Galanes asks the letter writer an important question: Does his wife even have the money to cover half of these costs?
That’s a key question all couples should discuss when looking at combining households. And if the answer is “no,” can one afford to pick up the slack? For instance, half of Gen Z and millennial couples living together don’t split their rent or mortgage payments equally, according to a 2023 Thrive Financial survey. Cathy Curtis, a financial adviser, told CNBC this set up allows for “greater equity” amongst couples, when they may have hugely different salaries.
A 50/50 split may not make sense for you and your partner. The best way to figure out how to split expenses equitably between you two is to sit down with a financial adviser and talk it out. An impartial third party can help make these tough conversations less awkward if you find money talks difficult.
An adviser can calculate the cost-splitting percentage for you two based on your incomes, debt levels and savings compared to your household expenses. It can save you time, money and a possible fight to speak with a professional.
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Calculate the cost of unpaid labor
Galanes also challenges his reader to consider the other kinds of ways his wife contributes to the household — particularly through unpaid labor, like cooking and cleaning, which he points out “often fall silently to women” but are “real expenses.”
The columnist is right that unpaid labor remains a major contention in heterosexual relationships. Though over half of men report being very satisfied with how chores are split in the home, only 38% of women feel the same way, according to a Pew Research study conducted in 2020.
Calculating each partner’s contribution to unpaid household labor — such as cooking, cleaning and caring for children — should be added to the costs that get split in a household.
But how do you accurately account for these costs? The New York Times itself came up with a method in 2019 by multiplying the national minimum wage (currently $7.25) by the number of hours women spent on unpaid labor for the household. The paper discovered that American women would have raked in $1.5 trillion for their household labor if they’d been paid for it.
If you want to understand your household contributions through this lens, why not try running the formula yourself? Add up all the hours you each contributed unpaid labor to the household over the last month and multiply that figure by the minimum wage rate. What it comes to is how much additional “money” each partner contributes to the household. This figure may help you both better understand how to divide up financial responsibilities equitably.
After-death expenses count, too
Finally, as Galanes points out, a major factor in his belief that the wife in question isn’t a “cheapskate” is the letter writer’s will.
The husband detailed his plans for his estate in the letter, including that he plans to leave half, including the house, to his wife and the other half to his adult son. Galanes points out that, in the event of the man’s death, this makes it possible for his son to use his half to force a sale.
"Your estate plan effectively robs her of housing security, which may make a retiree reluctant to pony up more money,” he says.
Fair enough. Galanes suggests the husband may want to amend his will to allow his wife to stay in the house for the rest of her life, or at least a few years after his death.
Your partner’s financial situation after your own death may not seem pertinent to your financial situation right now, but it could cause them a lot of grief later on. A shocking 2-out-of-3 Americans don’t have a will, according to a 2023 Caring.com survey. But that lack of planning can leave your grieving partner with unnecessary financial stress too.
So if you don’t have a will, get one — now.
If you already have a will or estate plan, does your partner know what’s in it? Are they okay with that? Having this talk may be awkward and sad, but it might provide great relief to you both when it’s needed most.
Splitting costs as a couple may not be as fun as planning your honeymoon, but it’s one the best investments you can make in your new partnership.
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