Let’s Talk About Money and Polyamory [Polyamory Conversation Cards #7]

Ahh, money. Is any subject – apart from sometimes sex – harder for people to talk about with their partners? Though I couldn’t find any reliable statistics to back this up, some experts say that arguments about money are the number one source of conflict in intimate relationships.

I hate to talk about money. It still feels so taboo, even though I know it’s important. It makes me cringe. And in polyamorous relationships, I’ve found I end up having more of these conversations because, well, there are more relationships and therefore more people to talk about money, financial limitations, and other such difficult subjects with.

In case you missed it, this post is part of a series inspired by Odder Being’s Polyamory Conversation Cards. Once a week or as often as I can, I’ll pull a card at random and write a piece of content based on it. There will likely be some essays, advice pieces, personal experiences, rants, and more! You can read the whole series at the dedicated tag. And if you want to support my work and get occasional bonus content, head on over to my Patreon.

This week’s card asks:

“What financial resources can you freely spend on your various relationships?”

So I thought it was time to do a deep dive into a relatively under-discussed reality of polyamorous living: the financial aspect. Let’s talk about money and polyamory.

“Monogamy? In This Economy!?”

This particular phrase has become something of a running joke and the subject of numerous memes within the polyamorous community. It’s obviously tongue-in-cheek but, like so many jokes, there’s also a grain of truth to it.

Now, I don’t know of anyone who has actually chosen to become polyamorous specifically to bring in a higher household income and offset the cost of living crisis. I have, however, seen more polyamorous networks and families choosing to live together, pool their resources, share expenses, or otherwise combine finances to make everyone’s money go further.

With the right people, this can be hugely beneficial. You can potentially get a bigger place to live. Economy of scale means that things like groceries will be cheaper when you’re shopping and cooking for more people. And, of course, more people means that the loss of one income – if there’s a sudden illness, accident, or redundancy, for example – is likely to be less disastrous.

There are also challenges alongside these benefits, of course. Sharing finances requires a tremendous level of trust. You may or may not have this trust with all your partners and metamours. You’ll need to talk about money and finances regularly not just with one person, but potentially with several. And if you move in together too early out of economic necessity, this can do more harm than good to relationships and your entire polycule.

How Do Polyamorous People, Networks and Families Handle Finances?

As with almost any question that begins “how do polyamorous people…?”, there is no single answer and virtually anyone you ask will tell you something slightly different. So let’s look at a few common ways that polyamorous networks and families handle their finances.

I can’t tell you which model is the best for you and your family or polycule. It’s a personal decision and will depend on an array of factors including your relationship structure, length of relationships, levels of trust and communication between metamours, geography, and more.

Totally Separate Finances

Even in some monogamous relationships, couples maintain totally separate finances. And in certain types of polyamory, this is a pretty common way to do things. In this setup, you do not blend finances with any of your partners. Your income, accounts, debts, and financial obligations are solely your own. You may or may not even talk about money and financial matters with your partners.

It’s not possible to completely separate your finances from a partner’s if you are legal spouses. It’s also difficult if you live together, since you may have a lease agreement or mortgage in both/all names (and if not, you have a massive power disparity in favour of the person whose name is on the lease or mortgage) as well as shared bills. But if you’re solo, unmarried or non-nesting, this is a popular choice as it allows you to maintain the most financial independence and autonomy.

Blended Finances with One Partner

This is what you’ll see most commonly for polyamorous people who are married or have a nesting partner. In these situations, one dyad blends their finances to whatever extent works for them. In other relationships outside of that dyad, finances are separate.

This can make sense in some circumstances. However, it can also create difficulties. If your finances are highly entangled with one partner, for example, how do you go about paying for dates with other partners? It’s navigable but it requires careful negotiation and clarity about agreements. You’ll need to learn to talk about money openly, non-judgementally, and non-emotionally with your partners to ensure that things feel fair and equitable for everyone.

Blended Finances as a Family or Polycule

In this setup, more than two people combine their finances. This might include things like living together, sharing bills and other expenses, buying property together, and having joint bank accounts.

It’s a common misconception that you can’t have more than two names on a bank account or mortgage. In many places – including the US and UK – at least some banks will allow more than two people to share an account. In the UK, some lenders will allow up to 4 people to be named on a mortgage. And in the US, there is no legal limit but most lenders won’t allow more than 4 or 5 people. So you will need to shop around but, depending on where you live, it may be possible to get a bank account and rent or buy a property with your polyamorous family.

