I Have No Idea How Much My Spouse Earns… And I’m Cool With That

As long as you earn enough to keep the kibble coming, we're good.

As long as you guys earn enough to keep the kibble coming, we’re good.

According to a recent study by Fidelity, 43% of couples don’t know how much their partner earns.

“While the majority of couples (72%) say they communicate exceptionally or very well, more than four in 10 (43%) failed to correctly identify how much their partner makes.”

I’m not 100% of the wording of the question that generated Fidelity’s result, but I’m pretty sure that I’d count us among the 43%.

But unlike the undercurrent in Fidelity’s report (that this is a sign that we’re not on the same page financially and will impact our expectations and preparations for retirement), being in the 43% on this doesn’t really concern us. We genuinely don’t think the lack of insight into our spouse’s earnings is indicative of us not being on the same page financially in the least. And we don’t think it should be for most people.

So About That Wording…

If the question is forward looking, asking what our spouse will earn in this year, I can guarantee that Mr PoP couldn’t tell you what I will earn this year, nor could I tell you what Mr PoP will earn this year. Bonuses, commissions, non-cash compensation… all of these things end up impacting our gross income most years and neither of us really care enough to want to forecast (or worry) about these issues.

And if Fidelity’s question is backward looking, other than holding up our W-2s when they come in and taking a mental note of who won the “Battle of the Sexes Paycheck Edition” that year (a result I often don’t even share with Mr PoP since he cares even less than I do – which is tough to do since I don’t care all that much about who makes more), we don’t think about our gross income all that much (I always have to refer back to our W-2s or taxes to fill out our yearly shareholder letter) and we certainly don’t think about our spouse’s gross income.

What’s Yours Is Mine And What’s Mine Is Mine

Thinking about what each of us earns isn’t really how our relationship is wired. We often joke that “What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine”, but the reality is that everything we earn goes in to one big pot that we truly think of as “ours”. Legally we have individual 401Ks and individual Roth IRAs, but whenever we’re looking at those balances we look at them combined. Thinking about assets in a divided manner just isn’t the way we’ve organized our financial life, so why would we think about income in a divided manner?

Even on a combined basis, though, we really don’t pay all that much attention to income, especially gross income.

Income? How About Spending?

You see, from our point of view, keeping close tabs on your income only matters when you’re spending most (or all, or >all) of it. We don’t base our spending on our income. Those 50/30/20 and other percentage based budgeting plans always seemed like a load of cr@p to me since we’ve had hugely varied incomes over the course of our marriage, and varying our spending based on that income never seemed to make a whole lot of sense. Instead, our spending is based on our wants and our needs. And we do track our spending diligently.  As long as our income is high enough to take care of those wants and needs (and I’d put saving for our future at a healthy clip into both of those categories), we’re not going to think about the exact income number a whole lot.


So to Fidelity, I say we’re proudly in the 43% that don’t know their spouse’s income.  And we’re pretty happy with that.


What about you?  Are you in the 43%?

30 comments to I Have No Idea How Much My Spouse Earns… And I’m Cool With That

  • How do you do your monthly income posts without knowing?
    Nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Read the book first or watch the movie first?My Profile

    • Those are net numbers that hit out bank accounts after a ton of deductions. Plus they are after the fact. With commissions, I never knew how big Mr PoP’s check would be. Gross numbers I never see except at W2 time.

      • If you have your post-deduction incomes and you have your spending and your net worth… isn’t that essentially the same thing? Sure, there’s going to be market appreciation, but appreciation is also income. (Also, do you not look at your taxes?)

        I agree with commenters below that what you’re talking about and the comment really aren’t the same at all.
        nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Read the book first or watch the movie first?My Profile

    • Also non-cash compensation goes into gross and that never sees our bank account.

  • I think you’re violating the spirit of what this is talking about. Sadly, I have known people who don’t tell their spouse anything about what they make, before or after the fact. Sometimes, it is because one spouse is a spender, but I also think this is sometimes a control or hiding mechanism.

