html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Justin asks:

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Justin asks:

Even in the case of marriage, why is it expected to keep the money even?If one makes more than the other, is it expected then that the one making less pitches in in a different way to make up for the fact that they're making less?It seems at one point in time the even split in assets made sense, since there were pretty well defined gender roles. But, if both are working, and doing house work, and cooking, and taking care of kids, why would the money just be split 50/50? Everything is split equally, except the money making, why doesn't the one making more get to keep that extra share?

I am not married, and entirely willing to hear from the married folk that I don't know what I'm talking about. I trust you will let me know if you disagree.

Why keep the money even? Because having extra money on one side of the partnership is the same as having extra power on one side of the partnership. One person's reserving extra power to herself makes both people feel like they aren't in this together. When you keep a little power to yourself, you are keeping the ability to get your way just a little more often and both people will notice that. Because most people's conception of marriage is that they are both working together against the rest of the world and they pool their resources to do that. Keeping extra money to yourself is also reserving just a little advantage as against your partner, suggesting that the marriage isn't the two of you against the world, but one spouse against everyone, including the partner. Because a marriage is a gift of yourself to your beloved, and that includes the money you earn.

All that said, I personally like a different allocation rule. While I can't guess how it will actually work out when I am faced with this in real life, I like the idea of both partners putting two-thirds of each paycheck in a joint account and reserving one-third to themselves. 'Cause why argue, or even discuss, some personal purchases? Buy it for yourself with your own money, and look, no one cares! It would also make gifts more meaningful, if it came from your own hoard rather than shared money. And give you a reserve, if you are the cautious type.

Also, is it creepy if I wanted to give my imaginary fiancé a gift of, say, an hour's time with a divorce attorney before the marriage? I bet you think it is. But I took a semester's worth of Marital Property. I know how property is allocated between spouses, during the marriage and after dissolution. Some of that is pretty surprising. It doesn't seem fair for me to know all that, while a non-lawyer imaginary fiancé doesn't. (See? Not preserving a power advantage.) Wouldn't it be an unromantic kindness to get that evened out before a wedding? Or too creepy?


Blogger Megan said...

No comments about how everything isn't "split evenly", and women do the majority of the house keeping and child care. While that is largely true (although I count among my acquaintances about as many house daddies as house mommies), I am more interested in Justin's question. If a married couple evenly distributes their daily chores, why should they split money equally?

10:37 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

It's not about power equality to me. This may sound cheesy, but I don't see room for issues about money being unequal because there's is no "her money" or "my money", it's our money, because we've become a combined unit. I work the job, and she does most of the housework, just because that's how life has worked out. And she has health issues that make it so that she can't do the housework to the point that it would be an equal share; and I truly do not care one bit.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, then, she's not working. She's a housewife, right? I understand that situation, where you say, I'll do the work, and take care of the finances, and you do the housework, and cook and clean, and do that stuff, and it's a partnership where you're both getting something in return from the other for your contribution.


11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dunno. But I gotta say, from my end of my marriage, it seems like stuff (money, problems, responsibilities) are split right down the middle. [Even though they may not be in the future.] -K.

11:06 AM  
Blogger LizardBreath said...

There's a distinction between ownership and control. I'm an ant, and I'm married to a grasshopper -- in his view, spending and generosity end up getting pegged to how much money we have: if it's in the checking account, there must be someone who needs it.

So the way we handle things is that we split bill-paying in accordance with our incomes; he does what he likes with the rest of his salary, and I do the same. When I build up anything substantial in savings, it goes into our joint investments.

I don't think of the savings in my personal account as mine rather than his in terms of ownership -- if we've got something we need to spend it on, it's ours. But having it under my control means that it's there when we need it.

This all sounds very controlling of me; I guess that my general point is that having joint control of all money sets the spending for the family at the comfort level of the most spendthrift partner, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I don't think that sounds controlling. An even split, or some shared split trusts that both partners have roughly the same notions of how money should be used. Your husband sounds sweet.

So does Stephen.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, what about the money earning? If you split all the chores, and housework, and responsibilities and whatnot, and the money, then the only thing not evenly shared is the money earning, why is that the one that's acceptable to not split evenly?

Or, are you saying, whichever of you makes less has more responsibilities to make up for the lower responsibility in bringing income into the house?

And, Lizardbreath:
Why would you split bills based on income? If you live in the house, and you work, shouldn't you be responsible for half the bill? Or, as I asked above, do you take on extra responsibilities elsewhere to make up for your lack of responsibility in the bills?


11:19 AM  
Blogger LizardBreath said...

But on ownership, rather than control, absolutely everything should be shared equally. A marriage where this didn't happen would strike me as absolutely bizarre -- I cannot picture living in a marriage where there was a real sense that I was objectively richer or poorer than my spouse: "Hey, honey, I decided I'm taking the kids to Aspen skiing this winter. Pity you can't make it -- it's be really nice if you saved up and came with us next year." Of course no one would do that unless they were being an ass -- the richer spouse would buy things for the poorer spouse as gifts, so as not to have a significant lifestyle gap, but then all you're doing by having separate ownership is enforcing some sort of psychological dominance on the part of the richer spouse.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Dubin said...


1. There aren't any universals with this one. It all depends on background and past issues with money.

2. For me personally, doing anything but "our money" would be way too complicated. Besides the fact that in my world view, marriage is about being a unit and it's our money. But I'm not everybody.