Of course, this requires a lot of intimacy and trust with everyone who is included in the shared financial network. It’s not something I recommend entering into quickly or lightly. And, of course, you should seek professional advice to ensure everyone is properly protected if things go south or something unexpected happens.

Partially Blended, Partially Separate Finances

Anecdotally, this is the most common arrangement I’ve seen for polyamorous people who have at least one nesting partner. In this setup, some financial assets are shared and others are kept separate. One common way to do this is to have a joint account for bills and household expenses, and then separate accounts for disposable income or “fun” money.

You can also do this with more than one partner, by the way. Want to have a shared account with your nesting partner to save for redecorating the kitchen and another account with your long distance partner to save for a trip together? Have at it.

…And Other Arrangments?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about polyamorous people, it’s that we are a creative bunch. We can come up with nearly endless ways to structure, define, and personalise our relationships. So why not do the same with our financial arrangements? As long as everything is legal and fair, there are endless possibilities here.

Instead of doing what you think you’re “supposed” to do, ask yourself what actually works for you, your partners, and your metamours. Talk about money, talk about your wants and needs, and craft something accordingly that is entirely your own.

Let’s Talk About Money, Legal Marriage, and Polyamorous Finances

I am not any kind of expert and nothing I say in this section should be taken as legal or financial advice in any way whatsoever. You should consult a financial planner and a family lawyer in your area to advise you on how to manage your and your family’s finances.

With a few very limited exceptions, polygamy is illegal pretty much everywhere. In other words, if you want to get legally married, you can only marry one person.

There’s nothing to stop you having a committment ceremony, religiously or spiritually marrying without the legal piece, exchanging rings or other tokens of love, or calling each other husband/wife/spouse with as many partners as you want. But these things do not confer any of the legal or financial benefits of a marriage your government recognises.

The choice to marry can be a complicated one when you’re polyamorous. It can feel like you’re declaring one of your partners as “real” or “most important“. And even if you don’t see it that way… well, wider society (and the government) definitely will.

If you come into polyamory already legally married, a certain amount of unavoidable couple’s privilege is baked in. Open Relating defines couple’s privilege as: “the largely unchallenged mainstream acceptance of the inherent importance and supremacy of a dyad relationship (mostly exclusive and primarily between a woman and a man).”

I’ve known some couples take the extreme step of getting a divorce (while remaining in a romantic relationship) in order to eliminate this couple’s privilege. If you want to take this step, go in with your eyes open. By removing legal marriage, you potentially lose literally hundreds of legal and financial protections. Make sure you have an alternative plan and don’t do something this drastic as a symbolic gesture without thinking it through.

So What Else Can We Do?

Whether or not it makes sense for you to marry is a highly personal choice. If you live with and share finances with one partner, you might decide it’s the smart choice for the two of you. Conversely, you might decide you never want to marry – because you disagree with the institution, because of the hierarchy it can imply, or for another reason. If you’re solo polyamorous, a relationship anarchist, or otherwise prefer high levels of independence and autonomy, you might also make the personal decision that legally entangling your financial life with another person is off limits.

There are no right or wrong answers here. What matters is that you think it through and make fully informed choices that make sense for you and your loved ones.

In some cases, there are steps you can take to replace some of the benefits of legal marriage (or extend them to more than one partner.) Wills, life insurance policies, and medical power of attorney are just some of the options that may be available to you. Other benefits of legal marriage are, unfortunately, pretty much impossible to entirely replicate in any other way.

If you’re not married and don’t intend to be, consult a lawyer and financial planner to ensure that you, your partners, and any children or other dependents are protected in the event that something happens to one of you. If you are married or intending to marry one partner and you also want to share financial benefits and protections with another partner or partners… yeah, consult a lawyer and financial planner.

This stuff is complex. It’s also different in every country or state. I cannot stress this enough: get professional advice.

Rules and Agreements About Money in Polyamorous Relationships

If you’ve been reading my work on polyamory recently, you’ll know that I have come to dislike relationships with lots of rules. In general, I believe that adults shouldn’t be imposing rules and restrictions on one another and that all parties in a relationship should have an equal voice in the issues and agreements that impact them.

