Today Wealth & Personal Finance lifts the lid on how couples in the UK are managing their finances together. Our exclusive research offers a warts-and-all snapshot of what financial information people share with their partner – and what they choose to keep secret.
Some couples are completely transparent: everything goes into a shared bank account and can be seen and spent by both parties. But millions hold back information about their assets – and their debts.
The research carried out for us by investment manager Investec Wealth & Investment reveals that as many as one in five people in a couple have not told their partner the full extent of their wealth or debts.
Of these, almost one in seven has more than £50,000 they have failed to mention to their partner. Most said they didn’t share the full extent of their wealth because they wanted to maintain their financial independence.
But more than a quarter said it was because they didn’t think their partner would be interested in knowing.
Watch your cash: As many as one in five people in a couple have not told their partner the full extent of their wealth or debts
Just over half of the women surveyed said that financial independence was important to them, compared with a third of men. Younger couples were more likely to be upfront about their savings.
Around a quarter of couples in their 20s said their partner does not know the full extent of their savings. But this proportion rose to around a third for couples in their 30s and 40s.
Most couples who are transparent about their finances have been honest since the start of their relationship. Two in five were open and honest from the beginning; a further quarter were within the first year of the relationship.
To dig deeper into their financial habits, we spoke to seven couples, one from each decade from their 20s to 80s to see how they manage their money together.
In their 20s:
We’re saving for a flat together – but keep our finances separate
Anna Humphries, 27, earns around three times more than her partner Sam Macpherson, also 27. But the couple are trying to find a fair way to manage their money together as they plan to buy their first home together soon.
At the moment, the couple live in different flat shares with friends, both in London. Anna is a public relations manager earning about £60,000 a year while Sam is a university researcher taking home closer to £20,000.
They do not have a joint bank account or oversight on what each other spends.
‘One day we hope to marry but a financial priority was to get on the property ladder as soon as we could,’ says Anna.
‘Although we plan to spend the rest of our lives together, we are going to get a solicitor to draw up a contract to ensure that the amounts put towards the deposit are recognised – so they could be shared out accordingly if for some reason we were later to split up.’
The couple hope to buy a £350,000 one-bedroom flat in Southwark, South London. Over the past five years, Anna has managed to salt away £40,000 while Sam has £20,000.
When they move in together, the couple plan to split their bills down the middle, including the mortgage and groceries.
Anna adds: ‘Sam eats a lot more than me, but I go in for fancy expensive ingredients, such as truffle oil and healthy granola, so it all evens out. As I have more money left after the bills, I put £500 a month into stocks and shares tracker funds.
‘It will hopefully be enough to look after us both in old age when the time comes.’
Although they are open about their finances – and believe it is healthy for their relationship – they prefer keeping them separately. ‘We have no secrets – though Sam likes going out more as well as going on rock climbing weekends,’ Anna adds.
‘I have no idea what he spends. But as long as it is his money rather than mine, what he spends socialising or on climbing trips and equipment is totally up to him.’
In their 30s:
I’m in charge of the purse strings – but give my wife £300 a month
Muhammed Khan, 34, and wife Vanbe, 32, survive on his £60,000-a- year salary. Muhammed is an IT manager, and Vanbe looks after their six children, aged from one to 15. The couple live in a £300,000 semi-detached home in Birmingham.
Muhammed admits he is in charge of the purse strings – though his wife knows about his income and expenditure as bank account statements are not hidden from view. Muhammed has a personal bank account and a joint one with his wife that is for paying general household bills. He also gives Vanbe £300 a month in cash to spend how she wishes separate from grocery or other general demands.
He says: ‘It is not always easy with so many mouths to feed but I have given up my expensive habits, buying fancy Nike designer trainers for £300 a pair in favour of practical ones for £40.
‘My wife sometimes asks for a bit more money – recently she wanted extra to buy a £300 Gucci handbag. Unfortunately, I had to say no because we do not have the money. She was not particularly happy. But, like me, she puts family first.’
In their 40s:
Having to ask my husband for money feels demeaning
Lucy Caldwell, 41, receives an allowance from her partner Ian, 46, and finds the inequality in their finances difficult at times.
Although a qualified lawyer, she gave up work to look after their two sons, now aged eight and ten, while Ian continued working in the City – earning a six-figure salary with a fund management firm.
Expert: Build trust and plan together
Faye Church, senior financial planning director at Investec Wealth & Investment, believes that how couples manage their finances has inevitably changed over the generations, and there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model that works for everyone.