3. Yeh, that would be really creepy. Please don't do that. You could mention things you've learned about marital law in passing, maybe even in a ha-ha-ha way, but don't see the divorce lawyer before it's time. It's sort of a mood-wrecker.

11:23 AM  
Blogger LizardBreath said...

Or, as I asked above, do you take on extra responsibilities elsewhere to make up for your lack of responsibility in the bills?

Well, he does end up doing more housework than I do, but it's not because I make more money, it's because I work longer hours and commute, while he works from home.

And he is really sweet.

Justin -- You really seem not to be getting the 'we're in this together' component of marriage. Picture a family where the bigger earner also works shorter hours (not remotely impossible); what are they going to do, sit arond watching their overworked spouse spend their smaller amount of free time on housework because that's 'fair' given the income split? It involves a concept of 'fair' not terribly useful for relationship maintenance.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

3- I know. It IS creepy. But so is the fact that I know that my house is my separate property and that I would have to transfer it to to both our names for him to have an ownership interest. I don't mean a pre-nup, or even to prepare us for the marriage ending. But there is lots that is surprising about marital property, and I feel like both partners should know it.

As my professor said, "There is nothing romantic about letting the state decide how your resources are allocated, which is what you are doing when you don't consciously make those decisions between you."

11:32 AM  
Blogger Pandax said...

Damn, blogger, lost my entire comment. :p

This is a question I've wondered about. Recently my co-worker decided to buy a new car. She sold her car to her husband. They even negotiated having the oil change and getting the car cleaned before handing it over. Why be so formal? I know people all tend to have *A* car that is theirs, but this seems too separate (to me).

Is there something about getting married later in life that makes it difficult to merge things? Is it more challenging because people are independent longer? Is it easier to share accounts when marrying younger because you have fewer financial systems in place to start?

I do agree about having small, individual spending accounts. From what I hear, it's a good way to allow some personal freedom and avoid useless bickering about little purchases. Big purchases and investments should be joint. decision. I don't consider marriage an extended roommate or business situation, it is (ideally) a union.

11:34 AM  
Blogger LizardBreath said...

On the marital property law thing, I would say that it's an excellent impulse to want a prospective partner to be educated, but stay away from a divorce lawyer because it is just too weird. Find a short class, a good book, talk through the stuff you know yorself, but not a divorce lawyer.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justin: Even though it is a little harsh, yes, I feel more responsibility to non-monetary issues because I earn less. There's a bit of a guilt factor here, of course. I'm a grad student on a stipend, she works for a living.

Megan: I don't think it's creepy. I think that it is uber-rational and I like to think of myself as very rational. But it is extraordinarily difficult to be completely rational about marriage and the future possibility of the D-word. (see what I just did there? ;)

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A11:37AM is -K., BTW.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Short class could be a good idea.
I was thinking of an financial or estate planner, but then I realized that death is even creepier and I'm just digging myself deeper.

I don't even mean to be all rational about it. It just doesn't seem fair for me to know how it works while he doesn't.

11:48 AM  
Anonymous justus said...

from my end of my marriage, it seems like stuff (money, problems, responsibilities) are split right down the middle.

Studies have repeated shown that people have no idea how things are actually divided in their marriages.

A lot of people are saying everything is split right down the middle. I've never met any of these miraculous couples in real life. Every married person I have met says, "Honey, can I borrow your car?" and "Let me grab my coat."

Humans attach ownership to things. It is just how our brains work. It is one reason why so many divorces become acrimonious...when the judge forces someone to sell "their" object and split the proceeds.

I believe Megan owns her own home. Say she has $100,000 in equity in it and then one day miraculously gets married. Once again, unfortunately, she has chosen poorly and five years later finds him in bed with her sister and Anand. Divorce proceedings begin. California state law says that $100,000 of equity was separate property and she gets to keep it. Only the five years of equity that developed during the marriage are common property.

How many people here would go above and beyond the letter of the law to give their soon-to-ex-husband half of that $100,000?

11:52 AM  
Blogger LizardBreath said...

No, death isn't creepier, because an estate planner doesn't specialize in working for dead people -- they work for live people making plans. Divorce lawyers work mostly for people whose marriages are ending, and everything they say is going to be colored by that. Going together to an estate planner is an excellent idea.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

And I don't mean that he should know what would happen if we divorce, 'cause I don't want to think that's a possibility any more than anyone else does*. But marital property law matters during the marriage, too. That's the part that I think both partners should be making knowing decisions about.

*This is all so not-at-issue. I don't even have a boyfriend, much less a serious boyfriend, or a fiance, or a husband.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If your intended is like you, a good book may be all that is necessary. -K.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Daran said...

Not sure splitting down the middle would work. In the stereotypical case the woman will spend more on clothing and the man more on gadgets. The danger is that the woman will perceive the clothing as necessary but mentally put the gadgets in the toys budget, while the man will of course view the clothing as a little excessive, thereby justifying his toys.
Not a problem as long as the income is sufficient, but if money is tight...

Most couples I know each partner has an allowance to spend as he/she likes and larger purchases are negotiated separately.

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as the Aspen thing, I can't imagine things working like that. But, I could see the one with more money maybe driving a nicer car, or taking up an expensive hobby. I have no problem with gifts. I guess one of my issues here is, the OUR money thing. So, it's not MY money that I'm nice enough to share, it's OUR money, so you don't have to appreciate the fact that it's boosting your lifestyle at all.