With that said, I see a lot of polyamorous people – particularly married, nested, or hierarchical “primary” couples – making strict rules around finances. This might include rules like limiting how much can be spent on other partners, setting a spending limit on dating, or requiring one partner to ask the other for permission before spending money on another relationship.

I understand the implse here. Financial struggles can be terrifying and you want to make sure the person you’ve entangled your finances with is going to meet their obligations. Here’s the thing, though: if they’re going to, you don’t need the rule. And if they’re not going to, the rule won’t protect you anyway.

My general take on this is that you should only entangle finances with someone you trust. If you need a rule to compel someone not to spend hundreds of dollars on a date when they can’t afford their portion of the mortgage, then you probably shouldn’t have a joint mortgage with that person.

So How Can I Protect Myself Financially in a Relationship?

This is not to say, of course, that I think polyamory should be an irresponsible financial free-for-all. Quite the opposite. When we enter into relationships with other humans, those relationships come with some obligations. In some circumstances, this can include an obligation to be responsible with money and meet shared expenses. I just don’t think that placing rules and restrictions on each other is the way to achieve this interdependence and mutual sense of responsibility.

What you can and should do, instead of trying to restrict your partner(s) or place strict rules on them about how they manage their money, is make agreements about shared money and set boundaries around your own money and relationship to financial matters.

Agreements about shared money can look like:

  • “We will each put $x into the joint account when we get paid each month. This money is for bills, groceries and household expenses but not for fun or discretionary spending.”
  • “We will each contribute $x to a shared savings account and this money is not to be touched unless we both agree to do so.”
  • “Money from our shared account is not to be used for dates, gifts, or activities with other partners.”
  • “Money from our shared account can be used for dates, gifts, or activities with other partners up to a limit of $x assuming other financial obligations are taken care of. Anything above that amount must be discussed in advance.”
  • “Our individual money is our own and, as long as we each meet our financial obligations to the household each month, we have no say over how the other chooses to spend their money.”
  • “Since one of us earns much more than the other, we will split shared expenses proportionally to our income unless otherwise agreed.”
  • “We will check in about our shared finances and re-evaluate our budget every six months or more often if a significant change occurs (such as a new job, job loss, or serious illness.)”

Personal financial boundaries can look like:

  • “I prefer to keep my finances totally separate so I don’t want to have joint accounts, share a mortgage, or get legally married.”
  • “I’ve committed to paying half the rent and I will honour that but I can’t cover your portion too.”
  • “I will not live with someone who doesn’t have similar financial values and goals to me.”
  • “I can’t afford to do that expensive activity right now so, unless you’re offering to pay for both of us, can we plan a cheaper date night?”
  • “It makes me uncomfortable when you spend a lot of money on me. Please don’t buy me expensive gifts without discussing it with me first.”
  • “I am not comfortable getting into debt so I will not take out a credit card, loan, or finance agreement.”
  • “No, I cannot loan you money.”

Other Rules and Agreements That Have a Financial Impact

Sometimes, rules in polyamory can have nothing to do with money on the surface… but still have a financial impact. For example, let’s say you have a nesting partner and you’ve made a rule that says they cannot bring their other partner back to your shared home. Unless your metamour can host every single time, this means they will be paying for restaurants, hotels, and so on every time they want to spend time together. This can get very expensive very quickly.

Another common example I see is when sex toys, BDSM gear, and other items are designated as being for one relationship only. And that’s completely fair – not everyone is as blasé as me about sharing these things. But if you want to use these types of things with multiple partners, the cost of buying several of them can add up fast.

When you discuss and negotiate your relationship agreements with your partner(s), it’s also important to talk about money and how those agreements might have a financial impact on one or both of you – even an unintended one.

The Person Who Has the Money Has the Power

Unfortunately, money is power in our current society. At a certain point, people who are wealthy enough can get away with pretty much anything they want. Now, it’s unlikely that you or any of your partners are billionaires or in the “untouchably wealthy” category, of course. However, financial disparities can still cause huge problems in relationships – both polyamorous and monogamous – and in some cases can become coercive or abusive.

Several times a week, I see people in polyamorous groups and forums asking a variation of this: “my spouse/partner is hugely controlling and imposes all these rules on me, but they’re also the breadwinner so I can’t leave.”

Of course, this isn’t a uniquely polyamorous problem. Financial abuse can and does occur all too frequently in monogamy, too. In fact, financial control and limiting a partner’s access to resources is on page one of the Abusers’ Playbook.

