Being on the same page financially is essential within a relationship, particularly now, with the cost of living crisis putting household budgets under unprecedented pressure.
The squeeze on finances has inevitably taken its toll on some couples, whether it is the strain caused by higher housing costs or disagreements about reining in spending. A recent survey from the credit card brand Aqua found that about 35% of UK couples admitted that the current financial pressures had put a strain on their relationship, with 28% of respondents saying that the cost of living crisis had led to them arguing about money more frequently.
So how do couples manage their finances in order to avoid locking horns? Do they pool their incomes or keep things separate? Do they save together or as individuals? And what impact has the cost of living crisis had?
Another survey, from F&C Investment Trust, found that 51% of UK couples do not share a joint bank account with their partner, with younger people more likely to keep their finances separate, while six in 10 couples do not have a joint savings account, despite many sharing the same or similar long-term goals such as buying a house, starting a family or booking the trip of a lifetime.
Of course, managing money as a couple will be different for everyone – there’s no one right or wrong answer. We asked six couples from different generations, with different backgrounds and financial situations, to share their stories. Here’s what they said.
‘I’ve already reworked our spreadsheet according to the worst-case scenario mortgage costs next year’
Anna*, 33, and James*, 32
Anna, a planning manager, and James, an editorial manager, aren’t married. They own a house together.
Anna: “We both have personal accounts, which our salaries go into, and then we have a joint account from which we pay our mortgage and bills, split proportionately according to our salaries. Each month we transfer what’s needed into the joint account, and then what’s left in our personal accounts is our own. If one of us buys something for the house from their personal account, the other will transfer half. Or we alternate who picks up the bill.”
Anna says she wasn’t taught how to manage money growing up, so when she went to university and became financially independent: “It was a shock.”
She adds: “I’ve managed household bills for whichever group I’ve been living with, and it’s no different now I’m with James. I take care of everything because I don’t trust other people to be as organised as I am. I’ve already reworked the spreadsheet according to the worst-case scenario mortgage costs next year.
“I don’t think it’s unfair to say James isn’t the most organised, so it would be a bigger mental load for me to worry about whether things had been paid than just doing it myself – although he’s said he would like to be considered more capable and reliable. In return, he does more cooking and cleaning. He also says that because I’ve always earned more than him and worked hard to do so, he doesn’t think it’s fair or appropriate to see our combined earnings as shared.”
Anna says that even though she runs the household, “I’m historically ‘bad’ with my own money. I’m an impulsive spender after a childhood of growing up with very little. I’m comfortable with how to manage credit cards but I’ve always encouraged James to avoid them – I’d be worried he’d miss deadlines and get a bad credit rating, which would impact things like our remortgage.
“I’m trying to be less impulsive, so I do talk to James about any big spends. I never lie outright about spending but, sometimes, if it’s something I know we’ll both enjoy, I’ll secretly take on a higher share of the cost without him knowing.”
‘We’ve been caught in the endless cycle of repaying loans and credit cards’
Alex*, 40, and Harriet*, 40
Alex, a landscape gardener, and Harriet, an administrator at a secondary school, are married with two children, aged seven and three. They rent, and they have been on universal credit since their youngest child was born.
Alex: “My wife and I have separate accounts. I pay our monthly rent and she covers utility bills. Any other outgoings – for example, food – are shared. The vast majority of what we get from universal credit goes towards childcare. We don’t assign pocket money: any disposable cash we make through work – which is rare – we each get to keep.”
Alex says finances are a shared responsibility, “which works for us as we’re both in employment and don’t want to feel dependent on one another for money. That would bring a different and uncomfortable dynamic to the relationship. (Finances) are something we’ve been trying to manage better over the years. We’ve been caught in the endless cycle of repaying loans and credit cards, which is difficult to get out of and has resulted in poor credit scores.”
Alex says that being on universal credit has not affected how they spend their money because they are sensible in not spending beyond their means, but adds: “The fact we’re on universal credit has affected our self-worth and general mental health. Having to justify our finances every month at the jobcentre is embarrassing.
“It does mean, however, that we speak about our finances almost daily, so one positive is that we never hide how we spend our money and have a close understanding of where we both stand financially.”
‘My partner is good at gently reminding me there are some things we can’t afford’
Alice Ojeda, 31, and Daniel Redmond, 32
Alice, a small-business owner, and Daniel, an assistant manager at a student accommodation site, own a house together. They aren’t married.
Alice: “All our income is shared 50/50 but in separate accounts. From the start of our relationship, Daniel was against joint accounts. We keep our savings separate, too. Having my own savings makes me feel safer and puts me off buying things I don’t need. We might still pool our savings for holidays and big purchases, but only if we both want to. If we ever ended our relationship, each of us would have a pot to fall back on.”