No one would apply this same thing to housework. No one would let their spouse get away with saying, "We cleaned the house this weekend." When in fact only you cleaned the house, while he was out playing golf all weekend, right?

And as far as, we're in this together. Why? I mean, if you're splitting everything, but one is just expected to contribute more than the other, how are you in it together?

Maybe marriage just doesn't make sense to me anymore. The point, to me, would be for both of you to gain something from it, so you both come out ahead one way or another. But, I just don't see that being the case where everyone is expected to contribute equally, except for in earnings.


12:32 PM  
Anonymous Daran said...

And spending some time with a divorce lawyer beforehand makes sense. For some reason my engineering friends tend to have the same view, but non-engineers tend to view it as terribly tacky.

12:35 PM  
Blogger LizardBreath said...

So, it's not MY money that I'm nice enough to share, it's OUR money, so you don't have to appreciate the fact that it's boosting your lifestyle at all.

Right. You're supposed to be grateful to your spouse for loving you and giving you their total commitment, not for every time they buy you a sandwich.

The point, to me, would be for both of you to gain something from it, so you both come out ahead one way or another. But, I just don't see that being the case where everyone is expected to contribute equally, except for in earnings.

What does 'come out ahead' mean? Come out ahead of your spouse, or come out ahead of your single self? Because if the marriage is a good one, of course you come out ahead of your single self on a lot of scales -- emotional committment, help with the tasks of day-to-day life, coparenting, financial security (which goes both ways in most marriages -- even where there's one non-working spouse, they're generally potentially able to work if necessary). You seem to be worried about equalizing who profits from the marriage more... nothing mutual counts in the calculus because it cancels out, each partner gets as much in love and coparenting, and whatever else as the other, so they aren't important. That's silly -- the central point of getting married is the mutuality.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come out ahead of your single selves.

But, what about the housework thing? Would you really let your spouse get away with saying, "We cleaned the house this weekend." When in fact he didn't help at all, and you spent the whole weekend doing it yourself? Wouldn't you quickly shut that down and correct him?

So, why do you get to claim what you've done as yours in that case, something you've done for the 2 of you, and are now sharing. But, he can't claim the money he's earned as his, and he's now sharing?

And, if you do clean the house, aren't you protective of the work? Wouldn't you get angry if he came home and tracked mud all over the house?

I don't see much difference in that, and claiming the money you earn as yours.


1:19 PM  
Blogger LizardBreath said...

Well, I'd also think claiming 'ownership' of the cleanliness of a house was pretty weird. Again, it's a marriage -- it's supposed to be a fairly total committment from both parties. I could see getting stressed about a major imbalance in useful effort expended, but tallying up results (You spent 2 hours cleaning the living room and vacuuming, I spent two hours cleaning the kitchen and the bathrooms and cooked a meal and walked the dog -- I did more than you, so you owe me) seems off.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, what about when it's not just a 1 day thing, where you happened to do more today, what if you were always pitching in more?

And, maybe you're not claiming ownership of the cleanliness, but you would certainly claim credit, right? And, you would expect him to give you credit for the clean house, right? And, wouldn't it make you feel good if he at least showed he appreciated it? Maybe told his friends about how spotless you made the place?

But, how often does the person getting the extra money do any of that? How often do they explain that their spouse bought them the new clothes, or toy? They don't have to, right? Because the money went into a joint account, and they can just take it out, with no appreciation for how it got there.

And, of course, if you spent the weekend cleaning the house, you would probably have no issue with saying something like, "I spent the whole weekend cleaning the house, so I want you to run the errands for me."

But, the one making the money can never say, "I just paid for everything, so I'd like you to clean the house for me."


1:41 PM  
Anonymous mrh said...

While I can't guess how it will actually work out when I am faced with this in real life, I like the idea of both partners putting two-thirds of each paycheck in a joint account and reserving one-third to themselves.

This is exactly the system my wife and I use. The percentage has varied up and down depending on what we're saving up for, but it's always the same percentage for each of us.

It has worked out incredibly well.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justin, I just don't understand your problem with sharing. Were you an only child?

The money vs. housework analogy that you use doesn't really compute. How much housework you do this weekend is completely your decision. How much money you make? Not so much. For one thing, the pay gap means that women are almost always going to get paid less than men (until the revolution, of course).

What industry you work in will make a huge difference in your income as well, but it doesn't mean that one spouse is working *harder* than the other, just that one is better compensated. If you have a married couple where one spouse is a CFO who makes $100K a year, and the other is a teacher who makes $30K, does that mean the teacher doesn't "deserve" the same stuff as the CFO? Because s/he didn't have the foresight to choose a different career? Because teachers shouldn't be able to afford nice clothes?

And how would that work, anyway? Leaving aside LB's Aspen example, which may be extreme, what about regular old expenses, like groceries and such? Should it be "Oh, I'll buy the generic toilet paper for me, dear, but if you give me the extra $, I'll get Charmin for you" or "Oh, I'll have a baloney sandwich for dinner, but do enjoy your filet mignon"?

I mean, come on. It's a household that requires money to maintain. You both may use the household equally (insomuch as that is even possible), but one of you has more income than the other.

