In any relationship, you want to treat each other as equals and balance the give and take required to keep things moving. When it comes to money, though, should everything be split 50/50?
This can seem like an attractive option when you want to keep things "equal," but is it the best option for your relationship?
In the initial stages of any romantic courtship, splitting things down the middle may seem like the right thing. As you evolve from dating to more serious — like moving in together or getting married — splitting things down the middle doesn’t always make much sense.
If one person is bringing in $6,000 per month and the other is bringing in $3,000 per month, splitting things down the middle is decidedly worse for the lower-income earner and can negatively affect their finances.
If one person has debt and the other doesn’t, it may be tough to make progress on that debt if stuck to the confines of splitting everything down the middle.
So what should you do?
Every situation is different.
“There are no right or wrong answers on how to split expenses. The important thing is to be on the same page whatever you agree upon and stick to it,” says David Rae, a Los Angeles-based Certified Financial Planner with Trilogy Financial.
As a couple, it’s important to work as a team to discuss what financial breakdown works for both of you.
If splitting things 50/50 in your relationship is starting to feel, well, a little unequal there are alternative arrangements that you can consider.
“There are a myriad number of ways that couples handle income disparities,” says relationship expert April Masini.
These options can actually work in your favor and make things more manageable for you as a couple.
“I think a better way to split expenses is based on your relative incomes,” says Rae. “The person with a larger income would pay a bit more of the joint expenses.”
Instead of splitting things down the middle, you can conquer your costs at different percentages, like 60/40 or 70/30. It can be tough to decide what that percentage might be but look at each of your incomes to determine what might be the best fit. You can try out a new arrangement and always tweak it as you go.
Another option to consider is basing your arrangement on disposable income as well, considering other factors like student loan debt, credit card debt, etc.
“Other couples split expenses based on their disposable income,” says Rae. “For example, the lawyer may have a much higher income, but they may be paying off several hundred thousand dollars in student loans.”
In this scenario, the lawyer may make six-figures, but also have six-figures in debt they’re trying to pay off. On the surface it seems like they should pay more, but if the partner has no debt they actually may have more disposable income to contribute more to joint expenses.
Another option is to consider non-financial contributions to the household as well.
“Some [couples] put a dollar amount on unpaid contributions to the relationship and settle up that way,” says Masini.
So for example, one partner may pay more, while the other pays less but contributes more to household duties like cooking, cleaning, laundry, and childcare.
Going from splitting things 50/50 and moving toward a new agreement can be tough. Splitting things down the middle might feel like the right thing to do and discussing a new arrangement can be a sensitive topic to bring up — especially if you’re the one that would be paying less.
If you want to try an alternative arrangement, sit down with your partner and go over your finances together and suggest trying out a new method that can help both of you.
Even though it sounds counterintuitive, moving away from splitting things 50/50 might be more equitable. It’s all about communicating and coming up with a plan together.
“One way to overcome a strict 50/50 split in spending, which is a pretty impossible task, is to create a relationship financial plan,” says Masini. Look at your respective spending and see where you both stand. Ultimately, you want to be on the same page with your joint expenses and personal goals, while supporting each other.
Navigating your finances as a couple can be tough. Shifting things from 50/50 to a different arrangement can seem like uncharted territory, but can help you as a couple to support each other financially and make things work.
“Best piece of advice I can give is to not ignore your joint finances,” says Rae. “If you can’t figure it out on your own sit down with a Fiduciary Financial Planner who can be an impartial third party to help you decide if you really need another pair of shoes or new golf clubs.”
A financial professional can help you navigate your financial life together so that you’re both on the same page, working toward the same goals.
Whatever you decide, focus on communication and making sure you’re on the same page. Like any relationship, managing money also requires evolution — and to have a shot at happily ever after, sometimes you need to change things up with your money.
Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer who has written extensively about personal finance with a focus on debt. Her work has appeared on Credit Karma, Student Loan Hero and Business Insider, among others.