In polyamory, though, it does manifest in some unique and specific ways. Often, the person with the money (and therefore the power) will impose a double standard on their partner. For example, “I’m allowed to have sex with other people but you’re not” or “I’m allowed to bring partners home but you’re not because I pay for our housing.” It’s very, very hard – sometimes impossible – to stand up to someone and assert your autonomy when you rely on them for the roof over your head.

Explicit or covert vetoes and ultimatums are also massively complicated by financial disparities. If you live with one partner and are financially reliant on them, are you really going to say no if they put a “leave your other partner or I’m leaving you” choice on the table? Particularly if you don’t have an obvious backup plan, such as other partners, friends or family who are willing to support you financially? Exactly.

I don’t have any easy answers to this phenomenon, of course. Abusive and controlling people will likely always exist and, for as long as we live in a capitalist society, money will likely always be one of their first and most powerful weapons.

If you’re in a relationship with a person significantly less well-off than you, particularly if you’re married or live together, it is vital that you ensure they have access to money and resources without needing to ask you for them. You must also be incredibly careful not to impose unfair rules and double standards or to hold financial security over your partner’s head to make them do what you want. In other words, you need to make it possible for them to leave if they want to.

Because a person cannot meaningfully consent to a relationship if they can’t also reasonably and safely choose to leave it.

Honestly, this is why we need better social safety nets and community support. No-one should ever be forced to stay in a relationship that’s abusive, harmful, or just doesn’t make them happy because they don’t have access to the money they need to leave.

Jealousy, Insecurity, and Resentment When People Have Very Different Financial Circumstances

I’m far from wealthy but, prior to the cost of living crisis, I considered myself pretty financially comfortable. Now it’s more of a challenge as prices have skyrocketed and salaries have not kept up, but I’m still doing okay most of the time. Relative to many, I have a tonne of financial privilege and I try to pay this forward when I can.

I’ve been polyamorous for 15 years. In that time, I’ve dated people much richer than me and I’ve dated people much poorer than me. Both have come with their own challenges, but neither were insurmountable with good communication, empathy and honesty. I find that what matters far more than having a similar level of wealth is having similar values, goals, and the ability to talk about money in an open and supportive way.

Solutions to a wealth disparity in a relationship can include finding affordable date activities, splitting expenses in a way that is equitable according to our relative incomes rather than equal, and factoring in time, energy and skills as other forms of equally-valuable relationship currency (for example “you buy the ingredients and I’ll cook for us” or “I’ll pay for your ticket if you spend the time and energy travelling to me.”)

The most challenging aspect of a wealth disparity in relationships, in my experience, is not any of these practical matters. It’s the feelings that money issues can bring up. Here are a few of the most common I’ve encountered in my own relationships or witnessed in other relationships.

“My Partner Can Date More Often (or Go On More Expensive Dates) Because They Have More Disposable Income”

Imagine you and your partner are both trying to date outside your relationship. But they have vastly more money than you do, meaning that they can date more often and do more expensive activities with their other partner(s.) This can be tough to navigate and can bring up feelings of envy, jealousy, and resentment if you don’t navigate it carefully.

If you’re the person with significantly less money:

Is your partner willing to help you out financially so you can date more? Would you feel comfortable accepting that help? The answer to both these questions might be “no”, but it’s fair to ask.

If not, it’s time to get creative with your own dating life. You might not be able to afford expensive dates, but there are plenty of equally nnice and meaningful things you can do without spending a fortune. If you don’t have another regular partner or are actively dating new people, you might also need to be more choosy about which dates you go on. Screen more thoroughly to ensure you’re spending your limited resources on the most promising potential dates, and seek out people who place little value on material wealth.

Don’t forget to ask your partner for what you want, too. Are you feeling sidelined or neglected? Do you wish they’d take you on one of those fancy dates that they’re always going on with other people? Then tell them! And if you don’t want to hear so much about their activities with other people, you get to draw that boundary, too.

If you’re the person with significantly more money:

Consider whether you’d be comfortable financially supporting your partner’s dating activities outside your relationship. Perhaps you could have a shared “dating pot” that you contribute to proportionally and can draw on for external dates. This can allow things to feel more balanced without your partner having to feel like they’re asking you for money (which can have uncomfortable “parental” implications for many people.)

