Ask Meg: Marriage and Money, Part I

Because I am insane, I thought we’d end the week with the one-two punch of sex and money. Nice, right? Never say I don’t take on the big stuff. Aiiii…. here we go.


Let me tell you about me and money: I stayed up the other night worrying if buying a (nice) new couch that we could totally afford (because my grandmother told me to buy a nice couch so I only had to buy a couch ONCE,* you see) was as irresponsible as buying a half million dollar house with only 8% down and a dubious income.** If I bought a full price couch, would I eventually end up in foreclosure? We rent, but never mind that.

That sort of sums it up. My relationship to money involves: hording, good solid puritanical values, and being haunted by my grandmothers. One of my grandmothers supported a family of 10 through the great depression as a typist, the other watched her family fortune disappear during the same period. Both women did, and one still does, think about money a fair amount. So there we are.

I think it’s fair to say that we all have personal baggage around money, though some of us have more than others. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and I did grow up in a family who’s values around money had been set somewhere in the mid-30’s. David likes to say that I’m the only person in our generation who grew up during the great depression (which has actually turned out to be good training for the last few years). So, as soon as I figured out that I could earn money, I discovered that I liked to earn it. Earn it and save it, earn it and save it. Because for me, money is security, and personal freedom.

David is, thank god, more spendthrift than I am. If it weren’t for David, I wouldn’t be staying up nights worrying about new couches, because we’d be sitting on the floor. David is good at making me un-clench my little fists, and give up the money I saved for vacation… so we can actually take a vacation. David is good at making sure we diversify our money, because my strategy of savings involves, roughly, shoving money under the mattress. The virtual mattress, but still.

So, when it came to merging our finances when we got married, things got a little rocky. Why? Well. I wouldn’t put David as a co-signer on my checking accounts until the week before the wedding (and he was lucky he got on that early). I wouldn’t talk much about a married budget till a week before the wedding. I was maybe having a tiny problem with sharing my income up until a week before the wedding. Which, for the record, I don’t recommend. Financial surprises, even small ones, are not delightful 7 days before you’re getting married.

At the point where we were getting ready to set up joint accounts, and I was freaking out, I was looking frantically for advice. How had other smart women done it? How were there accounts set up on a practical level? How had they negotiated sharing money on a more philosophical level? What was hard? What was easy? What had they learned?


I couldn’t find any smart women who had written, even in general terms, about the pros and cons of sharing money in married life. My mom told me how they had their accounts set up (theoretically if not practically helpful, since it involved so much pen-to-paper checkbook balancing as to make my plugged-in head spin). But when it came to emotional advice, my mom didn’t have a lot to offer. “I donno,” she said, “I think that was one of the easier things getting married young and poor. We didn’t really have any assets to merge, so there was nothing to stress about.” Well, let me tell you, merging finances at 29, when you have both assets and a considerable amount of student loan debt in the equation? Stressful.

But. After surviving the stress, I can also tell you it was the single most revolutionary act of getting married for me. It changed my life, and I loved it. So next week, I’ll share a little bit of my story. Hopefully it’s the first of many discussions about smart women, married life, and money. Till then, feel free to throw around your own questions and thoughts in the comments.

*My grandmother has had her couch since she got married in the early 50’s. She said she saved to buy it on the TOP floor of the department store, where the nice couches were. She’s re-upholstered it probably 15 times by now, and lucky for her, mid-century is back in style in a huge way, so half of you would probably give your eye teeth for her pristine, picked-by-a-trained-artist, mid-century couch. I wouldn’t. Because mid-century looks… like my Grandmothers couch, to me. But, we’re dedicating our first couch purchase to her, none the less.

** We just saw a HGTV show where this happened, which more or less devolved into me yelling, “STOP! You can’t afford that house! Sttttoooooppppp!” Over and over again.

 Intro photo by Zachary Hunt Photography.

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Cat

    I can’t wait for the smart women take on all this. A couple of weeks before our wedding our financial situation fell apart (the literal ‘how am I going to feed us and not get evicted this week?’ kind of falling apart) and six months later we’re just starting to rebuild. The downsides are obvious, but the upside of it is that we can start our new family finance system almost entirely from scratch. I’m really, really interested to see what approaches people have taken and how they make it work.

    And personally, we have completely different views on money. I’m a hoarder who gets slightly panicky if I don’t have at least a couple of months living expenses put aside in case of emergency… so the last few months of barely making have almost killed me! My wife is one of the ‘only live once and can’t take it with you’ kind of people, so finding a happy medium is a work in progress.

    Bring on the words of wisdom, I have a feeling I’m going to be taking notes today!

    • meg

      Us too…. totally totally. I think it usually ends up a good balance for both people, but, yes, can be stressful for a long while.

    • We’re starting fresh too because my FH’s parents company went bust, which is where he had invested all his savings. Just as we were getting serious, he “lost” all of it, and we are planning our life on the assumption we will get nearly none of it back – and it was a substantial sum!
      I’m just glad it happened early, and we have been able to plan our wedding to fit the fact that we DONT have access to that money! (Wish we did though!)

      Good luck on the financial rebuilding :)
      I’m looking forwad to all the thoughts as well, since we are planning our “financial merger” at the moment…

    • Katie

      Like some of the other posters, my fiance and I were thrust into this discussion by circumstances.

      As things started getting serious in our relationship, we made an appointment with a financial planner to discuss combining assets – at that point, we were both concerned about protecting our own financial interests and investments (a fact of life when getting married in your 30’s, we thought….). A month later we got engaged. A week after that I lost my job, the next month most of his investments tanked. Several months later, we lost my condo.

      We did a lot of crying, arguing, and plugging numbers into excel documents during the first months of our engagement. A year later, we’re on the same page about financial priorities and our communication in this area is stellar. We haven’t combined everything yet but we will after the wedding. And, while we don’t always agree on what’s a luxury and what’s a necessity (ummm, cable) we are able to peacefully and maturely agree upon what expenses are cut and prioritized when money is tight.

      This was a rough year financially but I can honestly say I’m glad. I think that being on the same page about money has built trust in our relationship, and has set a stellar foundation of open and honest communication within our marriage.

      Meg, thanks for bringing up all of these tough topics (money, sex, etc) and helping us to realize that it ALL really just comes down to communicating openly and honestly with your partner….

  • ooh money stuff is the hardest part of our relationship, I think. It took awhile for us to really figure out why, but when we did, we were like, “Oh, of COURSE that makes sense.” I think I see money similarly to you, Meg – it provides a sense of security and freedom, and a lack of it, or lack of control over it, threatens my sense of safety. For my fiancee, money is a way to self-care: after a bad day, she’ll buy something nice or comforting. When we’re short on money because we have one very small income, my sense of safety is threatened by her need to take care of herself; and her comfort can be threatened by my sense of safety. Complicated.

    At the very least, naming this has given us an easier time *talking* about it, but I suspect it will be a conversation we will always be having.

    I’m curious about how many people do merge their finances or don’t merge their finances after they get married. A friend recently mentioned that none of her friends are doing that anymore. As a same-sex couple, I’m also wondering how many of her assets are automatically *our* assets – is she responsible for my federal student loans, since federally we aren’t even married?

    Most of the time I find it’s easier to not think about this, but that only works for so long. Thanks for writing about it! Can’t wait to see what everyone has to say.

    • meg

      The merging of assets is what I want to talk about next week. I thought it was the most powerful thing EVER (and for most of us, you might as well, since it’s all community property anyway).

      As for you guys, do more research but normally NO. Most of our friends have pretty serious wills in place to make sure the assets stay merged. At the federal level, no you won’t take on her debt. The whole thing is effed up, but here we are.

    • kate

      “…my sense of safety is threatened by her need to take care of herself; and her comfort can be threatened by my sense of safety. Complicated.”

      um, wow. you are my hero today for putting this into words. i read it last night and just cant stop thinking about what you said because that is EXACTLY the situation i am in. Im like you, my husband is like your wife. Our different opinions on spending/saving have always been the biggest source of tension between us and figuring out why has been such a frustrating journey.
      Kinda interesting… his parents were exactly the same when they first got together in the mid 1970s. When his dad was in college he would never let his checking account drop below $150 dollars even if it meant skipping meals, sitting at home instead of going out to a movie, whatever. His mom, on the other hand, would “play the game” (as we like to refer to it) with her account and feel totally comfortable letting it get down to under $1.
      And of course there are so many additional layers to our personal beliefs about money…
      I grew up in a family where there was more than plenty… he didn’t.
      He started working at 15 and has paid for all his schooling.
      My parents paid for mine and I wasn’t entirely financially independent from them until after I graduated.
      So in a way I feel frustrated when I have to be what he calls The Voice Of Reason and say- um, no, we cannot buy that right now. He doesn’t mind it when I do that- in fact he wants me to be the one to balance him out. I just get sick of feeling like I have to be the unfun rational one.
      It has gotten better. Just one of those things to keep talking about.
      Onward with the navigating of our relationships:)
      Love to you all.
      ps. Meg- when I saw that you posted this all i could think was- oh dear god that woman is amazing… im barely get caught up on the sex comments and she is diving into money. i get so excited when something new is up but its such a catch22. because i disappear into apwland like its a black hole.
      so thank you:)
      i really hope you are getting enough sleep.

  • Rose

    I think I saw the TV episode you’re talking about and both my husband and I were yelling at the stupid people on the TV.

    I know that typically money is a hugh source of tension for couples, but strangely this is an area were M and I are completely on the same page, no tension, great communication etc. In fact, in our pre-marital counselling one of the exercises was to draw up a joint budget. We started laughing, opened up the spreadsheet we’d had going for ages and quickly checked if there was anything that needed updating. Maybe the fact that we both work in the banking industry helps us to feel comfortable dealing with this stuff.

    Philosophically speaking, our view is that the only appropriate debt for us to have is our bond (I think that’s what you call a mortgage in the USA :). All credit cards are paid in full every month and both cars are paid off. Also, we treat things like it’s all our joint money (but we each retain control over parts of it).

    Practically speaking:
    1) I have a personal cheque account (checking in the US, I think). My salary gets paid into this account and then I allocate the money to various bills etc. from there. Only I have signing power on this account. It also has a credit card attached, for my personal use. I pay for my individual expenses out of this (car, cellphone, yoga class, gym membership, clothes, make-up etc.)
    2) We have a joint cheque account, it’s in my name but we both have full rights over it. We each have a credit card attached to this account. We pay all of our joint bills out of this account (phone, internet, groceries, entertainment, holidays etc.). At the beginning of each month we each contribute an equal amount into this account and we watch the balance in case we need to contribute more. [I earn significantly less than M, we pay equally for expenses, but I pay less into the bond because that’s all I can afford].
    3) M has his own personal account that his salary is paid into. He pays his own individual bills (e.g. his cycling habit)
    4) We both have miscellaneous small savings/investment accounts that we handle completely separately.
    5) Currently all of our saving is done through our bond (we’re hoping to pay off our house later this year, just over 3 years after we bought it). In the longer term we intend to save regularly and jointly into some kind of retirement/education funds.

    In the beginning, after we merged finances, we were definitely conscious of when each of us spent on our personal cards or on the joint card (e.g. when I paid for M’s dry cleaning on my card, I’d ask for the money back). But, a couple of years later we’ve both completely mellowed about this. We try to pay for joint expenses out of our joint account, but both feel that things all sort of even out in the end so it’s not a big deal if I pay for him sometimes or vice versa. We actually talk about money and our financial situation A LOT and I love how freeing I find that.

    • Caroline

      It’s like someone wrote my comment before I could! (our partners even have the same initials. Odd!)

      I am also living in a land where they spell cheque with a q and have set up a really similar system with my partner. When I moved in, we got our joint account, and have developed from there. We also have a spreadsheet where we track our joint expenses and our share of them based on our proportional incomes. We rent, instead of owning (but mad props for paying off a house in 3 years, that is awesome!) but we’ve talked a lot about home buying and what we are comfortable with.

      I’m interested in how people deal with inequalities between partners in particular – we’ve both paid off our debt, but I know debt inequality can be a huge issue for people. And as someone who was unemployed for the great majority of 2009, I know how that can strain a relationship as well – its hard to balance not being “kept” with not going “broke”.

      Keep the one two punches coming!

      • Jovia

        “It’s hard to balance not being ‘kept’ with not going ‘broke.'”

        So, so true. My boyfriend makes a lot more than I do, and would gladly pay for everything. I can barely afford to pay for anything, but I insist on it every chance I think I can, because it’s crucial to my sanity to have some financial independence and power. Even if, in monetary terms, I don’t.

    • Our situation is very similar to yours, Rose. We merged our finances back in October when we started renting together. We didn’t do much research except talk to family and friends. So with the input of my in-laws (still married), my parents (split up), and other couples (married/engaged/dating/single) we decided to keep our individual accounts and open up a joint account for rent, bills and savings.

      We worked out a budget (and sometimes re-work when needed) and do our best to stick to it. The tough part to this (and I think Meg, you touched on this a few times) I make more money than my fiance. So when it came to being equal contributors we had to figure out how we can contribute fairly without draining our individual accounts. So far it’s worked out well. We try our best to hold each other financially accountable.

      I’m interested to see what Sara from 20000 Dollar Wedding has to say about this. I feel like she always offers smart tips on budgeting, saving and dreaming. Yes, dreaming b/c the big dreams are things we want to save for- vacations, a real couch!, and a moped. :)

    • Julia

      This is exactly how we have our finances set up. We’ve been living together for almost 5 years and didn’t merge until this year, and it makes my head hurt how much easier it is now verses how we were handling it.

      In the beginning it was all 50/50. We would look at our individual credit card and bank statements at the end of every week and sit there crunching numbers until we’d determined who owed who for reimbursement of joint expenditures. It was hell for two theatre majors not too keen on math, and we got more and more slack about it until we were doing it once a month…and then guessing…then I lost my job and couldn’t find another for 9 whole months. My partner picked up ALL of the expenses. (I think I paid the internet bill and that was all.) After that we were finally ready to merge. I feel like you shouldn’t merge until you feel READY and if that is before marriage, or three years in, don’t make the move until you’re READY. There is no right or wrong way about this.

      I feel I have to note that I am now paying rent by myself for 9 months and then all of our alternate expenses for 9 months after that to make it up, because I feel like we should have started this joint thing on a more even platform, but my partner doesn’t care at all. Those are my own values. Also, I read an excellent post on the Simple Dollar about financial equality in marriage and he made a good point that you can determine fairness of contribution by salary…so if I make 30k and he makes 10k, then it could be just as fair to split the bills 75/25 as 50/50, and if tomorrow he makes 40k and I make 30k, we can adjust to 57/43 and so on.

      • This is how we split things up when my hours got cut in half last fall. Suddenly I couldn’t afford to pick up half of the shared bills anymore, so we worked out what percentage of the total income we each made, and shuffled things around so that we each paid that percentage of the shared bills. I also dropped several of my luxury expenditures, but I would have done that in any case.

      • Also how we split expenses – it used to be 40/60, but then he took a paycut with the recession and I kept getting my yearly raises, so now it’s 46/54 and I’ve taken on an extra bill or two to re-equalize things.

    • We have done things similarly to Rose as well and it works for us. I purchased our primary house several years before Eric came into the picture and then he purchased our cabin at the start of our relationship. We still pay for our individual mortgages through individual accounts and have a joint account for the fun stuff. We both trend towards being hoarders, me to get that much closer to a secure retirement (this was the theme of my parents and by golly they retired at 60 and are loving life) and he really does not spend money much. We don’t argue about money. Ever.

