Relationship Hacks: An Allowance System for Adults

Dev Tips


I’m setting a goal for myself to finish my half-finished book relationshiphacks.com this year. In an attempt to make that happen (and because the recent podcast with my wife was wildly popular) I’m going to try to blog some guiding principles. Then I’ll attempt to collect the feedback and comments, improve the posts, then move them into the book.

I got a Nintendo Switch yesterday. Bought it with cash, brought it home, set it up, and – with neither shame nor regret – showed my non-gamer spouse.

“That’s cool,” she said. “Is that the new Nintendo 64 they were talking about on the radio?”

No judgment. Not a comment about the $300 price tag. Nothing was said like “do we really need another game?” or “what credit card did you buy that with?”

How is this possible? No fight (not even a lowercase F fight) and no tension.

My wife and I give each other an allowance. In cash.

Every two weeks when our paychecks are deposited, we each get an allowance. It’s a $100 a week (yes, for some that’s a lot, for others, it’s not. It works for us.) and it’s the same for each of us. We put all our money in one account, give ourselves the allowance, pay the bills, then if there is anything left over it goes it savings.

Let me back up. We used to a bicker and judge each other for our purchases. If you’d log into our bank you’d see something like:

  • Paycheck
  • Mortgage
  • Car Note
  • $5 Starbucks
  • $3 Subway
  • $8 Chipotle
  • $60 GameStop
  • $70 Nordstrom

HOLD UP. What is that GameStop? Well, what’s this Nordstrom? Did you need to be getting that [widget?]

You get the idea. We needed to remove all that noise at the bottom of the ledger as it was distracting us from the larger goals.

Then my wife had the idea that we just needed to pay ourselves first. We can spend that money however we like – with promised zero judgment from the other spouse. That’s crucial, otherwise the system doesn’t work.

The allowance for anything that isn’t “necessarily living stuff.” So it’s not for toothpaste, but it IS for eating out when we don’t need to eat out.

I could have eaten at Chipotle each day this week, but that would come out of my allowance. Instead, I chose to eat at home all month and save my allowance for a Nintendo Switch.

This works – of course – both ways. My wife has hobbies and social stuff that she does, and she uses her allowance for that.

If you made it this far, perhaps you’re thinking, “wow, you’re a wimp” or “gee, he/she has you in their pocket.” Wait.

Step back and absorb. We are grown-ass people. This system works because we designed it for us. All arguments around “frivolous” spending are gone.

This allows us the best of all worlds.

  • It keeps credit card spending to an absolute minimum. 
  • We are empowered and we empower each other with this system.
  • There’s a certain sense of power in carrying cash. You know exactly how much you have and exactly when you have to stop spending.
  • We can decide if we want $200 shoes or a $100 meal or a $50 game. One spouse comes home excited about their purchase while the other greets them without resentment. The fixed allowance amount handles that.
    • Additional spending is discussed on a case-by-case basis. But we’ve picked an amount that is large enough that I could buy something crazy like a Vive – if I am willing to forgo movies, excessive eating out, etc.
  • It sets a good example for the kids as they watch us weigh the pros and cons of a purchase. Money is spent when it’s in-hand and not on credit.

My wife and I are in a mixed marriage. It’s not that I’m White and she’s Black, is that I’m a techie/geek/nerd and she’s fairly normal. 😉 Of course, this kind of mix isn’t gender or race specific. I know lots of couples of varying combos and flavors that bump up against issues in their relationships because of budding resentment, missed or poorly set expectations, divergent points of view around problem solving, and more.

I’d love to hear YOUR story of your partner and your “mix” and how you (mostly) solved it with a simple Relationship Hack like this. Sound off in the comments.


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