If you’re not willing to help, or they won’t accept your help, that’s fair. In that case, it might be wise not to share so much information with your less-wealthy partner about the pricey things you’re doing with other people. Don’t hide things from them, of course, but they probably don’t want to hear about your $500 restaurant bill if they’re struggling to find the money to meet a potential date for a coffee.

You can also help to mitigate this issue by making sure you’re not taking your existing partner for granted. It’s easy for resentment to set in if you’re taking new dates to expensive restaurants while all you do with your spouse is sit on the couch and watch reruns on Netflix. Make sure that you’re also taking them out on nice dates, setting aside money for experiences or trips together, and giving them nice gifts if they’re comfortable with receiving them.

“My Partner Wants to Do All These Expensive Activities But I Can’t Afford It!”

People who have plenty of money can be extraordinarily oblivious about the experiences of people who have less of it. This can lead to resentment as they suggest pricey date activities and the less well-off partner has to keep saying no. Or, worse, if the less-wealthy person stretches their finances in an effort to keep up.

This is a situation where honesty is critical. Practice saying “I can’t afford to do that” and remember that there is absolutely no shame in doing so. Someone who loves you will understand. A partner who pressures you to spend money you can’t afford, or judges you for not doing so, is a bad partner for you.

If your partner offers to cover the cost for both of you, it’s okay to accept this offer. It’s also okay to say no if this makes you uncomfortable and propose an alternative, cheaper activity.

If you’re the person with more money and your partner discloses that they can’t afford something, it’s important to be sympathetic and non-judgemental. Don’t say things like “but it’s only $50!”. That $50 might be pocket change to you but it might be a week’s worth of groceries to them. Don’t pressure them to stretch their finances more than they are comfortable, and never shame them for having less money than you do.

What you can do, if you sincerely want to, is offer to cover the cost for both of you. And if you want to invite a partner or date to an expensive activity, be upfront about whether you’ll be covering the cost or not. Simply saying “do you want to check out that new restaurant on Friday? My treat!” or “would you like to see this show with me? Tickets are $35 if so” takes away so much of the guesswork and anxiety.

“My Metamour is Richer Than Me and it Makes Me Insecure”

In researching this post, I remembered this classic Polyamory Weekly episode, “Help, I’m rich and I have a big penis!” In it, the caller is concerned he makes his metamours jealous and insecure because he has money to throw around and likes to spoil his partners. And, self-involved though this might seem, he’s probably got a fair point.

If your metamour is significantly wealthier than you, this might cause some understandable feelings of envy, jealousy, insecurity, or competitiveness to come up.

What’s most important here is to remember that your partner isn’t with you for your money or for the things you can provide. They’re with you because they love you! Ask your partner for reassurance and reminders of what they love about you if you need it.

It’s also important to remember they’re probably not with your metamour for their money, either! What else does your metamour bring to the table? They’re a human being with their own wonderful qualities and also their own quirks and flaws. Try to learn more about what your partner loves about them. Chances are it’s little or nothing to do with their wealth. This will help to humanise them and make them feel like less of a threat.

Get creative and find ways to connect with your partner and have meaningful experiences together without spending a lot of money. They might enjoy those fancy dates with your metamour, but I bet they’d enjoy a picnic in the park or a night of stargazing with you just as much.

The Bottom Line on Polyamory and Money: Get Educated and Get Prepared

Financial matters are complex. This is true even if you’re in a traditional, monogamous relationship, and this complexity can increase tenfold if you’re polyamorous.

The most important things you can do are educate yourself, plan, and prepare. This means taking the time to talk about money with all your partners. It means understanding what your options are, understanding the limitations you’re under due to our current couple-centric society and legal system, and understanding what you and your partners all want and need.

It also means educating yourself and getting appropriate advice. Things like Wills, estate planning, inheritance, and medical decisionmaking can be more complex when you have more partners. It’s vital to understand what the law says in your area, what you can and can’t do, and how you can protect yourselves. Communicate, share your wishes and fears, and make decisions together with your partners, polycule, or family.

The golden rule? Think about what would happen in the worst case scenario long before you’re ever actually in it. If you died tomorrow, would your partners and loved ones have the financial protection you’d want them to have? If not, it’s time to take steps to ensure they do.

How do finances work in your romantic network or polycule? How do you talk about money with your partners? Tell me about it in the comments!

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