    • I am also an R with an M for a husband and have a broadly similar situation. We pretty much merged finances when we moved in together although we kept our own accounts seperate. Since getting married we have opened a joint account for household bills, rent etc. We still have our own accounts into which our salaries are paid. We came into marriage with differing levels of assets and liabilities (savings and student bank loans) and while each is technically still responsible for our own debts we see all assets and liabilities as equal.

      As a lawyer though I see a lot of married couples fighting over marital assets. Pre-nups are not valid as such here in the UK although a court will consider the intentions of the parties. What is valid though are deeds of trust which set out who put what in when purchasing a property and who should end up with what if the property has to be sold. If a couple has significant assets (business/property) and/or children I would highly recommend having everything set out in writing. We all want marriage to last forever but I see so many needless arguements which could be avoided if everything is discussed/set out at the start, pre-marriage. Of course, things may be different in the US.

      • Rose

        Rachel, I’m 100% with you on giving some thought to the legal aspects of merging/not merging assets BEFORE you get married. Here in South Africa, if you don’t sign an ante-nuptial contract (pre-nup) before the wedding the government automatically registers your marriage as ‘in community of property’ (i.e. EVERYTHING is split 50/50, including debts – can’t open a credit account without spousal approval, if one of you starts a business that goes bust you could lose all your joint assets etc.). If you sign a contract before however than you have the option of deciding how your assets are treated (e.g. completely separate, some joint and some separate etc.).

        I tell all my engaged friends to at least go and consult a lawyer regardless of what they decide to do. it’s a really big deal to get this wrong.

    • ML

      longtime just-in-a-happy-healthy-relationship lurker, first time commenter. meg – thank you. this discussion cannot have come at a better time for me. my boyf and i are currently mid-moving in together (literally, packed boxes are slowly making their way from our separate apartments to our new home), and we’re just starting to talk about budgets, habits and expectations for the first time. (wait, you mean moving in together isn’t just a never-ending sleepover of excitement and pleasure?).

      rose – your breakdown seems smart and perfect for us, and i’m proud to say we’ve (in the last half hour) decide to mimic it in a way; start a joint account for “must spends” (bills, groceries) and vacation savings, and keep our own accounts for everything else. so thank you for sharing!

      meg, again, thanks for the forum and the community and all of the badass conversations you’ve inspired here at APW. i check every day simply because there is always something insightful and brave to learn from the women in this community. hoorah.

    • I am hoping this mellowing out thing happens for us, too! Right now we are conscious of who pays for what since we keep most of our money separate, but I have a feeling it all really does just “even out” and that would prevent lots of petty arguments.

      Your system is pretty much exactly what I am shooting for in dividing our financial responsibility. We are working on getting there. I might actually show your comment to my husband so he realizes the other people DO attack this in ways other than all-money-together or all-money-separate (he can be kinda black and white about, erm, everything).

      • Rose

        Good luck Charise. I think the mellowing out is natural. If you both agree on your ‘money philosophy’ – your priorities, what’s acceptable, what’s not, then I think in the end it becomes too exhausting to worry about every cent in black and white and you can both relax a little.

    • Rose

      Rose #2 here, sorry to be confusing. My partner and I have set up something very similar: personal accounts for personal expenses and joint account for joint expenses – we both contribute a set amount each paycheque and go over all bills etc. once a month to make sure our budget is on track and we have enough in the joint account to cover everything.

      On the advice of my aunt, I found these ideas and tips *very* helpful in setting this up, particularly her idea of “equal shares, not equal amounts” in figuring out contributions when partners have different incomes. This isn’t an endorsement or anything, but I thought others might find it helpful (well articulated ideas PLUS a formula for figuring this out!)

  • Rebecca

    Thanks Meg! You got me thinking about where I have gotten my crazy money baggage from. My parents have come to the conclusion that you are born with your money baggage…mainly from telling the story of my sister constantly going broke in junior monopoly as a little kid (she still spends money like it is going out of style) and me taking an hour to spend a quarter at the corner store on penny and nickel candies because I wanted the most bang for my buck (I still don’t live on a budget or know how to budget because I never spend everything). I had heard on a talk show that in a family situation like mine the parents should be most concerned about the child with the hording tendencies and not the one who can’t figure out money. I do understand what they were saying there, but my connecting money to security and well being I still have a hard time believing because I am so opposed to spending everything. Sigh…

    So, it is going to be interesting now that I’m trying to combine finances or atleast financial thinking with my BF, definitely looking forward to what you and other smart women have to say on this topic.

  • Heather

    I love that you are talking about these topics! (sex and money) They are SO SO important! Someone told my husband and I that the two things we would fight the most about are SEX and MONEY. I didn’t believe them, but they were SO RIGHT. Now, granted, when I say fight, I do not mean screaming, pouting, and throwing of objects…but sex and money are the topics of most of our serious marital “discussions.” My husband and I took a pre-martial FOCCUS questionnaire through our church and we scored 91% in the finances section, which is high. I naively thought that we would be in the clear for our financial discussions…but I PROMISE PROMISE PROMISE it is that 9% that we didn’t completely agree on in regards to finances that shows up in our marriage.

    We are both savers. (Thank God. My best friend married a spender who at one point emptied their checking account without telling her. Cue nervous breakdown. My idea of saving money is to save it, hoard it, and then when it’s time to spend it, chicken out–because why spend money you’ve saved for furniture or a vacation when you can SAVE MORE?!?! ).

    Here is my advice:
    1. If you are both working, keep your own accounts. Most employers do direct deposit and closing one account could get tricky and why risk screwing up your paycheck?
    2. Put each others names on your accounts–but primarily use the same account you did before you got married. It would be a hassle to inform your partner every time you withdrew some money for starbucks.
    3. Create a spreadsheet. My husband is a Spreadsheet Genius. He set one up with spaces for mortgage, power/electric, water, food, clothing, makeup, eating out, grocery store & toiletries, (keep eating out and grocery separate), medical, investments, etc. Then, we would go through our receipts and enter his spendings in green and mine in orange. The spreadsheet would automatically totaly our monthly spending and savings.
    4. Look at your savings and spendings and see if their are areas you can cut back to save more. My husband realized that he was eating out at work too much and I realized that I really was buying clothing a bit too often.
    5. Keep it an US perspective. My husband pays the mortgage and household bills out of his paycheck. I had a tendency to “brag” about how much “I” was saving since I’m the “grocery store, entertainment, eating out, clothing person.” One day, during a brag session he suggested I pay half the mortgage and bills so he could save more money too. Point taken.
    6. GIVE. Since my husband and I are both savers, we have often can afford to give. My nature, I am not a giver. I have learned to unclench my fist and find charities we both have a heart for and make donations. There is something so special about making a donation as a couple to cause close to both of your hearts. It makes us feel closer and more like a little family reaching out to someone in need.

    Ok, that’s it for me. I can’t wait to read what great advice others have on the topic!

    • FM

      Just wanted to chime in to recommend (or a similar app if you have a smart phone that has one) as a place to record your spending. My husband and I just started using it last month and love it so far. Basically, makes it super easy to record your spending right away by email (if you can email from your phone), text, voice or going on the website.

      • I’ll add a vote for — it tracks everything and lets you know your net worth (frightening….). It was particularly useful when we were establishing a budget — I was able to look at my past expenses (ie “We spent $941 on restaurants last month, so maybe we could cut back”).

        • Shelly

          Yes! has been great for me personally as a single gal. I’m hoping to utilize this with my FH, regardless of how we decide to tackle the other pieces of the money puzzle.

          • Heather

            Thanks for the recommendations! Our computer died a few months ago and our spreadsheet died with it. :( We’d been thinking about purchasing Quicken, but will take a look a Mint and Xpenser.

            For the record, I reread my post and am horrified at my grammatical errors. I do know the difference between their/there/they’re…but apparently not before my second cup of coffee. I’m so ashamed…

        • Elissa

          I’d been using Mint but since it tallies all of your worth, including cars (if you include them) and IRA Roth accounts, it gave us an inflated number that was toooo comfortable. The reality is that we have a small amount in savings, a smaller amount in checking, and I hoard like crazy to make the number go bigger.

          Unfortunately, I’m the sole breadwinner right now while my husband is in school, so we don’t save much at all (if at all – sometimes we dip into savings, which is happening more and more lately, to pay for our monthly stuff).

          I’m glad this discussion is happening. We could use pointers on how to handle money better. Right now the idea is to just savesavesave as much as possible and I freak out sometimes when he’s been eating out too often.

          • ddayporter

            I used Mint for a while a few years ago and then had to shut it down, didn’t end up being that useful to me. the way charges were being posted from vendors, Mint didn’t really know which were groceries/clothing/whatever, and I found I was spending all my time making tags and labels and whatnot to try to make sure things were being categorized correctly. this was several years ago so probably the technology has improved? also I have to admit to a little terror at having all my financial information in one place on the Internets. I prefer my spreadsheets.

            We are also in a (basically) one-income household right now so even though we had planned to officially merge finances after the wedding, we’re basically just doing what we’ve done since we moved in together, which is have separate accounts and share a credit card. except now I’m paying most of the rent and the credit card bill myself. I think when we’re back to two incomes, we’ll be able to have a more meaty financial discussion. right now the focus is Pay the Bills, not so much left over for my usual frivolous spending habits (it’s been a really good lesson for me actually).

          • jolynn

            I too am a Mint convert. You can also remove items if they’re giving you a too-inflated sense of worth, such as vehicles. I find it handy for keeping track, getting good credit offers, reminders on bills, etc.

            @Ddayporter I haven’t had an issue with mint mis-interpreting my charges except when I buy gas at grocery stores and it thinks I’m spending a ton more than I am on groceries. I stopped using it about three years ago because of that issue, but when I started again a few months ago it wasn’t doing that as much.

        • also has apps for iphone AND android.

        • Lauren H.

 is a great tool. We don’t use it regularly, but when something big is about to change (like how we both just got much higher paying jobs and need to rebudget for the new house we’ll be renting at a higher rate than we had been) it’s great to be able to sit down and say, “Okay, so on average, for the last few months, we’ve spent x on groceries.” I would recommend people to go ahead and link their accounts to it just for that purpose, even if you don’t use it often.

          • Katie

            Just had to chime in on this one – keeping track of spending is a great financial tool. My fiance & I tried all the apps and spreadsheets and ultimately found that cash envelopes were by far the easiest system for us. It’s not for everyone, but we appreciate always knowing for sure how much money is left each month, even if he forgets to tell me he spent $50 on gas, I can see that the money is gone and won’t overspend our budget.

      • Jessica

        Another website is It’s the one I and my FH use, and we love it.

  • Carrie

    So glad to see a money post! I have been in the same situation, wondering how other couples have managed their accounts, aside from just having a joint checking and joint savings. This seems to be the predominant way to do it around here (Oklahoma).

    After we initially moved in together we maintained separate everything. About a year after that I printed out two blank budget sheets, filled one out for myself and left the other blank. I put them both on the kitchen counter, mentioned it to my fiance then dropped the subject. A few days later he filled his out. A couple of days later he asked me some questions about mine. It was an easy, no-pressure way to get the convo going.

    We just bought a house together (yay!), and when we did that I added him to my savings account. This savings account has always been attached to my checking account (so I can transfer money into it online), and now it is attached to his checking as well so we can “share” money that way. This was the most I was willing to bend at the time, as I am 32 and have been independant for so long and find it hard to share! Moneywise or otherwise! But I am trying!

    However, we still split bills like utilities down the middle and each writes a check for half. I find it a little tedious. Other things “come out in the wash” so to speak. I buy most of the groceries, he usually pays when we go out, etc. We each have our own retirement accounts and fund them as we see fit. If we are saving for something that is for both of us (i.e. the wedding), we agree on an amount to set aside weekly to achieve that goal.

    I look forward to reading about how others have gone about the combining of finances!

    • We also each have our own bank accounts and we do not have any linked accounts at this time. We each have designated bills to pay. I pay for groceries and utilities and he pays for rent and entertainment/ eating out for all of us. Our situation is slightly more complicated since I have a 4.5-year-old child from a previous relationship and I do not consider my child’s expenses to be Hubby’s responsibility. I pay for my child’s necessities like daycare, medical bills, clothes, etc from my account. Hubby pays for random stuff like water guns, hats, meals out, etc. I make less than 2/3 his salary and the total expenses from my account turn out to be more than his each month, but as for shared expenses between hubby and I, I spend much less. There was a short period after he lost his job about 1.5 years before we got married, he ran out of savings and I invited him to move in with us (into a one-bedroom apartment). I supported the three of us for about three months and moved us into a 2-bedroom apartment for a hundred or so dollars more per month. Hubby did find a job and we sort of worked out what was fair for each of us to pay at that point.

      One thing that we do that works pretty well is having a family cell phone plan. I get the email notification every month, pay the bill, send him an email with how much was paid and say, “Cupcake, I just paid the phone bill. Check your email!” He sends me half the amount of the bill through PayPal. This way there are no checks or anything and I can transfer the money directly into my bank account. The whole process takes about 5 minutes, not counting the time it takes PayPal to get the money into my account which is about 2-3 days.

      We live pretty simply so money has not been a big deal. We both ride public transit (I my employer pays for my monthly pass) and we do not own cars. The extra expenses of loan payments and maintenance are great ones that we just don’t have to worry about. As long as the bills are getting paid, neither of us care much about personal spending. We’re both hesitant to let go of any large sum of money so saving comes pretty naturally. We have no debt and paid for our small wedding in cash. I’d say that it is working out for us pretty well so far. The only thing I suggested we get a joint account for was to hold our wedding money and to save any money we received as gift after the wedding. He suggested I keep it in my account and just let him know when it was his turn to pay for something. We’re looking at getting a high-yield savings account for gift money once interest rates start looking a little more healthy. I don’t know if it’ll have both of our names on it or not, but it doesn’t really matter to either of us.

  • Wench

    So nice to hear this being talked about. Another Brit here and me and the other half have a similar situation to Rose. We each have our separate accounts which our salaries are paid into and from there we pay into a joint account from which our mortgage and shared bills are paid. There is however a discrepancy. I earn significantly more than he does, and therefore I pay more into the account but I also find myself paying out of my own account towards joint expenses (case in point accidental £150 in the garden centre as we’ve got all excited that our urban upbringings haven’t affected our ability to grow food!).

    I’m very happy to do this and I know he knows I’m doing it, but it isn’t something that’s always mentioned ‘out loud’. Because the thing is, I know that for him, me earning more is a bit odd. He comes from quite a traditional background where Dad works and Mum is a housewife and all the men in his family work hard and support theirs so the idea that I’m propping up the financial support of our baby family doesn’t always sit happily with his concept of what he ‘should’ be doing.

    Luckily things are working out pretty good for us. All the big bills come out of the joint account and every now and again I pay out of my own account for supermarket shops or garden centre oops’s and every now and then he’ll buy the drinks when we’re out.

    Money is something that needs to be talked about in relation to weddings though, and not just the ‘how you can save on your flowers’ kind of talk but the ‘what happens if there are financial discrepancies that you can’t figure out’ sort of way. So thank you Meg, for yet again saying what every other wedding related site is afraid to.

