How to combine finances when you’re non-monogamous

Photo courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

 

So, if you’ve been following along, I talked about commingling finances for couples, and the importance of talking about dreams to get on board together. Then I hedged a bit and talked about how speaking solely of couples is inadequate, that the focus on just two people rules out people whose lives contain more than two.

All of which leads inevitably to the question: okay, so how do you approach financial commingling from beyond the two-person couple perspective?

Complexity

So, before we get started, recall that I mentioned that with the case of a couple, there were a number of ways to model commingling finances. In short:

  • Divide and conquer (everything separate)
  • Semi-Joint Life (some joint, some separate)
  • All-in (everything together)
  • Parent/child (one decides, one follows)

So even with a couple, we have a potentially complex situation with many different outcomes.

When we move over to non-monogamy, it is generally understood that all situations are slightly different. Or rather, that there are many more possible permutations.

For example, if you have a couple where one of the two has another partner (called a “V”), that may be different from three people who are all involved with each other (a “triangle”), even though the same number of people are involved. There’s even a difference between a “primary” couple with a “secondary” partner and three people who all exist in a less hierarchical situation.

And that’s just three people. If the couple has a “secondary”, that person have their own primary, or be someone else’s secondary, and so forth and so on. Pretty soon, you’re going to need a larger chalk board to draw it all out.

Not a relationship diagram.

Not a relationship diagram.

Priority (or not everyone can come first)

But if you’re in any of these kinds of relationships, you already know that it’s complex. Let’s assume, though, that your situation is stable enough for you to be talking about plans, dreams, and other future presents.

The first step, as always, before you involve anyone else, is to make sure that you are positioned for your own success. This means, among much else, being aware of your spending habits (knowing the secret life of your money will help) and knowing how to pay with money. In short, to help yourself first, just like the airline safety video said.

From there, I would look at each dyad (two-person relationship) in your situation, and see where they would fall in the list of possible type of comminglings as mentioned before.

Loosely speaking, the people with whom you are more serious with, or more connected to, should get the priority of first consideration. This can be determined in any number of ways, but here are a few situations that could imply greater seriousness:

  • Having offspring
  • Being married
  • Owning property
  • Living together

This isn’t to imply that one needs these things to be serious, only that they are often indicators.

In the case of a couple who lives together and has a secondary (not living with them), the couple may choose All-In, and then a Divide and Conquer scenario for the secondary to make things simpler. If the secondary lives with the couple, that might change the situation to a Semi-Joint Life.

If the three are all on equal footing, then the dyad-by-dyad situation doesn’t quite work, and you will want to have your discussions with the full group and make decisions collectively. But you would really need to be on equal footing here, and not just that you don’t want to leave someone out. If someone’s at the table, they need to have equal say.

Life as geometry

If this sounds fantastically complex, then of course you’d be right. As we learned in geometry class, two objects can be connected by only one line, but three objects have three lines, four objects have six lines, and so on. The more lines you have, the more connections that need to be figured out.

But with all the discussion of permutations here, the one part that remains the same is the pursuit of shared dreams. These conversations with the people involved that you care about, are the most important first step, before any of the mechanics are ironed out.

It’s all a lot of work. But if you’re in this kind of situation, you knew this going in. And you know that it’s worth it for you.

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

I offer a free phone consultation to anyone who is interested in changing their financial narrative. Are you ready? Click here for details.
Mike Pumphrey
Posted on June 18, 2015