Polyamory Budgeting

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.

Even Split

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

Percentage Split

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!

Budgeting for Dates

Obviously, I’ve starting this series with the low hanging fruit. Don’t worry, we’ll get into the side of poly finances that aren’t about dates and dating soon.

Anyone with an individual budget can budget for dates the same way they budget for anything else. Create a line item in your budget for “dates” and pick how much money each month you want to/can afford to spend on dates. You are done budgeting for dates.

But what if you have a joint budget with your poly partner(s) (or anyone else). Disagreements about paying for dates have crashed many poly relationships. “What do you mean you spent 0 on your date with Jay! We can’t afford that!”
“You can’t tell me when I can and can’t go out with Shauna, you’re just using money to control me!”

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” A plan for how much money you can afford to spend on dates can save a lot of headaches and heartaches.

3 Approaches to Budgeting for Dates:

Line item—Date money

Just like an individual budget, your joint budget can include a set amount of money everyone can spend on dates. This money is available to everyone to use as and when they want. You’ll need good communication to make sure you don’t go over budget. This option allows a lot of flexibility. With good communication you can keep your dates within budget, have flexibility, and give everyone a chance for a big night out once in a while.

If Michael has no dates planned in August, I can go on a big expensive (expensive for us anyway) date. In September Michael is planning to visit C. He’ll get most of the “going out” money (plus any extra we can scrape up) for the trip. In October maybe we’ll split the money evenly.

Multiple line items—Partner 1 date money, Partner 2 date money, etc

Instead of one line item for date money, have a separate amount budgeted for each person. Each person has their own money to spend on dates. You don’t need to discuss who is doing what or how much each person wants to spend this month. If Partner 1 wants to go on an expensive date, they may need to save their money for a month. In the meantime, partner 2 can go on a bunch of inexpensive dates. You have less flexibility, but also fewer chances for accidentally interfering with your partner’s dating plans. And less chance of going over budget.

Multiple line items—Personal money

NOT an epic yarn stash.
NOT an epic yarn stash.

Everyone has a set amount of money for personal stuff. Personal stuff can be hobbies, dates, sex toys, that expensive beer they love, or anything else they want to spend it on. Perfect for when not everyone is actively dating or some people have expensive hobbies. Everyone has their own money they can spend on whatever they want. If they want to spend it on dates, they can spend it on dates. If they want to spend it on stockpiling an epic yarn stash, they can do that.

I usually spend my personal money on books and stuff for my hobbies. Until last year, it went to pay my web hosting. (Thanks again to awesome Patrons that not being necessary any longer!)

Personal money is a good option for mono/poly relationships. The poly partner can spend money on dates without the money coming out of the household budget. The mono partner has  money they can spend on hobbies, nights with their friends or a treat that makes them happy.

You can use more than one option. Michael and I use “going out” money and “personal money” in our budget. For a long time, the “going out” money was mostly used for us to go out together, but it’s also available for date nights with other partners. Personal money can be combined with “going out” money for more expensive outings.

This post is part of the Polyamory Finances blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

Polyamory: Who Pays for Dates?

This isn’t a poly thing so much as a dating thing. But it comes up enough I wanted to tackle it here.

In “traditional” American dating, the man asked the woman and the man paid for the date. As social mores have changed, the issue has become confused.

Some people “go dutch” with both people paying for their share.

Some people expect that whoever asks the other person out on a date will pay for the date.

Some people still follow the traditional (sexist, heterocentric, and gender binary) view that the man pays for the date.

People who ask “who pays for dates” in polyamory seem to expect there to be a standard. There isn’t.

The best approach is to discuss who pays ahead of time. If you can’t, then:

1) if you ask the other person out, make sure you have enough money to cover the whole night,
2) if the other person asks you, plan to pay your share.
Then, with both of you having money on hand, discuss it on the date.

Taking this approach ensures that there is no awkward moment of “I wasn’t planning to pay…” (which is far worse than the awkward moment when you both [all] pull your wallets out at the same time).

If a single date turns into a relationship, at some point you should discuss how you will handle dates in your relationship.