    • R

      Snap! I earn more than my boy and therefore pay more into the joint account than he does. My account is then used for those expenses that creep up on you like road tax or car insurance. Under Scottish law everything is split 50/50, if anything goes wrong, so even though we are keeping our savings and debt separate for now once we are married it’ll all be ours.

  • LL

    Meg, Nate Berkus said the same thing about couches on Oprah: buy a REALLY good couch that you will keep forever, no matter how often you redecorate. Turns out your grandmother was ahead of her time!

    • meg

      I love Nate Berkus. My grandmother is a trained artist, so she tends to be good at the interior design stuff…

  • Dee

    I am really looking forward to what you have to say, Meg. To be honest, money is the only thing my fiancee and I have ever really fought about. My spending style is a lot like yours in that once I have money, I have a hard time spending it. I keep a detailed spreadsheet of my expenditures and I can tell you where every dime I have spent in the last three years has gone. FH, on the other hand, tends to spend what he has without really thinking about the future. He doesn’t overspend, mind you, but he doesn’t really monitor his spending either. He also hates to talk about money, since it is something his family doesn’t do (where mine talks about it all the time). Drives me crazy.

    Our solution (once we marry in October) will be to merge our salaries and let me handle the finances. Since I’m a bit of a control freak in this arena, I am looking forward to having the final say on what is spent and where. The only problem is this: I don’t want FH to feel like he’s getting an “allowance”. I want to give him boundaries for spending as a way to secure our future, but I don’t want him to end up feeling like he is being totally controlled to the point where he can’t spend any money without getting my permission. It is going to be a delicate balance, I’m sure.

    Thanks for highlighting this topic. I look forward to what you have to say!

    • meg

      We both get allowances ;) More on that soon.

      • We call it our discretionary, rather than an allowance, but it’s the same thing. :)

        • heh, we call ours Mad Money!

    • If I can recommend something–I must say I’m a big fan of the Venn Diagram method of couples’ finance. We have a joint account for joint things (rent, bills, doggie expenses), and personal accounts for personal things (i.e., I don’t have to ask permission to buy a $100 pair of shoes, and he doesn’t have to ask permission to buy a Wii). All accounts are with the same bank, so if we are in bind, money can easily transfer from personal to joint, or vice versa. For us, this is a much better system than combining EVERYTHING and having all spending be a free for all. It gives us the opportunity to talk about things like “Hey, we kind of want to buy a new couch sometime soon, but there’s not a lot of extra money in the joint account…how much more can we each contribute from our shoes/Wii/Starbucks funds to get to that point?”

      The only other money-related problem we’ve come across has to do with kids (hypothetically, I barely remember to take myself to the doctor, let alone a kid in the near future…). Fiance thinks that a kid should get a job as soon as he or she can to learn about how to manage money. I think that we work for the rest of our flippin’ lives, so enjoy being a kid while you’re a kid. I know that both of these views stem from our own childhoods, so I’m sure it will continue to pop up…oh well, more reason to stick with dogs :)

      • jolynn

        I am into that solution, but *super* into that description. I have a nerdy appreciation for Venn diagrams.

    • kat

      I’m in the same boat but reversed positions. *I* am the spendthrift (well, not quite, but much more than he is; just fyi – we make about the same amt of $, he just saves more). I like to shop, for me, for him, for our apartment. And I’m super excited about what our double income will do for our lifestyle. BUT I’m also super glad that he’s going to take on the finances, and setting an allowance for both of us (we’re doing a joint checking, but also maintaining individual accts). I know it sounds weird, but I have know that a) I respect both of us enough to honestly realize he’ll be better about our savings plan in the long term, b) he has enough respect for me to know that I have our best interest at heart too and wouldn’t jeopardize that.

      • Rose

        Kat – this is what I mean when I talk about a ‘money philosophy’, it doesn’t matter what it is as long as both of you are 100% on board with it. Good luck!

  • Erin

    At first, I was convinced that for our marital bliss, the mister & I would NEED separate accounts, a spreadsheet that tracked our expenses down to the penny, and monthly allowances. I planned to be much more Type-A than I naturally am. I realized that this had a lot to do with my own two hang-ups about money: 1.) My family never had enough in savings, our cars always broke down when we couldn’t expect a paycheck for another 2 weeks, and we often visited food pantries or lived on .49c frozen pot pies for weeks. I became a hoarder who didn’t really know much about saving; and 2.) I was earning little over half of what my fiance made, and didn’t want to be using/spending more than my fair share.
    Except, J is brilliant about saving money, investing money, and being comfortable with using it. And, he’s not interested in “what’s fair” for my allowance. He finally convinced me that we could have equally meaningful conversations about finances regularly, could share an account, and spend what we felt was appropriate without reporting daily on each candy bar I snagged from the vending machine. This requires a lot of trust (he wasn’t a fan of my grocery shopping strategies at first), but it’s another way we’re learning about each other and growing our marriage.

  • oh yes. i’m pretty sure i scream those same words at HGTV on a disturbingly regular basis.*

    (that also means i watch HGTV ona disturbingly regular basis. and by “regular” i mean every night. for hours.)

    my favorite episode so far
    – seemingly well-established lawyer lady and business owner hubby in atlanta buying their first place. all kinds of crazy demands. end up with brand new 5 bdrm home for half a million. she keeps saying it’s their first place AND their last place. they want to live there FOREVER. so thats why it has to be perfect….ONE HUNDRED PERCENT FINANCING and 2 mortgages. WTF!?

    also good:
    – young couple out of med school in lots of debt, need 100% financing…. but now with economy can’t GET 100% financing, but keep searching for a very pricey new home anyway…. finally mom and dad agree to loan them the down payment. and they get lovely big new home. whaa?

    sorry. see? now you’ve made me yell at the HGTV couples via your blog… sorry :/ i get madddd.

    • Beth

      I’m the same way. The boyfriend and I watch House Hunters on an embarrassingly regular basis and we also trash-talk the realtors who SHOW people these way-out-of-their-price-range homes.

      Needless to say, screaming at HGTV is an alarmingly common occurrence and I got a good chuckle out of Meg’s comment about it, as well as yours, Sassy Kathy.

      • yes, apparently screaming at the fools on the show is simply PART of the viewing process, no? :) HGTV got it totally right with those commercials for house hunters… where they show couples sitting around at night watching and yelling “NO! take house #3! not that one not that one!” haha

        • If I hear one more couple demand double sinks in a bathroom….

          • Vanessa

            hahaha! Seriously. Since when does a happy marriage depend solely on double sinks??? HGTV is an addiction of mine, and now I think I’m realizing its due to some people’s ridiculousness.

          • OMG THE DOUBLE SINKS!!!! I DON’T GET IT!! Why why why. I can count on one finger the number of times in our 8 year relationship that my fiance and I have needed to brush our teeth at the same time. It’s my number one HGTV pet peeve, along with people saying that they need a lot of space to “entertain”…if i had a nickel for every time I did a little song and dance number for my friends in the living room…

          • I had double sinks with my ex H. Perhaps indicative of the extra space between? If we had had to share a sink, there would have been arguments, but we argued over everything, so that’s not a surprise or anything.

            T and I have one sink. We get ready together sometimes (hello! snuggles in the shower when you’re still waking up = awesome), but I don’t mind at all. It just leads to more hugs, rubs, “pleases,” “thank yous” and overall niceness.

          • A-L

            Amen, on those double sink comments!

          • Dude, I love my double sinks! Granted, we would be fine without them so it would never be a deal break in a house, but we are running around getting ready at the same time in the morning and I like to have plenty of room to brush my teeth/dry my hair/put on makeup while he’s over slinging shave gel all over his side.

          • OMG the double sinks. i’m literally giggling out loud in my cubicle right now.

            – double sinks

            – entertain entertain entertain entertain entertain blahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh blah shush

            – “ohhhhh no… this master bathroom is kind of small” (um, what the FREAKER are you doing in there? cartwheels? hosting dance performances?)

            – “oh i just don’t like the color of these walls at all” (you’re right! paint is permanent! better nix this house)

            – “it doesn’t have a fence…. where will sparky go?”

            (apparently i have some not-so-pent-up hgtv issues… hehe)

          • meg

            My pet peeves:
            1) Couple looking around ginormous two story suburban home. Cue mom, “But where will we put the baby’s toys???” I don’t know, how many f*cking toys does your 6 month old have?
            2) Couple looking around apartment. Cue, “I don’t know, our couch probably won’t fit.” Mmmm hummm. You should definitely not buy this $400K house because your effing $500 couch from SEARS won’t fit. That makes TOTAL SENSE.
            3) Childless couples who demand three bedroom apartments in big cities (why?) or five bedroom houses in the suburbs (you know, by the time you have that many kids, you might want to move ANYWAY.) And then they have like a 1.3% down-payment on said ridiculous huge place.

            Ah, HGTV. The most amusingly ridiculous thing about being a newlywed.

    • Kim

      YES on the double sinks and YES on the big master bedroom. Really? That’s a deal breaker?? I feel that everyone at some point in their life should live in a 450 square foot apartment in Manhattan (or insert other major expensive city — or Europe, for goodness sake). The differences between what we need and what we want is staggering! Which is fine when you have the money to splash out on it! . . . but when you don’t and you splash out anyway, well . . . REALLY??

      • we’re about to move into our first place together… and it is quite teeny indeed. i was automatically uncomfortable/freaked out by the lack of space. now i’m looking at it as a challenge. and an excuse to purge.

    • Liz

      you guys make me oh, so glad we can’t afford cable tv right now.

  • SingColleen

    Our sitch is similar to Rose’s, and I’m STILL getting used to sharing finances. He makes almost three times as much as I do, so it’s silly for me to try to pay half of everything, but try, I do. Like the others, I’m slowly relaxing into the situation, and allowing myself not to track the shared expenses down to the penny to make sure I’m contributing enough. I mean, it’s a partnership, right? and partnerships are rarely 50/50. Pretty soon I’ll be working and he’ll be unemployed so I’m starting to be ok with the whole thing.

    But wow, money is hard, it’s stressful, it’s complicated. Looking forward to the discussion!

  • This is SO TIMELY. We’re in the process of merging finances, and it’s…. hard. I’ve been handling most expenses until now because my partner was unemployed, but he just got a job and suddenly our whole situation has changed. It’s more money (yay!) but it means undertaking this whole “joint accounts” thing, and I am CONFUSED.

    The best idea I’ve heard was to each put a set amount into personal accounts each month (for personal savings — equal amounts so that no one’s at a disadvantage), and put the rest into a joint account for expenses. The problem now is implementation. Is that separate account purely savings, or should it cover expenses? If so, what expenses? I have a shitload of student debt and he doesn’t — I want to be putting a lot of money into that, but does it come out of my personal savings or the joint money? It’s debt I acquired pre-him, but if I hadn’t been supporting both of us for the last year, I’d have paid more of it down.

    Luckily our conversations around this have all been really good. We’ve both had relationships where money was an issue, so we’re very conscious of maintaining good communication. I just wish i could find decent advice from a smart woman… so thanks for addressing this, Meg!

    • ddayporter

      ahhh yes. the lop-sided student loan debt. he’s racking up a little bit of his own right now, and I’m paying most of the bills so not paying more than the minimum on my loans, which of course means I’m hardly paying it down at all. once he’s out of grad school and we have two incomes again, I think we will reassess the debt situation. Right now I would be uncomfortable with him paying down my debt, but a year or two from now, when I’m not like “hey we got married!” every other day, it might feel more right for both of us to tackle both of our loan debts.

      • I’m curious about the debt coming out as a wash in a few years, especially when high student loan debt also equals a good salary.
        Of course, one usually has to take on all the debt to be making that money (lawyer, doctor) and the partner does share in the benefits of the other’s salary.

        • ddayporter

          ha! well. I’m probably talking about considerably less debt than you’re talking about, I’ve just got your average out-of-state public university bachelor of arts degree. which means about $30K when I graduated college, pennies next to doctor/lawyer loan debt, but it sure still feels like a huge mountain to me, since I don’t have doctor/lawyer income to pay it off quickly. he’s going back to school to be an elementary school teacher, also not a high-income job. not to say that I won’t benefit from his advanced degree, his happiness at not sitting in front of a computer doing meaningless work (meaningless to him) is benefit enough right there. and I suppose he is currently benefiting from the degree I got before we met, since it enabled me to get the income I’m getting right now. still it feels like, my debt accrued before we knew each other should be my responsibility to pay off. He’s getting assistantships so won’t even have that much debt by the end of it. I guess we’ll see, a couple years down the road, if we’ve gotten to a point where we really feel comfortable truly owning each other’s finances 100%.

          • Jo

            Ah, money. Yes, I remember our pastor telling us in a premarital counseling session that sex, money, and driving were the places where most people fight. Lucky for us, we only fight about driving, among those three. :) I have to give mad props to my husband who, when he learned about my mix of consumer and student loan debt, agreed that that was “our” debt now (this is two years pre-wedding). Since then, it’s been paid down out of our joint account. We have a system like others mentioned here – joint account for most expenses, equal allowance to our individual accounts for eating out, fun spending. When I moved from grad student to fully employed, I suggested that I wanted my retirement fund to get as much as his does, and he agreed. Other than that, we really haven’t had to have major conversations about it – we have very similar financial values, I think, and we do a lot of trusting of one another’s decisions about money, out of both bank accounts.

          • Rose

            I think you raise a good point that this whole finances thing is a process. I think it’s really important to have the conversations as soon as possible, and definitely before the wedding, but the reality is any changes will take some getting used to. It’s a process, and that’s ok

      • Moz

        I really want to hear how people deal with the student loan debts of either party. In Australia, they come out of individual pay checks so it’s all done before money goes into accounts, individual or joint. And especially when one person has more than another – I mean *significantly* more – how do you deal with it?

        I have a feeling Meg will be talking about this in her next post and I can’t wait. Such a great post! APW is seriously ace this week.

  • rachel

    Such a good topic… As newlyweds fresh out of graduate school/working to save for grad school, neither the boy or I are abundant in funds, but it has been healthy to figure out how we want to plan our financial lives (even though there isn’t much to plan with right now…)

    I think the best piece of advice we received though was from the boy’s grandpa. His grandpa was a truly kind and wonderful man, and a financial whiz who was successful in a variety of business endeavours (and also happily married for 60 years). Cody asked him what advice he would give us starting out our financial lives together. He told us to get a joint checking account, because now we are partners together in life…that it was important to share and share alike. Thus far, I have found that to excellent advice, on a practical level (“which account do we pay the bills with?”) and on an emotional/psychological level (we have no secrets from each other about money/loans/etc).

  • I think it’s a little like changing your name: you don’t have to make the life-long decisions immediately. My husband and I have been married 9 months now and are only just starting to talk about merging assets and debt and our investment strategy. We figured out how to cover the monthly bills early on but waited until now to talk about the big stuff when we have a chance to breathe and read books about finance.

    • Moz

      So it’s like the changing the name conversation :)

  • This is something my fiance and I actually discussed pretty early on. Once we got engaged, we set up a joint savings account with ING with the idea that we would use that account to keep track of wedding spending and then later use it as our joint account for joint purchases/bills/expenses. Each month, we put the same set amount into the account. (We have roughly the same salary, which helped with figuring that out.) We’ve also put in the money we received from our families to help finance the wedding and we’re putting any checks we receive as gifts in there, too.