    We have separate accounts for pretty much everything, but we combine it all in a computer program. We talk about money. It’s still a sharing process, and the sharing is what I see as important.

    • I think what you’re referring to is financial infidelity – intentional hiding of money patterns from a spouse, which there have been other studies on.
      I totally agree that sharing is important, I just think the focus on the top line income is the wrong place to put it.

  • Growing up I always knew how much my parents made. And even now I still know what they make. That’s for two reasons, 1) because we’re open about that stuff, and 2) I help them with their taxes and finances. I’m not married, but I have a girlfriend and we both are in tune with each others finances already. I think it’s a terrible idea to get involved with someone without knowing about their finances. A lot of Mr. POP’s compensation seems to be incentive based, so I can understand how you aren’t in tuned with his gross comp, but for everyone else it should be pretty easy.
    Fervent Finance recently posted..HSA InvestmentsMy Profile

    • “everyone else it should be pretty easy”

      I guess that’s where I disagree. I think that variable compensation is becoming increasingly common and is no longer a minority of earners. Whether it’s because of shifting schedules for hourly workers, or contractor-like positions or freelancing, variable earnings isn’t as unusual as it once was.

  • I’m with Leah – I think you’re violating the spirit of the comment. You don’t even know how much you make! I know how much my boyfriend makes because I’ve helped him with his tax forecasting.
    Leigh recently posted..Reflections on Homeownership: 3 Years InMy Profile

  • Debbie M

    Ha! I bet Fidelity’s definition of correctly identifying the amount is different from mine. In the past, my partner made “more than I’ll ever make” which I would have guessed would have been about 60K but probably been off a bit. “More than 44K” is probably not close enough to count as correct.

    Currently I’d say he’s making “not enough,” “less than me,” and “it’s different every month.” I do know he’s making $35/hour + $10/trip (across town), but for a random smallish number of hours each week. But, I’m with Leah and Leigh–not knowing because it’s unknowable probably doesn’t (or shouldn’t) count.

    We are mostly not on the same page financially (he likes to spend more and he never wants to retire whereas I like to spend less so I can already be retired, though we both are frugal and we both despise debt). But I don’t see how my knowing his exact income would make him change his mind about not wanting to retire!

    • “But I don’t see how my knowing his exact income would make him change his mind about not wanting to retire!”
      Couldn’t agree with you more.

  • Before my husband had to go on disability, I knew exactly what he made. But that was only because I was the CFO in the relationship. Tim often takes my checks to the bank for me, but I doubt he could tell you what I get paid. Of course, part of that is that I sometimes have overtime or miss a day or two. But I don’t know if he could even give you a ballpark figure.

    All he knows is that I have everything squirreled away in various sub-accounts in our Capital One account, and that we have a set amount each week to cover everything. Thanks to pretty severe ADD, that’s about as much as he can really handle anyway.
    Abigail @ipickuppennies recently posted..Denial ain’t just a river in EgyptMy Profile

  • Three years ago I’d have said NO WAY, but now I look at our monthly total income, expenses, and savings. We have a specific amount allocated for spending and everything else is to be saved so any increases all get diverted to savings. That means that except for unforeseen circumstances like job loss, we don’t need to know what we make down to the penny Iike I used to track it. It’s kinda nice! I can use that brainpower for other things.
    Revanche recently posted..Just a little (link) love: Raine+Stardust EditionMy Profile

    • That’s exactly how we operate! When you’re on the same page with spending and savings habits it doesn’t matter if you’re paying attention to exactly what the income is – until it drops. At which point of course you have a conversation! But in the meantime you don’t have to tell your spouse every time you get a 2% raise. =/

  • I do know exactly what my husband earns because I am the one who makes and monitors our budgets. It’s pretty easy since my husband sticks to them and I really enjoy budgeting. I do agree with your comment about being more concerned with spending.
    Jess @ Best Credit Cards Canada recently posted..Scotia Gold Visa ReviewMy Profile

