3 Simple Ways to Split Bills With Your Spouse

By Mikey Rox on 15 September 2015 21 comments

Even the happiest couples have arguments: Disagreements on how to raise the kids (I vote for boarding school), how to divvy up household chores ("Oh no, honey, let me clean that for you… again"), or even where to live (like as far away from the in-laws as possible). But those arguments are child's play compared to the mother of all head-butting in a relationship — money.

Managing dual incomes and household expenses gets tricky, and there's no one foolproof strategy that'll work for everyone. If one spouse works while the other stays home, there typically isn't an issue of who pays what and how much they contribute — the working spouse usually handles it all. But when both spouses work and split expenses, coming up with a fair and reasonable plan is important if you want to prevent financial resentment and money fights from ruining your relationship.

1. Take Inventory

I think it's funny how some spouses can talk about everything under the sun, yet clam up when the discussion turns to money. Sometimes I just want to shake 'em. If I'm talking about you, listen up: You can't keep your head stuck in the sand. For a happy financial life with your spouse, you have to get candid and have these conversations, even though they may be uncomfortable. This isn't the time to be embarrassed about your credit card debt or the fact that you bring in considerably less. Before you can even think about splitting bills, you have to know what's coming in and what's going out.

"Sit down with your spouse and take inventory," says Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, CPC Certified Coach. "While some bills will be different each month, you should be able to come up with a realistic range." This includes adding up your combined income, plus the total cost of fixed and variable household expenses, such as the rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, transportation, insurances, etc."

In this discussion, you also should decide which expenses to include in the split. You might agree to only split household expenses and make each of you responsible for your own personal expenses like student loans, credit cards, haircuts, or manicures. Which I recommend, by the way. You'll resent your spouse the first time he or she holds these expenses over your head if they're the one footing those bills. Cut back or man up; those are the only two choices you have.

2. Have Realistic Expectations

When splitting bills with your spouse, problems can arise when there are unrealistic expectations. It might seem logical to have a 50–50 split, with each spouse contributing an equal share to joint expenses. But this approach only works when both parties earn similar incomes. Think about this: If you earn $7,000 a month, your spouse earns $3,000 a month, and your shared expenses come to $3,000 a month, splitting the bills down the middle doesn't make a whole lot of sense. This approach ends with your spouse spending half of his or her income on household expenses while you only spend 20% of your income.

David Bakke, a personal finance expert at Money Crashers, recommends a different plan.

"A more fair way to split bills is for each spouse to pay a percentage according to how much they make," he says. "If one spouse makes 65% of the total household income, that's how much of the bills he or she is responsible for."

This strategy ensures there's enough cashflow to cover household expenses, but allows each spouse discretionary income for personal expenses and building their personal nest egg, whether it's preparing for retirement or increasing their personal savings account.

3. Shared Expense Account or Separate Bills

Once you decide how much each person will contribute, the next step is deciding whether you'll have a single account for shared expenses, or pay your own set of bills from your own personal accounts. There's really no right or wrong way to handle this.

With a shared expense account, you both contribute a set percentage and pay all bills from one account. It can work — just know that having a shared expense account means a lot of back-and-forth communication. There has to be enough money in this account at all times to cover your bills, and you must trust that your spouse doesn't take from this account unnecessarily, which can result in insufficient funds and overdraft fees.

Another strategy, which can be just as effective, is deciding which set of bills you're responsible for, and then paying these bills from your own account.

"Under this strategy, each person maintains his or her own separate account and identifies which expenses each spouse will be responsible for, thereby, keeping a black curtain over accounts and maintaining maximum financial independence," says Andrea Rizk, founder and CEO of Risk Public Relations.

This doesn't mean you're out of the loop with regard to expenses you don't pay. Some couples avoid this strategy because they feel financial problems can easily fall under the radar. If their spouse gets behind on a utility payment or the car payment, they want to know as soon as possible. This is perfectly understandable.

So that you don't have any surprises later on, you and your spouse can agree to have your own set of bills, but also agree to manage all shared expenses online. You'll both hold the passwords to these accounts, giving you the freedom to check the payment status of accounts at any time.

Do you split bills with your spouse? How do you make it work in your house? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture
sc couople

My wife and I have been married for just over 20 years and we have never had a joint account of any type. We also have never had an argument about money. We knew before we got married that money was one of the biggest problems so we decided to do it differently. We look at how much we make and split the bills based on our salaries (without any side gigs).

I helped her get out of debt when we were dating/engaged and from then on we have had separate expenses. If she wants to buy more clothes with any of her remaining money that's her choice, I don't care. If I buy electronics, that's my choice.

When it comes to travel etc we generally split the cost except for dining. I say that 80% of the time I pay, but that's my choice.