    Right now, we split our rent 50/50 (we each write a check each month), roughly split groceries and other apartment necessities 50/50 (alternating who pays each week), and take turns paying when we go out. After we get married, we plan to use our joint account for these expenses, and we’ll increase the amount we each contribute to the joint account each month to cover them. Other than that, we maintain our own checking and savings accounts to do as we please, so we never feel like we have to ask permission to spend (or save) money we earn on our own. Neither of us have ever had any credit issues and our only debt is my school loans, which I pay for on my own.

    • Rose

      Can I just say that I am utterly mystified by the American custom of writing cheques (checks). I have had the same cheque book for 5 years and used 3 cheques out of it. Cheques take more than a week to clear at the bank and are hellishly expensive (in South Africa). Internet banking all the way!

      • Kim

        Checks are gradually phasing out, from what I can tell. None of my friends use checks for anything other than rent, and even then, landlords are gradually accepting credit cards. I remember my mom using checks at the grocery store — luckily, it’s most debit cards these days. (Of course, I use my credit cards as much as possible and pay it off at the end of the month. I’m spending the money anyway, so why not get the reward points/cashback/etc.?)

      • Using checks is pretty annoying for me, too. Especially when translation companies in the US still insist on paying their freelancers (that’s us!) using them, even though the rest of the world does bank transfers or PayPal. Getting a paper check in US dollars means waiting a week for it to arrive in the post, waiting a week-ish until my Spanish bank can snail-mail it to their central bank in Madrid, which then contacts the US institution (by Pony Express, it seems… just on boats), which then confirms that the person who sent it still has that money in their account, and then snail-mails it back to my bank (another week), which then charges me a commission for having to do all of that, and then takes almost another week to deposit it into my account and for the funds to become available. It’s obnoxious enough to make us look for clients outside of the US, which is frustrating when there’s an American company that wants to give us work!
        Bank transfers within the EU are generally commission-free, and if you’re using the right bank, it’s not too expensive to send them to the US. Aren’t they still really expensive in the US, though? I know it costs me $15 to receive a transfer from my own Spanish bank account in my US bank account, which is just silly!

        I think my mom still uses checks at the grocery store (in the US), but I haven’t used them (when I’m in the US) in years, and even then it was only for rent in college. I can’t wait until American banks catch up for transfers, and in the meantime I will enjoy immensely the fact that in the US you can use a debit/credit card for everything! (Many places in Spain and Italy (where we currently live) either don’t accept them or only allow you to use them if you reach the minimum, which is often about €12.)

  • Jen

    Seriosuly, this topic could not come at a better time for me.

    We’ve been back from our honeymoon for a few weeks, and are kind of at the “now what?” phase with our finances. Basically, we’re living like roommates financially, even each writing our own checks for “our half” of the rent. Meanwhile, we have all of our wedding gift money socked away in an ING account (ie, the virtual mattress).

    I honestly don’t know how to proceed… We’re both 34, so we’ve been taking care of our own bills for more than decade, and I think each of us appreciates the level of power and control associated with “my money being MY money.” Without prodding, I can almost just see inertia kicking in and us continuing this way forever.

    But I know that’s not what I want, because I feel like merging your finances is a key component to merging your life, merging your dreams, etc.

    So … help?

    • We use the wedding gift fund as our joint account and use it for the gravy (dinners out, trips, new couches etc). Eventually it will drain and I think at that time we will each transfer money in from our individual accounts on a monthy basis.

  • Sex and money posts in a short work week = a loss of productivity for me while I check the comments every hour or so!

    The Mr. and I don’t argue about money. But there are definite differences in our approaches to managing finances and when we decided to combine ours after we got married, we came upon the differences quickly.

    I think of a budget as a way to plan out your money so that you can buy what you like, live the life you want, and save what you can. I work in education and have never made (and likely will never make…) anything like the kind of salary my engineer-lawyer Mr. does. But before marriage, I always made enough to live alone, belong to a gym, go out with friends, and keep myself in a comfortable-for-me supply of clothing and shoes. My Mr. thinks of a budget as a way to meet your immediate life needs (roof over your head, food in your mouth, clothes on your back) and then save everything else. This has served him really well. He bought the house we live in together…by himself…and had money saved up to renovate it. I am awed and impressed by that. But…not enough to change my notions of a budget. I still think that spending money to enjoy life now is every bit as important as saving up to have money for later.

    I like to think of my “budget model” as a moderate one, and the Mr.’s as conservative. And we have worked out a few compromises to keep us both satisfied and sane in light of our differences:
    *We have both paychecks deposited into a joint checking account and pay all US bills from there (I do the physical bill paying, by choice).
    *We have a joint savings account and have a set amount transferred to that account on “pay day” each month. That way our savings is taken care of up front, and it is not in our checking account begging me to spend it on something. ;)
    * We each have personal accounts that we transfer a set “allowance” to each pay day. I can spend mine on whatever I like and don’t have to “report” to the Mr. on how or why I spent my money. He gets to do the same. The amount of the allowance is equal, and since the Mr. is a saver, I am certain that he has money in his account left at the end of the month. I never do. But since the accounts are individual, we never have to see (and then potentially bicker…) about each others’ spending habits.

    So far, so good. Nine months into our marriage we have more money in savings than I ever would have saved on my own, and I have learned to be far more choosy about what I really “need” to buy in terms of clothing and shoes. It feels nice.

    • I just read other people’s comments and realized I should add a few things:
      1. We are both in our 30s and lived independent lives for a LONG TIME before merging our finances.
      2. We do not split things 50/50. I couldn’t afford to pay half of all of our monthly expenses and still get the same allowance as my Mr. We simply pay all our bills (“his” mortgage on our shared home, utilities, food, gym memberships, etc) from the joint checking. I guess I can see how that might not look “fair” to someone else, but it works for us.
      3. The Mr. has more student loan debt than I do. I took out some loans for grad school, but most of mine is paid for by my assistantship – the one that earns me a pittance next to his salary.

      I guess for me, a fair way of working out our money has less to do with equality than it does with our sense of shared values. The Mr. can make the salary he does now because of the loan debt he accrued in law school. I can sleep okay at night knowing that some of my earnings help him pay off that debt, because his earnings help me go to school full time and get to live in our home.

      Meg – I am always appreciative of these posts that let me read smart, thoughtful responses from other women. The women of APW always make me THINK!

    • Vanessa

      Jessica- your model is exactly how we’ve been talking about setting up ours. My question is how did you decide how much to put into savings and what your allowance was. Was it an agreed upon number or a certain percentage of whats left after your monthly bills? Our problem is that my husband and I cant agree on an amount. I suggested $150/month as an allowance, and my husband wants more cause he complains he’ll use his whole allowance since he buys lunch everyday. The problem is that if we want to put a decent amount of money into savings, we can’t really afford more than that.

      • Vanessa – We used an excel spreadsheet to work out our monthly expenses, including non-monthly items split into monthly amounts. (Think pet care – my dog costs x amount annually in vet costs, so we divided that by 12 and figured out that cost per month). We subtracted that from our monthly income. This allowed us to have money “sitting” in checking for when the dog got sick/car broke down/etc and not have to immediately hit up our savings account.
        With what was left, we talked about a monthly allowance that made sense to “us.” At first, we overestimated my ability to adjust to his frugality. I needed more money in the allowance to not feel constrained by our budget. Ultimately, we went with a moderated version of my monthly personal spending as an amount…which is why he always has money left over! I counted things like getting my hair cut, drinks with my girlfriends, the cost of a new blouse, etc. We settled on that and then what was left went into savings.
        We’ve done some more “tinkering” since then – I think being open to adjustments is key to making a budget work.

      • galaxie

        We both buy breakfast every day (our work cafeterias make awesome and cheap $2 egg+english muffin sandwiches), and we include that in the food budget, which is joint. I figure that even food we don’t eat together counts as food, so it’s a joint expense. Of course, we include general eating out in the food budget too, so that’s more logical than if you only count groceries and think of eating out as a luxury that isn’t included in your regular budget.

        So our personal allowances are $200/month and they don’t include buying the occasional lunch or the daily breakfast. This really depends on how the rest of your patterns are. You could set a number and then reevaluate in a few months to see if you felt deprived.

        • Vanessa

          Thanks for your input Jess! We have two cats, one with health problems that we havent budgeted for, but should- every time we take him to the vet its $300!! I will definitely be trying to implement that idea!

          Galaxie- Good idea on adding casual eating out to the food budget. That way he can still buy his lunches and I wont have to make myself feel guilty for my occasional latte and croissant splurge!

          We dont like feeling deprived so I think both of your ideas will work well in helping us ration our money while still being able to put SOMETHING into our joint savings for the future.

      • KB

        We have a system similar to this, and the “allowance” is based on a percentage of the leftover after paying the monthly stuff. Our monthly stuff includes nearly every expense we can plan for, including healthy savings. I make 40% of the household income, so I get 40% of the leftovers. This has worked great for us in transition — I imagine our allowances will shrink when kids enter the picture and expenses grow, but it really helped bridge the gap between “me” and “us.”

        • ANI

          Ooh I really really like this plan!!! THANK YOU!

      • Tricia

        I think it is important to talk through the values underlying the decision and consider alternatives. How much do you need to save and why? What does buying lunch at work every day mean to him? How important to him is it and why? Could he take his lunch to work two or three days a week?

        I think the best thing you can do is first figure out what your financial goals are.
        Do you want to buy a house? When and how expensive?
        When do you want to retire and in what style?
        Do you have, or are you planning to have kids whose education you want to save for?
        Are there expensive vacations or other big expenses (furniture etc) that you want to save for?
        How important are these various long term plans? Which are negotiable and which are not?

        Next take a look at what you are doing now. You need to know your total assets and debts and also how much you are spending and where? What do those expenses mean to you? How important are they? Where can you save some money and what things would you not feel comfortable compromising on?

        For the next step, I would recommend talking to a financial planner. You need to figure out how much you need to save and how you should invest it to meet your financial goals. A financial planner can really help you with this and may also be able to help you find places to cut back.

        The final step is going to be to talk, talk, and talk some more. Talk about the values underlying the things you want. Talk about what is how important to you. Talk about the origins of these feelings. Discuss where you may be able to compromise and keep talking until you come up with a budget you both feel ok with. The reality is that almost no one makes enough money to have everything they want (or even that they feel they need, particularly when you fail to clearly distinguish between wants and needs) so you are both going to need to make compromises. You probably cannot buy everything you want now and still meet your long-term goals. Personally, I tend to compromise what I want now in the interest of meeting my long-term goals, but this is a values statement and a reflection of a personal orientation to money. You and your FI may have to negotiate the relative priority of present wants and various long term goals. Doing the work up front will give you the information you need to have a better understanding of what tradeoffs you are making and help you have a better conversation.

        Good luck

        • Tricia

          Just as a further note for anyone who wants to know, I am definitely a saver with some hoarding mentality. For me, the only way to feel comfortable spending money and not feel guilty about it is to first know that the important long term goals are taken care of, hence my approach. My FH and I have talked about money and are generally on the same page, but we have not yet merged finances (although we do largely treat it as our money and have stopped keeping track of splitting everything 50/50) and haven’t yet worked through the process of developing a detailed shared budget (that is on the schedule in two weeks in our premarital work).

          • Vanessa

            Tricia, thanks for your awesome input! I’m getting so many ideas from all of you ladies that I’ve started copying & pasting your answers and plan on printing them out and sharing them with my husband. Its really important to me that we do start having real conversations about exactly where we want to be and not just have broad generalizations. We’ve both said, “yeah someday when we have a house”, etc. Well we need to figure out when we want this someday to be, and start actively working towards it. Being in our late twentys and mid thrities, I feel like in the financial planning aspect we’re not up to par with a lot of other people our age.

  • Jennifer

    hahahaha timing. We just moved in together last week, to the house we are in the process of buying, and had decided our finances would be combined, at least philosophically, as of June 1. So… it’s been 3 days. I’ve been using the cash I already had in my wallet, my first paycheck of this new world is today, we haven’t had any bills in those 3 days, and the only concrete evidence of this so far is that when we got take-out last night and he pulled out his wallet to pay, I started to think “wait, is it my turn to pay? um..’hey, thanks for paying for dinner’..wait, do I thank him for paying when the credit card bill is going to be paid out of our joint funds?” So, yeah, even that super simple thing was weird.

    That aside, it’s actually not the household operational expenses that I get freaked out about, it’s the long-term stuff and the broader family issues. He grew up in a family where there was much more intergenerational financial support in both directions, and with his mother in very ill health right now, eldercare costs and filial duties are very much an immediate issue. My family was based more on the expectation that the parents supported you 100% until you were done with school, and then (with the exception of gifts for special occasions) you were a responsible adult expected to provide fully for yourself — but also the expectation that the parents would provide for themselves financially, rather than depending on their children. So we’ve spent the past couple of decades individually planning our finances in light of these separate models, and this is where it is very sticky, on the joint long-term planning, more so than our differing approaches to spending/saving on shorter-range issues, or the fact that I make a slightly higher salary.

  • Vanessa

    Yeah so we’re just shy of our one year anniversary and we still havent really figured it out. We keep SAYING that we’ll merge our finances so that the majority of our paychecks go into a central “bill paying account” and each have a spending allowance each month, but we havent actually gotten around to it. I’ve added his name to my checking account but he never uses/contributes or even looks at it. Same with my savings. I have no access to his accounts whatsoever.

    We’re basically still splitting everything like we did before we were married except now we dont keep so tabs on every little thing. Before every little thing was split right down the middle. Now we still split rent & cable, but I pay for all the food since he pays $400/month for my portion of his health insurance. And we dont really keep track of whose turn it is to buy if we go out. We are each also responsible for our own loans, gas, car insurance, and cell phone bills.

    Also neither one of us are really savers by nature. We think in our heads we are, but after looking at my banking statements I dont really need to by breakfast and lunch out half as often as I do, and I certainly dont need to by clothes as often as I do. Funny thing is also that our combined income is less than $60,000 a year so we actually shouldnt buy ANYTHING that is unnecessary if we ever want to save any for retirement etc. We live paycheck to paycheck and I think its about time we figured out a way to NOT be that way. Thank god we socked away all our monetary wedding gifts in savings otherwise we wouldnt have a dime.

    Apparently I need some advice on this topic and I’m looking forward to see how all you intelligent ladies are handling the money situation.

  • FM

    First off, I would love to hear your thoughts on couches, Meg, as I am in the market for one as well.

    My husband and I have fairly similar attitudes toward money – don’t like to spend a ton of it (frugal, but don’t like to feel deprived. We also so far have our same separate accounts as pre-marriage but think of it all as “ours”. I make a lot, a lot more money than him, and I’m more money savvy in general (partly because I make more so have thought about it more and partly because I’m mildly more interested in it), so I’ve kind of taken charge of guiding money decisions. Scary things, like he looks to me to determine if we can afford the apartment we’re buying, and I feel more responsible for making sure he has access to sufficient funds (in my accounts or his, however we allocate) to pay our bills that depend on our joint assets if I’m not able for some reason. Scary because I don’t know THAT much and I’m partly crossing my fingers I’m thinking about all the right things in making those decisions. At some point in the next year I want to create a joint account or put each other on our existing accounts because I think that is safer for us in case something happens to one of us. I have a brokerage account (with most of my cash and investments) and I did immediately make him my beneficiary of that in case something happens to me, even though he’s not a joint owner of the account yet.

