Category Archives: Finance

Two Things a Poly Group Home Needs to Save For

Every poly home will handle saving for the future differently. For my money, here are two things every poly group home needs to save for.

(excerpted from the draft of The Polyamorous Home)

Moving Cushion

One critical fact of life is that nothing is static–including relationships. Many poly households eventually face the need for someone to move out. This might be a practical move–someone got their dream job offer in another city. It might be a relationship move–living together just isn’t working, or maybe a relationship is ending entirely. These things happen. They are rarely enjoyable, and the challenges associated with moving out and starting over can make the whole situation even more painful for everyone involved.

The moving cushion is a savings fund for when members of the polycule need to move out. Depending on your polycule’s local support network, financial situation, and alternative living options, you might:

Save up enough to make a security deposit and first month’s rent on a small apartment and cover basic expenses for a couple of months while a former housemate gets their feet under them.

Or you might have $100 set aside to cover the cost of a u-Haul truck rental and pizza for all the friends that will help with the move.

It’s whatever A) you can manage to set aside without hurting your day-to-day finances and B) you feel is necessary to make the move as financially painless as possible.

Having a moving cushion doesn’t just benefit the person moving, but the people staying. Being stuck living together when you really don’t want isn’t good for anyone. And you never know who will need that cushion. Sure, you may think that since your name is on the lease you’ll be staying put, but anything from a job offer to a long distance relationship that’s ready to become local as soon as you can move might lead you to leave your group home.

The larger the moving cushion you can gather, the easier it will be for someone to move out and the less tension and drama a move can create. My suggestion is to initially set a savings goal that your polycule can reach within six months. Whether that’s enough to buy a house or rent a u-Haul, it’s a place to start. Then discuss whether you want to keep saving, or whether what you have is enough for everyone to be comfortable if they need to move out.

Emergency Funds

Shit happens. This is the first rule of life. The second rule is: being prepared reduces the shit. Part of being prepared is having a pile of money somewhere that you can use when shit gets expensive.

Being poly doesn’t reduce the amount of shit life throws at us. It does, in theory, give us more resources for dealing with the shit. Unfortunately, many polycules who choose to handle their finances separately never think ahead to the shit that can impact all of them.

Say you and your quad have an apartment together. You’ve each agreed to pay ¼ of all rent and utilities and otherwise keep personal expenses separate. As long as everything with the apartment is good, you’re good.

But one day your landlord drops by and says he is really sorry, but he is kicking you out. His house burned down and his family will be moving into your apartment[This happene to my famiy once at a time when had no savings. Scary as shit. We ended up in a room at a boarding house.]. See, there is this little-known law in some places that the landlord can kick you out with next-to-no notice and without an eviction if he intends to take up residence in your apartment. So now you need to find a new place to live by the end of the week. How are you going to cover moving expenses, security deposit and first months rent on no notice? Sure, your landlord should be refunding your security deposit and rent for your interrupted month. But in my experience landlords tend to mail you a check two weeks after you move out. That doesn’t help you right now.

If you don’t have an emergency savings fund for your polycule (or possibly a large enough moving fund), you will likely end up frantically getting in touch with friends and family for a place to crash. Anyone with individual savings is going to need to dip into that. Anyone without individual savings is either relying on the rest of the polycule (which may be against financial independence boundaries for some people) or out of luck. If things get really bad, someone may end up in a homeless shelter. The chances of all of you getting a new place together in that short a time period is not going to be good unless you are all very well off financially.

On a less extreme level: it’s the middle of summer. Your window air conditioner breaks and your home is quickly approaching triple digit temperatures. If members of your polycule are financially well off, replacing it won’t be a problem. For a lot of families, coming up with several hundred dollars on short notice isn’t easy–or even possible.

