Money and finances can be a complex issue for relationships, and it can be even more difficult when you're polyamorous. Just like other aspects of our relationships, different poly folk choose to handle their finances in very different ways depending on a lot of factors — including whether or not they have a primary partner (a relationship they prioritize above others), children, a nesting partner (a partner they live with), etc.
Personally, I have always kept my main personal account (where my income is deposited) private, even when I was a military wife and shared a number of other accounts for practical purposes (deployments suck, y'all). When I've had nesting and/or primary partners, we shared some expenses but kept our accounts separate and like roommates, as long as we met our shared obligations, the rest wasn't anyone's business.
Now that I'm solo poly — which means that I've opted out of a lot of traditional relationship trappings, like moving in together or sharing finances while still having deep and long-term relationships — I share my rent and utilities with my roommate/bestie/brother/ex, but don't share accounts or other expenses with anyone. With my friends as well as with partners and lovers, we figure out who pays for what based on who paid last as well as taking into account people's financial situations.
Here's how nine other poly folk manage their money:
1. Ashley, 28
Polyamorous; one biological child; one nesting partner; no primary partner.
"I just moved in with my nesting partner, who is monogamous. We are not married. We have one toddler, who is my biological child, but has a different father whom I am not involved with. I have one other partner. Neither are primary partners.
We just discuss expenses unless they're small. We give and take and help each other out when needed. We don't need to ask for permission from one another for small purchases, but we naturally discuss potential larger spending and what we are looking to invest in together moving forward. He pays the rent, I buy the food and cook most of the time. I also take care of the house and work freelance from home. None of this is set in stone, it just happens to be the dynamic that currently works for us. It could (and probably will) change a bit in the future."
2. Bria, 26
Ethically/consensually non-monogamous; no children; two nesting partners; no primary partner.
"I live half the time with one partner, and half the time with another...In general all three of us (myself and my two partners) are financially independent, and we take turns covering the cost of meals/other outings. How often each person pays depends on income — the person who makes the most pays most often."
3. Jana, 40
Ethically/consensually non-monogamous; one child; one nesting/primary partner.
"I live with and share household expenses with primary partner. Secondary partners are married and live together with their children
My primary partner and I share household expenses only, not child care, cars, etc. And the mortgage is only in my name although we are joint on payments and house maintenance. My secondary partners share incomes/expenses/child care. My [primary] partner and I will become married and join our incomes in the next year or two."
4. Ayla, 30
Relationship anarchist [a type of non-hierarchical non-monogamous relationship style that focuses on autonomy and consent]; biological and non-biological children; no nesting or primary partner.
"My polycule [connected networks of ethically non-monogamous relationships] is spread out through two countries and multiple states and provinces. I live with housemates.
We’re mostly all broke so it comes down to if one of us has a need, the rest who are able will pitch in. We plan cheap or free dates, but while we all have our incomes and bills separate, it isn’t unusual for us to take over each other’s bills as needed and able."
5. Gerald, 38
Polyamorous; two biological children; one nesting/primary partner.
"[I] live with my wife and two children. The only financial entanglements are between my wife and I. My wife and I both work, our money is pooled and we both get an equal amount of disposable money from that pool."
6. Jean, 35
Polyamorous; no children; one nesting/primary partner.
"My polycule consists of myself and my primary partner. We date others occasionally, but haven't found anyone to be particularly committed to further than the occasional date!
My primary partner and I handle our own personal finances by ourselves; student debt, car payments etc belong to the person who owns them. Between myself and my live-in partner, we split groceries and eating out in half always. If one of us goes on a date with another person, it's up to the people on the date to work out who pays, but most of the time it ends up that they split it as well! It's a lot of talking, a lot of communication, but it makes it so that no one feels the financial burden more than the others."
7. Liz, 31
Polyamorous; no children; one nesting partner; no primary partner.
"I live with one partner and have a significant other partner as well. Neither is my primary. I also have a few very casual entanglements, but I’d hesitate to call those relationships. My nesting partner is seeing a couple of people, but is not seriously involved with anyone else. My other partner has a significant partner who lives a six-hour train ride away.
My nesting partner and I split bills down the middle. But we each have our own account as well as one joint account for bills. We go Dutch on dates usually, too. My other partner and I usually split the bill when we go out or thereabouts. We don’t have any shared bills, so that’s a non issue. Money isn’t really a big factor in my relationships because we all make about the same income.
I used to share finances with an ex and I’ll never do it again. It was a huge source of drama any time I paid for anything I did with someone else, and it wasn’t worth it as we were both employed and made similar money."
8. Chrissy, 35
Ethically/consensually non-monogamous; two biological children; one nesting partner; no primary partner.
"[I have a] nesting partner and two kiddos. We have compiled and traded off through the years, taking turns getting each other through school and working. He's currently the stay-at-home parent and I'm the school and work person but that might change once my youngest starts school. We keep everything transparent and when with other partners, we trade off with them.
I am not a [V]enmo person. I'd rather take turns. Keeping count feels weird to me. We had a third contributer/ parent for several years but it didn't work out. They couldn't be transparent and it didn't work out. When we would go on trips we would split the cost when possible or again take turns. That allows for the most economical and efficient use of resources.
Talk about these agreements at the outset and set up boundaries before you start combining resources. Always create a safer space for these discussions and when in doubt, be specific and check in."
9. Jennifer, 36
Polyamorous; one biological child; one nesting partner; no primary partner.
"I live with my legal husband, we’ve been together about 20 years. Other people would describe us as each others’ primaries but we’re philosophically opposed to hierarchy. I have another partner who I’ve been with almost three years, my nesting partner has a girlfriend of about two years. My husband and I have a 6-year-old son. We also date casually sometimes.
Right now my husband makes five times what I do, as I’m self-employed and have been staying home with our kid until he hit school age. Our finances are pretty much completely entwined, we’ve been working on slowly disentangling a bit for autonomy but as we’ve had a joint account since we were 18 it’s kind of hard to get out of the 'one big pot o’ money' habit.
My dates and trips with my not-nesting partner are basically split 50/50, as we basically have the same amount of disposable income, as far as I can tell (honestly I don’t know a lot of his financial details and I like it that way; it suits our relationship style).
Husband tends to float more of the dates with his partner as she is an underemployed academic — I’d estimate a 70/30 or 80/20 split between them, although I don’t think it’s quite so set in stone.
My other casual partner either picks up the tab or we split it, that sort of suits our dynamic. (We’re explicitly FWB but his wife isn’t as big on going out for interesting cocktails and the like as I am, so when we’re out I show him interesting places and he buys the drinks, per him the fun is worth it.)
Everyone mentioned in this is pretty solidly middle class so that definitely makes this easier to navigate."
Money — along with sex and children — is one of the biggest causes of conflict in relationships, and poly relationships are no exception. For poly folk, though, the extra layer of complexity involved in their finances, along with the ridiculous amount of communication that usually comes with the territory means that many ethically non-mono folk discuss it openly and create clear boundaries around how to handle it, helping to mitigate any potential issues.