    I think an important part of money discussions is thinking about things like insurance and planning for unexpected illnesses and death. Nothing makes me feel more like a (pathetically nervous and inadequate) grown up than the idea of insurance and planning for unexpected illnesses and death. Anybody know how to go about getting life insurance? I have to do that this month before we get a big mortgage he won’t be able to pay on his own if I die. Ya that’s a pleasant thought.

    As for dealing with budgeting, we are in the stage of trying to record everything so we can figure out a reasonable budget going forward, and where we could be cutting. We’ve had an income and outflow until now that didn’t require us to monitor things closely (which I think is our natural comfort level with dealing with money), but that income (as I will eventually want to downgrade mine) and outflow (home and future kids) are going to be changing over the next few years so we have to adjust our approach to make sure we make decisions that keep our income more than our outflow (plus savings, retirement, etc.).

    • Nina

      An “exactly” wasn’t going to cut it here – totally on the same page with you, not so much regarding our specific financial roles, but about the long term planning. We also have to get our act together on getting sufficient insurance – we have the basics covered at the moment but don’t really understand the ins and outs of it, and really need to get a long-term life insurance plan (currently we have coverage through the bank where our mortgage is, but it’s not ideal). It’s been on the to-do list for almost a year, ignored. Because it’s true, thinking and planning for death and disability are not my idea of a good time. I think this is on the agenda for the first 6 months of marriage.

      Also, we are currently DINK’s (double income, no kids) and loving it! We are relatively careful with money but then again, if we want to buy something (within reason), we generally do. And we tend to have the same approach to saving (moderate) so we don’t fight about money. But I know this gravy-train will eventually end as we plan for kids and drop to one income for a time. This is when I think we might run into some more problems, because for the first time we really will have to track our money carefully. So I want to get some practice doing this so it doesn’t come as a shock, on top of diapers and spit-up.

      And we are also looking to get a long lasting couch in the next little while :-)

      • (i too am on a mad-sofa hunt!)

        • Morgan

          (We got back from our honeymoon on a Thursday and spent that first weekend back in town shopping for a couch!)

    • Rose

      I so hear you on the insurance/ill health/death thing! It took us nearly two years after combining our finances to fully address this one. It’s scary and not fun, but so freeing to have those conversations and know you have made a decision you are both comfortable with. That said, M was so unkeen to discuss this topic that I went to see a financial planner, got all the options and quotes, then put a breakfast meeting in M’s diary, took along my laptop and forced us to discuss it all until we reached a decision. Big relief once that was done!

    • Anybody know how to go about getting life insurance?

      You are so wise to be thinking about this. You need to protect your assets with life, health and liability insurance. Term life insurance is easy to get and inexpensive if you are young and healthy. Smoking will triple your rates. Do not lie, though! If the insured dies and the company finds fraud on the application, they will refund your premiums and wash their hands of you. They might also press charges.

      Find an agent or a financial planner you trust. Spend a little more to go with a highly-rated company. You hope you will never need to redeem that life insurance policy, but if you do, you want the company to be in business when you do.

      We pay $48/month for my husband’s $250,000 life insurance policy. He is rated as a smoker (at one pack a month!) and was 43 when he got the policy. If he weren’t a darn smoker, he would be paying $16/month. Life insurance is not expensive and there is NO EXCUSE not to have it if you can get it. Get it now while you can and protect your family.

      Also, it’s not just the husband who needs insurance. A stay at home mom needs it as well. What happens if she dies? Who takes care of the kids? The money to pay a nanny and a maid will have to come from somewhere.

      Don’t buy whole life insurance. Buy term. Yes, even at the insurance company where I worked after college, that was the insider knowledge. The company loved whole life because it gave them more cash, but term is what you need. The general formula is about ten times annual salary.

      And if you don’t have health insurance where you work, get a basic major medical policy with a $5,000 or $10,000 deductible. Those can be had for $150/month for someone in her 40s, so they are cheaper for younger folks. (You might have to leave the maternity coverage off.) Yes, coming up with $5,000 might be tough if you got sick, but it’s easier than losing your house.

  • Bridget

    Great post! Long time lurker here but I feel compelled to add my voice to these big topics.

    My fiancee and I have had joint finances for the past five years. No separate accounts or separate credit cards. It made sense to do it this way because of the structure of our mortgage and the need to have all our money sitting against it to reduce the interest. Thankfully it hasn’t caused any issues in our relationship so far, I think because we both have fairly similar attitudes to money and spending, but I do remember one particular friend warning us against going down this road because it can cause a lot of conflict in a relationship.

    I manage all of the bill-paying and accounts, and because of this I probably do more of the worrying about money in the relationship, but we regularly talk about our financial position and what we can/can’t afford and as long as we keep talking I think it will continue to work for us.

    • Hey, I’m excited to see this! I’m not very far down the comments yet but I was feeling completely out of the loop because of how we handle our finances. We, too, have combined everything. No separate accounts, no separate spending money or debt. I’ll probably post more about this down below, but I’m shocked at how easy and well this works for us. It’s absolutely the most “married” thing we’ve done and although I thought I would hate it–it’s been the best thing for our marriage without a doubt.

  • Erika

    I am really looking forward to this series on marriage and money. Your description of your money baggage is identical to mine, and one of the most positive parts of marriage for me has been unclenching my fists, and also letting myself lean on someone else financially (super hard for me to do, as I have basically been financially independent since 16). Although I’ve gotten better at relaxing about money, I do still have my freakout moments and I’ll be interested to see how others deal with this.

  • Karen

    I like this topic because I’m thinking quite a bit lately about whether our current system needs to be drastically changed.
    To be honest the idea of sharing one spending and savings account totally freaks me out. Me and my fiance have seperate everything. This is important to me because I don’t want to feel controlled and I don;t want to control him.
    Both of us have somewhat varying incomes, so sometimes he earns a lot more than I do, and sometimes we earn the same or I earn slightly more. We sort of split the bills, so that he pays slightly more (because he usually earns a bit more). Our arrangement is extremely loose and flexible, because although he usually pays a bit more than I do, sometimes I will pay something because he has less money, another time he may pay for a whole vacation, or another month I pay a sudden unexpected cost because I happen to have the money. Basically, the one who at that moment has money, pays.

    We control each other very little. Because we each have our own accounts we don’t see very often what the other is spending. He may grumble a little if I come home with a bag of clothes (again), or I may say something about his pile of new DVD’s, but basically we trust eachother not to spend (much) more than we can afford. Now and then we do sit down and look at what we’re spending, especially if we’re getting into a bit of trouble. Then we may agree that one or both of us needs to cut down on some things. We’re both the same: we don’t spend much more than we have, but not much less iether.

    So our current situation is a bit strange. On the one hand we have totally seperate accounts, on the other hand we pay things for eachother all the time, so we may as well have one account. I’m undecided at what is really better, but sharing an account just scares me. We do generally ok, also because we’re both very sure of our incomes (I have a 4 year contract, and he is just very good at what he does) but we have ZERO savings. We will build up a bit, then have to deplete it for something usually within a month or two of having ‘saved’ it!

    The pro of our situation: It’s very relaxed, we don’t worry much about who pays what, or paying eachother back. We also talk easily about money, and will let the other see our spendings if they want.
    Con: It may be easier to save if we would have a more defined system, like a joint account, with exact amounts agreed on. I don’t care at all about whether we’re paying equal amounts, but I am worried about our inability to save. So, I’m still very undecided about whether to change our system and how!

    • Kim

      “He may grumble a little if I come home with a bag of clothes (again), or I may say something about his pile of new DVD’s, but basically we trust eachother not to spend (much) more than we can afford.”

      Our system is different, but this sentiment is the same. We’ve got a joint account that we use (we also have separate accounts that we never use anymore), but I’d say that this works because of exactly what you just said. At the end of the day, after the savings are squirreled away, we trust each other not to spend more than what we can afford — and we don’t.

  • galaxie

    I really love having merged finances. It’s fun. It looks like the route we took is less common and more old-fashioned than many of the people here. About a year ago my fiance and I had just moved to a new city & needed to get a new bank, and the wedding was in just over a year.

    We set up a joint account and put both of our paychecks into it — his goes to wedding savings, and we live off of mine. Each of us has separate retirement savings through our jobs. I make a bit more than he does, and because so much of our collective income is earmarked for the wedding we figure the fairest thing to do is have each of us put everything we make in, take a personal fun allowance from that, and keep everything else for joint & recurring expenses (they’re the majority of the budget). Recurring expenses are included here because it’d be a drag to have my “allowance” perpetually reduced because I joined a gym — the allowance is more for clothes, toys, and other frivolous one-time stuff.

    And it’s working out fabulously. We set up a account to track spending, and we’re big nerds so we love to sit around together and graph how much we spent on eggs. We had a bit of conflict recently over how much we spend on food, but it was actually quite educational so (now that it’s resolved) I’m glad we had it. It wasn’t rooted in how we feel about money so much as how we feel about food and how I feel about what “wives” are expected to do.

    Basically, we both have gourmet vegetarian taste (think avocados and locally raised eggs), but he’s used to a thrifty home-cooked Indian budget (potatoes and lentils). So when he said “why do we spend so much on food?” and compared it to what his mom used to spend on 4 people, it sounded to me like “you are bad at being a responsible householding woman and my mom’s way is the only way.” (It sounded like this even though we share food responsibility — I think I’m a little extra conscious of social wife-pressure.) I got upset, but it was hard to explain what I was hearing vs. what he was saying. Eventually I explained it, we discussed how we’d like to continue eating a lot of avocados but maybe we should include more dal, and then we increased the food budget to reflect what we really spend.

    • My husband and I merged our finances when we decided to get engaged and we moved in together. I love it. It’s not how I initially thought I would handle finances being married, but I find it to be very beneficial. That’s funny that you speak about your food budget. We were just re-evaluating our food budget last week. We have gourmet veg tastes too. We like to eat a lot of avocados and peanut butter zigzag ice cream. I prefer cooking at home and like to try new recipes all the times, especially the ones that call for specialty items. ;)

  • Vanessa

    Oh I also wanted to add that google docs has some great budgeting spreadsheets! I took the initiative to customize it and fill my portion out, just havent gotten around to implementing it. When it comes to the money issue I am definitely a procrastinator. I think it’s probably the scariest thing about marriage, in my opinion.

    • FM

      I think it is the scariest thing about being an adult!

      • Vanessa

        Very True!!

  • Ashley

    Weird…the timing on this post is uncanny. J and I are going to the bank this afternoon to merge our finances, finally. We’ve been married for almost two weeks but living together for years, and we’ve just now come to the point where we can deal with our finances as a team. Money has been a HUGE struggle for us, mainly because we come from family situations on opposite ends of the economic spectrum, and our individual approaches to money reflect those differences in big, big ways.

    I’d like to hear about how other “opposite” couples have dealt with merging money. Are there any couples out there who don’t share the financial planning/budgeting duties? For us, we’ve determined that it will be mostly my job to keep our financial life healthy and under control- partly because I like to do it and partly because I have a hard time relinquishing the reins. I’ve been paying my own way and managing my money since high school, but J….not so much. I worry that it will be years before I can fully trust him with our (read: my) money.

    • Elizabeth

      FH and I are from different background, and it’s been a source of friction. My parents weren’t broke or anything, but elaborate vacations and expensive schools were the norm for him growing up. I worked every summer for spending money, he…didn’t. Consequently, I’m a lot more aware of finances than he is and have a better picture of what things cost. He’s no longer on his parents’ payroll, and that’s been a definite moment of disconnect for him as well.

  • Eat Broccoli

    We merged our fiances, one month before we bought our house a year and a half ago. I was 4 months out of grad school (student loan free, thats another story). So I was broke except for investments I was using for a down payment. My now Fiance had worked for those two years I was in grad school and had payed off his student loan and built himself a down payment about the same size as mine. So we had nothing except our down payment. Everything goes into the same pot, everything comes out of the same pot. There is no tracking of who pays for what. Bills and mortgage just gets paid. It has simplified our lives and really made us a unit ( there are “guidelines” about spending that we have worked out over time). It may be the “old fashioned” yours mine and ours route, but we have to talk about money, we share it! In fact before we got engaged we called ourselves “financial life partners”.

    • My husband and I do the old-fashioned yours, mine, ours thing.
      I never thought I would share money with anyone ever. I didn’t grow up with that model at all and sharing money felt like giving up too much control. However, my husband grew up the opposite. His parents shared money, living off one income and saving the other. We had several discussions about it and talked through my money baggage. I really warmed up to the model. We have beeen doing it for two years now and I really love it. It works for us. Like you said, it has us talking about money consistently and it really makes me feel like we are partners.

  • Well, I’m not married. Yet. But in my mind I consider our finances merged.

    I like to think I have been pretty smart about money over the years. I’ve always been a pretty independent woman, who, like you Meg, feels that money is a form of security & freedom. I like to save. I haven’t always been great at saving, but I have been really good at staying out of debt.

    My future husband is a landscaper. He owns his own little company and it’s cute and it’s his dream and it does NOT make a lot of money (well, it does but jerks don’t like to pay their bills [sometimes ever] till too late, and that money ends up having to go right back in the company once/if we do get it). My guy wears his heart on his sleeve, and gets trampled on by certain clients and corporations he does work for. Either way, he is not bringing in the cash flow. Sometimes he’ll go a few months without paying himself, because he’s making sure the couple of guys he’s got working for him can get paid.

    Lucky for us, I have a very steady income and I make a decent wage. I also love to save (did I mention that?).

    My mom will tell you she doesn’t have a lot of money. She’s broke. Although, I know for a fact she’s not. She’s just got it put away for a raining day, or saved up for her and my dad to travel or whatever. I learned my initial budgeting skills from her. I learned that you can be broke, but not poor.

    Now to tie all those bits together: I then learned about budgeting tools from a girlfriend of mine. I took her budget and use it today and I’ve saved thousands of dollars for me & my future husband. Because of his fickle income, I base our budget on my income. I do our budget every 4 weeks, and I balance our budget at the end of each 4 week period. I have an excel spreadsheet set up with categories, that each month, money goes into those categories (the money agreed to by our 4 week budget) and those categories build up each month (obviously unless we spend some, but the remaining money goes into the next month as well). Any money that my guy brings to the table is thought of as the cherry on top.

    I have never felt so financially stable in my life. We don’t live a glamorous life, but we live comfortably. There are no surprises. If my (or his) car breaks down, I’m ready for it.

    When the time comes to merge accounts, I’ll be ready for that too. Hopefully his company will be in a little better of a position, but if not, we’ll make it work.

    ** Also, I’d be totally happy to share my excel spreadsheet if anyone were interested. It sounds complicated, but it’s REALLY not. I also know a great book to recommend with the theories behind the budget I use.

    • Tricia

      Meg, you should have a resources page (or the ability to attach some of these things to these posts or something). I think a spreadsheet like this would be great to make available to the community, especially attached to these conversations.

      And thanks so much for having this conversation. Its great.

    • Oh, I would also just like to add that I’m 23. I’ve only been using this budget since January. I’ve never been in debt, so I got to start it on a clean slate. I have tried getting a coworker (who in over her head with debt) to use my budget, but she keeps saying “I have to pay off debt first” and I’m like “uh…. guess what budgets are good for?!?!” but, she’s stubborn. Whatever.

      The girlfriend who I took my budget from paid off her & her husbands debt, of around $16,000.00, in about 6 months using this spreadsheet (and the book).

      & a resource page would be awesome!

