Income Sharing: Overcoming Stage Fright

by  Susan Teshu

from Communities magazine, Summer, 1998 (Issue #99)

Thinking about the similarities between income sharing at Common Threads and romantic relationships has been helpful for me. When we were discussing the possibilities of living together I saw us in the “courting” stage.  When we bought a house together and began sharing transportation expenses we were “going steady.” Now that we have begun income sharing we’re “engaged.” The possibility exists that we will wed: total resource and asset sharing. For now, I believe in long engagements.

The cover of the issue

My worst fears about income sharing a year ago were that I would lose control of my money.  I thought that I’d have to attend a meeting to get permission to buy a pair of socks. I thought people might be judging me for what I wanted to buy and that I would judge them as well. “How could you want to buy that ridiculous thing?,” I imagined us saying to each other.

How did I come to be happy that we are sharing incomes?  The journey has been slow and frightening at times. When Robert and Johnn and I started talking about living together and buying a house, they stated their need for the original members to be willing to continue to discuss income sharing and have it as an eventual goal. They were wise not to ask us to commit to income sharing at outset, because I, for one, wouldn’t have been able to agree.

Some members of our group have been thinking about income sharing for much longer, or have even had previous experiences with this form of communal economy. Yet I had never even heard of the term until three years ago.

To smooth the transition, we each wrote a paper about our fears around the subject. I got to see that I wasn’t the only one who had serious concerns–that was actually reassuring to me.

Page one of the article

After living together for nearly two years, we decided it was time to focus more on income sharing.  Robert and Johnn created a sample budget, suggesting how we could allocate our combined incomes for household expenses and personal allowances. I don’t like budgets, but realize they are necessary. The provisional budget also gave me something to respond to and helped me think about what was realistic in terms of money income and expenses.

Yikes! This was getting serious.

I started reading about income sharing at Twin Oaks, a community of 90 adult members. That was scary. I knew our situation would be quite different because we are such a small group.  We see each other every day, our lives are closely intertwined. We wouldn’t have the luxury of being somewhat removed from any of the decision processes–we were it. Each one of us would have more input into how we would spend and save our money, compared to a community member at a larger income-sharing community.

Gradually, through the course of our discussions, I came to see how income sharing would benefit me. It had little to do with financial benefit, but rather with the emotional and spiritual benefit of knowing that I would not have to figure out all aspects of how to support myself and my two children by myself.  I knew that Robert and Johnn and I had worked well together in all our decision making up to that point. And I trusted them. “OK,” I said. “Let’s give it a try.”

Page two of the article

We chose to begin on October 1, 1997, which was also the eve of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.

Now the three of us have been sharing our incomes for over six months, and so far we all agree that the experiment is going well. Robert, who keeps track of all matters financial, has informed us that we are doing well in almost all areas of our budget. We have spent little time discussing actual expenditures. I have bought several pairs of socks and even a skirt, all with no discussion.

Although I was concerned that I might be losing control over an important aspect of my life, the opposite has occurred. I enjoy the fact that I am spending money in accordance with a budget, rather than haphazardly, as I did before. Each of the three of us now receives a weekly allowance. Although we don’t need to tell each other how we spend our allowance, I now pay more attention to what I buy.  I want to get the most out of this treasured stipend.

I feel I am reaping the benefits of not having to figure things out on my own. Together we figured out how my children could take music lessons (with a bit of help from Grampa). That was something I had been struggling with for a while by myself.

Paying more attention to money helps me remember that money and material goods, while important and sometimes necessary, are not the be-all and end-all of life. I try to find ways to enjoy and nurture myself and others that don’t require much money, or at least more money than I had previously. These are, for me, the emotional and spiritual benefits of income sharing.

My community mates and I trust each other and have grown even closer. As we share our money, we also have a greater sense of sharing our lives.

(Raven’s notes:  Common Threads was an income-sharing community that Susan, Robert, and I helped create in 1995–actually in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  At the time, I was known as Johnn. It lasted until the year 2000.  I am still close with Susan and Robert–and Amos, who later joined us.  I still miss the community.)

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Income Sharing: Overcoming Stage Fright

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