When you enter a serious long-term relationship, one of your first lessons is often how to budget as a couple. There are so many ways to split expenses with a significant other, such as taking turns paying for dates, paying for rent proportional to each person’s income, or one person covering utilities while the other buys groceries.
Figuring Out Our Budget as a Couple
When my boyfriend and I first started dating, I was on a restricted diet due to a medical condition. My groceries, what I ordered at restaurants – even the snacks I bought – were usually much more expensive than his selections. It didn’t make sense for us to take turns picking up the bill, or for him to pick up my groceries when he was at the store. Dating me would have been quite the financial blow!
We quickly developed a hyper-specific, straightforward, and functional system to help us budget as a couple, and we still use it to this day.
On date nights, we each order whatever we want, making note of the price. When it comes time to pay the bill, I pay for what I ordered and my boyfriend pays for what he ordered, including our proportional share of tax and tip. Sometimes, though, one of us will be out of cash, or the restaurant doesn’t allow customers to split checks. For those times, we keep a “tab” in a Google note. One of us picks up the whole bill, then we write down how much the other person owes for their order, tax, and tip.
We adapted this for groceries, too. After a grocery trip, I highlight the items I picked up for him, and he makes a note on the tab.
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Expanding the Budget
It worked so well with food that we decided to apply this strategy to everything that we budget as a couple. At bars, we open a joint tab, then one of us pays the bill at the end of the night. His beers are usually cheaper than my cocktails, so I often end up owing more.
As our relationship progressed, we started using the tab for new expenses. When my boyfriend hosts guests in our shared apartment, he puts the extra laundry load on it. When we went to Japan, he added his half of the airfare. We also keep track of exchange rates when we split costs during international trips. He paid me back in U.S. dollars according to that day's rate of exchange with the local currency!
When we moved in together, we divided the sofa, and he paid me back for his portion of the moving expenses.
Once, we split the $2.75 subway fare when one of our passes ran out.
Another time, we split the $1 packet of screws that we bought to hang a painting in our new apartment.
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A lot of people would find the tab annoying, but we think it’s fair. At the end of the month, we add up how much we owe each other, and the one with the lesser amount writes a check to the other.
For the most part, this system has worked perfectly for us ever since we started it over four years ago. It helped us start the money conversation early in our relationship.
Talking about money on a micro level made it easier to bring up the big-picture stuff – student loans, salaries, future plans, and more.
Understanding Each Other's Financial Situation
Knowing his disposable income makes me more comfortable suggesting date-night activities and vacations, and I know he feels the same way.
Occasionally, using the tab system brings up issues. Maybe I think we’re splitting appetizers during a night out, but my boyfriend claims that I ordered them for myself. Or he gets annoyed when I bring up every tiny expense, but I feel that they add up quickly. At the end of the day, though, these small issues actually help us to become better at communicating.
It might not sound romantic to budget as a couple this way – or to talk about money on dates or while planning getaways – but for us, the assurance that we’re on the same page feels great. It’s confirmation that we have a healthy relationship that’s built to last.