How Do Couples Split Finances?

Jun 07, 2024
A knife dividing a toy house.

 How many different ways can there be for couples to split their finances? 


What is your answer?


When I was young and newly married, mine was simple: one. I hadn’t given it a whole lot of thought. Perhaps there was no real reason to think much about how I would split income and expenses with my future wife. 


Now that I’m seventeen years into marriage and I have worked with countless couples around their love and money lives, I can say from a very different perspective that there are many ways couples split their finances. 


Many couples look for the “best way” to split their financial responsibilities. Here is where I am going to disappoint you — there is not one best way to divide these as a couple or family. To find the method that is best for you, the concept we will keep coming back to is context. 


Why is context so important in reflecting on how to split your finances? Context sets the stage for our internal expectations of what is normal and healthy. We all have a sense of what is appropriate. 


I have heard from many female clients that they learned to keep some money separate from their spouse and that they should not count on any man for their financial security. Other female clients have shared that they grew up with the expectation of marrying a financial provider. 


These two types of women will have very different experiences and expectations about what it means to split their finances. Their personal contexts are very different. 


Of course, men have heard their own money messages about financial responsibility, which sets the context for how they think about splitting finances. 


Some men I work with grew up seeing their fathers govern all the money in the family and give an allowance to their mothers, which they felt was very controlling. Others grew up with a single mother who never had to split finances but had to become very self-reliant. 


In any case, the context of what paradigm each spouse has is critical before engaging in a constructive conversation about splitting finances.


Financial Tips For Couples Living Together

When it comes to navigating money together as a couple, we also need to talk about a foundational issue — trust and transparency. Many couples get into countless arguments about how to organize their finances by different account types or amounts when they are really fighting about trust and transparency. 


When we are in an intimate relationship with someone else, our lives and finances are deeply intertwined. We can understandably want to draw very clear boundaries around what’s yours, mine, and ours. 


For most couples, there are a host of cultural and personal experiences that have led to their particular view of what it means to manage money as a couple and family. These deeply held beliefs can be a part of what helps us build and maintain our sense of psychological safety and control around money. 


I invite you to stop and take a few minutes to reflect on what it means to have financial trust in your spouse. What does it mean to be financially transparent in your intimate relationship, and why is that so important to you? 


Typically, the more trust there is in an intimate relationship, the greater the ability the partners have to be transparent with each other about financial realities. 


If you are having the thought “I don’t want to know what is happening in my partner's life financially,” ask yourself why that is. In what ways can that be helpful, and in what ways can that be harmful? 


If you are having the thought “I don’t want my partner to know what is happening in my financial life,” ask yourself why that is. In what ways can that be helpful and in what ways can that be harmful? 


As a couple, one of your foundational questions is how you will build financial security and well-being for each other as you live your life together. Your degree of access to financial information will determine how much you know about where you currently stand financially and where you may stand in the future, so open communication is crucial. 


How you split your finances profoundly impacts so many other areas of your life and communicates something powerful about your level of financial trust and transparency. 


Ways for Couples To Split Finances

With this wide variety of experiences around how to split finances, it can feel overwhelming to think about how to do this with your loved one. So let’s break the patterns down into three broad ways that couples functionally organize their money: 

  1. All In
  2. Yours, Mine, Ours
  3. Yours and Mine 


All In

For the all-in approach, couples see their finances collectively. They do not keep track of what each person brings to the table. This includes income, spending, investments, and debt. Certainly there can be some nuance to this arrangement, but the general operating rule is that spouses are on the same financial team and work together toward shared financial goals. 


Yours, Mine, and Ours

With this arrangement, couples make intentional (and sometimes unintentional) decisions about who owns and is responsible for different accounts and financial practices. Practically speaking, they see some of their financial resources as shared and some as individually owned. 


Yours and Mine

Families that follow this approach do not create shared financial accounts. This does not mean that their financial lives are not interwoven, but rather they have rules and expectations about who is responsible for what financially. 


Other Aspects of Splitting a Couple’s Finances

There are also common roles assumed by one or both spouses including (but not limited to) bill payer, income earner, buyer of family goods, family financial benefits manager, or investment manager. These are related to but independent of the methods described above. For example, even if a couple has a “yours, mine, and ours” setup, one partner may be chiefly responsible for paying bills using both accounts.


