What to Do When You Make More than Your Partner

My husband and I have been together for almost a decade. And for the majority of that time, we’ve made the same amount of money.

When You Make the Same Amount, It’s So Simple

When you make the same income as your partner, managing your money together is pretty simple. When we were dating, we kept everything separate and paid for ourselves. When we moved in together and then married, we split everything down the middle 50/50. That was it. Nothing to argue about. It was great.

Then we bought our first place together. If you want to learn more about our experience as new homeowners, make sure to check out my New Homeowner Diaries video series all about it.

It’s been incredibly chaotic moving into a townhouse from a small apartment and figuring out the differences between being a renter and homeowner.

Luckily, we’ve been in our place for just over 2 months now and things have calmed down quite a bit. So much in fact that we finally had time to sit down and have a good long money chat.

But Things Get More Complicated After a Big Life Change

I’ll write a post soon about what the big financial differences are between owning a home compared to continuing renting, but for this post I wanted to focus on adjusting your budget after a big life change.

Buying our first place was a major life change. I’d say marriage was the only thing that could top it. But similar to marriage, we didn’t realize how big of an impact it would make on our lives.

It’s funny, I still remember people asking me after my wedding if anything felt different. Right after the wedding, definitely not. But 3 years after the wedding, oh heck yes! Everything changed. We started thinking of each other as family. We started making longer term plans together. And overall, we just felt more committed to each other.

The same goes for us becoming new homeowners. Honestly, we just thought that buying a place would mean having more space and finally getting into the property game. Oh how naive we were.

Buying a place has really made us look at our budget and income streams. There’s no denying that owning a home, and being on the hook when things break or die, is expensive. We’ve also got more bills to pay than we had as a renters, and basically our cost of living has close to doubled.

Being Equal Doesn’t Have to Mean 50/50

The thing is, my husband’s income hasn’t doubled in the past year. But for me, since I rebranded back in January, my income has increased significantly. I still have my day job, but so far I’ve also made 5 figures off my personal brand. I may reveal some hard numbers before the start of the new year, but if you’ve been a long time reader, you know I’ve never done income reports (I do like a bit of privacy after all).

With all that to consider, I told my husband that I didn’t want to do 50/50 anymore. It wasn’t fair that he had to spend a larger percentage of his income on living expenses than I did. I just knew that if something didn’t change soon, we would end up arguing about money, and that’s something that we’ve never done before. Sure, we talk about money all the time, but it’s always been a big priority for us to never fight about it.

At first, he wasn’t really on board. And I get why. This would mean we weren’t on the same level anymore and we’d both be acknowledging that I made more. I’ll be honest, it was a hard and awkward conversation. I certainly didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but I knew in the long run it made the most sense.

Here’s How to Find Out How Much Each of You Should Contribute to Joint Expenses

Have any of you ever watched The Joy Luck Club? I remember watching it years ago, and a scene that has always stuck in my mind was the one where Lena explains how her and her husband manage their money. They do everything 50/50 so their love is always equal. Their 50/50 system of course causes a lot of resentment down the road because her husband makes 7x what she makes.

I never wanted to be like that couple. Being equal shouldn’t mean just 50/50. It should mean looking at your joint expenses, looking at your individual incomes, then figuring out what percentage each person should contribute. Here’s the formula we used with some example numbers.

Partner #1 yearly income = $50,000

Partner #2 yearly income = $75,000

Total yearly income = $125,000

$50,000 / $125,000 = 40%

$75,000 / $125,000 = 60%

And that’s it. Just look at how much you both make and combine those numbers to find the total. Then divide your individual incomes with the total to find out the percentage each of you should contribute to joint expenses. It’s what we now do, and I’m happy to report it’s working out really well!

How do you and your partner manage your joint expenses when one of you makes more than the other? Let me know in the comments!

