Managing money as a couple: All's fair in love and…budgeting?

Couples pose for a photograph during the Valentine's Day in London, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024.
Couples pose for a photograph during the Valentine's Day in London, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. Copyright Kin Cheung/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Kin Cheung/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Eleanor Butler
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As the norms of relationships are changing, so is the way we're deciding to manage our money.


When it comes to handling household finances, couples are increasingly choosing to keep their money apart - whether they're married or not.

According to UK data released by TSB bank, just one in eight people in a couple share all their finances with their partner, compared with two in five who keep their money entirely separate.

"In decades gone by, it used to be that the man would take control of the overall finances of the family, and then the women would be in control of the household budget," said Alice Haine, Personal Finance Analyst at Evelyn Partners.

The idea that one partner should hold a couple's purse strings is one that has been historically dominant.

Traditionally, the figure of the male breadwinner comes hand in hand with the spectre of the "kept" wife, whose autonomy is limited to spending within her allowance.

This scenario is no longer the norm, at least in most Western countries.

Women's political wins, such as gaining the right to own money or to earn a wage, have contributed to a more equal division of the household budget.

The impermanence of marriage, as well as the increased number of non-heterosexual relationships, is further contributing to a shift in traditional financial dynamics.

"People are more likely to have several partners over the course of a lifetime," said Alice Haine.

"Having that joint account because you're going to get married at 20 and you're going to stay with that person for 60 years … that doesn't happen as commonly as it used to."

Financial deception and coercion

One of the reasons why someone may want to limit asset sharing is if they have experienced financial trauma in a previous relationship.

In the UK, 16% of adults say they have been subject to economic abuse, meaning they have been prevented from freely managing their money.

This manipulation can manifest itself in the rationing of funds, but abusers may also force their partner to take on a loan against their will.

While some countries do offer legal protection against coerced debt, it can sometimes leave survivors of abuse financially crippled for years, whilst also having drastic effects on their credit scores.

Another overlapping form of financial manipulation stems from dishonesty surrounding money.

When partners have combined finances, it's far easier for one person to rack up huge expenditures without notifying the other partner, or while lying about the use of money.

According to data published in 2023 by law firm Weightmans, 17% of Brits surveyed said their partners had lied to them about debt.

In the same findings, 9% of respondents said they had more than £1,000 in secret savings, hidden away from their partners.


Wage and employment disparity

During the course of marriage, separate accounts can provide a level of financial privacy, but this can ultimately be taken away if the relationship ends.

While there are a number of country-specific laws, married couples often have joint legal ownership of wealth acquired during a marriage.

This is regardless of who accumulated it.

Divorce can be a messy affair when it comes to choosing "who gets what" but the principle of marital asset sharing seeks to acknowledge the division of labour within long-term relationships.

Partners may have two separate income streams, but bills ultimately become blurred along the way - especially when a house or children come along.


Tensions can often arise in relationships where one person earns more than the other.

In these cases, especially in the case of stay-at-home partners, the significance of domestic work mustn't be overlooked.

"[In heterosexual relationships], the increased individualisation of finances can cause women to lose out," said Fran Bennett, Associate Fellow at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at Oxford University, noting how household bills and fees can often land in women's laps.

Financial awareness and teamwork

When it comes to managing joint finances, it's not uncommon for one partner to do everything, although financial advisers warn against this approach.

"You need to make sure that both sides of the partnership are understanding what big financial decisions are being made, what debts you possibly have, what savings you have, and what your investment strategies are," said Alice Haine.


This means that, regardless of what happens in a relationship, each partner will be better placed to weather financial difficulties.

"Autonomy is not selfish or isolated individualism," added Fran Bennett, "but rather the basis of healthy relationships".

Maintaining personal financial stability and sharing expenses doesn't have to be a contradiction, although it may just take a bit of work.

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