No one is expecting the higher-earning spouse to contribute "more" of his/her income. It's an equal share. It's just that 50% of $100K = more actual dollars than 50% of $30K. It's still a 50% share for each spouse.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really see this as selfishness on my part. I've always been hesitant to take anything from anyone else. But, I don't see that in people I date. Though, I do like taking my g/f out to dinners and stuff. And I'm happy to buy her stuff I think she needs. And, often I'm buying her the things she wants as well.

Why don't any of you see it as selfish to expect nice clothes at your spouse's expense? Let's say he did have the foresight to choose a good career, and studied, and worked and struggled to get into it, doesn't he then deserve that money?

At the very least, don't you feel you owe him something in return for sharing it?

I don't get this mentality of, we're married, it's ours now, even though you're the one earning it, I don't feel I owe you anything in return for it, not even appreciation. That seems selfish to me, that you can take this major contribution to your life style and well being and just dismiss it.

I can't imagine taking something from someone and not finding someway to repay them. And, I don't just mean financially.


2:07 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I can tell that the sense that you aren't taking anything from anyone without paying them back is real important to you. Clearly, it is something you notice in other people to.

But for me, with my sister, and it sounds like for most of the spouses here, I think we count ourselves and the other person as one. My sister and I would split a windfall because we consider ourselves as the pair of sisters holding money in our generation. Where the money actually goes between us? Not a big deal when neither is hungry.

Dubin and Teej, Stephen and his honey, Lizardbreath and her sweetheart? They think of themselves as one economic unit with their partner, not as one economic unit bartering with the other economic unit in the marriage and keeping it roughly even. If that isn't a mindset that comes naturally to you, you should probably make sure that your intended also views money and effort the same way.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous UnderwearNinja said...

You people sure do have a lot to say about money. Maybe I'll find it all more interesting when I have some.

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I'm not nearly as selfish as everyone probably thinks I am. I've always happily done a lot for my girlfriends, and well, my friends too.

And, actually, I switched out of physics into engineering to make more money, specifically with the intent of being ready so I could better support a family.

I did grow up refusing to take anything from anyone, it made me uncomfortable. Like, I wouldn't even take a soda at a friend's house if they offered it.

I'm much more comfortable giving than taking.

But, I do find it interesting how easily you all seem to dismiss a contribution of money.

I doubt that any of you would dismiss your own contributions of other forms, like house cleaning, or running kids around. And, I wonder how long it would take before you noticed a substantial disparity in the contributions there.

And, I doubt that any of you would let that dispairty slide for very long, regardless of how you might see yourselves as a combined unit, or whatever you were calling it.

Anyway, thanks those of you who responded, and some of you who kept responding. Though, I think it would be interesting if more guys had responded. I think Stephen was the only one? And, he's in a situation I completely understand. Oh well.


3:08 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Men might look at the whole issue differently, so I can see how you would want that perspective. But if what you meant was men/person-who-makes-more, I suspect that most of the people who answered you here are the higher earning half of the couple.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I mean men, whether they make more or not. My position wouldn't change if I was making less than the person I'm with. I would feel like I owed something if they were paying the majority share of the bills, and entertainment, and whatnot.

But, that's an interesting point too. The only thing I've ever had to go on were me and my friends, and in those cases the guys always made more, and I think generally agree with me. I don't really know what the girls think, except 1, but she's a whole other situation.


3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the spilt into individual as well as joint accounts by even percentage if incomes are generally close. If incomes are radically different, then putting everything joint and paying an allowance to the individual accounts make sense. Either way, what you are trying to do is benefit the union and put the partners on an equal footing. This is the way I hope to I set things up with my partner.

In my first marriage, it was all in the joint account and there were no controls on spending from the joint account or on joint credit. Also, talking about money caused huge fights so the situation was basically uncontrolled. Three refinances, a divorce, $20k of residual debt, and 2 years later, I'm much happier and wiser. I'm also solvent, have savings, and have a sweetie who I can communicate with and has similar views on joint finances.

Justin: What I think that you're missing or what you want here is simply appreciation. I don't see why I'm the first person here to suggest this... Your partner should appreciate your larger contribution if you make more money. Duh! I mean you're in it together and for whatever reason, one of you makes more money. Good job. It should not be taken for granted, you deserve appreciation for that. I have to agree with everyone else, tho, your additional income should not make your lifestyle substantially different than your spouse. That will only cause power imbalances.

So, Justin, is that what you were looking for? Or, is your ideal solution that moneys should be kept separate and that there should always be an awareness that the higher earner is gifting stuff to the lower earner? If that is the case, I hope that you find someone who makes the same income as you to or that you find someone who enjoys power imbalance in their relationships.


3:41 PM  
Blogger LizardBreath said...

I owed something

I guess what I'm getting stuck on is 'owed' what? Expressions of gratitude? Unilateral control of all financial decisions? Having the lower-earning partner take full responsibility for all tasks other than wage-earning (housework, childcare)?

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I would feel like I owed something if they were paying the majority share of the bills, and entertainment, and whatnot."

I am male and earn less than my wife. I feel terrible about that; it's going to change. But I try, try, try to make up for it by taking on more than 50% of the chores, the stuff that's gotta get done. But in my head, it's not enough. Whenever my wife pulls out the debit card to pay for groceries or dinner or whatever, it makes me shrink inside. -K.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

(Honestly asking) Is that 'cause you're the man, and you aren't fulfilling old gender roles? I'm guessing you wouldn't care at all if it were reversed and you could pay more often than your wife.

