I’m a feminist (of the Cathy Young brand of equality feminism, not the cuckoo-for-coco-puffs Andrea Dworkin or difference feminism brands of feminism). Sometimes I’ve grappled with the best way to divide expenses within a romantic relationship. As an ideal, splitting the costs evenly seems to make sense, but I’m certainly aware that often two people will differ in their disposable income or earning potential. The actual mechanics can sometimes be difficult, with each person thinking they’ve paid more or becoming amateur accountants trying to balance the various expenses. In the past, I’ve typically taken a generous view and offered more than strictly half (and have never come to regret it), and have had the good fortune of having mostly dated women who insisted on keeping things fairly divided.
One couple who I was friends with ran into a problem with this while dating as undergrads. He had a fairly “macho” view of masculinity and dating and insisted on paying all the bills whenever they went out. Eventually it got to a point where dating was costing more than he could afford. He discussed this with her, and her reaction was that she wanted things to be more fair and was happy to contribute when they went out.
The guy initially thought this was ok, but told me he was humiliated whenever she paid and he would have to slip off to the washroom because he was so uncomfortable with her paying the bill. I thought this was kind of lame of him (get over it!), but I thought their solution had some merit.
Basically, they opened up a joint bank account, got a debit card for it, and would always add equal amounts of money to it (so when it got low they’d add $150 each to it or whatever). They’d then use it to buy anything that they wanted to pay for “as a couple”. Instead of having to keep a mental tally (I paid $39 for dinner two nights ago, then you paid $21 for the movies, but I paid $7 for the popcorn…), by using the account they were guaranteed that they’d split the bills down the middle.
The other “benefit” was somewhat lopsided. He would always pay with the communal account, giving the appearance that he was treating (when she was stealthily paying half). If she didn’t protest, why should I?
All sorts of variants are possible on this for all sorts of situations. Instead of setting up a joint bank account it’d be possible for one person to use a credit card solely for couples activities, then they split the bill every month. In addition to a romantic couple, this approach for splitting expenses could be used for friends (2 or more) who are traveling together and want to split all expenses.
If one person earns more than the other, they can decide whatever split makes sense, then still use this approach. If the girlfriend earns double her boyfriend’s salary, she can put double whatever he does into the account and they’ve neatly split all bills 1/3rd to him and 2/3rds to her.
There certainly can be dangers to shared accounts. We’ve probably all heard stories about one member of a couple being left with bills after the relationship ends (whenever I see one of those court shows on TV it seems these are almost the only cases they get). You’d also want to limit how much cash and credit was available in such accounts in case someone goes nuts (I recently mentioned in a post about the brother of a friend who had $10,000 of his money drained from a joint account after his fiancé went on a weekend gambling binge). There’s also the chance that your partner might make an impulse buy with the joint account (shoes he just has to have, or her buying drinks for men with loose morals in bars). If your partner is doing this sort of thing (or you’re worried they will), do you really want to build a life together with them in the first place?