The Argument for Pooling Money in a Relationship

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash.

We’ve had a couple of recent Billfold discussions about how (and why) to keep finances separate after marriage; today, we’re going to look at the opposite perspective. At Longreads, Vanessa Golenia describes what happened when she started dating someone who made significantly less money than she did, and what happened when they decided to combine both their lives and their incomes.

Like most artists, Peter didn’t make enough money to live off sales of his paintings and photographs alone, regardless of how compelling I thought they were. He had a full-time job as a gallery director and took freelance jobs installing art and curating private collections. I had no idea how much that paid, but the more I got to know him, the more I sensed it wasn’t much.

There are parts of this essay that made me worry, a little, for its author. At one point, for example, she gives up her apartment with “the recessed lighting, the jets in the bathtub, the massive double door refrigerator that offered filtered water at various temperatures, and the stacked washer and dryer in one of the hallway closets” to move into her boyfriend’s run-down, mouse-infested apartment, because that’s what his income could afford.

I did something very similar in my early 30s, selling my furniture and downgrading my lifestyle to move closer to a boyfriend whom I also, at the time, outearned — and while our breakup and the subsequent “okay, what am I going to do with myself” crisis started me on a trajectory that has since led to HERE and NOW, and I’m very happy with HERE and NOW, I still regret how quickly I reshaped my life to fit his, and how much money I spent in the process.

But what else are you going to do? As Golenia writes:

One Sunday, Peter’s bike had a flat tire so we stopped at the bike shop to get it repaired. The damage to the tire required the entire wheel to be replaced, which the shop guy told us would be about $100. Peter turned to me and apologized, “I don’t think I can go to the beach today. I don’t have the money to pay for this right now.”

The flat tire was a joykill. I’d had my heart set on the beach and didn’t want to spend the afternoon sweltering in the city heat. I also didn’t want be that couple my friend had told me about — the one where one goes on vacation alone because the other one can’t afford to — so I insisted on paying for the tire, which ended in an awkward exchange of “I’ll pay you back,” and “don’t worry about it.” It was obvious that $100 had a entirely different value to each of us.

The story ends with an engagement and a joint bank account, but you’ll want to read the entire piece to see how they got there.

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