If you are splitting the cost, don’t be inconsiderate.
Unless you have a joint budget (in which case, why are you worrying about who pays?) anyone you go on a date with will be in a different financial situation. What you can pay for easily might be someone else’s once a month splurge and a third person’s “You’re kidding, right?”

On the last post in this series, A shared how expensive “dates” contributed to one of their relationships falling apart:

“Generally, we were fine regarding the way we handled our joint finances, but apparently the “expensive vacations with other partner” thing galled him. If he’d talked about it with me, I think we could have handled it better — his other partner made six figures, he and I were struggling financially, and she kept wanting to take extravagant trips with him, but didn’t want to pay more than 50% of the cost, even though she made twice his salary.”

As I read that comment, I wondered “what was this person thinking?”

If you want to take a partner on expensive outings and they have less money than you, think twice. What may be a reasonable trip for you could break their budget. Be considerate. Either go on dates that are within your partner’s budget or be prepared to pay for it yourself. Yes, it sucks wanting to share this awesome thing with your partner and not being able to. But if your partner can’t afford it or says they can only afford it once in a while, don’t pressure them or shame them or ask them to do the same thing again next week.

This post is part of the Polyamory Finances blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

Financial Entwinement

Before we get deep into poly finances, I want to take a minute to discuss entwinement and specifically financial entwinement.

Polyamorous relationships exist on at least three spectrums: emotional, sexual, and entwinement.

Emotional: ranging from affection to love
Sexual: ranging from “none” to…well, whatever you can imagine
Entwinement: ranging from keeping separate lives to joint everything (mortgage, kids, bank account, will…)

Entwinement is tying your life to some else’s. We twine our lives together, or become entwined, when we move in together, budget together, commit to supporting each other emotionally/socially/financially, and in many other ways. Everything from sharing meals regularly to having a family Netflix account can be a form of entwinement.

You can be barely entwined with someone and still love them. You can love them and not have sex. You can be fully entwined, have only occasional sex, and feel strong affection.

The monogamous ideal is the extreme of all three spectrums: fully entwined, deeply in love and all the sex you’d ever want, with one other person. Some poly folk want the same thing with multiple people. This trifecta gets more challenging to both find and keep functioning the more people you add, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or doesn’t happen.

Other people prefer relationships to develop naturally into the level of emotional, sexual and entwinement that suits the people involved.

Okay, so that’s entwinement and how it fits in with polyamory. Couples and groups who live together are pretty high on the entwinement scale. So are people raising children together whether or not they live together. Most solo poly folk I’ve spoken with prefer to keep their relationships low entwinement, but that’s not a universal.

financial entwinement is entwinement that specifically involves money:

  • joint bank accounts
  • shared budget
  • shared bills
  • joint lease or mortgage
  • shared retirement plan
  • shared financial assets
  • etc

For some poly folk, moving in together means complete financial entwinement. All income and all bills go into a family pot and (at least in theory) are handled jointly. How this works 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.

You can also have entwined finances when you don’t live together. You can budget together, share bank accounts, pitch in to pay for major expenses and more, from across town or across the world.

Throughout this series, we’ll be looking at a different options for how poly folk can manage their finance. Some will be pretty high entwinement options, others will be low entwinement options, with more options in the middle. Always go with what works for your and your poly partners.

Polyamory Finances Blog Series

This blog series will be mostly for poly folk living in entwined couples and entwined groups. Most solo and single poly folk will generally find their finances no different from any other single person. For the RAs, whether or not this blog series will be helpful will depend on your specific relationships and whether or not you are financially entwined with anyone.

Topics will include: multi-partner budgeting, budgeting for dates, emergency funds, house spouse salaries, retirement planning, and more.

Polyamory Finances Posts

  1. Financial Entwinement
  2. Polyamory: Who Pays for Dates?
  3. Budgeting for Dates
  4. Polyamory Budgeting
  5. Guest Post: How Separate Bank Accounts Helped Make Our Open Marriage Work
  6. Budgeting with a House Spouse
  7. Two Things a Poly Group Home Needs to Save For