The best way to prevent problems like this is to create a household emergency fund. Like the rent and utilities, everyone in the polycule will contribute to the emergency fund each month. Set a savings goal. You probably don’t need the “three months expenses” that a lot of US economists like to recommend. And you probably wouldn’t be able to save up that much in a reasonable amount of time anyway. As with the moving cushion, set a reasonable savings goal, and a reasonable time limit to meet that goal in. What is reasonable will depend on typical expenses in your area, your polycule’s financial situation, and other factors. Once you reach your goal, you can discuss if you want to keep saving more, or stop saving until you need to spend from the fund.

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.

Guest Post: How Separate Bank Accounts Helped Make Our Open Marriage Work

When my wife Jane and I got married, two years after we met, we chose to combine all of our money together. This worked for us because we were (relatively) young, we had no previous marriages or kids or significant assets, and we knew we wanted to entwine our lives in a way that would emphasize joint-decision making about the big questions in life. And almost all big questions ultimately involve financial decisions at some point.

Over time, we realized that we each wanted more financial freedom. Our one-account-fits-all plan required us to authorize every purchase with the other person. We were never quite sure when it was “OK” to spend money on ourselves – and how much money was OK to spend. Neither of us wanted to police the other’s expenditures. At the same time, we were just starting a family and had recently moved into a new house, and we were operating on a tight budget. We knew that joint decision making around money would be essential to making sure our lives worked.

Our solution was to create separate small bank accounts for each of us, into which a fixed allowance was directly deposited each month. These were our non-accountability accounts. They allowed us to spend money on whatever we wished, no matter how impetuous or frivolous, without having to answer to the other person. I used mine to buy a weekend trip with friends; Jane used hers to join a martial arts gym.

We settled on a monthly transfer that equaled about 5% of our take-home pay for each of us – enough to have a little fun, but not so much as to jeopardize our family’s finances. Our accounts provided a concrete figure about what was reasonable to spend personally. Dipping into the main account was forbidden; that was for family business. We could spend everything we had in our own accounts, but if they ran out of money, there would be no more nights out with friends or Vegas benders until we saved up.

What Happened When We Opened Our Marriage

Seven years into our marriage, we opened our relationship and began seeing other people. Our financial system hadn’t been designed with polyamory in mind, but it fit perfectly into our new adventure. I was the first to draw on my account, using it to splurge on a fancy hotel room with a new lover. Jane used hers to take a boyfriend out to dinner. All the while, our financial life together remained well protected even as we made small splurges on other partners.

Our system had another benefit: it meant that the gifts we gave to each other were more meaningful, because they were coming from us personally rather than from an abstract family bank account. When I took Jane out on a date, I was drawing from a limited supply of money I could have chosen to spend on something else.

We still use our financial system, and it’s an important part of the foundation for our open marriage. Even though we designed it while we were still monogamous, it incorporated the same values that drew us to polyamory. It provided a shared understanding with clear rules, but also gave us each freedom to create our own “space” within our shared life together. And to us, that’s what poly is all about.

About Zev Stone

Zev StoneZev Stone is a writer and researcher and the founder of OpenMarriageProject.com. His writing has been read aloud on NPR’s “This I Believe” and published in the Denver Post and other academic and popular publications. He loves hiking, running, uncomfortable travel experiences, and raising his two adorable daughters with his wife, Jane. He holds a Ph.D. in social science research methods from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

This guest post is part of the Polyamory Finances blog series.

Polyamory Budgeting

Today’s post is for poly folk who share expenses. I wrote it assuming a joint household, but the same basic ideas apply to folks who live separately and share expenses.

For some poly folk, all household income and all bills go into a family pot and (at least in theory) are handled jointly. How this works out in the real world varies. For other poly folk, moving in together can be more like being roommates-with-benefits. Everyone has their share of the rent and utilities, buys their own food, and has their own individual expenses. Of course, there’s every option in between as well.

When deciding how entwined you want your finances to be, I recommend going at the pace of the person who wants the least entwinement. If two of you are comfortable going all in, and one wants to function as roommates-with-benefits, then start out at the roommates level of entwinement. It is easier to increase entwinement later than to decrease it. Especially in financial matters.

