Main content

My partner earns 10k more - but we split everything 50/50

How do you manage money in a relationship? At first glance, it might seem easier than managing on your own with two incomes rather than one, but that doesn’t mean it’s always straightforward. What if your partner is frivolous, or too frugal? What if they earn half your salary?

Not to mention that sitting your partner down to talk about your mutual spending habits might not seem like the best way to keep the romance alive.

But with money worries being voted one of the top strains on relationships, could talking openly about finances with a partner help fend off future arguments?

The BBC Money Clinic on Radio 4 has been inviting couples and families to open up about their relationships and their bank accounts, with an expert to help them better understand each other.

Fay and Ben

Fay and Ben's story

Fay and Ben, a couple in their early 20s, decided they needed a frank conversation about the tensions money is causing in their relationship. They sat down with counsellor Dee Holmes, of the relationship charity Relate.

Fay and Ben decided they needed a frank conversation about tensions over money.

Fay works in retail and earns about £17k a year, while her boyfriend, Ben, works in recruitment and earns around £27k, with the possibility of earning more on commission.

Though there’s a £10k wage gap between them, they split everything - rent, bills, food - 50/50.

They’ve lived together in a one-bed flat in London for just over nine months, paying £1400 between them in rent before bills. But they say their arguments usually start over small, ‘petty’ spends.

“Take something like alcohol,” Fay explains, “if I have to get Ben some beers for the weekend, I wouldn’t drink them, so I think he should have to pay for the beer.”

Couples often bring ideas and attitudes towards money that stem from their own upbringing.

Sounds simple enough, but Ben says it often doesn’t work out that way.

“The amount of times I’ve come home and she’s sat on the sofa with a beer - I’m thinking, wait a second, I’ve now paid more for that than you.”

They decided to split everything equally to keep things fair, but Fay says the gap between their wages causes tension when it comes to buying non-essentials.

“Obviously Ben has more disposable income than me, I have very little. It’s just annoying, being like ‘pay me back 70p for that half of the milk’. It turns into a petty argument every time we split something, and I want to move past that,” Fay says.

But because he’s the higher earner, Ben says he can feel under pressure to pick up the bill.

“When we go out for dinner, I think because I’m not really earning a huge amount more after tax, it should be equal and we should split it,” Ben says.

“But sometimes the bill will come and Fay chances her arm a bit and asks if I’m going to pick it up.”

“It makes me feel used to be honest, it makes me feel pretty horrible.”

Couples often bring ideas and attitudes towards money that stem from their own upbringing, Dee says. When these attitudes are different, tensions can build.

How to split the bill

Claudia Hammond looks at the best tips for splitting a bill.

When it comes to spending, Ben says his philosophy is “work hard, play hard”.

Some couples need to accept that what they see as a waste of money might be different to what their partner sees.

“My dad repeated that to me for years, like a mantra - I’ve had paper runs since I was 14 and I’ve worked since then.”

Fay’s parents instilled in her the importance of saving, she says.

“I’d like to save for big things, like holidays,” she tells Ben.

But Ben says her holiday dreams are unrealistic.

“It’s not like I don’t have the will to save - but I want to do fun, social things and spend my money on that as opposed to long-term goals,” he explains.

Dee says a joint account for money that can be used for essentials like bread and milk could be useful for couples like Ben and Fay. But, she says, there are trust issues that can come with opening a joint account. Ben agrees.

“Fay recently started running this air purifier all day, and when I looked it up online I found it would cost us £80 a year to leave it running like that,” Ben says.

“I’d be worried about opening a joint account and sharing money.”

But he can be just as guilty of ‘wasting money’, according to Fay.

“Ben has an energy drink every morning, and I worked out that he’ll be spending £240 a year on them,” she says.

How you can save money on everyday goods

What should we be prepared to pay for a packet of washing up tablets?

Some couples need to accept that what they see as a waste of money might be different to what their partner sees, Dee says, and this can be the first step to communicating about saving.

She suggests looking at your own spending first, and by recognising that not all of it is essential, you can start to understand why your partner is doing the same.

For Ben and Fay, this is a moment of epiphany.

Fay says one of the biggest barriers to communicating with Ben is her worry it will turn into an argument.

“I don’t know how much I should be spending a week, I don’t know how to budget,” she admits.

“It does stress me out and I’d like Ben to help me, but whenever he tries, it’s quite confrontational.”

“It’s really simple and you don’t seem to get it, that’s my problem,” Ben tells her.

Tips for making your money go further

Claer Barrett, Personal Finance Editor of the Financial Times, on the best ways to save money.

But Fay’s willingness to open up about her struggles to budget seems to have led to a breakthrough.

By the end of the session, Fay and Ben feel like they’ve made real progress.

By the end of the session, it feels like they’ve made real progress.

“This is the first time you’ve actually said you can’t budget, and now we can sit together and make a plan for the week,” Ben tells her.

“But I don’t think we realise enough though that we are actually doing alright,” Ben says.

“We shouldn’t make the little things so big,” Fay adds, “if we iron out the creases and communicate more - that’s the key.”

More from Radio 4