Cash & Coupling: Agreeing On Household Utilities When You Want HBO And He Wants Netflix

There are necessities, like running water, and then there are “necessities,” like HBO and a weekly pedicure. When you’re single and supporting only yourself, you have every right to declare keeping your toes in the latest shade of blush a priority. But once you join budgets with your partner, it’s important that you both agree on which expenses qualify as non-negotiable.

When my husband and I recently re-evaluated our budget, I was ready to slash the cable bill – we have Netflix, and I tend to watch shows a season or two behind. He balked; he’s an avid Atlanta Braves fan and I didn’t realize that without extended cable he couldn’t catch the games during the (never-ending) baseball season. Similarly, he was willing to eliminate our home telephone, while I hesitated at not having a landline in case of emergencies. Having to make these kind of joint decisions just comes with the territory of a shared address, but compromising can be tricky. Toni Coleman, licensed psychotherapist, relationship coach, and founder of, offered this advice about creating a household budget you – and your partner – can live with. Make sure you’re both aware of the big picture. Often, when one person in a relationship is in charge of paying the bills, the other can lose sight of how much goes out every month. “If one person usually handles the bills, they often have a better idea of the overall picture. In this situation, both people should sit down and have a frank conversation about money,” says Coleman. This may seem elementary, but if you haven’t had this basic money talk before, don’t spend another dime before you do. Even if you have, it never hurts to revisit your budget. “Put together a spreadsheet with your earning and overall expenses. Now you can prioritize expenses with a solid view of the bottom line.” If you aren’t the one submitting online payments every month, you may be surprised by what it costs to keep the lights on and the DVR set to record “True Blood.”

Evaluate your contributions. While you and your partner should establish a budget that you both feel is fair, it’s unrealistic to expect everything will be split straight down the middle. “This is a relationship. Your partner is not your roommate, and this is not a business arrangement. One of you probably earns more than the other, and one of you may contribute more to the running of the household through tasks like laundry or cleaning,” says Coleman. You need to consider these contributions and your needs as a couple. Look at what you can both contribute, and consider each putting a certain percentage of your income towards the joint expenses.

State your case, but listen to reason. If you can’t stand the thought of not getting a red DVD envelope in your daily mail, try to explain your wishes. “Be respectful, and really watch your defensive reactions. This can change the dynamic of the conversation, make it more relaxed, and you can get further,” Coleman says. If he won’t budge on the Netflix argument, try to understand why. It may be that he would rather put some of his disposable income in his 401k because he’s committed to caring for you well into the future … and that’s the kind of argument you really need to consider.

Prioritize as a couple. Once you know how much you can afford to spend and where your partner is coming from, you need to make some decisions. “Together, you should each be able to say, ‘This is important to me, and this is why.’ Then you need to work together to see where you can trim expenses elsewhere. You need to both be part of the solution.” If there just isn’t any way to cover what you’re rooting for after you’ve both thoroughly talked the budget through, though, you may need to just let it go.

Don’t let resentment in the picture. When you’re talking about finances, moods can be more volatile than Mel Gibson’s temper, but you need to try to keep anger and resentment from destroying your relationship – you know, like that thing that used to be Mel’s career. “If you feel resentful,” says Coleman, “something’s wrong with the whole picture.” Ask whether money is what you’re really fighting about. “If you feel strong resentment about budgeting issues, this may be symptomatic of other issues,” Coleman cautions.

Give ground. You chose to be in this relationship, and you are (hopefully) committed to making your partner happy. “If something is important to someone you love and not outrageous, try to make it happen,” says Coleman. Ask yourself whether it’s worth making a small sacrifice. Sure, Michael C. Hall’s smirking face may make your day, but your man’s smile can make your life … so consider letting him get the ESPN, and go watch “Dexter” at your girlfriend’s place. Who knows … maybe that gesture will have him offering to cut back on his golf games so you can score a regular pedicure after all.

Photo: iStockphoto

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