How to manage your finances as a couple

There's no one way to manage money--there's only your way. For inspiration, a few couples agreed to share their tried-and-true approaches with us.

Updated on August 17, 2020

Do love and money go together? Based on the conversations we had with Marie-Ève Lévesque and couple Sophie Montminy and Dino Masson about this often touchy topic, the answer is yes.

I earn more than you

For many couples, the salary gap can be the hardest to bridge. “At first, there was tension because my partner earned more than I did, and he wanted everything to be split 50/50,” says Marie-Ève, who’s self-employed, and shares her life with a full-time salaried technician. “But that lifestyle wasn’t possible for me.”

The couple decided on a solution tailored to their situation: some expenses are shared proportionally to each partner’s income, while others are covered by the higher-earning spouse. “Big expenses like the house and expenses for the kids, like childcare, come out of our joint account, which we both contribute to based on what we can. And he pays the hydro bill and groceries, for example,” says Marie-Ève.

Sophie, who’s self-employed, and Dino, who owns a gym, share expenses based on their changing situation. “At first, we split everything equally, since we were both earning a salary,” says Sophie. “When Dino started his business 6 years ago, it required financial stability. I was the most stable one,” says Sophie. “Now, it’s Dino who pays the biggest share.”

For this self-employed couple, it was risk tolerance, which was higher for him than for her, that they needed to discuss.

The importance of communication

Something both couples have in common? Being able to talk about anything openly and honestly. “We’ve always talked about our finances. We know our numbers to the nearest dollar. In the beginning, we used apps, now it’s simple Excel spreadsheets,” says Sophie.

And that’s really important, given that Sophie left a well-paid job with an RRSP and benefits. Starting a business like that, you need good communication and you have to make sure that one partner can and wants to support the other.

Here are some good tips to help you and your partner start a money conversation:

  1. Ideally, talk about it early in the relationship. It’s often a taboo subject, and it’s easier when things are going well.
  2. Decide how personal finances should be managed: individually, jointly or 50/50.
  3. Establish a budget - This link will open in a new window.: decide who pays for what and know where your money is going. Be fair in dividing up regular expenses, saving and paying for major purchases, like a car or a home.
  4. For joint projects, it’s important to plan together (emergency fund, travel, kids, retirement, estate planning). Some decisions have an impact on your financial security as a couple.
  5. Be honest. Don’t hide your financial situation from your partner —they’ll find out eventually!

Remember: Marital status has an impact on the distribution of assets. Married couples are entitled to division of property, but common-law partners aren’t.*

4 money traps couples should avoid:

  • Not talking about money
  • Using the “I save” and “you pay for expenses” approach
  • Not having important legal documents (like a cohabitation agreement or will) drawn up, to prevent problems in the event of separation or death
  • Thinking you have too many expenses to save

3 types of budgets for couples

50/50

Joint expenses are shared equally by both partners, regardless of their income. The rest goes to personal expenses. It’s one way to divide up expenses, but it isn’t always fair. The lower-earning partner will be at a disadvantage. New couples who don’t yet have major joint obligations or kids often use this approach.

Proportional

Joint expenses are shared proportionally according to each partner’s income. So, a partner who earns 60% of the family income will pay 60% of joint expenses. This is a fairer way to distribute expenses, but if there’s a significant income gap between the spouses, the budget won’t be completely equitable.

Pooled

All expenses and income are pooled, often in the same account. This approach is often used by couples with kids or those who have been together for awhile. For this type of budget, partners should have similar financial priorities, and trust one another, of course.

Tip Tip: Each spouse should keep a personal account to maintain financial independence. Small individual expenses could cause unnecessary arguments. Keep in mind, too, that in the event of death, joint accounts are frozen while the estate is being settled.

Insurance goes hand in hand with finances

Entering new stages and making plans together are great opportunities to reassess you and your beneficiaries’ coverage needs. What would happen if you had to stop working because of an accident or illness? One option to consider is disability insurance - This link will open in a new window., which can provide income if that happens and protect your financial security as a couple. When you’re not stressed about money, it’s easier to focus on getting better.

With life insurance - This link will open in a new window., you can make sure your spouse and children will be financially secure if you pass away.

To assess your situation and find the right insurance for you, contact a financial security advisor.

5 matters to discuss as a couple:

  • Will
  • Life and disability insurance
  • Power of attorney
  • Kids’ education
  • Family goals (travelling, buying a property, or retiring)

Good luck with your discussions!

* Applicable for Quebec and Ontario. In Canada, common-law relationship regulations may vary in each province.

Recommended for you