      • Katie

        I have an excel sheet like that too – love it! And, maybe this will help your coworker or other readers. We do have debt, too much. Our excel sheet also has a category for “debt” which then feeds into another page on the spreadsheet. On that page, we have all of our debts listed with the minimum payments. Whatever is entered into the debt category on our budget, feeds into the debts page. It then shows us how much to pay to each debt each month – the minimums + some to one at a time trying to pay them down. And, since I need some additional motivation, it calculates how many months are left until we’re debt free! God, I love excel.

        • This sounds like a pretty awesome addition to my budget! I wasn’t even sure how I would add debt “categories” to my spreadsheet, but this makes total sense.

          Thanks for sharing!

        • Oh my goodness. Is it too late to ask for spreadsheet help? We took the Dave Ramsey class this fall and I completely recommend it to ALL couples. It should be a prerequisite for getting married. If anyone has a Ramsey-esque spreadsheet I’d love a copy. mischiefbyloki {at}

    • Jen

      ::raises hand::

      I’d love to see a spreadsheet! I need nitty-gritty help =)

    • FM

      What’s the book?

    • Awesome! Girls, I am so excited you don’t even know! Please give me a couple days, I am currently in the process of writing out a simple guide for it. I am by no means a writer and I am a poor instruction giver so you’re going to have to bear with me a little bit. I want to make this easy to understand (since I can’t sit beside you and go through it with you), once you get past the initial set up (yes, there is a bit of setting up, but it’s SO worth it) it’s really a breeze. So please don’t give up on me!

      I love this budget & I’m so excited to share it.

      • Katelyn

        me too please :)

        katelyn.swartz at gmail dot com

      • Rizubunny

        Twist – will you send me your spreadsheet too? I’ve always done my finances in spreadsheets and am currently doing a modified Dave Ramsey thing. I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to improve it! My email is


    • Ok ladies, apparently I got a little carried away today. I don’t need a couple days & I just sent off my budget to you!

      • Jessica

        is it too late to request a copy? I have our month- to- month budget under control, but I totally need help with the paying down of (stupid credit card) debt.

      • Cat

        I would absolutely love to see that, if I may?

        My email address is

        • OMG, I’m totally over my head with financial stuff. Is it too late to request a copy, too??

          emtimoney at gmail dot com

    • soto

      I might be too late for this, but if possible, I would love a copy of that spreadsheet! My FH and I are young and so while initially hesitant, we combined our money. I’m still glad we did it, but BLAHHHH so much work! It’s seriously our biggest issue. Between my loans, the wedding, and this effing shitty economy money woes plague us constantly…

      anyway, sotonaomi(at) is the email :) thanks!!!

  • SP

    This is actually a much discussed topic in the world of personal finances blogging — while money isn’t normally openly discussed in real life, there is a cohert of bloggers who talk about it.

    Personal “smart woman” stories: and and more.

    More “how-to” stories are also out there, and most any bigger personal finance blog has covered it.

    Anyway, to share my position. We are both savers by nature, but we also can convince ourselves to spend on things we value. We were married 1.5 months ago, but have had a joint credit card (of sorts) since we moved in together and started sharing most costs. After the wedding, we haven’t really made any immediate merging changes, mostly because I don’t want to deal with tracking his grad school stipend which comes in spurts, and there is no real good reason to make the change right now. But I do think of my money as his too, and vice versa. It’s just logistics at this point. We will slowly merge accounts as things go forward.

    This is definitely stuff that should be discussed pre-marriage! Thanks for putting it out there Meg

  • ashley

    We’re weird. We’ve always been really open and sharing with our money. Finances merged pretty quickly when he moved in. We were very young and really had nothing then, so it was easy. He doesn’t like to handle money at all, so he just keeps out what he wants to spend and surrenders the rest. I decide what to spend and save, take care of the bills, and make plans for the future. It’s sort of tradition in my pants wearing women lineage.

  • LBD

    I agree with your mom, it really helps to start it when you’re young and poor. My fiance and I met our first year at college, and shortly after we graduated moved in together, where we were poor recent grads struggling along together. At times, one of us might have a good job and the other one of us didn’t, and we helped each other cover each other’s bills and our, of course, shared bills. We both had significant debt from going to an expensive college (that maybe wasn’t such a good idea, 17-year-old self). I guess we just started out with a “We’re in this together for the long haul” view of things, with the knowledge that if one of us ended up underwater, it would affect both of us.

    Now we’re 28 going on 29, both have real jobs, but he works in an industry that at its base simply pays a lot more than mine. We didn’t actually merge our bank accounts until last year, when we realized we’d been basically living like we had merged finances anyways.

    We have pretty similar views about money, and that helps, though I am the one generally freaked out about money and he’s the one more likely to be feeling a little spendthrifty. But, I think it’s good to have that difference, because it means that we talk a lot before making any big purchases, and we re-evaluate how we’re spending money every now and again.

  • Mandy

    Thank you for this post! This is my post – this is where the rubber meets the road with marriages. After my husband and I married last July we went to the bank to do our merger. Before that I spent many sleepless nights fretting about it. I had some major hang ups about merging our accounts. Granted there wasn’t much there to freak out about – we both have some serious student loan and other debt. The accounts were merged and I pushed my anxieties aside. We are in this together and it isn’t that I don’t trust my partner.

    An interesting phenomena has happened in our relationship. When I was single, money was easy come easy go. Then I bought a home and Mister moved in it was like a switch was flipped. My irresponsible non-money brain changed into a fretting, checking balances, budgeting, & up at night worrying brain. I find it very ironic that I’ve become the money person in our relationship. I’m the one campaigning for a budget, I’m the one saying no that’s too expensive – in short I play the wet blanket on a lot of ideas.

  • Katie

    Thank you thank you thank you!! Can’t wait to hear more… I need this help!

  • Katie B

    Meg the couch thing you mentioned struck me as funny, eerily similar kind of funny. I am David, and my FI is you. We have been in our apartment for months . . . .no couch. Hello! Welcome, please come have a seat on our comfortable. . .rug. Ughh

  • Emily

    One book I found helpful (despite it’s gimmicky title?) was “Get Financially Naked: How To Talk Money With Your Honey”.

    Love and money have been two very difficult things for me to combine especially because I was brought up to keep personal finances close to the vest. This book sparked a lot of dialog between my partner and me about money – and boy did we need that!

  • A-L

    I’m loving this one-two punch, Meg.

    I had done David Bach’s Smart Women Finish Rich and last weekend just bought Smart Couples Finish Rich for my fiance and I to work through. I’m definitely more of a saver than he is, and the hoarding mentality is not unfamiliar to me. Currently everything we do is separate, but when we marry we will be joining up our assets more. Hopefully Bach’s book will give us some insight on how to do this. But here’s what we’ve figured out so far.

    -I’ll be the main one in charge of finances (at his insistence)
    -We’ll be living in the house I’ve bought, and I’ll continue to pay for the mortgage as he’s paying down some credit card debt.
    -We’ll both get an allowance to spend as we see fit (I’m more insistent on this than he is…he just wants to make sure he has enough money to go to the movies but I know he has times when he buys his whole class Superbowl t-shirts)

    The issues I know we’ll face:
    -His car & student debt…does it come out of joint expenses or out of his?
    -His mom…he helps to take care of her financially so is that a joint expense, or his?

    • Laura

      I *loved* Smart Couples Finish Rich. It helped my husband and I get our collective sh*t together and really helped make financial matters manageable for us. The first couple of chapters are especially helpful because they have you talk about your values and your attitude towards money with the goal of figuring out how that does/should influence your finances.

      • I read Smart Women Finish Rich a few years ago when I was single and it really helped me get my finances in order. I didn’t realize there was one for couples. Thanks for the heads up. I will have to get myself a copy.

    • Rizubunny

      I’m planning on buying the Smart Couples book so we can go through it this fall! I’m glad to hear it was helpful. It looks really good.

  • I think there may be an awesome, helpful book out there! Have you heard of Get Financially Naked by Manisha Thakor? I haven’t read it, but her other book, On Our Own Two Feet, is really awesome and emphasizes that women should get their finances in shape with the idea that they WILL NOT some day be rescued by a rich Prince Charming who will wipe away all debt and provide for a happy future. Get Financially Naked is geared toward couples and I have to assume it’s as smart and savvy as her first book.

    In my own relationship, I am the financial planning nerd and my boyfriend is pretty much clueless, so earlier this year we sat down and I taught him how to budget, start a Roth IRA and check his credit report. I love transparency when it comes to finances and hate the shame and secrecy that so often surrounds money matters. If I could, I would be like a blunt old Chinese granny who just asks you how much you make and how much your house cost. Something to look forward to in my old age….

  • I can’t wait to read about this. I have some issues around finances- sharing income and student debt scares the crap out of me. mostly because I make SO MUCH more money than Andrew does…. and he (hopefully!) will be a student in grad school when we get married.

    Seriously. can’t wait Meg. :)

  • Kate

    Ooooooh! (If you could see me now, I’m rubbing my hands together at the thought of discussing finances! That probably makes me a little crazy.) I am one half of a two-lady pair, so my pronouns will be hers/hers, but I’ll try to keep things clear. I also love a numerical list, so forgive me in advance.

    C, my lady, and I have recently merged our finances and we had a number of discussions on how to proceed – basically, she doesn’t really care about money (except to make sure that she has enough to generally do what she wants to do) and I love dealing with the money – planning, budgeting, etc. So it was fairly clear that I would be a bit more hands-on with things, provided I kept her up to date on what was happening. I also read a lot of finance blogs and had a few ideas about how to set things up. It has taken a month or two, but we are on the verge of having our system ticking along nicely.

    Initial things to know about us/our approach to money:

    (1) Generally, we both believe in shared money as a couple, i.e. that my money is her money and her money is my money. It doesn’t feel very appealing to me to have some huge chunk of cash to take a vacation if C can’t come because she makes less or saved less or something. This is no judgment on couples who proceed differently, it is just important to how we approach our system.

    (2) I was recently unemployed for almost a year, so working towards the establishment of an emergency fund (one that can cover at least 3 – 6 months of expenses) is a very important goal for us in case something similar ever happens again.

    (3) I am currently employed full time and C is a student, so we are dealing with both regular paychecks and lump sum loan payouts. (Sidenote One: I don’t explicitly discuss C’s loan checks below. Basically, we divide the amount she gets in each check by the number of months it is supposed to cover and add that to our monthly income as we budget for things. We then have to be a bit clever about figuring out how much of each check should go where to be there when it is needed, but eventually it works out. This will be a lot easier when she is done with school and has a regular paycheck to contribute.)

    (4) Neither one of us likes to worry about our budget on a daily level. That is, I don’t want to have to call C when I buy a latte at Starbucks and vice versa (provided lattes don’t begin to equal one half of our spending in a given month). I also don’t want to worry that I exceeded the amount I am allowed to spend on gas or trash bags or any other thing because I only budgeted for $20 worth of Tide that month and it wasn’t on sale – I’d rather just deal with a chunk of money, subtract stuff I buy, and make it work by spending less when I start to run out of money.

    (5) It was important to both of us to have some money that was just our own – an allowance to spend on gifts for each other, as well as on random things that the other might not deem worthy of joint money. Judgment-free money, if you will.

    With those points out of the way, I will try my best to explain our system. (It sounds complex – and it is a little time-consuming to get it set up – but once you do, I can’t recommend it enough. I also highly suggest taking advantage of the fact that your company’s direct deposit can likely pay out to several accounts in a given pay period – for example, mine can go to two checking accounts and three savings accounts.)

    Basically, we have two joint checking accounts, one individual checking account each, one online savings account in a bank where we have no other accounts (to house the emergency fund in a place where we’re less tempted to touch it), and then several online savings accounts with ING Direct. So where does it all go?

    (1) First and foremost, a sum goes to the emergency fund every month. No discussion, end of story. (Sidenote Two: If you are not currently saving anything, PLEASE start now. Even if it’s just rounding your paycheck down to the nearest $100 to save $25 a month. Please also contribute to some type of retirement account. Thank you.) We don’t touch this money and won’t unless/until it is really, really needed. It is gone.

    (2) We use the first joint checking account as our bill-paying account. An amount goes in (from my paycheck/Cyd’s loan check) every month that covers the mortgage, student loans, the gas, the electric, cable, etc. Any bill that happens regularly. (I also have almost all of these set up to be paid automatically, so we rarely have to touch that account. I just check it every now and then.)

    (3) We use the second joint checking account as our household/daily life account. We put in a set amount of money each month that we use for groceries, gas, dinners out together, Target runs, and so forth. We don’t have an explicit rule for what constitutes a household expense vs. a personal expense, but that is evolving over time. (Happy hour for me and a buddy while she’s out of town? Personal. The two of us deciding we need new sheets? Household.) We also have a general rule that if one of us spends more than $50, we let the other one know (even if it’s just a “hey, I got laundry detergent and trash bags and a few other things and it was $65”).

    (Sidenote Three: When we were discussing this system, C was acting a little nervous. It took some prodding, and some tough conversations, but eventually she confessed that she had never overdrawn an account in her life and that she generally just pretty much knew her balance at all times. The thought of someone else spending from the same account as she did made her really nervous that we might overdraw someday by accident. So we agreed on the $50 rule to avoid one of us making a huge purchase without telling the other.)

    (4) Individual checking accounts. We each get an “allowance” amount paid into our individual checking accounts each month. This money is for each of us alone to spend on whatever we like – coffee at work, lunch during the week, happy hours, gifts for each other, splurges on shoes, and anything else our little hearts might desire. We can save it or spend it without the other saying a word.

    (5) Finally, the ING accounts. So far, we only really use one. We call it the “Big Stuff” account. Each month, a chunk of cash goes in to this savings account to be used towards bigger things that don’t happen regularly enough to be considered bills. Plane tickets, furniture, new pots and pans, writing a check for your share of a vacation house. These types of things. It’s intended for any expense that’s not regular (although they come up regularly enough!)

    Big Stuff also gives us a small cushion against minor emergencies (to help out before we’d have to tap the big E-Fund). Like last month when we had to replace a pipe in the basement and write a check to the tune of several hundred dollars. It’s really nice just to have some money hanging out and to be able to use it when you need to. Someday, we plan to use some of the other accounts to save for specific things like travel or redoing parts of the house or what have you. But for now, Big Stuff pretty much covers it.

    The beautiful thing about this system is that our saving is automatic and the bills are always paid before we get to spending anything day to day. I never have to worry that the groceries I’m buying will mean that the mortgage check doesn’t clear that month. I also have my own allowance to spend if I want to ignore the tuna sandwich I brought to work and go out for Thai food, so C doesn’t get mad because she ate the gross tuna sandwich to help US save. We’re also working on being covered against the REALLY unexpected (i.e. no job) and, in the meantime, we have a few hundred bucks set aside in case one of us needs to fly somewhere or the air conditioning in the car gives out.

    The only account we really have to keep an eye on is the household account, meaning that towards the end of the month, we might have to say “gee, we still have a week till payday and only $100 left – guess we can’t go out for dinner tonight.” But those conversations have lost a lot of their stress factor because we know that even if we’re down to $5, we’ll still have electricity and a roof over our head. Our system is by no means perfect, but it seems like it’s going to work for us.

    Some other thoughts/points (I promise I’m almost done):

    (1) Credit cards. You might be wondering where they fall in this system. We are paying off the last chunk of our collective credit card debt (we treat that as a fixed expense – paying off debt is a topic that could be a whole other comment for me) but generally, we try to only use credit cards for things we have enough cash to cover so we can take advantage of frequent flyer points or cash back offers. Then we immediately pay off the balance. They are, of course, there in case we need them.