Once you decide how entwined you want your finances to be, it’s time to decide how to divide up your joint bills. There are many ways to approach this, and one day someone with more economic background than I have will probably tackle household finances for a group home. For now, here are some options to get your conversation started.

As always in poly matters, strike the word “fair” from your vocabulary when discussing budgets. Whether or not a given budgeting option is “fair” is entirely a matter of perspective. Instead, look for options that work for your family.

Even Split

Total up the household bills, divide by the number of people in the household, and that’s what everyone pays each month. The traditional option for roommates.

Easy to implement and taken at face value extremely “fair”.

May cause resentment/envy/jealousy when income varies widely within polycule and one member is constantly scraping by with no disposable income while others have lots of extra each month.

Does not allow for a house-spouse in the polycule–everyone needs to have an income.

Is likely to be especially hard in polycules where one or more members have an established career and others are in school/trying to find work

Percentage Split

Determine what percentage of household income each member brings in. Each member of the polycule pays that percentage of the bills each month. For example, if my family has $1000 coming in each month, $400 from me, $300 from partner A and $300 from partner B, then I would pay 40% of the household bills, and each of my partners would pay 30%.

This type of arrangement is harder to set up than an equal split. However, once set up it can run just as seamlessly. A polycule member with a higher income will still have more disposable income at the end of the month than a polycule member with low income, but everyone with an income should have some disposable income after the household bills are paid (unless the entire household is just scraping by.)

This set up can be difficult to make work when one or more members of the polycule has a variable income.

May cause resentment if polycule members with higher income feel like they are supporting polycule members with lower income.

Can work with a house-spouse. A house-spouse brings in 0% of the household income and pays 0% of the bills. However, the house-spouse has no income to pay their personal bills and expenses.

All-In

Everyone puts all their money in a communal pot, all household and personal expenses are paid out of that communal pot. This can be both the easiest and most difficult option. It requires the highest level of entwinement and a great deal of trust. Trust that everyone is doing their best to get all the bills paid and trust that when personal bills need to be prioritized, it will be done in a way that not only works best for the household but won’t harm any individual in the polycule.

All-in requires a budget for the household. Other options rely on everyone keeping a personal budget and paying their part of the household bills.

Allows the most flexibility for changing circumstances (someone loses a job, goes back to school, gets a promotion, etc).

As with percentage split, may cause resentment if one or more members of the polycule feel other members are “riding” on their hard work.

If you choose to split household expenses, however you split them, you probably don’t need to worry about a household budget. Everyone pays their share, and everyone keeps an individual budget to manage the rest of their personal finances. Some polycules may choose to create a household budget anyway

For polycules that choose to go all-in, a household budget becomes necessary.

Creating a family budget can easily become a nightmare. The general options are to pick one person to be responsible for the budget or to manage the budget by committee. Having one person manage all the money requires a great deal of trust and ongoing communication. The word “committee” tells you everything you need to know about how easy that option is!

A middle ground is for one person to create the budget, but then review it together to discuss and make changes as needed.

Deciding how to manage the budget will be based largely on personal preference, skill and knowledge of budgeting, family communication levels, and need for simplicity.
If your polycule needs a simple option and has the necessary comfort levels, pick one person who knows how to handle a budget, and let them handle it.

If your polycule is good at negotiating and working things out together, and needs transparency more than simplicity, managing the budget by committee may work for you. Plan a budget together and use a shared GoogleSheets spreadsheet to keep track of and record all expenses and income. Just make sure you remember to record everything you need to!

Budgeting for Dates

Obviously, I’ve starting this series with the low hanging fruit. Don’t worry, we’ll get into the side of poly finances that aren’t about dates and dating soon.

Anyone with an individual budget can budget for dates the same way they budget for anything else. Create a line item in your budget for “dates” and pick how much money each month you want to/can afford to spend on dates. You are done budgeting for dates.