When I was out of work and so damn broke, I cringed when people paid for me. It was so sweet of them and it only reminded me that I couldn't take them out to dinner to make it up. Honestly, I would NOT be buying the next round. I just wished we did something free. Now that I have money, I don't care if someone takes me out to dinner this time. I'll get next time, whatever. Even then, though, it was easier to take money from my sister.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know lizardbreath, money is quantifiable, other contributions aren't. So, there's no real set equation.

But, in general I think for everything someone does for me, I should do something back, even if it's just a token gesture.

But, for example:
I go climbing with a friend. I know we're going to use his rope and slings, and cord all day. I'm taking mine, but I know with the way we pack, his is just easier to get to, so we'll be using his. So, when we meet up in the morning, knowing this, I offer to drive to make up for the wear and tear on his gear. Now, I don't tell him why I'm offering to drive, but, I feel obligated to do something.

Or, I'm at a restaurant, sitting at the bar to get dinner, and the bar tender is bored, so he gives me and my g/f free wine tastings all night, plus a couple free glasses of wine each. I feel obligated to tip around half the value of the drinks he'd given us + standard tip.

With my g/f, really, if I buy her dinner, I'd be happy if she'd just smile, and be in a good mood the rest of the night.

But, too often recently, I've been around people where I can put down $100s if not $1000s, or a lot of time and effort, or a majority of the load carrying, or far more than my share of the work in some activity and still have someone angry at me over something stupid.

And to me, that seems ridiculous. People should appreciate these kinds of contributions, and some kind of repayment should at least be attempted, even if just to say thank you. Even if you are married, it doesn't seem appropriate to willingly take so much from someone with no concern for giving something back in return.


4:11 PM  
Blogger LizardBreath said...

Yow. You know, I think you're just stuck in an unproductive way of thinking about this. You're right that you can't quantify a tradeoff between money and other non-financial contributions, but that means that you can't reasonably say that you're not getting enough in return for the money you put in.

But, too often recently, I've been around people where I can put down $100s if not $1000s, or a lot of time and effort, or a majority of the load carrying, or far more than my share of the work in some activity and still have someone angry at me over something stupid.

See, the problem here is that people are getting angry at you. Either they're unreasonable because whatever you did didn't justify the anger, or you're unreasonable because you're being a jerk and the anger is justified. But in the first case, you'd be justified regardless of the money you do or don't spend, and in the latter case, surely you don't think that spending money on someone allows you to ill-treat them without resentment? This is not something that thinking about your spending patterns is going to get you much of anywhere with.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Megan: Absolutely, it has to do with gender roles and the way I was brought up. But in addition, it has to do with a stupid something I heard a youth group leader say once: Marriages shouldn't be 50/50 -- they should be 100/100. I didn't know what that meant until I got married. And not being at 100% right now stinks something awful.

(You're right, BTW, that if it were reversed, I wouldn't care. But I would still try my damndest to take care of more than 50% of the non-monetary contributions.)

4:31 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I bet your wife thinks you're giving 100%.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Except for the times when you sit around reading some other girl's blog. And you can't bet me anyway, because you have no money.

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I don't think you can be a jerk, and buy your way out of it.

The point is, people, lately, don't seem to have any sense of appreciation for what is being done for them.

I don't think it's very fair to me that I pay all of someone's bills, change my whole schedule around to be able to get her to and from work, drop all of my activities for 5 weeks to accomodate her schedule and still have her sitting there angry asking "What do I get from this?" It doesn't seem acceptable that I have to defend spending my own money on a trip to visit my brother in MN, when he's lived there for maybe 5 years now and I haven't been there even once. I shouldn't get a comment like, "If you can afford to go see your brother, why can't you pay all of the rent?" I don't think I should get some snotty remark about being cheap anytime I don't offer to pay for everything.

Ok, so maybe that's a little over the top. But, then how is any other situation really different? All that is is a lack of respect for what I've been doing for her. Shouldn't I be able to expect SOMETHING in return? Even if nothing more than just gratitude?

And I could go on, more than just my g/f seem to have this problem. I'm hoping after she settles into her job and life she'll calm down. But, I'm starting to wonder, do people really see the world this way, where they can just take and take and take, and it never even occurs to them to try to give something back?


5:01 PM  
Blogger ScottM said...

Justin: I suspect part of the problem is that money is hard to equalize within a marriage. If you work late and do less housework this week, you can do more housework next week to make it up. If you've given thoughtful "thinking of you gifts" more consistantly, your spouse can turn around and do things to let you know they're thinking of you. But money brought in can't be balanced within the relationship. Oh, sure, theoretically, you could work extra hours to bring in the same money-- but that will cost both of you time you could be spending together.

As for my situation; we make approximately the same amount of money. She, however, works long hours and often brings work home, while I can stop thinking about work at 5. She feels guilty when I do the extra housework, but I'm willing to spend my time on it because it maximizes the time left over, time we can spend together.

In our relationship (which is aided by ample income from both of us), time together is the constraining factor.

