When my wife Jane and I got married, two years after we met, we chose to combine all of our money together. This worked for us because we were (relatively) young, we had no previous marriages or kids or significant assets, and we knew we wanted to entwine our lives in a way that would emphasize joint-decision making about the big questions in life. And almost all big questions ultimately involve financial decisions at some point.
Over time, we realized that we each wanted more financial freedom. Our one-account-fits-all plan required us to authorize every purchase with the other person. We were never quite sure when it was “OK” to spend money on ourselves – and how much money was OK to spend. Neither of us wanted to police the other’s expenditures. At the same time, we were just starting a family and had recently moved into a new house, and we were operating on a tight budget. We knew that joint decision making around money would be essential to making sure our lives worked.
Our solution was to create separate small bank accounts for each of us, into which a fixed allowance was directly deposited each month. These were our non-accountability accounts. They allowed us to spend money on whatever we wished, no matter how impetuous or frivolous, without having to answer to the other person. I used mine to buy a weekend trip with friends; Jane used hers to join a martial arts gym.
We settled on a monthly transfer that equaled about 5% of our take-home pay for each of us – enough to have a little fun, but not so much as to jeopardize our family’s finances. Our accounts provided a concrete figure about what was reasonable to spend personally. Dipping into the main account was forbidden; that was for family business. We could spend everything we had in our own accounts, but if they ran out of money, there would be no more nights out with friends or Vegas benders until we saved up.
What Happened When We Opened Our Marriage
Seven years into our marriage, we opened our relationship and began seeing other people. Our financial system hadn’t been designed with polyamory in mind, but it fit perfectly into our new adventure. I was the first to draw on my account, using it to splurge on a fancy hotel room with a new lover. Jane used hers to take a boyfriend out to dinner. All the while, our financial life together remained well protected even as we made small splurges on other partners.
Our system had another benefit: it meant that the gifts we gave to each other were more meaningful, because they were coming from us personally rather than from an abstract family bank account. When I took Jane out on a date, I was drawing from a limited supply of money I could have chosen to spend on something else.
We still use our financial system, and it’s an important part of the foundation for our open marriage. Even though we designed it while we were still monogamous, it incorporated the same values that drew us to polyamory. It provided a shared understanding with clear rules, but also gave us each freedom to create our own “space” within our shared life together. And to us, that’s what poly is all about.
About Zev Stone
Zev Stone is a writer and researcher and the founder of OpenMarriageProject.com. His writing has been read aloud on NPR’s “This I Believe” and published in the Denver Post and other academic and popular publications. He loves hiking, running, uncomfortable travel experiences, and raising his two adorable daughters with his wife, Jane. He holds a Ph.D. in social science research methods from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
This guest post is part of the Polyamory Finances blog series.