We are both really careful and are trying to plan for an early retirement so that helps with spending. Like minded people :)

Guest's picture
Guest

I like your approach. Would you mind sharing more details about how it works exactly? Would like to try to implement it. Thanks!

Guest's picture
Guest

When I got married I did the same thing. I already owned a home. I helped her pay off her debt and so on.

Our problem can when it came to Saturday night and she wanted to go out with friends. As a good husband I went along happily. Here is where it got tricky: When it came to paying the bill she would say, "Sorry honey, I already spent my personal money for the week. You have to cover dinner"

This went on for a while. She would spend her personal money on cloths or whatever, yet expect me to spend my personal money on things we did together. I eventually quit paying for these nights out.

She would go out anyway and let someone else pick up the tab. This became a problem for me. Other people paying my wife's way. Then, all I heard from her was "You never take me anywhere".

I felt I was in a no win situation. Then I found all the new credit cards and money missing from the house account. When they act like children, sometimes you have to treat them like children. I tried everything I knew to try.

I eventually ended up paying one huge check to get out of this lesson I had to learn the hard way.

The lesson here is never listen to what they say. Pay attention to what they do. When you see the red flags, run. And run fast and far. Love does not conquer stupidity.

I am not sure who the stupid one was though.

Guest's picture
Guest

My spouse and I earn approximately the same income, we get our paychecks deposited directly into a joint checking account and pay all bills and investments from it, whatever is leftover we use for spending. Luckily we both have similar values when it comes to money.

Guest's picture
fred smith

My wife and I were fairly equal in income. I paid the mortgage, she paid the rest except food which we split. Worked out pretty good.

Guest's picture
Guest

In the end all the bills are ours so should be the family income.

Guest's picture
Guest

These all seem to be pretty good ideas, what do you do about the house payment. Io have owned the house for years and the payment is less than $550.00 a month. I don't think it is fair for her to expect to only pay $275.00 a month for a house that would rent for $3,000 a month.

Is it fair to expect her to pay half of what the rent would be? What if my payment was $3,500 a month. Is it fair to ask her to pay half of that. She pays $1,800 a month where she is now. Hell, $1,500 seems like a good deal because now it is a house, not an apartment.

I am open to suggestions. I don't want to be a jerk, but I don't want to be taken advantage of either.

What do you think?

Guest's picture
Guest

How are you being taken advantage of if she pays $275 & splits your cost in half? Costs you've had for years? It seems to me, if you charge her market rates for rent, especially if it creates $1,000 a in month profit, you are taking advantage of her. I guess it depends on the nature of the relationship. Getting married or living together? Are you testing the waters for marriage or planning to live together indefinitely? How would you treat your best friend, a family member, or a stranger? Do you want to be a landlord or a life partner? I don't need to know, but I think these are questions you need to ask yourself. You also need to ask an accountant about rental income & the IRS & maybe talk to a lawyer about domestic partnership agreements and landlord/tenant laws. You may not be able to just kick her out if you break up, especially if you are making a big profit off of her.

Guest's picture
That damn Candace

Are you talking about a roommate or an actual mate? Why would you OVER charge someone you are going to marry one day? Really... Charging her the value rate is obsurd. I hope i am reading this wrong.

Guest's picture
Guest

If she's your wife how could that be taking advantage. You sound like a jerk to me sorry to say that.

Guest's picture
Kim

I'm sure you got s lot of comments on what you wrote. So you don't want to be taken advantage of YOU JUST WANT TO MAKE A PROFIT OFF YOUR WIFE? Why don't you just rent out that house and really get 3000 a month and let your wife find somewhere else to live. Hopefully not with you. Yeah you're a jerk.

Guest's picture
Guest

Ok, so why is the home owner a jerk? If he decided to refinance, and take out all the equity and invest it for a retirement plan, should the decision to ask the significant other to split the new monthly payment now be fair? The home owner has done a good job by having a very favorable cost of ownership by purchasing an ever increasing asset, made years ago. Why should another person reap the same ownership rights, as the true owner has?
What if the home owner sold the house, and the couple now buys a new home together. Should the owner of the previous home be required to foot the bill on putting all the equity on a new home, while the GF or wife leaves their cash in the bank? That wouldn't be fair right? Of course it wouldn't be. That's why asking for the non-home owner to pay more than half the payment in the existing home is proper, because the equity in the home has value and controlled by the home owner and should count toward his share as an expense. Just my view, but think it certainly makes sense.