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Showing 27 comments
  • MomofTwoPreciousGirls
    Reply

    We’ve been married for 12 years, together for 19 and we have two children. Our incomes just go together. There isn’t any his and mine it’s all ours. He probably makes the bulk of the income and contributes more on the expense side, but I have always covered family healthcare and the bulk of daycare bc I have the benefits to allow us to get the best tax treatment. It really wasn’t until we just threw everything in one pot that we finally stopped arguing about money! Always having to rally things up and then “oh I had to put in extra last time” “no i did”. We also don’t have any expenses that are individual. We each get a monthly allowance for fun and for clothing but that is it.

  • Tara
    Reply

    We have joint checking so we don’t have that money splitting problem. I do make more money than him now but that hasn’t cause problems because of the shared financials and shared communication about the future.

  • Rob
    Reply

    Hi jess,
    Well, after being married for 47 years, we’ve basically got it down pat. Like your previous commenter, I basicly cover most of the expenses because my income (being in IT) was much more than my wife’s. That said, we too joined our incomes but each kept out a specific amount for our own individual personal discretionary spending. Now of course that arrangement works well for most couples where the husband usually earns more than his wife but when things are different then it sometimes takes longer to work out a mutually happy arrangement (often due to the “ego” factor). For instance, take the case of same sex couples. Or take the case, like with you guys, where the wife makes more than the husband. Now, from personal observation, you guys are handling it well. I say this because our daughter, for years, has made much more than her husband due to the fact that she is in senior management at one of Canada’s top 5 banks. Her hubby, although not earning as much as her, does his important part in that he’s in the financial wealth management industry and thus is able to wisely (and profitably) invest their combined incomes. Each married partner thus has a role to play and often it’s not just a tally up of money itself but in other ways, whether tangible or not. Being a great cook, often our son-in-law will look after their kids at those times when our daughter can only get home late after a long day at the corporate office. Each partner has their part to play. You and your husband are no different.

  • Jordann
    Reply

    My husband and I used this system for several years since I’ve always made substantially more than him. Once we got married, though, we combined our incomes completely since we were working towards joint goals like saving for a home and retirement funding.

    Today, I still make almost double what my husband earns, so we continue to use the combined finances method for our money. Since I earn more, I get more “say” in how our money is spent, which just means we save a lot!

  • Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies
    Reply

    All of our money goes in the same pot. We don’t split it up by percentages or anything like that. My thinking being that would I then have to factor in who does more work to maintain the house? Or cook the meals? And honestly, my husband contributes so much to the maintenance of our house that he actually adds more value if that makes sense.

    Not only do I outearn my husband, but I always will. My school district pays better AND I’ve been teaching longer. So I have a leg up on the salary schedule. 😉

    • ChooseBetterLife
      Reply

      We use the one pot method also. We make an annual budget together, agree on amounts, then decide who wants to be in charge of actually making certain payments. Generally, he’s in charge of vacation planning, hobbies, and entertainment, and I handle the day to day expenses of normal life.
      It works well for us, because it’s all “us” rather than mine and his. If he blows “his” money or I blow “mine,” that means less money for both of us in retirement, so it’s all “ours.”

  • Gwen @ Fiery Millennials
    Reply

    Oh man. I can’t even keep a partner. In my area, I earn more than the median household income. I’ve been broken up with TWICE because he couldn’t handle the fact I made so much more money than him. It’s actually a pretty good test for potential dates – seeing how he reacts when I reveal that info (at an appropriate stage, of course) tells me a lot about who he is on the inside.

    • Nick
      Reply

      Wow…. That’s crazy Gwen! My wife doesn’t make more than I do right now (she’s still in Grad school) but she will after she graduates, and I’m pumped about it! I tell her she needs to make all she can/wants to 🙂

      I don’t think you are, but I definitely wouldn’t fret if a guy can’t handle that. It definitely tells you a lot about who he is on the inside. Best of luck!