At the moment, the house is (legally) completely mine-- because I had a background of saving, while she has identity theft in her past. We treat it as ours in every way. She contributes 1/2 mortgage (including overpaying principal) & utilities, plus a bit because I do the grocery shopping. So far, we use seperate accounts-- but we're not married yet either.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Woah, Justin, this seems to be a problem in your relationship with your current g/f, not with marriages at large. You're projecting your current situation and issues onto the institution of marriage.

Maybe you need to consider your potential partner's approach to finances and the way that she takes your income for granted. The "what do I get from this" comment is of concern. If she doesn't know that, then the answer that you're implying (a free ride) certainly isn't the right answer. I would have scoffed in the past, but from my current perspective it's critical and could be a red flag...

-- Tim.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Megan. -K. (And she does; or at least, I think so.)

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Joe O said...

My wife and I are both pretty reasonable about money so we keep everything joint, but I can see how different views about money can cause problems. Gender based expectations come in here too.

5:40 PM  
Blogger Dubin said...


It is possible that your current g/f is not the girl for you. Sometimes you know when the person IS the one for you precisely because all this crap doesn't even come up. They don't say things like, "why can't you pay all the rent if you can afford to visit your brother?" because that is a lame-ass thing to say. I know I being bold here cause I don't know you all, but she sounds like an opportunist waiting to happen. If my man said that to me, I would know it was the wrong relationship. Maybe you should find someone who has the same amount of money you have.

Also, I have to comment on your analogies. You said, how would a homemaker feel if her spouse said something about "the house WE cleaned this weekend?" That's not analogous to sharing money. The real analogy is that when one person cleans the house, it's still "OUR clean house." Just like when one person makes more money, it's still "OUR nest egg."

I think when you meet the girl for you all this will be much easier to fathom. Sorry for being patronizing.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...


Yes, of course you should get non-financial benefits in return; especially in terms of appreciation, gestures etc. If your spouse loves you, and you're doing something that makes their (or your combined) life better, then they'd be appreciative. But if you're in a loving, happy relationship, this isn't something that needs to conscious, thought about, or focused on. For me, the money issue just isn't really an issue. And that's not magic. It's just that the non-financial benefits we both get so far outweigh any monetary ones.

Besides, my wife and I subsribe to the definition of love described by the Robert Heinlein quote: "Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own." Neither of us is going to spend money in a way that might make the other unhappy. If there's room for concern about purchases, then we talk about it, and make the decision that works out best for the combined unit that is "us".

4:38 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Note: "so far outweigh" in the above comment was meant as "so greatly outweigh" not "outweigh up until this point". :)

4:40 AM  
Anonymous Chaim said...

Why does inequality make you so uncomfortable? Is it fair for one spouse to be stronger or smarter than the other? Money is just one (Very importnat one) of many many assets that people bring to a marriage. Specific knowledge of marital asset treatment is an asset too, and you should not try to make everything equitable.
It will tire you out and you will never be completely successful.

5:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Megan - I'm coming down on the side of CREEPY! Don't plan your divorce before you find your spouse. And trust that you are a good person, and if you ever got divorced, your knowledge would work towards fair dispersal of assets.
And in a good marriage, your goals combine, thus your money combines. That doesn't mean you can't splurge on something for yourself now and then. While your idea of 1/3 in your own account sounds okay at first, I think you would fine the rules would really change when you have kids. Even without them, marriage means forming a family. And if you want to split everything with your sister because she's family, but don't want to split everything with your future husband, what message does that send? The biggest difference between cohabitation/dating and marriage is that you have made a new family. It is momentous.


5:52 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I know it is creepy. That's why I asked. If I had never taken Marital Property, all would be fine. But since I've taken it, I think he should know it too, and not because I expect my marriage will end. It matters during the marriage, too. I also trust myself to be fair. I generally am.

(I said this before, but after taking Marital Property, the ignorance alternative isn't romantic either. All that means is that the legislature makes decisions between the two of you, rather than your mutual choosing. Not hot.)

Totally willing to believe all the rules would change once I have kids, in ways I can't foresee.

I said that my sister and I are "kinda like spouses, until we have spouses", but even so... My mean grandma, for example, fiddled with her will for years, to punish either my Dad or my Aunt. Both ignored that completely, because they both knew they would split her estate 50/50, no matter where it went first from the will. Neither would have thought first to their spouses in that case.

Not everything has to be equal, but knowledge about money is one area where I'd want to put in the effort to even things out.

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with the whole question is that it does not differentiate between the work and the result. It would be the same as the person who makes less money but who cooks saying "yes, honey, I made a fantastic dinner tonight. In fact, it took extra special attention to detail to get this above-par meal. Therefore, you only get to eat the part that I heated from a box, because that is all that is included in our chore-distribution arrangment."

Where everything else in your lives is combined, I think you need to prove why money is any different, and I have not seen a reason for that thus far.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. Hard to know how this knowledge would impact things without knowing what you know.

That said, you are a knowledge sharer. So share, in some way, what you know, to this future spouse. You'll have to find a way not to be creepy about it (which means definitely not on the first date). Or just set the finances up fairly, never mentioning it. You're probably alpha enough to pull that off.


11:33 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Things not to mention on the first date:

Hi. I'd like to be pregnant yesterday. Before we get married, I think you should visit a divorce lawyer (my treat, baby). I can beat you up. My sister is more important to me than you are. I get serial monomanias. I'm totally alpha, so I hope you like being bossed around.

Did I forget anything? What if I wait until after dinner?