Guest's picture
guest

Interesting discussions. As to the last poster, i wish someone else had commented on his situation as mine is similar. I have read many posts on what is fair and everyone says talk to your better half. Regardless of that discussion it is still hard to know what is fair. I am moving in with my significant other, we make similar salaries and i have no idea what i should be paying. My current rent is 1250$ but used to have a beautiful 2 story that i lived in by myself and my mortgage was 1200$. His house is not as nice and he has a mortgage. He wants me to pay half mortgage, half property tax and half utilities. Is that fair? my name won't be on the mortgage as we plan to buy a new home and his mortgage is relatively low. I think 1500$ is greedy myself but 275$ is too low. Either buy into the equity on the home or sell it and invest equally in a new one. Alternatively maybe the equivalent of what she would be willing to pay on a one-bedroom apt in the area. Or all utilities and half groceries.

Guest's picture
Guest

Why wouldn't you pay half if you are sharing the place? If you are sharing bills and make similar wages I think it is perfect if you either split all bills down the middle or choose a few bills each that equal out.
The reality is usually you pay less for a mortgage than for rent, based on a 30 year loan. Also, if you are opposed to paying half what happens if something g breaks? Will you help out with that? If not I think you should pay slightly more than half, as the true cost to maintain the house incurs fixing it also.
And if you are planning on buying into a new place you better get those problems hashe'd out or you will really regret it. Regardless of what you do on the home, what you determine as household responsibilities should be shared equally.
Now any past debt or assets would be another discussion, if those things are not resolved first resentment can eat away at a relationship.
I like how Suzie Orman approaches money, helping each other in the good and bad of times and learn to work together.

Guest's picture
Alan

Both my wife and I have been married since 2000. I have always been generous to a fault. I allow her to make a decision about things even though I know it's not the right one. That's me, my choice. We had to sell our first house together as she didn't want to work full time and I couldn't do it on my own. I have always paid the lion's share of the household expenses and not worried about it until now. Fast forward 16yrs and we are earn around about the same, with my wife on a little more take home. All but £100 of my wage goes to pay the rent. My wife pays the bills. Runs a car, smokes and buys clothes every month and can still save money every month? I claimed the % shared as a married couple seem a little unfair and sudgested we split everything down the middle, that way we could both have available finances to entertain etc........ She flipped. Went into a big argument. Am I being unreasonable at thinking the 85 / 15 split is unfair. Or is she right saying that "Your the husband, it's Your job to provide".

Guest's picture
Guest

My girlfriend and I take all of our monthly bills and add it up, divide it by four since we both get paid twice a month and then our own personally recurring bills divide those up by two. And deposit that added amount into a "bill account" each paycheck. Most of the time this has done the trick but it seems like theirs some missing equation that Mike make it easier if it were added to the formula (hence why I got here after a google search).

Guest's picture
Guest

What do you think about each person contributing the same percentage of their income to a joint account to pay off shared expenses and keeping the remainder for their personal expenses? So, for example, Jane contributes 40% of $110,000 and Dan also contributes 40% of $60,000. Is this different or more fair than another option suggested?

Guest's picture
Guest

I believe that's exactly what the article states. Its totally fair. Proceed with your plan.

Guest's picture
Tracy

My bf pays me $200 in rent, I am paying on my mortgage I make about 600 more a month than him but he doesn't attribute to any other bills. I buy groceries and take care of all household maintenance and chores & cooking. I feel very used by this misguided person who doesn't add to the relationship. I have given him notice.

Guest's picture
Lora

I am a little late reading this article. I hope someone responds. So here is my dilemma. Since my wife and I first started dating, I have always made more money and have always paid for eating out, entertainment and vacations. She has always worked part time and has struggled to even pay her own personal bills. She has been trying to make steps to get full time work and better pay but the process seems to be going slowly. Now that we live together, I have been paying most of the bills, including the eating out, entertainment, groceries, etc. I dont drive and havent had a car in 7 years. Her car broke down a month ago and so I had to buy her car and assume that note. The little bills she wanted to contribute to, she has been unable to contribute over the past few months. This has been such an issue in our marriage bc she has been using her dads money to fund her personal things like clothes and cigarettes, yet she is unable to contribute to our lifestyle.

It makes me feel exhausted and used up. ALthough, she assures me she is not using me, she just doesnt know what to do. Recently the realtor she works for sent her to real estate school to get her license and she is currrently studying to take her exam. Her dad recently had a stroke and is not having to transition into long term care. It just seems like there is always something. I love her dearly and want to continue to be a pillar of support, but I also need her to contribute not because I need her to but I dont want to feel alone in the marriage financially.

We sat down yesterday and are going to try to percentage rule. Basically, I will pay 84% and she will pay 16% of our joint bills. I will continue to pay for our entertainment expenses. I hope this helps. ANy thoughts?

Guest's picture
MELVIN

Me and my wife split the bills we each put up the same amount.The problem is my wife makes more then me also I have more expenses coming out of my check.she getting ready to get a promotion and I'm starting to get resentments.she has savings all my money goes towards bills.