  • Mary Beth Elderton
    Reply

    Rather than split the bills 50/50 (or another proportion) we keep out an equal amount for personal spending. The rest goes into a joint account where bills are paid and larger items are purchased with discussion. If we accumulate over a certain amount in the joint account, we move it to a joint savings. This way, personal spending money is roughly equal and having personal money gives us each a measure of individual control over what we like to buy. Everything else is done within our “partnership.”

  • TJ
    Reply

    I’ve never reached the point of merging finances with a partner. It definitely sounds like it could be an awkward conversation if there’s a large disconnect in incomes.

    Even if someone made the same amount as me, I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to contribute an equal amount as me, because they might have a larger debt load because they didn’t have as much help from their parents. If I’ve chosen to permanently partner up with someone, it seems like we should be in it together.

    For me, I feel like the when you have the 50/50 mentality and disregard incomes, it starts to look a lot more like oppo sex roommate with some intimacy benefits. And that’s just not what I’m looking for.

    But I also don’t want to feel like the person who is better off financially has more power in the relationship.

    I think the conclusion is that couples absolutely need to talk about these things. Kudos to you and your husband for having the talk and making the adjustments.

  • Stefanie O'Connell
    Reply

    We split necessities 50/50 and I’ve always made significantly less. He’ll cover more dinner’s out though. I like the idea of percentages, but I think when you don’t know your income or you’re often unemployed it can get tricky and breed resentment in the other partner. What’s tricky now is that my income is inching closer to my partners’, so I get the sense that he expects me to treat him more often, but the fact is, I don’t have any employer retirement contributions, I pay for healthcare out of pocket and I have MUCH higher costs to run my business – so it can be very difficult to make apples to apples comparisons.

  • Ms. Rustic Walks
    Reply

    My partner and I have very different incomes, so we split our housing expenses 65%/35% using the same formula you described. Other joint expenses like groceries and home supplies are split pretty evenly. It was hard to come up with a number that seemed fair, especially since we both want to save toward our individual and joint financial goals. For awhile we got stuck on what seemed “fair”, but we decided it’s more important to pay what we can afford and contribute in other areas equally.

  • k
    Reply

    My husband and I have different incomes, except around tax time when mine comes close to his, but we throw it all together and have never split. We do things together and thankfully have similar financial goals and spending tendencies. We find it much simpler to do all of our finances together since we are in the marriage together.

  • Ty
    Reply

    Hey Jessica! Since day one of our 18 year marriage, all income has gone into one account, and all expenses come out of that same account. No percentages on income or expenses.

    When we first got married, my wife made a lot more than me (I was a full time student). It was never an issue because it has always “us” rather than ‘you and me.’ These days my wife is a SAHM, taking care of four kids. She’s not bringing in an income, does that mean she contributes 0% and I get to call all the money shots? LOL. hell no. Do I get less say in how we raise our kids because she spends more time with them? Of course not. So why would it be any different with our finances?

  • TinTin
    Reply

    How does he feel about having the awkward conversation and then the gist of it getting published online?

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Well, the awkward conversation was awkward obviously. But sometimes talking about these things is just that. And he’s totally fine with me sharing this on my blog because he’s awesome, supportive, and like me wants to help others with their finances by sharing personal experiences and promoting conversations on “taboo” subjects.

      • TinTin
        Reply

        Cool, thanks for clarifying. Sometimes articles involving relationships are written from the writer’s perspective and left open ended for the reader to imagine what happened to the other side. Success of this type of conversation and confidence for the reader to perhaps consider the same for their own situations will come from that sort of clarity.

  • Emily @ evolvingPF
    Reply

    That Joy Luck Club scene stuck in my mind, too, but my response was to eschew separate finances rather than the 50/50 mindset. My husband and I went from having equal incomes at the start of our marriage to radically different incomes now, but we’ve just kept joint finances the whole time so there haven’t been any issues.

