5 Ways To Realistically Tackle Financial Inequality In Your Relationship

As wealth inequality in the United States continues to reach extreme lengths, many couples are facing a microcosm of this reality in their own personal relationships. Couples do not often make the same income. And for straight couples, this divide can be even more pointed, considering that women make about 80% of what men make, according to studies from the Pew Research Center. Outdated gender roles also expect women to focus more on the domestic sphere — being a housewife, having children — than committing to their own financial independence. 

Now, some women are challenging expectations about how expenses should be split when their partners make much more than them. Perhaps the way you split bills with your significant other is making it difficult for your savings to grow, or perhaps you feel indebted to a partner who is paying for most all of your shared expenses. While there is no universal approach, addressing income inequality in your relationship can feel freeing, should you feel bound to the limitations of the money you make. Here's how to do it. 

Have a conversation about your finances

The first step to broaching the subject with your partner is, of course, to talk about it. But before going into the conversation, reflect on your own attitude toward money. How has money shaped your life? Do you prefer to spend or save? What are your financial goals and woes? For example, do you feel strongly about maintaining a fund for emergency savings? Are you striving to be debt-free? Then, ask your partner to reflect on the same, before sitting down to chat. This way you will both feel prepared to have a sensitive conversation, clear-headed about where you're coming from. 

No matter whether you feel your partner is paying too much or too little, communicate your perspective with compassion, instead of judgment. This is pivotal when trying to make reach an understanding of how you will handle money together. "Whenever people ask, I say that the right way to organize your money is the way where you don't fight about it," Harvard sociology professor Alexandra Killewald told The New York Times

Split expenses according to income

One of the most common ways to split expenses is to do so in proportion to the amount of money you bring in. While dividing bills fifty-fifty is often touted as the most "fair" way to pay expenses, fairness also comes with being equitable. Splitting expenses in half can feel burdensome for a partner who makes less between the two. It ultimately places a heavier burden on them to meet financial expectations, potentially at the expense of their own personal savings. 

First, add up both incomes for a combined total household income. Then, divide your income by this number for the individual percent you contribute to the total. Next, tally up the total of shared expenses, which could be anything from rent, utilities, and groceries, to pet supplies, subscription services, and more. Multiply your individual percent of the household income by the total of shared expenses, and you have your adjusted contribution to household expenses. This method can work well for those with substantial differences in their income levels, calculating a more fair split overall. Splitting expenses this way can also be quite exact and easy to adjust, which could be beneficial for those looking to maintain tight budgets.

Divide bills by expense

Another method of splitting bills is to divide them by expense. Where splitting bills for each expense based on income can be meticulous, this method allows both parties to have their own household responsibilities. These can still be more or less proportional to income, without needing to account for each minutia. 

For example, perhaps your individual portion of the household income is about 35%. After reviewing your combined expenses, you find that three categories, utilities, internet, and groceries for example, tend to account for 35% of your total monthly expenses. Instead of splitting all of your expenses in proportion, you would simply take charge of the ones that reflect your percentage of the total income. Then, your partner pays the expenses that make up the remaining portion of shared expenses. This could make managing your expenses slightly easier by giving each partner fewer bills to worry about, while still ensuring that you are each carrying a proportional amount of financial responsibility. 

Consider a shared checking account

As far as physically paying your bills, apps including Venmo or Cash App make transferring money super simple between parties. But there could be benefits to having a joint checking account used for shared expenses. First, having a shared account means that you can always prioritize covering household expenses, where the extra proportion of your income can go directly into a separate account. Automatic payments can also be set up from that account, which can make both of your lives easier knowing that the bill will be taken care of, and you do not have to remind each other. 

Having a joint checking account can also make keeping track of your combined personal finances easier. It can be a great way to ensure that both incomes, no matter how large or small, make a noticeable contribution. It also allows you to find surpluses in combined incomes and expenses that you can put in savings to work toward a common goal.

Build your own wealth

When it comes to financial inequality in a relationship, one of the best things you can do is work toward building your wealth on your own. This is especially important if you are affected by the adverse legacies of financial policies that excluded women, especially Black women, from having financial autonomy. These disparities are still present today. At no point should you be compromising your savings, or critical payments, to fulfill a shared obligation that is beyond your capacity but within your significant other's. Have a money-saving strategy and stick to it. 

Make sure that you are contributing to your own wealth by setting up payments that automatically deposit into a savings account. Use your cash to make diverse investments, and maintain a retirement account such as a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k). And if you do have debt to pay off, prioritize eliminating high-interest debt that could make it difficult to build long-term wealth.