Is your lover your financial partner too?

Earlier this week, Gail Vaz-Oxlade posted a sticky situation from one of her readers. While the situation wasn’t exactly unique, it did get me thinking about my own experiences being in a relationship, and how the management of money can indeed be sticky.

First, here’s the bit that made me go hmmm….

My partner does not fully support the “getting out of debt” plan.  He says he does but then really doesn’t embrace it.  We have no joint debt however we do have our own from our past lives. We also have a joint bank account for “joint expenses”.  I am just starting this journey and am quite able to do it on my own, but how do you deal with this situation effectively while contributing jointly?

This really got me thinking.  My first, gut reaction was this relationship can’t withstand this tension. It may be an annoyance and a source of frustration now, but add three to five years on this, and you’ve got resentment, bitterness, blame and all sorts of nasty things.

It made me think of the financial arrangement I had in my most recent relationship. It was an arrangement that I totally agreed to and encouraged in the beginning, but as it played out, it created tension for me. I was cohabitating with my boyfriend. We weren’t married. We signed a co-habitation agreement (at my insistence) before moving in.

Here’s the Coles Notes view of our arrangement:

  • the home we purchased was to be a 50/50 deal when the final mortgage payment was made. He had more of a down payment than I did, I earned more money than he did. We agreed I’d pay more toward the mortgage payments so that when the last payment was made, we’d both have invested 50% ownership. We created a spreadsheet to detail each payment, and how much equity we both held with each payment.
  • household expenditures would be split evenly down the middle. This meant utilities, cable, phone, repairs, renovations, home decor, lawn and garden expenses, booze and groceries. This was a pretty good deal for me because there was one of him, and I had one teenager residing with me when we entered into this relationship.
  • any previous assets we held were ours and ours alone. This included my rental property, an inheritance he held, our individual RSPs, etc.
  • financial responsibility for my children was mine. After all, they still had a Dad and he had a responsibility for them as well.
  • before we moved in, he had purchased a used vehicle, and I offered to pay him monthly in order for the vehicle to be jointly owned by us both. I sold my vehicle.

For the first while, this arrangement seemed totally reasonable and equitable.We communicated about money. We communicated about financial priorities.

Eventually though, despite being partners in a relationship, we were living two distinct financial realities.

He was able to save money. I was digging into my line of credit.

He bought his lunch every day at work from his own coffers. I made mine and took it with me from our jointly purchased groceries.

My eldest went away to college, and I was paying half the bill, along with her Dad. I had to borrow in order to pay for tuition, books, residence, meal plan, etc.

When we went out for dinner as a family, I was paying for my meal and either one or two more. He was paying for one. He wanted to dine out more often. Eventually I had to say I couldn’t afford it.

Same thing if we wanted to go to a show, or a theatre production or any event. His cost of admission was one, mine was two or three. Again, I had to say that I couldn’t do it.

At first I think he thought I was kidding. I had my own spreadsheet and had calculated my budget a year ahead. I knew I wasn’t kidding. I was at the end of my financial rope. He wanted to do more stuff (that came with a price tag, like travel), I had to pay for hair cuts, school clothes, winter boots, school trips, bus tickets for kids, etc.

If things needed repair around the house, or we spotted something that was just ‘nice to have’, I had to be the bad cop. I couldn’t save a nickel, and he was plowing money into GICs. We lived in the same house, ate the same food, drank the same wine. Eventually, I drank more wine.

I realized that the plan I totally embraced and agreed to was making me crazy. In theory, it sounded equitable. It looks equitable still. I think it’d be good for roommates, perhaps not lovers/partners.

There is some notion in my head that says if you’re going to be with me, we’re going to share our lives in every way. My life is complicated. I have two daughters with chronic diseases, and although they’re having a great year health wise, there will be times when things get pretty dark. It’s just a matter of when, and what the scope is. On the financial side, I feel like I’m being wishy washy when I say I want to be independent financially and not have to depend on somebody else to sustain me, but I don’t want my lover/partner to live a distinct financial life from me either.

I didn’t like going out to dinner trying to calculate my portion and making the wait staff deal with settling our tab as a family in the same manner as they would when four colleagues go out for drinks after work. I didn’t like my daughters witnessing it either.

We told everybody we were a couple, but really, we were more like friends with benefits. We told people we were partners. Why didn’t it feel that way?

This wasn’t the only reason the relationship didn’t survive, nor was it even an issue in our relationship that I spoke about. But I do think about this often, and how it bothered me to live with a plan I thought was perfect.

Am I a princess? Am I too independent? I’m expecting some heat again.

The finances seemed simpler when I was married. We both came into marriage with nothing, and everything we had was ours. Sure, we messed stuff up and bounced cheques in the early days and made some stupid decisions, but it was all from a united front. The deal I signed up for after marriage didn’t suit me at all.

I have this need to feel safe and know that those I love are also safe. Hence the fierce independence thing. If I don’t depend on you, you can’t hurt me. I’ll take care of myself, thank you very much. Truthfully though, it does sound like a nice idea to be able to be in a situation where I’d be cared for, and I could trust that. I don’t mean just financially, I mean in the broadest spectrum possible. Some of the elements of our arrangement made me feel like an island.

This is a big part of the reason why I choose to remain single for now, while the kids are at home. My priorities are for our little family. My pea size brain isn’t big enough to figure out how to incorporate somebody else in there.

That’s why I think the sticky situation noted by Gail’s reader is particularly sticky. Unless there’s a mutual resolution, I think it’s doomed.

What do you think of it all?

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One response to this post.

  1. At this point, my hubby IS a great financial partner – completely interested in how I’m sorting out the money but at the same time, he recognizes that it’s “my project”, so he lets me do what I want to, and just enjoys knowing I’m doing a good job. When I fill the jars, he’s right on board with not spending more than what we have available, and he only uses his debit card for the expenses we have discussed in advance – otherwise, all money spent goes through the jars. He’s very much on board.

    As for division of expenses – doesn’t happen here. Our money is pooled and shared 100%. All our accounts are joint, except for the ones that aren’t allowed to be joint – his RRSP’s, my (spousal and personal) RRSP’s, his TFSA, my TFSA. – otherwise, completely pooled, and we trust each other 110%.

    Reply

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