But what if you have a joint budget with your poly partner(s) (or anyone else). Disagreements about paying for dates have crashed many poly relationships. “What do you mean you spent 0 on your date with Jay! We can’t afford that!”
or
“You can’t tell me when I can and can’t go out with Shauna, you’re just using money to control me!”

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” A plan for how much money you can afford to spend on dates can save a lot of headaches and heartaches.

3 Approaches to Budgeting for Dates:

Line item—Date money

Just like an individual budget, your joint budget can include a set amount of money everyone can spend on dates. This money is available to everyone to use as and when they want. You’ll need good communication to make sure you don’t go over budget. This option allows a lot of flexibility. With good communication you can keep your dates within budget, have flexibility, and give everyone a chance for a big night out once in a while.

If Michael has no dates planned in August, I can go on a big expensive (expensive for us anyway) date. In September Michael is planning to visit C. He’ll get most of the “going out” money (plus any extra we can scrape up) for the trip. In October maybe we’ll split the money evenly.

Multiple line items—Partner 1 date money, Partner 2 date money, etc

Instead of one line item for date money, have a separate amount budgeted for each person. Each person has their own money to spend on dates. You don’t need to discuss who is doing what or how much each person wants to spend this month. If Partner 1 wants to go on an expensive date, they may need to save their money for a month. In the meantime, partner 2 can go on a bunch of inexpensive dates. You have less flexibility, but also fewer chances for accidentally interfering with your partner’s dating plans. And less chance of going over budget.

Multiple line items—Personal money

NOT an epic yarn stash.

NOT an epic yarn stash.

Everyone has a set amount of money for personal stuff. Personal stuff can be hobbies, dates, sex toys, that expensive beer they love, or anything else they want to spend it on. Perfect for when not everyone is actively dating or some people have expensive hobbies. Everyone has their own money they can spend on whatever they want. If they want to spend it on dates, they can spend it on dates. If they want to spend it on stockpiling an epic yarn stash, they can do that.

I usually spend my personal money on books and stuff for my hobbies. Until last year, it went to pay my web hosting. (Thanks again to awesome Patrons that not being necessary any longer!)

Personal money is a good option for mono/poly relationships. The poly partner can spend money on dates without the money coming out of the household budget. The mono partner has  money they can spend on hobbies, nights with their friends or a treat that makes them happy.

You can use more than one option. Michael and I use “going out” money and “personal money” in our budget. For a long time, the “going out” money was mostly used for us to go out together, but it’s also available for date nights with other partners. Personal money can be combined with “going out” money for more expensive outings.

This post is part of the Polyamory Finances blog series.

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Polyamory: Who Pays for Dates?

This isn’t a poly thing so much as a dating thing. But it comes up enough I wanted to tackle it here.

In “traditional” American dating, the man asked the woman and the man paid for the date. As social mores have changed, the issue has become confused.

Some people “go dutch” with both people paying for their share.

Some people expect that whoever asks the other person out on a date will pay for the date.

Some people still follow the traditional (sexist, heterocentric, and gender binary) view that the man pays for the date.

People who ask “who pays for dates” in polyamory seem to expect there to be a standard. There isn’t.

The best approach is to discuss who pays ahead of time. If you can’t, then:

1) if you ask the other person out, make sure you have enough money to cover the whole night,
2) if the other person asks you, plan to pay your share.
Then, with both of you having money on hand, discuss it on the date.

Taking this approach ensures that there is no awkward moment of “I wasn’t planning to pay…” (which is far worse than the awkward moment when you both [all] pull your wallets out at the same time).

If a single date turns into a relationship, at some point you should discuss how you will handle dates in your relationship.

If you are splitting the cost, don’t be inconsiderate.
Unless you have a joint budget (in which case, why are you worrying about who pays?) anyone you go on a date with will be in a different financial situation. What you can pay for easily might be someone else’s once a month splurge and a third person’s “You’re kidding, right?”

