Budgeting with a House Spouse

For many families, having a “house spouse” can make keeping up with the housework (and, if you have them, children!) easier. Everyone in your home can juggle schedules do manage child care and scramble to do laundry and cleaning on your days off. Or one person can take responsibility for laundry, cleaning, cooking, childcare, and other household needs.

Having a house spouse can help a family in many ways. The one way it definitely hurts is finances. In fact, having a house spouse creates several financial challenges:

  • Reduces household income
  • Restricts options for budgeting
  • House spouse is dependent on other family members for their financial needs

The first challenge is the simplest. Either the other adults in the family are bringing in enough money for one person to stay home as a house spouse or they aren’t. There are ways around this, including have a part-time house spouse. More on that later.

Now, as for budgeting, the big issue is the house spouse doesn’t have a salary, so they can’t help pay the bills. Any budgeting plan based on everyone in the family pitching in immediately has a problem. Assuming the house spouse doesn’t have any income, as is traditional, you need a budget that doesn’t require everyone to pay part of it. This means things like “even split” don’t work, but “all-in” and “percentage split” can. Before your polycule decides to have a house spouse, make sure everyone is on board with the necessary budget and shared expense plan.

The house spouse being dependent on everyone else is the most overlooked problem. It’s also the biggest one. A house spouse takes a major hit financially, especially if they aren’t legally married to someone who works. They don’t have money to pay for their own phone, their own car, their own dates, or even their own clothes. They can’t get health insurance or a retirement plan through an employer (though the latter is becoming rare in the US anyway). Perhaps most importantly, they have no funds to move out if the relationship becomes unhealthy. I’ve spoken with more than one secondary who moved in with a primary couple, leaving their job to do so, and found themselves trapped. It’s a bad situation to be in.

Part-Time House Spouse

With modern cleaning appliances, housework no longer needs to be a full-time job. If you have things like a good vacuum cleaner and a dishwasher, you can keep many homes clean in 2-3 hours work a day. Cooking, laundry, and paperwork add to that, but for many people being a house spouse can be a part-time job. Which means it is possible for a house spouse to have another part-time job outside the house.

This allows the house spouse to have their own income for their own needs (if you’re budget isn’t “All-in”). The house spouse can also put money towards the household, increasing the total household budget and making it easier to afford a house spouse.

Being a part-time house spouse can be a good option for something who wants to start a home business. They can split their time between the home and their business, and adjust the balance as needed. If the business takes off, they may need to give up being house spouse.

If your family decides a part-time house spouse is the way to go, keep an eye on the time. A part-time job is just that—part-time. If housework ends up taking more than 25 hours a week or so, the rest of the family should pitch in.

The House Spouse Salary

If you have kids, being a house spouse can become a full-time job. Prepping for school, helping with homework, getting kids to and from afterschool activities all take time. Pre-school aged kids take more time.

For some house spouses, the extra time those modern appliances provide means more time for other household needs. In some families, a house spouse makes soap, clothes, tomato sauce, and other necessities that most of us buy at the store. These tasks may save the family money, better suit a family’s values, add to the personal feel of the home, and much more. This type of house spouse work can easily be a full-time job.

And not everyone has those modern appliances. My family doesn’t have a dishwasher. We don’t have a washer and dryer at home. I can’t pop a load in and work while it runs. Doing the weekly laundry take 3 hours out of my day. If you don’t have a car, food shopping, picking up medication at the pharmacy, or getting to the school for a parent-teacher conference all take a lot longer. Again, making housework a full-time job.

If the housework is a full-time job for your family, you might give your house spouse a salary. This gives the house spouse some financial independence and makes it possible for them to contribute to the budget. I first heard this idea from a woman I did a joint presentation with at Atlanta Poly Weekend, and I thought it was genius. (I’m embarrassed to say I no longer remember their name.) It does make having a house spouse more expensive, but it solves all the other problems.

Simply, the family agrees on what is a reasonable salary for the house spouse. Other adult family members pitch in to pay the house spouse as part of paying the other household bills. The house spouse then has money to put towards their needs and to put toward the rest of the household bills like rent, utilities, etc.

“All-in” budgeting

Finally, you can have full joint finances. Everyone puts all their money in a big pot. The pot covers household needs and individual needs. Everyone, including the house spouse, has their needs covered from the joint funds. Household bills get paid the same regardless of whether or not the house spouse has any money to put in. Having someone stay home as a house spouse is not an extra expense on the budget (as paying a house spouse salary would be). However, the budget still needs to cover all expenses with one less paycheck coming in.

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