    (2) Setting budget numbers. A lot of people suggest keeping a money log to see what you spend on things. Personally, that annoyed me. Instead, I printed out our bank statements for the last several months and went through with a highlighter, marking all the “set” expenses (student loans, cable bill, electric bill). That gave me a pretty good idea of what we needed in the bill account each month and a ballpark number for the household account (although we may tweak here and there). If there’s extra left over in any given month in either account, we can sweep it into some savings account or pay off debt or travel or just go out for dinner.

    (3) Goals. You gotta have ’em. No budget/system/plan is worth anything until you do. And, as a couple, you must both be on board with those goals. Our current goals are (a) finish paying off the credit card, (b) fully fund the emergency fund, and (c) save a certain amount for what we are calling “the next big thing.” Could be babies, could be some huge trip, could be an additional down-payment on the next house… We just want to be ready for it.

    (4) Communication. We are working on this one the most. As I said, C doesn’t find it fun to think about money and I do. However, she wants to know about our money (and totally deserves to know about it), so we’re working on a regular way of communicating about it. We thought about setting a monthly meeting to review stuff but we mostly fail at artificial meetings with one another. More recently, I’ve taken to shooting her an email on Monday mornings that tells her our bank balances and any big things we have to pay for that week. Plus, because I like her and value her opinion, I check in when we need to decide if we should buy something – we discuss which credit card would give us a reward, whether we actually need the thing, if the money would be better spent elsewhere, etc.

    (5) Flexibility. Don’t be afraid to adjust your numbers. I keep telling C that if we find that our allowances or household account doesn’t cover what we spend in a month, we can adjust – either by looking for places to cut back or by budgeting in a few more bucks here and there that we take away from other places. In the end, we want it to be something that we barely have to think about.

    Phew! Sorry this became so epic. I think this topic is so important and I wish more people would feel comfortable talking about it! If anyone out there has questions about our system, please feel free to ask.

    • Julianna

      This is fantastic, thanks so much for sharing. In my own individual finances I very much like separate accounts for separate purposes (something I figured out as a way of avoiding overspending – I am very much an “if I see it sitting there, I will spend it” person). I’m not sure how this will work when we merge, but it gives us some great ideas to talk about. thanks!

    • Laura

      Your system sounds like a slightly more complicated version of the one my husband and I use. I love the freedom that comes with taking care of the important things–savings, rent/mortgage, etc–first and just having one or two broadly-categorized accounts for daily expenses. It’s nice to only have to worry about the balance of one or two accounts, instead of having to worry about how much money is left in each specific budget category (e.g., groceries, eating out, entertainment, etc) at a given time.

      Also, I’m curious about what financial blogs you read. I’m completely fascinated by the topic, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Any suggestions?

      • Kate

        Hey Laura! Two of my favorite personal finance blogs are Get Rich Slowly and Five Cent Nickel.

        They both feature daily posts that cover topics from budgets to savings to retirement. I’ve read several of the books suggested in other comments and they’re pretty good, but if you are perhaps one step further along and want specific advice in one area or another (i.e. should I have an IRA? What the heck IS and IRA?), I think these are pretty good. They also have lots of links and archived posts.

        For more formal stuff, you can also check out MSN Money (the personal finance section) and Bankrate – both have some good resources and calculators. Our system is loosely based on the 60% Solution – the idea that you break your spending up to 60% for committed expenses, 10% for retirement, 10% for long term savings (emergency fund, house downpayment), 10% for short term savings (vacation, furniture), and 10% for fun (whatever you want).

        Hope that helps!

        • Laura

          Thanks, this helps a lot!

    • Moz

      Thankyou so much for taking the time to post this, I found it enormously helpful.

  • OH MY goodness this is so timely I can hardly believe it. Don’t get me wrong, I loved reading yesterday’s post, but I seriously need a smart conversation with smart women about money management right now. Off to read the oodles of really long comments and come back with more thoughts.

  • Julianna

    I look forward to reading the “how to” next week, Meg. Finances are something that have been a big topic of discussion for us throughout the past 10 years of our relationship. We are different styles of spenders/savers, but that is something that has evolved over time until now we are much more similar – something that was important to us in feeling ready to get married & merge finances. Our family approaches are very different and perhaps reflect the difference between 2 relatively equal earners, and 1 high earner + 1 teacher. Now we are in the 2nd category (like his parents) and planning to follow the “completely merged, all in one pot” plan. Neither of us are comfortable officially merging until we’re officially married, and so for right now, before the wedding, we split things roughly equivalent to our income levels so it’s something like 70/30. Whoever said earlier “fair doesn’t have to mean 50/50” hit the nail on the head, although this was hard for me to adjust to. I am the 30%, and have had to struggle a lot with feelings of inadequacy and fairness and guilt over spending, etc. Did I mention I’m also the one bringing huge amounts of grad school student loan debt to the table? My partner views it all as “ours” and has no problems taking on “my” debt and financially it will all work out fine, but it has taught me that many of the issues surrounding money are emotional ones, not just mathematical, and that they need discussing & airing out, too, even after the budget is balanced!

    I am also curious to hear how people determined their monthly “fun money”/spending allowance amounts, that’s the one piece we haven’t gotten to yet.

  • I find the whole topic of finances terrifying, and we’re young and poor. I’m graduating from college next week, getting married in February and have no job prospects. Fiance barely makes rent and went to film school to become a screenwriter. my engineering degree was supposed to support the both of us but right now no one is hiring engineers with no experience. I feel a ton of pressure to find a well-paying job and I don’t really know why, Fiance has told me that it’s not my responsibility to be the breadwinner. But I’m the one with the practical and well-educated degree. I don’t want him to feel all the pressure either and have a dead end job kill all his creativity. Neither of us have savings. We have very wonderful and supportive families, but maybe its my independence speaking when I say I DO NOT want to rely on our parents for financial support.

  • Bridette

    Hi guys! I am a financial advisor so I am very consumed about making the money combo work for us. I have great examples of friends that handle it very badly. One extreme split everything 50/50. The wife made less and they sat in 100 degree weather waiting for her to save enough for a new A/C. husband had the money in the bank. Other one combines everything and dictate what the other can spend and eventually have huge fights about that. My fiance, a non financial person, came up with a great solution, Ill add the emotional conversations we had. DITTO MANDY Im the spender, he’s the saver….this role gets quirky at times cuz I worry about it more.

    1) We decided what we are going to live on – Getting married means you get the biggest pay raise of your life. What are you going to do with that extra rent/mortgage payment? I would much rather stay home with my future children than have a nice house. SO, we decided to stay in my tiny condo for a few years and sock everything else into savings so we can have the freedom to go on one salary for a few years.

    2) So we made our goal is to live on one salary (we are fortunate enough that both are fairly equal and very comfortable). We sat down and picked the biggest salary and decided how to split that – not figuratively – actually, with monopoly money – How much do you want to spend on clothes in one month? (Very different!) If we disagreed on something small, it will come from our separate accounts, if its something big, we just have to hash it out. At the beginning of the month, we both move the equivalent of the smaller salary into joint savings.

    3) We get paid into our existing separate accounts and then we transfer the a majority of the funds – 85% to be exact- into a joint account which we pay savings, mortgage, utilities, food, clothes, haircuts, etc. We made a few rules to prevent overdrafts but nothing major.

    4) Then I dropped a bomb, how are we going to spend our separate accounts? He said, none of each other’s business. I think it is though. I don’t want to come home to a new entertainment center, even if he pays for it 100% out of saving in the separate, smaller account. He agreed to NO large size purchases (furniture etc) without consent and no spending over $1000 without checking in (note the difference, he can still spend it, even if I don’t like it – cuz it comes from the smaller account – our discretionary funds) . I made these rules because I think I will eventually stay at home…my separate account will become an allowance from him and I don’t want to start habits that end up in my loss of freedom in the future…or him spending all the money :)

    So far, its worked…that being said, I am waiting for the day when he accidently overdrafts the account. But thats what our line of credit covers so we should be okay.

  • Margaret

    I have a question for anyone… I make a LOT less than my guy, but up to now, we’ve been splitting everything down the middle (rent, utilities, etc.), more like roommates. It’s been tougher on me (but I insisted on this method), but then he usually insists on paying for dinners out, movie tickets, etc. so it kind of balances out … at least in our heads, if not in actuality.

    We were discussing the possiblity of splitting bills by percentage of income, and while I understand this method in theory, it still seems unfair somehow, to have him pay e.g. 3/4 of our rent… and he’ll probably still want to pay for my movie tickets, etc.

    Any thoughts on this?? Do you feel this leads to a feeling of more equitablity or less?

    • My fiance and I have been living together for four years, and we’ve always split bills by percentage. When we first moved in together, we tried to split everything equally, but I was working for a non-profit at the time – and for the first 3 years we lived together – and making no money. So we realized pretty quickly that splitting everything down the middle wasn’t going to work because that left me with literally $50 at the end of the month. The percentage thing works out really well, and we both find it very fair. I started my own business last year, and as I began to make more money – though still nowhere near what he’s making – we changed the percentages up a little bit, so I could contribute more. He still usually insists on paying for dinner and whatnot, but I try to treat him every once in a while too.

      It was skeptical of the percentages thing at first too, but it really has worked out well, and made up both feel like we were contributing our fair share – and leaving both of us with plenty of money at the end of the month. So I highly recommend it. Good luck!

    • Julianna

      If we had split exactly according to our income levels, it would have been about 99/1. So we split the rent 70/30. That is because I felt strongly I needed to contribute to our household but he felt strongly that 50/50 was just ridiculous given our situation, especially while I was in school. We also do things like I cover groceries and he covers all eating out, he pays all phone/electric/internet/cable bills, etc. It makes me feel really good to “provide” for him by making sure the fridge is stocked (I am also the one who has time to go grocery shopping and eats lunches at home). So I feel I contribute to the household that way even if in actual dollars it is still less than our going out bill.

    • Mayweed

      Hmm. this is almost exactly our situation. He earns A LOT more than me. We just bought a house, and our mortgage is much more than our rent was.
      The system has been, we split the mortage equally and he pays the bills, with me putting my spare cash into the wedding. But doing that meant my disposable income wasn’t enough to pay for my basic expenses, like gas and groceries, so he ends up paying for all the fun stuff and still has money over to buy us the big things (like a couch).
      I HATE THIS. Persuading him it’s better for us if I don’t feel like a kept woman, and rebalancing who pays what so I can buy him dinner once in a while has been hard work, but we’ve got there and I feel 100 per cent better for it.

  • So thrilled to see this topic being covered! I have been waiting for this. We are getting married in October, and really have no idea on how we want to merge finances. We’ve been living together four years, and everything has remained separate. So now we’re faced with… keep things the way they are – which we both have mixed feelings about – or merge – which, we also have mixed feelings about. We haven’t started fighting about it or anything, but I want to get it sorted before we do – and before the wedding.

  • Meg, I love how you have a knack for addressing the issues we all need to hear the exact time we need to hear them. I hadn’t thought much about the money topic, since we’re still 78 days away from our wedding and I keep thinking there’s soooo muuuch tiiime to address this, but there really isn’t.

    My fiance B and I are very different about how we keep track of our bank accounts. I save my receipts and write down every transaction, so I always know exactly how much money I have. B never keeps receipts and will call the 1-800-bank number to find out what he’s working with right before we go out to dinner. This drives me crazy.

    Because of this, I’ve been really hesitant about (even adressing the topic of ) merging our accounts. Also, B was recently laid off, got a speeding ticket, his birthday is this weekend, and I’m supporting both of us while trying to continue saving up money so we can actually PAY for the wedding/honeymoon coming up in August. Maybe it’s time to address our issues instead of sweeping them under a rug, or onto a credit card. Thank you Meg and APW, for reminding me I’m not the only overwhelmed money-conscious woman/bride out there!

  • I earn more. A lot more. And I have a huge hoarders pile of money in my virtual mattress because it makes me nervous otherwise. I have a fully funded 401K. I give myself splurges each month to keep my hoarding on track but I find it difficult to spend any real amounts of money (of the vacation fund. I can’t spend it either. It physically hurts, even though I save save save for these trips I want. Him, not so much. Some savings, some retirement money, no irresponsible living, but nothing like my obsessiveness. Also, nothing like my income.

    I think this is why I’m terrified of totally joint finances. The control issues win out over the future-fairness issues. We set up a joint account when we moved in for joint bills, and it’s a baby step that helped. But I hate the idea of merging most things (except for an equal allowances in separate accounts each month) because I feel bitter about the inequality in income and approaches, but I love it too. I want the security of sharing and being on the same page. I want total transparency in everything except our own-account fun money. But I want more of it because I bring more of it in and that’s the way it’s always been and I want my freedom, darnit, if I’m earning it. Until I realize that, when we have kids, there will probably be a few years when he brings in more and I’m part time and then I get uncomfortable.

    So yes, I want to hear these conversations.

  • jenna

    This is so great.

    I’m a recent college grad experiencing a lot of grown-up firsts – first job (ie first salary, 402K, retirement fund), first apartment (first lease, rent responsibilities), first utilities payments. Also first time living with my boyfriend of three years. Yeesh! We have somewhat similar spending habits (I’m a hard-core hoarder, he likes to save and then make occasional big purchases), but there’s some debt inequality (he’s got college debt and is in grad school; I have no debt and a full-time job), so balancing accounts has been a little challenging. looks like a great resource, but I’m also wondering whether anyone would be able to share tips for creating a budget spreadsheet. Just something simple to track salary, rent, utilities, transportation, plus savings. My Excel skills are fairly limited, so I’m talking “Budgets for Dummies.” Does anyone have any recommendations for how to create a simple budget spreadsheet?

    • jenna

      *401K, duh*

      • Vanessa

        Google docs has great free resources and everything is already formatted. You just adjust the percentages that best fit your spending habits and and input your “data”. All you need is a google account, plus you can share it with your bf so you can both be on the same page.


  • The day after our honeymoon we went and added each other to our checking accounts. We still each have our own credit cards. The house is just in his name (he bought it two years before we got married). The student loans are still just in my name.

    At the beginning of each month we sit down and go over our monthly calendar together so we know what each other has planned. And we pull up the budget and look at that and see where we’re at there. He pays the bills, but I can see exactly what’s going where.

  • Sarah

    I don’t have much to add to all the thoughtful comments above, but I did want to throw out a good read: Personal Finance for Dummies. We both read it, talked about our goals and attitudes toward money, and started from there. We are recently engaged, but have been talking about money management for a long time, and I think that’s the most important part. Just talking about it and revisiting it regularly, so that you are both on the same page.

  • Meredith

    Love this post.

    I am a money horder. I like having money, not so I can spend it, just have it, which does’t really make too much sense. Right now, my boyfriend and I split all communal expenses 50/50, even though our incomes are 66/33, in my favor. I’ve asked if he would rather split it by percentage of income but he says no. Fine by me, I get to save 40% of my take home pay.

    Anyways, we each have separate checking/ savings accounts, and then a shared checking account. We transfer a monthly sum into the shared checking to pay for rent, groceries, utilities, cable etc. This has worked well for us. It’s the Venn Diagram method described above.