On the last post in this series, A shared how expensive “dates” contributed to one of their relationships falling apart:

“Generally, we were fine regarding the way we handled our joint finances, but apparently the “expensive vacations with other partner” thing galled him. If he’d talked about it with me, I think we could have handled it better — his other partner made six figures, he and I were struggling financially, and she kept wanting to take extravagant trips with him, but didn’t want to pay more than 50% of the cost, even though she made twice his salary.”

As I read that comment, I wondered “what was this person thinking?”

If you want to take a partner on expensive outings and they have less money than you, think twice. What may be a reasonable trip for you could break their budget. Be considerate. Either go on dates that are within your partner’s budget or be prepared to pay for it yourself. Yes, it sucks wanting to share this awesome thing with your partner and not being able to. But if your partner can’t afford it or says they can only afford it once in a while, don’t pressure them or shame them or ask them to do the same thing again next week.

This post is part of the Polyamory Finances blog series.

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Financial Entwinement

Before we get deep into poly finances, I want to take a minute to discuss entwinement and specifically financial entwinement.

Polyamorous relationships exist on at least three spectrums: emotional, sexual, and entwinement.

Emotional: ranging from affection to love
Sexual: ranging from “none” to…well, whatever you can imagine
Entwinement: ranging from keeping separate lives to joint everything (mortgage, kids, bank account, will…)

Entwinement is tying your life to some else’s. We twine our lives together, or become entwined, when we move in together, budget together, commit to supporting each other emotionally/socially/financially, and in many other ways. Everything from sharing meals regularly to having a family Netflix account can be a form of entwinement.

You can be barely entwined with someone and still love them. You can love them and not have sex. You can be fully entwined, have only occasional sex, and feel strong affection.

The monogamous ideal is the extreme of all three spectrums: fully entwined, deeply in love and all the sex you’d ever want, with one other person. Some poly folk want the same thing with multiple people. This trifecta gets more challenging to both find and keep functioning the more people you add, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or doesn’t happen.

Other people prefer relationships to develop naturally into the level of emotional, sexual and entwinement that suits the people involved.

Okay, so that’s entwinement and how it fits in with polyamory. Couples and groups who live together are pretty high on the entwinement scale. So are people raising children together whether or not they live together. Most solo poly folk I’ve spoken with prefer to keep their relationships low entwinement, but that’s not a universal.

financial entwinement is entwinement that specifically involves money:

  • joint bank accounts
  • shared budget
  • shared bills
  • joint lease or mortgage
  • shared retirement plan
  • shared financial assets
  • etc

For some poly folk, moving in together means complete financial entwinement. All income and all bills go into a family pot and (at least in theory) are handled jointly. How this works in the real world varies. For other poly folk, moving in together can be more like being roommates-with-benefits. Everyone has their share of the rent and utilities, buys their own food, and has their own individual expenses. Of course, there’s every option in between.

You can also have entwined finances when you don’t live together. You can budget together, share bank accounts, pitch in to pay for major expenses and more, from across town or across the world.

Throughout this series, we’ll be looking at a different options for how poly folk can manage their finance. Some will be pretty high entwinement options, others will be low entwinement options, with more options in the middle. Always go with what works for your and your poly partners.

Polyamory Finances Blog Series

Thanks to my awesome Patrons, Polyamory on Purpose will now be posting three Tuesdays a month. So today we’re starting a new blog series: polyamory finances.

This blog series will be mostly for poly folk living in entwined couples and entwined groups. Most solo and single poly folk will generally find their finances no different from any other single person. For the RAs, whether or not this blog series will be helpful will depend on your specific relationships and whether or not you are financially entwined with anyone.

Topics will include: multi-partner budgeting, budgeting for dates, emergency funds, houses pouse salaries, retirement planning, and more.

Polyamory Finances Posts

What’s Your GOTH Plan?
Laws Impacting Our Finances