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you may as well just bring those embaressing yearbook photos with you too. also good to mention the fact that you have multiple cats, and would love a few more.


12:20 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Excellent! Yes, of course. Cats.

12:24 PM  
Blogger amanda bee said...

I keep unraveling into various way too revealing stories about love and money and partnership, but I still want to say something. Something.

Like, for one, there needs to be a positive and affirming book about divorce law and what marriage means from a financial perspective. I think it was someplace cheesy like Real Simple Magazine that said that the first thing you should do once you get engaged is have a frank conversation about money, debt and savings.

N. and I went through this huge awful near death experience (his) that was exponentially compounded when his family pulled rank and had him moved to Boston.* Two very dear friends of ours took one look at our situation and decided they were going to tie the knot, so as never to be in that position, of having rank pulled by the others parents in the middle of a medical crisis. That wasn't the only reason they got married but they both told a lot of people that watching what I went through made them realize that they did want to be lawfully wedded in the eyes of the state. I resisted the urge to tell them the truth, at least as I understand it, which is that marriage doesn't help. You need a real living will. And some other document with a name. I actually looked around for a good book to give them but it seemed terrible and cynical. Still, I think that would be a really good book. Especially if the overriding message was "Yes, yes, get married. Celebrate your commitment to each other and ask your families to publicly promise to support your relationship. Throw a big big party if that is what you want. But know these things, which are part of marriage ..."

Maybe we should write that book. I'm not even kidding. I think it would be fun. A chapter on hard conversations that you need to have (Who should make medical decisions when you can't?) A few chapters on money, and talking about it. Some worksheets or games to help you get at the differences in your priorities about family and faith and authority and money and community. But the emphasis on knowing the rights you do and don't have in entering and exiting a marriage.

The other thing I wanted to say is that Justin, I know that sometimes one story is a tiny part of a relationship but from at least that one story I am not so nuts about g/f. Honestly, if someone said that to me, said "if you can afford ... you should be paying the whole rent" I'd be dumb founded. I'd probably say something mean like "Well, if you an afford all the ,,, money you spend on ... you can afford to buy my effing ticket to Minnesota so eff off." Because a one-off like that is not a conversation or even a conversation starter.

Also, though, your relationship is going to suck if your partner has to spend all their time being grateful for the money you are bringing to the relationship. Already you are unequal: you have the luxury of not having to be grateful because you earn more. You could argue that you earned that luxury because you made better choices that allow you to earn more but if you really feel that way how much do you actually respect your partner and their priorities? **

Talking about money is hard, and my guess is that most couples who are content with the way that they divide and share resources and spending decisions have some kind of system that works for them and feels fair and they arrived at that system by talking about money.

(*) At the time I was livid, though there were other contributing factors, better saved for over a beer. In retrospect I know that my parents would have done the same thing, minus the contributing factors.

(**) Nevermind that people don't have the same opportunities or resources at their disposal. but even if things were equal, if you both could have become engineers but only one of you did.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a few thoughts...

On guilt for not contributing enough... guilt has no value, but gratitude does. If your spouse is outcontributing you in some area of your relationship, show them gratitude. Not only does it provide a nice emotional payback for their effort, but gratitude also contributes to your emotional wellbeing. After all, how much better do you think your spouse will feel about doing more than their share of the housework if you sweep them up in your arms and tell them how grateful you are for their effort keeping up the house.

On investing in people... I tend to see the world as an investor. When I expend time, effort, or money on someone I want to see a return. That return need not come back to me. I am perfectly happy investing in someone when *they* are they only ones who reap that return. This can get confusing at times, because the same two expenditures in different situations can be an investment in one instance, and just pure consumption in another.

For example, one of my past girlfriends was from a poor family and growing up never really had much in the way of nice clothing. When I dated her,she still didn't (older college student), I bought her a reasonable wardrobe. In this case it was an investment, because the return in the improvement in her self-esteem and confidence was huge. It did a fair bit to move her forward in her life. Doing this for a fashion horse with a closet full of clothes would have just been a waste.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

(Full disclosure: I also posted this comment - the italicized portion - on Marginal Revolution)

I vote for the complete separation of all assets. To say that husband and wife "become one" is simply untrue. It is in the best interests of both for each to retain maximum individuality. So one can own the house. The other would then pay rent on his room - rooms should be separate if at all possible - and for food bought by the other and for meal preparation and cleaning that directly benefits the non-cooker and -cleaner. I often wondered why traditional housewives got credit for cleaning their own space, making their own bed and cooking the meals they also eat. They would have to do those things if they weren't married.
I guess children would be the only exception, since they can't actually be owned. But accounts should be kept of how much each spends - in time and money - for the benefit of the children. Just think how easy this would make it if breakup time ever comes. And I think it would make breakups less likely.
This idea owes much to Harry Browne's book, "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World".

To answer those commenters who thought husbands and wives should share equally, I think that makes one necessarily subservient to the other. I think the best rule is to pay everyone for the contribution each makes. And, yes, that means if the husband's a corporate lawyer and the wife's staying home and taking care of three children, she'll have less money to play with. But that's a good lesson in what behavior earns what kind of money. And the rate of compensation for housework and child care related to the children can be negotiated - considering that both husband and wife are responsible for their children. You know, just like in the real world.

11:27 AM  
Blogger susan said...

"Just think how easy this would make it if breakup time ever comes. And I think it would make breakups less likely."