  • Steve
    Reply

    Like MomofTwoPreciousGirls does, my wife and I don’t worry about splitting 50/50. It all goes into one pot and comes out the same. I have never understood the my money your money thing. At times I have mademore and attimes my wife has made more but it has never even needed to be a conversation. The only non-joint accounts we have are our RRSP/TFSA (ROTH IRA/401K). My question is, why when there was only 1 income per family did these issues not come up. I think it was because of strong and secure family units. Ones where it was all about the family and not mine vs yours.

  • Leigh
    Reply

    My husband and I got married in September, so we are sorting this stuff out. While we were dating, we largely split all expenses 50/50 at the source. Once we moved in together, we kept things a bit looser at the source, but made sure it was 50/50 overall lazily. The catch here is that we live in a condo that is still titled 100% in my name. He never paid me rent or paid anything towards housing expenses.

    For the first couple years when my husband and I were dating, I made more than him (145% and 115% of his income, respectively), then the next year, he made 125% of my income. Those figures weren’t that crazy, but he has really done well with his income this year and he is on track to make 200% of my income. Splitting everything 50/50 was all fine and dandy until his income dwarfed mine by that much. I tried to not resent him too much for not paying me rent when he started making so much more money than me, but it was hard, though helped by the fact that I had more assets overall (in the multiple hundred thousand dollar more range, though he also has multiple hundred thousand dollars in assets).

    Thankfully, we got married and we’re working on an agreement to both own the condo together some day, which will help to equalize things a bit in terms of income, cash flow, and general liquidity. Our postnuptial agreement will allow us to keep separate income (even while married!) and assets fully separate, while also building pre-marital assets. We’re not completely sure what we will do about our incomes once we both own the condo fully 50/50 in a few years, but I have a feeling we could end up in a one pot system. It’s really important to us to not have to keep a spreadsheet for the rest of our lives, even though we want to keep some assets separate.

    • Mike
      Reply

      When I moved in with my girlfriend (now wife), she had put a down payment of $20,000 on the house she got. So when I moved in, what I did was put $20,000 worth of renos into the house over the course of a few years. Then we were even.

      • Leigh
        Reply

        That seems like a reasonable approach with those numbers. The scale of our numbers is vastly larger than that, partially due to appreciation in the local market, so we are working on a solution. We will get there with some discussions 🙂

  • Jessica Moorhouse
    Reply

    FYI loving the comments in here! Thanks so much everyone for sharing!

  • Samantha
    Reply

    We deal with money as a family unit – it doesn’t matter who earns what…

  • Jena
    Reply

    I make quite a bit more than my husband currently, but I don’t foresee that always being the case… for now though, we pretty much just share costs of whatever comes in. We don’t have any specific percentages because we consider all money to be “ours”, but I’d say unconsciously I pay for more out of my account because I have the money is there. We have some shared savings accounts for big ticket items, but each have separate chequing accounts. When a bill comes in, one of us pays it. If there starts to be money sitting in one savings account or another, we transfer it to our shared savings accounts…

  • Katelynne
    Reply

    We started off doing the 60%/40% when we moved in together because 50%/50% left one of us with less cash flow. The adjustment helped a lot and felt like a lot less pressure. I remember proposing it and holding my breath hoping the my partner would go for it. (He did, it made sense with the numbers) We are preparing to get married and we own a home together but we still didn’t go all in but we did shift it – I pay 100% of house expenses with the agreement that he will kill his debt with higher payments. Then we balance night outs between the two of us & discretionary spending, depending on what feels right at the time. We have talked about being a one pot household, especially as we consider having a family. I think that that scary 60%/40% conversation got us to the point where we can talk about money openly and I think this post & your youtube video on this is important for that – talking about how money feels and works and then adjusting to what works for you!

  • Julie @ Millennial Boss
    Reply

    I pay for almost everything. He takes care of everything around the house and our dog in addition to his part time job. Not easy for either of us but works for us. All money is shared in a joint account. We have separate accounts too but they are formalities.

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