Today’s post is for poly folk who share expenses. I wrote it assuming a joint household, but the same basic ideas apply to folks who live separately and share expenses.
For some poly folk, all household income and all bills go into a family pot and (at least in theory) are handled jointly. How this works out in the real world varies. For other poly folk, moving in together can be more like being roommates-with-benefits. Everyone has their share of the rent and utilities, buys their own food, and has their own individual expenses. Of course, there’s every option in between as well.
When deciding how entwined you want your finances to be, I recommend going at the pace of the person who wants the least entwinement. If two of you are comfortable going all in, and one wants to function as roommates-with-benefits, then start out at the roommates level of entwinement. It is easier to increase entwinement later than to decrease it. Especially in financial matters.
Once you decide how entwined you want your finances to be, it’s time to decide how to divide up your joint bills. There are many ways to approach this, and one day someone with more economic background than I have will probably tackle household finances for a group home. For now, here are some options to get your conversation started.
As always in poly matters, strike the word “fair” from your vocabulary when discussing budgets. Whether or not a given budgeting option is “fair” is entirely a matter of perspective. Instead, look for options that work for your family.
Total up the household bills, divide by the number of people in the household, and that’s what everyone pays each month. The traditional option for roommates.
Easy to implement and taken at face value extremely “fair”.
May cause resentment/envy/jealousy when income varies widely within polycule and one member is constantly scraping by with no disposable income while others have lots of extra each month.
Does not allow for a house-spouse in the polycule–everyone needs to have an income.
Is likely to be especially hard in polycules where one or more members have an established career and others are in school/trying to find work
Determine what percentage of household income each member brings in. Each member of the polycule pays that percentage of the bills each month. For example, if my family has $1000 coming in each month, $400 from me, $300 from partner A and $300 from partner B, then I would pay 40% of the household bills, and each of my partners would pay 30%.
This type of arrangement is harder to set up than an equal split. However, once set up it can run just as seamlessly. A polycule member with a higher income will still have more disposable income at the end of the month than a polycule member with low income, but everyone with an income should have some disposable income after the household bills are paid (unless the entire household is just scraping by.)
This set up can be difficult to make work when one or more members of the polycule has a variable income.
May cause resentment if polycule members with higher income feel like they are supporting polycule members with lower income.
Can work with a house-spouse. A house-spouse brings in 0% of the household income and pays 0% of the bills. However, the house-spouse has no income to pay their personal bills and expenses.
Everyone puts all their money in a communal pot, all household and personal expenses are paid out of that communal pot. This can be both the easiest and most difficult option. It requires the highest level of entwinement and a great deal of trust. Trust that everyone is doing their best to get all the bills paid and trust that when personal bills need to be prioritized, it will be done in a way that not only works best for the household but won’t harm any individual in the polycule.
All-in requires a budget for the household. Other options rely on everyone keeping a personal budget and paying their part of the household bills.
Allows the most flexibility for changing circumstances (someone loses a job, goes back to school, gets a promotion, etc).
As with percentage split, may cause resentment if one or more members of the polycule feel other members are “riding” on their hard work.
If you choose to split household expenses, however you split them, you probably don’t need to worry about a household budget. Everyone pays their share, and everyone keeps an individual budget to manage the rest of their personal finances. Some polycules may choose to create a household budget anyway
For polycules that choose to go all-in, a household budget becomes necessary.
Creating a family budget can easily become a nightmare. The general options are to pick one person to be responsible for the budget or to manage the budget by committee. Having one person manage all the money requires a great deal of trust and ongoing communication. The word “committee” tells you everything you need to know about how easy that option is!
A middle ground is for one person to create the budget, but then review it together to discuss and make changes as needed.
Deciding how to manage the budget will be based largely on personal preference, skill and knowledge of budgeting, family communication levels, and need for simplicity.
If your polycule needs a simple option and has the necessary comfort levels, pick one person who knows how to handle a budget, and let them handle it.
If your polycule is good at negotiating and working things out together, and needs transparency more than simplicity, managing the budget by committee may work for you. Plan a budget together and use a shared GoogleSheets spreadsheet to keep track of and record all expenses and income. Just make sure you remember to record everything you need to!