, and with household debts on the rise in the UK, it’s something to address sooner rather than later.

Jon & Kelly

Kelly was honest with Jon about her debt situation when they met. “I had three credit cards”, she admits with girlish embarrassment, whereas Jon had never owned a credit card. But her approach to debt (“look at all this free money you could get!”) has definitely changed since being with Jon - she’s now got two credit cards but only uses one. Jon’s also taken out a credit card in order to build his credit score, but is conscious of staying on top of his repayments so his debt doesn’t spiral.

Melissa & Johannes

Melissa and Johannes are careful only to borrow money for necessities. “We try to avoid [debt], we’re a bit extremist” - so much so that they wanted to buy their house without a mortgage.

Before they got married, Melissa and Johannes sat down to have a proper conversation about their respective debts. They asked each other what debts they had and mapped out how they planned to spend their money moving forwards, which has informed the mature approach they take towards their finances now.

However you choose to manage your money, one thing’s clear: being open with your partner is the best way to tackle your differences. 65% of women say they don’t like talking about money, but as soon as your partner’s finances are beginning to intertwine with your own it’s best to be upfront with each other so you know where you both stand and what ‘financial baggage’ you’re bringing.

If you’re not sure how to have the chat in a sensitive and non-accusational way, have a read of Relate’s guide on how to start talking about money.

Opening up about money can be scary, but it’s also empowering. Financial journalist Alex Holder says that talking about money helped her to take control of it. “I no longer feel that 3am anxiety about it that I used to” she says with relief.

Crucially, Holder advises not to only talk about money when it’s stressful, as this can fuel the conversation with a negative energy from the offset. Money is a fundamental part of everyday life, and so should be treated as normally as a discussion about what you and your partner are having for dinner.

You could follow the three account principal: mine, yours, and ours.

Your paycheck goes into your account, their paycheck goes into their account. And you both sit down and have an important conversation about how much you will each contribute to the joint (“our”) account each month, how it will be used, and any goals for the savings you accumulate together.

The personal accounts ensure you can both continue your individual spending habits guilt-free and fund any personal savings goals. Meanwhile, you are both working together to meet shared expenses and goals with the joint account.

A joint account is primarily used to budget for couples living together, married or unmarried. Many use the joint account to pay for shared household expenses, like the rent or mortgage and utility bills.

If you are budgeting for two incomes, some experts advise splitting these basic expenses 50/50, while others suggest splitting the expenses relative to your incomes (if your partner earns more, they pay a relatively greater share).

If possible, discuss with your partner the idea of depositing more than the expected bills into the joint account each month. The reason is that unexpected joint expenses come up all the time, and it’s helpful to be prepared. And if there is any money left over that month, leave it there as a buffer for future expenses and a source of joint savings.

Track your joint spending

The best way to budget as a couple is with some kind of oversight of joint spending. Fortunately, there are many easy ways to track spending and savings as a couple. Here are some common choices:

Use a budgeting app

If you can’t imagine leaving the house without your phone, why not make the most of it and use it to help you sort your finances. There are lots of apps out there that can help you with your budget. MoneyDashboardPennies and Wally are just some of the apps made to help you keep track of your spending and budget. They are free to download and easy to use.

A good old fashioned spreadsheet

A favourite low tech solution is a spreadsheet from Excel or Google Sheets. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You may find this a good complement to budgeting apps, particularly to track unusual expenses one person covered with a personal account but agree should be split a costs. For example, an unexpected home repair or vet bill. At the end of the month, total it up and use the joint to reimburse.

This has the benefit of transparency, accountability, and it sparks regular discussion about spending habits and goals.

Communicate, communicate and communicate

No matter what tool you use, the best tip for how to handle finances as a couple is open honest communication.

Budgeting as couples can be a source of stress and cause arguments, and these conversations can be awkward or intense no matter how long you have been in a relationship. But it’s worth it. You won’t regret coming up with a solid plan to address your budget.

So don’t be afraid to regularly check in with each other to discuss your financial needs, goals and realities. And remember that you are ultimately working as a team to align priorities. That includes agreement on household expenses, kids, debt, buying big items like house and cars, and retirement goals.

Finally, don’t be afraid to seek professional help from a financial advisor to help guide the conversation. It’s hard to argue with an unbiased third party, and they can help set you on the right course to meet near-term and long-term goals.

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Written by Frankie Jones


Frankie takes the often confusing world of finance and makes it clear and simple, to help you get your money sorted.