Alice says Daniel takes care of the household finances because she manages the finances for her business. “He pays for the mortgage and we split the bills in half. Once a month, we sit with a coffee and scribbled numbers on a notebook and work out his surplus and my profits and then split them.”
When they first moved into their house, Daniel had a full-time job and Alice was starting her business. “As my savings ran down, he would cover our expenses and supplement me with spending money. Daniel was kind about it but did resent having to pay for everything. I also felt childish in this setup, with little to no visibility of household costs or ability to save. This period ended when my business started bringing in more income.
“The cost of living crisis has put pressure on my business, which, for a period, was our sole source of income. We both felt more anxious and restricted in what we could do, and, though things have improved for us, Daniel is still good at gently reminding me there are some things we can’t afford.”
Alice says: “At its heart, splitting our income but in separate accounts and having separate savings helps us balance power in our relationship. We’re equals.”
‘We chat about finances when cooking dinner or lying in bed’
Tash Penford, 23, and George Underdown, 23
Tash, a property administrator for a pensions firm, and George, a property executive for the same firm, rent a flat together. They got engaged at the end of 2022.
Tash: “We have separate bank accounts. We’d like to set up a joint account but never seem to find time to go into a branch together, and we can’t do it online.”
Tash says George is in charge of the bills and paying rent from his account, and they keep track of what she owes him. “Last week I set up a standing order to pay him for rent and council tax. We split things 50/50 but from September he’ll earn more, so we’ll adjust accordingly. He also tends to pay for most things when we’re out, and then I pay him back using an app called Splitwise. The only frustration is if he forgets to add things to the tally for a period of time – I hate being hit with a large bill.”
Tash says the only bill that comes out of her account is the TV licence fee, as she set that up. “I was in charge of bills in my university house, so I can do them, but I find the admin more stressful than he does.”
She adds: “We don’t have a regular time where we discuss finances – perhaps we should set one up now that we’re saving for a wedding. Currently, we chat about it when cooking dinner or lying in bed.
“The only moment of tension was when we were in the process of buying a house (which fell through) and we talked about me putting more money into the deposit than George due to inheriting family money. There wasn’t an argument, and George didn’t mind, but it felt awkward to bring up. When we got engaged, though, I felt more comfortable that our finances were shared because it felt like a promise to share everything for ever.”
‘Our weekly budget chats mean we’ve been able to save money in these challenging times’
Lucy*, 61, and Martin*, 64
Lucy and Martin are married and both retired within the last three years. They own a house together and have two adult children.
Lucy: “We have both a joint account and a joint savings account, as well as individual cash Isas and individual stocks and shares Isas, which (help) fund our retirement. We also have individual pension pots, which are paid into our joint account each month. Our mortgage was paid off 15 years ago.”
Lucy says that when they were both working, Martin managed the family finances. “It was a division of labour and talents: I ran the house and the responsibilities for the children as they were growing up and worked a full-time, demanding job. It worked for us, although I always felt somewhat distant from the budget, which in truth probably wasn’t healthy.
“Now we’ve both retired and our children have left home and are financially independent, we share the job. I have more time and head space to do this, plus retirement requires a different kind of money management, which we’ve learned together. My husband is delighted. We discuss the budget on Monday mornings over coffee, once the household jobs are done. My favourite part of the meeting is discussing where we can make savings – essential as we retired at the start of the economic downturn. Doing this, we’ve been able to save money in challenging economic times.”
Lucy says the way they run things works “because we have complete trust in one another and good financial communication. We hate lies and hiding things from each other as it destroys trust. Trust is everything.”
‘We have a similar attitude to money: we’re both a bit tight’
David and Tilele McLean, 39 and 38
David, a software developer, and Tilele, an environmental chemist, are married. They live together and have two children, aged two and seven months. They are now buying their first house together.
David: “We have a joint account into which both our salaries are paid and from which we pay all our bills. We have standing orders for our bills, so these require minimal management, but, if needed, I manage the household bills because I own the house we currently live in. Tilele manages childcare payments. We each have a credit card that gets paid off each month, which prevents the main account from getting ‘spammed’ with small daily purchases.”
The couple have one savings account, in Tilele’s name, which they use for big purchases.
David says: “We’re fortunate that the cost of living crisis hasn’t impacted us too badly yet, though we’re about to take on a larger mortgage, which will give us less wriggle room.”
He adds that they can’t recollect a time when managing money has been tricky or contentious. “We have a similar attitude to spending and saving money – in short, we’re both a bit tight – so it’s never been particularly heated. I think we’re very fortunate as we know it can be an issue for other couples.”
* Names have been changed