Each of these methods of financial arrangement is made relationally and psychologically between couples, but this may not represent legal ramifications. Some couples are very conscious about their particular financial situation with regard to state and federal laws about property and financial ownership; they may have very explicit reasons for keeping some or all of their financial lives separate. 


How Do Couples Split Finances?

I have a personal and professional bias toward the all-in approach. This comes out of my own lived experience and the way that my wife and I think about our finances. This does not mean it is right in the sense that the equation 2 + 2 = 4 is right. Rather, I think about this method in the same way that I see a particular painting as beautiful, but I acknowledge that you may not. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 


There are some common decisions couples have to make when they go with methods two or three in splitting their finances that couples do not face in option one. 


One of the biggest questions concerns whether things are divided by the percentage of income or by absolute dollars. Seldom (if ever) do couples make exactly the same amount of money. This raises the question of how much each person is responsible for contributing. How to split the bills becomes an important conversation about fairness. 


Let’s explore how this can play out when a couple splits financial contributions according to a percentage of income.


Partner A makes $100,000 annually and Partner B makes $50,000, making the household income $150,000. As a percentage, Partner A makes 67% of the income and Partner B makes 33%. So for all bills, expenses, and future savings goals, they contribute their respective percentages. Often it starts to get more nuanced than this, but that’s the general idea.


Here’s an example of what this looks like when responsibilities are divided in absolute dollars.

Partner A makes $100,000 a year and Partner B makes $50,000. Partner A takes responsibility for the house payment of $4,000 a month and transportation expenses of $2,000 a month. Partner B takes on food and groceries for $1,500 a month. Each partner gets to spend the remaining income however they like. Often, partners have not done the math to figure out if this is equitable. 


With each system of organizing finances, there are strengths and weaknesses. Some of these will be determined by the couple; others are inherent in the methods themselves. What matters most is that both partners feel comfortable with the arrangement and how it impacts them. 


From a financial therapy perspective, we are working towards a mutually agreeable system. I have worked with hundreds of couples directly, and I can see them represented in each of these scenarios. I can hear their frustrations with each model we’ve discussed. There are no perfect approaches, but there is one that can work out well enough for the two of you. 


Splitting Finances With Your Partner Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

For many couples, there are some important psychological and relational factors to consider before working through how to split the finances for the two of you. Let’s look at three factors to keep in mind. 


Each person has a financial history 

Indeed, we cannot change what has happened to us in the past. It is also true that we can change how we feel about our past experiences. This is especially important when we have had painful or traumatic experiences in our past that are still impacting our present. These painful experiences can also include many different experiences with money. 


Your Nervous System Tells You What’s Safe or Not

The painful and pleasurable experiences of your past have conditioned your nervous system’s responses to respond, like all other areas of your life. Remember that hot stove you learned not to touch as a kid? Your nervous system still remembers that experience and helps prevent you from touching the stove. 


The same is true if you heard your parents fight, nag, control, manipulate, shame, etc. around the topic of money. Your nervous system learned to condition you toward a fight, flight, or freeze response instead of social engagement, which is a balance of the nervous system. 


Your Attachment History Tells You About Relationships

Each person has countless relational experiences, from the time spent in their mother’s womb until the moment they read this blog post. The quality of our relationships impacts our attachment styles, which map roughly into four ways of experiencing relationships: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized. If you or your partner experiences anxious, avoidant, or disorganized patterns of relationships, you’ll have a much more challenging time with sorting out how to mutually and respectfully balance the shared responsibilities of money together. 


There may be some psychological and relational learning, healing, and growth that needs to happen before you are truly ready and able to equitably distribute your family’s financial responsibilities. But you don’t have to travel this journey alone. There are many great resources available both from and other financial therapists to help you accomplish this. 


To start your journey, here are my top three resources for understanding the relationship between attachment styles, financial intimacy, and equitably splitting your finances as a couple.


  1. Book: The Healthy Love and Money Way: How The Four Attachment Styles Impact Your Financial Well-Being
  2. Signature Course: The Couples Guide to Financial Intimacy 
  3. Therapy-Informed Financial Planning


Wishing You Healthy Love and Money,
Ed Coambs 


Curious About Your Attachment Style? 

Take the Attachment Style Quiz now and learn how it impacts your relationships, finances, and life!