By Robert C. Jameson, PhD
If we go back 50 years or so, we find a “normal” couple with the husband going off to work, while the wife stayed home working around the house and taking care of the kids. Typically, the husband brought home all the money. When he brought his pay check home on Friday, he either gave the money to his wife to manage the finances, while taking a weekly allowance for his expenses, or he managed all the finances giving his wife a weekly allowance her expenses. That’s the way it was. It all worked pretty well, since there was an agreed understanding on how the money was to be handled.
Then the world changed! Today, in most families, both partners are working and bringing home separate pay checks. What to do? How can couples lovingly deal with money in 2021?
I usually see couples using two different systems. In one system, a couple deposits all of their money into one account and the money belongs to everybody. “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine.” This often creates resentment, because, “Maybe you put in more money than me, and you don’t feel it’s fair that I just bought this new pair of $450.00 shoes. You’re upset because I didn’t ask you first. And besides, you have been depriving yourself of that new belt you have been eyeing because it cost $75.00. I feel insulted because I’m an adult and I don’t feel I need to ask for permission to buy a new pair of shoes. Who are you to say I can’t buy them? I work!” We fight and fight, and ugh. This system doesn’t seem to create intimacy. It doesn’t work too well.
In the second system, both partners have their own accounts and they don’t mix their money at all. “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours.” The good news is each person takes care of their own bills and as long as they fulfill their financial commitment to the relationship, they can buy whatever they want. They often split the expenses. One pays the mortgage or rent, while the other buys the food and pays for the utilities. This system also seems to create resentment. “You never turn off the lights! I pay for them!” “You always buy too much food and it goes bad in the refrigerator. If you’re not going to eat it don’t buy it, and no, we’re not buying lobster again this week!” Or, the other partner feels there’s an imbalance in what they pay for the mortgage or rent verses the cost of food and utilities. Beside the resentment factor, this system does not create a sense of bonding that we’re in this together working as a team toward a common goal.” The sense of couple or family tends to get lost.
When I look at a couple I see three entities. I see each partner as individuals and I see the relationship. Each one of these entities needs it’s own space, time and money. It’s not exactly 1/3, 1/3, 1/3. There is what I call a “flexible balance.” What I mean by this is that sometimes the relationship itself is the center of focus and it gets 55% of the space, time and money. At other times, when maybe one of the partners is sick or has a serious deadline at work, that partner would get 60% of the space, time and money. There is an understanding that things change depending on what’s going on in the moment. And, there’s also an attempt to create a balance with the three entities. When a couple creates this type of system, resentment and hurt often diminish, while intimacy and loving increases.
If a couple uses this type of system with their money, then some wonderful things can happen. Let’s say a couple’s monthly expenses are $1,500.00 a month. (Wouldn’t that be nice?) I know it’s more than that, but for simplicity sake let’s just use that number. When I think of monthly expenses I’m thinking of the rent or mortgage, utilities, phone, food, insurance, entertainment, and any other monthly expense the couple or family experiences. This number is usually pretty constant although it can change a bit. The number doesn’t have to be exact. You can always raise or lower it after a month or two. Sitting down and coming up with this number can be a scary process for some couples. It can also be a very intimate and exciting time where a couple can realistically look at where they are financially and where they want to go together.
After the couple knows what their monthly expenses are, how do they split them up? If they basically make the same, then it’s very simple. They both put $750.00 a month into the kitty. If one partner makes twice what the other makes, then one partner puts in $500.00 and the other puts in $1,000.00. They each pay the appropriate percentage based on their income. This means they are both contributing toward the common goals of the relationship, and they both have their own money to use however they wish to use it. No one needs to ask permission to buy an item. If one partner wants to treat the other to breakfast, a movie, or to buy a gift, it’s a romantic gesture. Using this system, the couple, as well as, each of the partners are taken into consideration. Intimacy and loving are created. This system also works with families where children are involved. It just needs a bit of modifying to account for all of the members in the family.
There is another aspect to money that I would like to address. Some people can get very petty when it comes to keeping track of money. They want to balance it out to the penny. This is important to know. Some people want to ignore this and that’s when they get into trouble. The question in my mind is: “How do we use this information to create more loving and intimacy in the relationship?” I would suggest that you have fun with it. There is a part of us that I call the “Basic Self” and it’s that part that keeps track of the money. The Basic Self’s job is to keep us alive and money – being energy or a source of energy – is important if we are to survive on this planet. Therefore, from the Basic Self’s point of view, tracking money is just its way of making sure no one dies. So, if a couple embraces the tracking of money as a way of supporting each others survival, the idea of counting dollars becomes a powerful way to say “I love you” to each other. They can feel like they are working together so they can not only survive, but thrive – together!
So, please count your money together. When you do you are saying to each other: “I love you. I care about you. I want to create a space where we can share our lives together.” Joy is present and all aspects of you, even your Basic Self, will be smiling.
Robert C. Jameson, MFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He focuses on helping clients understand and overcome issues, such as anger, hurt, depression, anxiety, love, relationships, boundaries and limiting beliefs, to name a few. During his years of private practice, Mr. Jameson found it useful to give many of his clients “homework” in the form of handouts to support their work while in session. The Keys to Joy-Filled Living was born from his handouts of tried and true exercises and techniques – http://www.thekeystojoyfilledliving.com