Marriage, Money and Shared Expenses


One thing I've never fought about with my ex-wife nor my wife is money. This is no mean feat as

  • Both ladies are somewhat Bohemian souls with a taste for fine shoes and ladies' fashion.
  • I have never made much money myself.
  • I have a child with each of them.

The secret, apart from the basic requirement of marrying only sensible people with an adequate income, is to keep each person's income and expenses separate. This may sound profoundly un-romantic and anti-family, but believe me, it's a lot more romantic and family-like than the ugly fights that invariably result when one spouse uses the other's money to buy things that person doesn't value at all.

My agreement with these ladies is that each of us keeps book of communal expenses, in my ex's case having exclusively to do with our son, in my wife's case with our daughter plus food, rent, utilities, the car, anything that we share. This is done in spreadsheet files. Then, maybe once a month or once every two months, me and either lady add up our communal expenses and split the difference. My ex may e-mail me and tell me she's paid 2500 kronor for stuff related to our boy since the last time we added up, I check my spreadsheet and find that I've paid 500, so I send her (2500-500)/2=1000 kronor over the on-line bank. Same with my wife. So when she comes home and shows me her three new dresses, two pairs of new boots and incredibly cool new hat, I just smile happily and tell her they look great. It's her money. She's never even been close to emptying her account entirely and having no money left for the rent, so I don't worry.

Two things that would break this system or render it obsolete would be if one partner's income became extremely low or extremely high. Legally, my wife is required to support me if/when I become destitute. Conversely, it would be kind of silly to demand that she pay for half of our food if I somehow made a fortune.

For you US readers I should probably say something about alimony. There's none involved here. My son lives half of the time at our place and half at his mom's, a short bike ride away. As a rule, Swedish courts award joint custody unless either parent has a record of abuse. So both of my kids are privileged with an extra mom. My ex, bless her generous heart, is crazy about our boy's little sister and often helps with her. And my son can't remember a time without my wife around to help take care of him.

There's also a secret advantage to all this for me. I'm a niggler, a professional counter of little fragments, a guy who keeps his half of the desk clean and his books alphabetised. I rarely if ever forget to enter a communal expense into my spreadsheet. The ladies, however, are as I said more Bohemian arty types whose pockets are full of forgotten receipts. They of course understand this fully. But the alternative, to keep no record of who pays what, would be far less advantageous to them. Because both of them make more money than I do...

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Sounds like a system that works to your advantage. ;-)

As for myself, I've had a totally shared economy with my wife for a long time (we earn approximately the same amount, or rather we would if she worked full-time). Even before that, we mostly just eyed the stack of bills at the end of each month and handed them out to make to approximately equal stacks, without actually doing the exact math.

Great post as usual Martin. I posted a link to it on my blog yesterday and have received quite a few interesting comments. Stop by for a coffee one of these days.