Wow, are you serious? Because it seems like this is nothing but fodder for money arguments and festering resentment.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Tracy W said...

Marriage is hardly a system for one time period. The future is unpredictable. You may be earning three times as much as your spouse now, but what happens if a brick falls on your head and makes a dent in your brain and you have to start again from ground-up?

What happens if you want to start a company?

What happens if the trustee steals all the money from your trustfund?

What happens if that happens to your spouse?

Marriage for me partly functions as an insurance system. It's reasonably independent of financial insurance (whatever the likelihood of an insurance company refusing to pay out on income insurance, it probably doesn't have much relation to my husband deciding to divorce me or dropping dead).

So sharing money makes sense for the person with more money as one day they may be on the other side of the fence.

In my marriage, sometimes my husband has earned more, sometimes I have earned more. It was good that when my family suffered a bad accident my husband could support us while I devoted my effort to my family. It was good that I could support him when he was unemployed.

Marriage doesn't need to even out in each time period. And it may not even out across the entire life of the marriage. That doesn't matter.

11:04 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

My wife and I have largely seperate finances, although common expenses (which is most of them, at this point) are paid for jointly.

But we both came into this with a lot to protect, and a lot of reason to be gunshy. She has a large inheritance. I have three profitable but illiquid businesses. And neither of us has ever actually seen a successful marriage in action, so although the love and commitment are present and genuine, there's also caution in the mix.

But frankly, I think if you're seriously keeping score on a day-to-day basis, there's something wrong at a more fundamental level than just "who's doing more work" and "who's got more money".

2:31 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

I like the idea of proportionality where each person contributes a % of their monthly wage bill.

For example, The income of the primary breadwinner (INC1) is $4,000 per month while the income of the secondary is $2,000 per month, for a total of $6,000. Let's say total bills (food at home, shelter, insurance - monthly fixed costs) are $4,000.

INC1 makes 2/3 of the income and is expected to pay 2/3 of the monthly fixed cost bills; vice versa for INC2.

INC1 pays 2667 per month and has 1337 left over. INC 2 pays 1337 per month and has 667 left over.

If INC2 can save 3 dollars on the montly fixed costs each month, INC2 only sees 1 dollar of that savings in their pocket, so I would think they have less of an incentive to save. I think INC2 might have a greater incentive to earn more money, and INC1 would encourage them because it benefits their bottom line as well.

8:14 AM  
Anonymous eddie said...

I would give up my life for my spouse. And she for me. Gift-of-the-magi problems aside, this is a consequence of as Stephen said the happiness of each other being essential to our own, or as Angus put in on Marginal Revolution: we have adopted each other's utility curves into our own.

If I am willing to give my life to my spouse, what point is there in asserting some separate ownership over a financial asset?

I would be willing to work full time and take care of the house full time while she sat on the couch eating bonbons and watching television. If that's what would make her happy. As it turns out, that would not make her happy; she also wants to contribute what she can to the success and prosperity and wellbeing of our family. But with each of us willing to contribute all we can to our joint and mutual happiness, what point is there in keeping track of who has contributed how much?

If there were ever to be a divorce, no doubt there would be bitter rancor over who contributed how much as we two disillusioned parties began trying to retroactively keep score. But I don't think it serves the interests of a married couple to arrange their lives in order to ease the pain of a future divorce.

12:34 PM  
Anonymous eddie said...

Megan, I agree that sending a fiancee to a divorce lawyer is a bad way to educate them about the legal and financial implications of marriage. Instead just teach him what you know, if he's interested, and be prepared to accept an answer of "I don't care, I don't need to know, I trust you" as a valid response.

Also, if the prospect of divorce is a serious concern for you then just sign a cohabitation agreement, perhaps with a vesting schedule for joint property, and skip marriage altogether. And be rigorous in your use of birth control.

I'm not saying that divorce shouldn't be an option for a couple that later realizes continuing the marriage would be a mistake, but if you don't expect to be together as a fully-invested joint partnership for the rest of your lives and aren't prepared to make some kind of commitment to that partnership arrangement, what's the point of getting married in the first place? What else is marriage for? Tax benefits?

1:00 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I do not have the prospect of divorce hovering over me; I will go into a marriage (when I get the opportunity) expecting it to succeed.

I don't want to send my honey to a lawyer because I expect the marriage to end. I want to send him so that he knows what I do (about important stuff, like ownership of my house) during the marriage.

2:58 PM  
Anonymous eddie said...

I don't want to send my honey to a lawyer because I expect the marriage to end. I want to send him so that he knows what I do (about important stuff, like ownership of my house) during the marriage.

No doubt. Just make sure he understands that, and remember that he may not hear what you say as loudly as he hears his own thoughts about what you've asked him to do.

Speaking of which, I reread my post and realized I shifted audiences partway through. Paragraph One was intended as advice for Megan; Paragraphs Two and Three were intended as general commentary on the whole pooling assets thing. I never meant to suggest you might be anything less than joyfully success in marriage - as I hope you will be someday. Sorry if it came out sounding wrong.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My experience:

When we married, we started out with a new bank account for all common expenses (house, food, etc) and contributed both in ratio to what we earned.

But a few years later on, it just disappeared. All money goes in one bank account and you take what you need.

Once you live together for a while, this discussion goes away. It's no longer important.

3:52 AM  

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