How to share the cost of a family fairly

Newborn | | Clare Seal

Choosing to start a family with your partner is a big commitment in so many ways, many of which you may have discussed ahead of making your decision. Changes to your lifestyle, careers and living arrangements are natural topics - but it’s really important to make sure that you don’t avoid the subject of money when it comes to planning your family.

It can be awkward and feel a little unromantic, but leaving things undecided or unsaid can lead to unfairness, resentment and arguments later down the line if you’re not careful. You may already have a joining account or other shared interests, such as a home that you share, or you may be thinking about merging your finances for the first time. However entwined your finances are, this is an important moment to have an honest conversation about money.

Discussing money with your partner

Even with someone you know so well and are planning a life with, the subject of money can be awkward to raise and difficult to navigate. We all have our own individual experiences with money, and may come from different financial backgrounds or have different attitudes towards money, but it’s important to get on the same page ahead of taking on the financial responsibilities involved with raising a child. Discovering any differences in how you think and feel about money will allow you to discuss and work through them, finding any necessary compromises and setting expectations around what you each need from one another.

A great way to open the conversation could be to embark on some joint research into the costs associated with raising a child, which will create a natural path to discussing how you plan to share those costs as a team. There will be initial outgoings to consider, such as equipment, clothes and nappies for your new baby, but there are also longer-term and more complex things to discuss, such as income sacrifice for parents planning to take leave or reduce working hours to care for your child, how you will manage living costs as a family and more. It’s so easy for financial inequality to creep into your relationship when your roles change from partners to co-parents, so it’s important to keep those lines of communication open if you want to keep things fair.

Planning and budgeting for your family

If you’re used to planning and budgeting together, the shift to a family budget might not be too great, but if you’ve previously kept your finances separate, some adjustments might be required. Creating a central budget or spending plan for your family, and then setting up a corresponding joint bank account where bills and expenses related to your child and household are paid from, works for many couples to ensure that all of the essentials are taken care of.

In terms of funding this account, the easiest and fairest option is often to decide your contributions proportionally, based on your income - especially if one partner earns significantly more than the other. You can then adjust this for any changes to your pay, during maternity or paternity leave, or to accommodate a part-time salary.

Financial independence, even within a loving partnership, is important, so it can also be a great idea to retain your own personal bank accounts for receiving your salary, rather than pooling absolutely all of your resources. Having your own saving and spending power will help you to feel confident with money, and keep any unintended unfairness at bay.

Keeping things financially fair

Trying to retain a sense of fairness in your family financial situation can feel like a juggling act, because there are so many factors involved, but honest communication can help with this. Start with a basic acknowledgement that it’s your joint responsibility to make sure both that your child is cared for and that your family has enough money to survive, and go from there. Make sure that you both fundamentally understand that one parent providing care for your child enables the other to work, however that time is managed between you, and that money and time are both equally valuable resources, which you must share while your child is young. If possible, try to set things up so that there isn’t a constant need for one partner to ask the other for money, as this can cause tension.

As well as the immediate distribution of money in your relationship, there are longer-term things to consider, such as savings and your pension. Many women are under-pensioned due to taking maternity leave or a career break, working part time or taking a reduction in salary in order to care for their children, so it’s important to discuss with your partner how you can make this fairer for you.

If you’re struggling emotionally with being financially dependent on your partner, make sure that you discuss it with them. It’s a big adjustment to make, and can affect your sense of self, so don’t dismiss it.

Working through issues and decisions together

Just because one person may be earning less temporarily, it doesn’t mean that financial decisions stop being a joint venture. It’s important that you both remain engaged in your financial situation and share financial responsibilities equally - that you both get a say in decisions that need to be made or how to handle any potential issues that might arise. Discussing money on a day-to-day basis will help to keep those lines of communication open, so that when anything big does arise, it’s easier to have a constructive conversation.