  • Not being able to account for future bonuses and commissions is one thing, but I don’t think that those are the types of situations that the Fidelity report is speaking to. We see it all too often with couples that we coach that the two people are clearly not on the same page financially. If a person has no idea how much money their spouse makes then there is clearly no way that they are operating as a joint unit. That’s such a basic financial question to ask that if you don’t have the answer to such base knowledge question about your family finances then there is no way that you are discussing any other sort of financial goal either. It’s simply unhealthy for a marriage to not have this knowledge within it. What else might your spouse not know about you…

    • “if you don’t have the answer to such base knowledge question about your family finances then there is no way that you are discussing any other sort of financial goal either.”

      I think that’s what Fidelity was trying to imply with their study, but it’s not always true since Mr PoP and I are counter examples!

  • Yeah, echoing to say I don’t think this is quite along the right lines of interpretation.

    I do not know how much T will make this year as he is hourly and only temp/casual. Boo. I do know roughly his gross hourly and his net takehome.

    I don’t actually think he knows exactly what I earn as I tend to do money things, and I earn more than him and it’s not a point I like to belabour (particularly after the employment drought of 2014). I have accepted a new job and he does know exactly what I’ll earn, as I was discussing this with him and whether this will keep up within the income limits for a first home buying scheme.

    To be fair, I’m not sure that he knows what my salaries correlate to on an hourly basis, which is the language he’s used to!
    NZ Muse recently posted..Link love (Powered by gingernuts and frost)My Profile

    • I can definitely relate to some of the emotional issues with not belaboring how much you earn when T has been having employment troubles. Honestly, emotions are probably a big part of why we downplay top line income in our relationship. In sales, Mr PoP has always gotten enough pressure about his top line numbers from his managers, and I don’t ever want to make him feel like that enters into our relationship at all. So I probably downplay it even more as a result.

  • My husband can tell you how much I take home from my paycheck, but I think he would be hardpressed to guess my gross. To be totally honest, I have a hard time understanding how my paycheck is calculated, so I pretty much trust that its correct.

    We have thankfully crossed a threshhold where our income is high enough that we don’t have to worry much about cash flow anymore, so our income isn’t as top of mind as it was say two years ago.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head where we’re also not worried about cash flow since our spending is so much below our income, so keeping track of exact income (especially gross income!) is definitely not on our priority list.

  • 100% agree: what you need to know is not how much you’re making, but how much you’re spending.
    We’ve found that my wife proactively ignoring how much I make (I’m the “bread earner”) has helped us focus on saving more. My salary has increased significantly over the years, but we’re trying hard to spend the same that we were 5 or 10 years ago, increasing our savings rate
    Stockbeard recently posted..How to retire at 40My Profile

  • Last week, we’d have been in the 43% (somewhat – I know the ballpark of what Dad makes, but he also has bonuses, I’m not sure he knew what I make). But, I just got news of my raise today, and I told him, so he has at least been told – whether that means he knows, I have no idea. Likely if you ask him tomorrow, he’ll ballpark it anyway. But, I got us pre-approved for a USAA autoloan this weekend, and I had to look up what his salary was, so I know it at least as of now. The only thing I keep track of is the amount being deposited into our checking account after each pay period changes – then I want to see a pay stub to see why :)
    Mom @ Three is Plenty recently posted..Detailed Financial Picture – July 2015My Profile

  • […] Mrs. POP posted a link to a study by fidileity that found that “more than four in 10 (43%) failed to correctly identify how much their partner makes—and of that, 10% got it wrong by $25,000 or more. There were other important disconnects between couples including: 36% of couples disagreed on the amount of the household’s investible assets.  When asked how much they will need to save to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement, nearly half (48%) have “no idea”—and 47% are in disagreement about the amount needed.” […]

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