‘Historically, married couples would hold all their money in one joint account in both their names. That worked when husbands were more likely to go out to work and wives would stay at home. But today, as couples often have careers and assets before they meet, they may find it harder to lose that independence. It is about building trust and working out what is best for you.’
Married couples and those in civil partnerships can also benefit from a number of lucrative tax breaks.
For example, the Marriage Tax Allowance is available where one person earns less than the personal allowance threshold of £12,750. They can transfer up to £1,260 of their allowance to their partner to reduce their tax bill. The tax break is worth up to £252 a year.
Couples can also bequeath their estates to each other with no inheritance tax to pay, so long as they are married or in a civil partnership.
They can also transfer any unused inheritance tax allowances.
Lucy says: ‘It feels uncomfortable being given an allowance and always having to justify why you need extra money – going cap in hand with an explanation.’
The couple, based in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, have separate bank accounts – and Ian also puts money into a joint account to pay the household bills.
Lucy says: ‘We do not keep secrets, but I do not know exactly what he is being paid or how he might spend money – I only see what goes into the joint account for general bills. As the children have got older I have been able to do voluntary work for The Samaritans.
‘I also intend to get a full-time job at a shop next month – to spend my own money on holidays and treats for the children. It is wrong, but not having your own money can affect your self-worth and I feel that it stifles my desire to feel free.’
In their 50s:
I’m better at budgeting than my husband – so I look after all our money
Heather and Philip Westlake, of Plymouth in Devon, struggle with their finances – budgeting on a joint shoestring of little more than £1,000 a month.
Money is particularly tight as neither is able to work. Heather, 57, suffers from fibromyalgia, while her 55-year-old security guard husband is recovering from recent bowel cancer surgery. Heather says: ‘I have learned the hard way through building up debts on credit cards and loans when I was younger. Now we live within our means.
‘I take charge of the purse strings and ensure my husband gives me all his money to look after.’
Philip is happy with this arrangement as he admits he is no good at handling cash while Heather is thrifty and knows how to budget. She keeps a sharp eye on the energy meter to make sure they are not wasteful and she ensures they batch cook meals for the week.
Heather adds: ‘It is tough, but we manage. My husband’s weakness is dragon figurines that cost a few pounds now and then. A good relationship must be built on trust. This includes working as a team and knowing each other’s strengths when handling money.’
In their 60s:
I pay the energy bills – she buys the groceries
Simon Heal, 68, and his wife Kin Pek Tong, 60, of Stansted Mountfitchet in Essex, each take responsibility for a different area of their finances.
Semi-retired Simon, who is a sheet metal worker, pays the utility bills from his account, while waitress Kin buys the groceries and does the clothes shopping.
Kin believes this suits the couple well as she has a sharper eye for high street bargains, while Simon is more practical at paying the bills.
‘We never argue about money as neither of us has anything to hide,’ adds Simon. ‘But if an unexpected cost turns up, such as recent dental work I was told would cost me at least £1,000, we sit down and discuss it as part of budgeting.’
> Read our guide on how to save money on your energy bills
In their 70s:
All our money goes into one pot
Team work: David and Sue Williams pool all their money in one account
Retired secondary school headmaster David Williams, 78, and his wife Sue, 71, pool all of their money into a single joint bank account. The lion’s share of their income comes from David’s pension, and retired primary school secretary Sue manages the finances.
‘I have absolutely no interest in money and leave all the budgeting to my wife,’ says David.
‘We work together and act as one. We view our separate incomes as a single pot of money to be shared. We also had a joint mortgage and our savings are held together.’
The couple are heavily involved in supporting their local Saffron Walden Community Church in Essex. They believe voluntary work at the church helps them put their finances in perspective.
In their 80s:
I can’t be bothered managing money – my wife does it for us both
Pamela Gregory, 83, and husband George, 82, of Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, put almost all of their pension incomes of just over £30,000 a year into a joint bank account. However, they both keep small, individual accounts as well.
Pamela spent her career as a personal assistant for bosses in firms including British Gas, and believes this helped sharpen her skills at balancing budgets. She looks after the finances as former painter and decorator husband George ‘simply cannot be bothered’.
Pamela says: ‘As you get older it is important to continue getting out and enjoying life, but it need not cost you lots of money if you are shrewd with your cash and work together at sticking to a budget. We still manage a couple of holidays abroad each year.’
Pamela adds: ‘Fortunately, George has modest tastes – enjoying gardening with his main vice the occasional glass of chardonnay. This makes it much easier to plan our spending. Being open about it helps makes the money go further.’
Some names have been changed.
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