    I think that when I get married, I’ll have a hard time truly combining finances. Maybe because I like having my money and I can tell you where every penny goes. I won’t have that control when/ if our finances are truly combined. But, I also like the idea that no matter how much either one of us makes, it is communally OUR money. I like that stability and assurance. So for me, I’m leaning more towards the reverse of what we do now; instead of money being transferred into the shared circle, money will be transferred out into the individual space of the circles. The money transferred out will be ‘fun’ money that we can do anything we want with.

    On a personal level, I’m a big fan of the 50:30:20 budget. 50% of your post-tax income goes towards necessary expenditures. These are mostly things that you are bound to pay each month and incur a penalty if you don’t. 30% goes to wants and 20% goes to savings. This approach allows you the freedom to spend money on ‘fun’ things and quit worrying that you aren’t saving enough. It’s also gives you peace of mind that even if you monthly income decreases by half, you can still survive. I think this is the strategy discussed in ‘All you’re Worth’. It works for me. Since I really don’t make that many purchases, I keep track of every single purchase in a spreadsheet. Every cent I spend is filed either under, Needs or Wants and the rest, by default, is Savings. No need for extraneous labels or complicated math. As long as I stay within 50:30:20, I’m good. So simpled and elegant.

    • You are inside my brain. Really, down to the current income disparity, your current joint financial system, the 50/50 bill split and why, the future vendiagram breakdown, the emotions about it all, and the 50/30/20 split. I wrote a bit about the emotional aspect above, but don’t really have anything to add to your comment, except that it’s entirely odd to see someone else articulate my *exact* financial life.

    • Bee

      Oh my god. This is so genius. 50:30:20. How did I not think about this before? It totally works and it makes totally sense. As I live in a country with extensive social benefits and a guarantee of 70% of your income in unemployment benefits, this way of thinking really shows that even in worst-case scenario, I could still manage by just cutting it to 50:10:10 or something.

      I’m so surprised of the simplicity of this. How on earth did I not consider this before?

      Thanks for enlighten me in a very uncomplicated way of dealing with finances.

      • Meredith

        I also loved the simplicity of it. I’m quite young and just started my first real job in November and was kind of lost on how to allocate my money. How much should I be saving? spending? what’s an appropriate amount to spend on housing? What can I afford? etc etc. I found an article on msn money about the 50:30:20 plan so I just started following it. It’s a bit more complicated than what I stated, in terms of determining what exactly is a “need” vs. “want” and exactly which income amount you are using (pre-tax, post 401k, pre 401k, include/ exclude benefits etc) but the general idea is what I follow. Since I’m really thrifty and cheap, my breakdown is closer to 40:20:40 but whatever works for you! Mainly I just liked the simplicity and freedom it gives you.

        • Bridette

          Meredith – YOU ARE BRILLIANT – I love this method. I track every single expense on a spreadsheet categorized by the traditional budget techniques but its makin’ my honey crazy. He doesn’t keep track of anything. I can wind down to this, still hits my goals. He can amp it up a little.

          You are my hero!

  • Laura

    My husband and I started merging our finances gradually after we moved in together (several months after we got engaged) and didn’t fully merge them until a few months after the wedding. Over all, it was a relatively stress free process for us.

    It definitely helped that we’re both recent college grads who didn’t have a system in place, so we got to build our family system from scratch. Plus, we are from similar financial and cultural backgrounds, so we had a good starting point. But the big reason the process was so easy for us was the book Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach, which I can’t recommend enough regardless of where you are in life. (My mom, who’s almost sixty, read the book and found that it helped her, too.)

    I’m not usually one for self help-type books, but this one helped us focus on the most important money issues and made big, scary topics like planning for retirement (a intimidatingly large task when you’re 23 and have very little in savings) seem manageable. It’s particularly useful because the first few chapters aren’t much about the technical details of finances, but about figuring out your attitudes toward money, how money interacts with your larger values (i.e., I value family so my money will be used in x, y, and z ways to bolster my family), and then integrating them into a plan that works for both of you. Focusing on values and goals first helped make planning much easier.

    I was especially thrilled to learn that I could successfully manage my finances without creating a spreadsheet. While a lot of people find that knowing where all their money is spent makes them feel secure and in control, I find it to be tedious and the very idea of tracking my spending makes me want to avoid financial planning all together. Since avoiding finances is not an option, I needed to find a workaround. When I figured out that if my husband and I paid ourselves first–automatically depositing money into retirement plans and savings accounts on the days we got our paychecks–then I didn’t need to worry about what I was spending my money on as long as I didn’t spend more than I had. I’m not a spendthrift and I always have a pretty accurate idea of how much money is available to me, so I never spend more than I have and we’re still successfully saving for the future.

    I think the biggest takeaways from our financial merger are: learn where your attitudes towards money are and where they come from, figure out how your spending and saving relate to your goals, and address things in small steps–you absolutely do not have to figure out your family’s finances in one fell swoop.

  • JAG

    I’ve briefly read over the comments, but I don’t have time to read them all. Is anyone not combining finances? B and I decided that we are keeping all money seperate, at least until we have kids – no joint account, no names on each others personal accounts. He owns the house (and isn’t putting my name on it which is fine because I don’t want a house and don’t care) so I pay for groceries and give him money in rent and extra if something needs done on the house (which he fights with me about because he feels it is HIS house and his responsibility) but we both are big savers and have savings, and bills come out of our own paychecks. We are happy with the set up now (we live together) so we see no reason to change it once we are married. I pay less in rent to put money toward my savings account that is used more as our future ie: pay for vacations, most of the wedding etc… and his savings is used more for house repairs and a joint kind of extra retirement money (we both have 2 retirement plans each, but just a general long term savings).

    This will change when we have kids probably, because we are thinking about having me stay home with them , though I freak out at the thought of not having my own money coming it, but for now we are happy. Is anyone else not combing anything financially? Am I alone in the world….

    • He owns the house (and isn’t putting my name on it which is fine because I don’t want a house and don’t care)

      We bought our house before we got married. The entire down payment, which was 50% of the value of the house, came from me. We had a lawyer review the sale documents to make sure that both of us were listed as owners and joint tenants so that if he died before we married, the house would be mine with no hassle.

      What would happen to the house if your BF died? Is it his intention that you should have it? That you should have a portion of the proceeds of the sale because you have been paying rent? If so, has he made a will stating that?

      Please forgive me if you guys have already worked this out but it took me a year to get my husband to do a will, which made me anxious because I did not want his nasty, mean parents to have a drop of my money if we both died at the same time. My husband has the current earning power, but I brought the assets to the marriage.

  • I’m so looking forward to this conversation. So far our money situation has been pretty easy to handle. We opened a joint credit card when we were dating so that we could easily pay for and keep track of joint expenses. At the end of the month we split the difference and pay it off.

    We have both held on to our personal checking and savings accounts. Which means we each write our half of the rent check and if we need to pay in cash or check for anything else I even it out when it comes to paying the joint credit card. Sure there are expenses that we don’t keep track of, like one of us paying for dinner at a place that only takes cash, but we figure it will even out in the end and it is all technically coming from the same stove, even if the pots are on different burners (does that analogy work?).

    It works for us for now, and we are open to changing it in the future if need be – like when we buy a house (which we put off for now simply because we were terrified we would be those people on HGTV!) or have children and incur different kinds of expenses.

    The only time finances have really come up as an issue is with other people who have conservative beliefs about who is in charge of money, like accountants and mortgage brokers. Since my pot was a little bigger and more diversified when we started I am the primary on all of those sorts of things which makes absolute sense unless you are working under the norm of coverture. I’ve taken to simply responding to these economic injustices by responding in language they can understand, “I am the CFO of this household.” And I try to say it nicely, most of the time…

  • Kashia

    I am currently in grad school and have not funding because that’s how it is. I am paying for school with savings from when I had a job and the Boy pays for everything else (rent, bills, flights, coffee etc.) I do have a small amount that I can spend each month (for drinks with friends etc.) that also comes out of my savings, but essentially we are living on his income alone. This is in some ways very hard because I very much want to be able to contribute and feel that I am letting down my feminist ideals. That said, when I graduate in year and get a job we can save my salary towards buying a home and other “big stuff” because we can live off of what he makes quite comfortably. So I look at it as my contribution is going to school to get a good job so that we can have the life that we want sooner.

  • Calumnia

    What a huge conversation to have, phew! I’m one of the younger members of APW so I thought I’d add the system my partner and I use for managing finances in the pre-combined-finances higher-education period.

    I recently finished my undergrad and I work in nonprofit in a city with cheap rent and low incomes, so I just barely make enough to keep me over the official poverty line. I prefer to take the amount I make each paycheque, subtract all necessary expenses (rent, food, bus pass, medical, etc) and a set amount for savings (currently 23% of my gross income). When I return to grad school that savings should cover tuition, if I’ve planned correctly. There isn’t much left over, but what is leftover is fair game. I can spend it on dinner out, or movie tickets or new shoes or put it in savings. During months with extra expenses (dental, optical, etc) that amounts drops down to 0$. It helps that I’m a saver by nature when it comes to medium-sized purchase I usually have to talk myself into even necessary practical medium-sized expenses (like winter boots). But if I’m not careful, I get sloppy with my small expenses (like taking myself out for icecream).

  • meg

    Ok, question to help me with next weeks post. For those of you who say you fight about money, in a general way, what do you usually fight about?

    • elemjay

      Our fights fall into the following buckets:

      * the extent to which we should worry about money – I always want to write a budget, he never does

      * making purchases which affect both of us, typically when stuff is in the sale and therefore “cheap” – e.g. him ordering more china to complete our wedding present service without really asking me first

      * respective attitudes to money (e.g. ME – why do I still have debts and no savings, how to unwind the ownership of a flat I bought with my sister, HIM – not settling bills promptly)

    • Ling

      I recall ONE fight my husband & I ever had over money was during our dating+and+living+together period when on one occasion I didn’t steal the lunch bill from him ’cause the waiter had put the bill in front of him. He was expecting me to pay ’cause I guess it had been a while since I’d paid for a meal. At this point in our relationship, we had been living together for 3 months, we were both still in school (6 months to graduation), & I didn’t have any student loans (bless my parents) but my husband did. At this point in time, we were also in a place where we knew we’d be married soon after we finished school (1 year away) and we had already talked about sharing finances when we’re married. However, he still had student loans on his mind and he felt like I was only sharing in his assets & not his burden of debts, while on my mind was the fact that we’d ultimately be married and sharing financials anyway. I had the finances to help him pay off his debt, but he wanted to do it himself. Instead, he was expecting me to contribute to paying off his debt by paying for lunch/dinner.

      Fast-forward a year: we moved from Canada to the US, he started his job where his hiring bonus was enough to pay off his loans and I did an unpaid internship (because I couldn’t get a work visa/paying job) and lived off of him, which he was completely fine with, and we got married. In the end, it was just a matter of being in different financial mind-sets and holding different expectations that spurred the fight. Haven’t had a money-fight since.

    • Samantha

      Nothing yet, but I can just see it happening with regard to… saving for the kid’s college tuition!

      My parents paid for mine, because their parents paid for theirs. The FH paid for his own, because he’s from a blue-collar family where post-secondary education wasn’t considered important.

      I am most definitely pro- “pay it forward”. The FH is more of the “I paid off my own student loan, so s/he can too” mindset.

      We shall see what happens…

    • Cat

      In our case, the lack of communication about money causes the most problems (and the lack of money, but pretty sure that’s not something APW can solve for me!)

      We’re living off my income at the moment and I’m taking care of budgeting it. Dani tells me she often feels like I don’t keep her fully informed of how much we have and what needs to be done with (I admit, I’m guilty), I feel like she doesn’t talk to me about what she needs and when she needs it so my budget gets thrown when something I didn’t know about comes up. This stuff only comes out when we argue. Up until we got married we kept everything separate and ideally, would have liked to ease into it. As it turned out we had to combine things suddenly and thinking about it in terms of ‘our’ money is taking some getting used to.

    • Theresa

      Loving this topic, as my husband and I are still trying to figure this out! I’ve been out of town so trying to catch up on all of the great posts. I still have my own checking account and not willing to give it up or merge it..but, to answer your question, we argue about merging our money, what’s the best way to merge it, how much to save and how to spend it….we view money very differently: I worry about the lack of money or always so cautious in spending (but not for traveling, I have no worry or problem with spending money on international travel! go figure) and he feels like we’ll always be taken care of no matter what….so…looking forward to further discussions as it might help us figure this out!

    • galaxie

      We fight about how much input & influence his parents should have about our finances. He grew up with the expectation that his parents will live with him when they’re old (it’s a cultural thing) and a lot of exposure to multigenerational families. I grew up with the opposite expectations: I should be independent of my parents as soon as possible, and I should not be expected to take care of them either.

      We’ve worked out that his parents will live with us when they’re old (we’re in the process of buying a two-family house for that purpose), and I’m happy with that. But he shares financial decisions with his dad, and has a shared account that his dad moves money into and out of. Mostly it doesn’t affect us, but to some degree it seems he thinks that his parents should have free access to “our” money, and we should have access to theirs…. but that’s super weird to me. SUPER weird. I’d be much more comfortable sharing money but not decisions, I think. I feel that there should be a clear division between our money and his family’s, and money should only cross over after explicit discussion.

      I think he understands my feelings, but secretly is amused that I’m such a control/independence freak about it. Especially since his parents are incredibly financially responsible. The whole thing is essentially over whether the two of us are making a family that his parents are joining, or if his parents already have a family that I’m joining. We both feel it should be the former, but sometimes he still acts like the latter.

    • Emily

      Me: Budget budget budget! Save save save! Invest & spend wisely! Pay off what you can when you can!

      Him: School debt as big as a mortgage (for a house we don’t get to live in). Extras like eating out are a pittance in comparison. We don’t fit our grandparents’ financial planning paradigm; those values can’t apply to us. We can’t possibly break even right now, and eventually the grad school investment will pay off in salary & we’ll pay off our loans. Why live as paupers now?

      Oh my. Such is the life of one-of-us-is-in-grad-school.

    • Meg P

      We don’t “fight” so much, but tensions have been caused by the fact that I was used to having a great deal of freedom with my salary which was VERY easy for one person to live on and now we’re both basically living on what I earn and I feel a little deprived sometimes.

    • Michele

      Our $ arguments are almost never about the details of money (meaning, we don’t argue about him spending $60 on a video game, or me spending $100 on clothes), but instead go straight to the heart of the matter, which is that we each learned about money in very different ways, and therefore understand it differently.

      I grew up in a very poor family where money was often scarce and never saved. Investing wasn’t even part of our vocabulary because it just was not done (and still isn’t, where my parents are concerned). It was a hand to mouth, 1 paycheck from homelessness existence ALWAYS. That probably sounds AWFUL to many of you, but I will say that the one positive thing I learned from that lifestyle is that money comes and money goes and even though sometimes you feel as though you have none, you will ALWAYS wind up with more, eventually. All of this has made me an extremely cheap person. Not necessarily frugal or even thrifty (although I am both of those as well), but just plain cheap, meaning I will almost always opt for the inexpensive version of something, even if it will need to be replaced at some point, rather than investing in the higher priced (and likely higher quality) option. This complete lack of understanding and/or disregard for the time-value of money is the true mark of poverty and speaks directly to why it is so often generational).

      My husband on the other hand grew up in a family where HIS parents had the same experience I did, and learned from it (much as I have). They are saver/investors and very much the sort of people who will pay a premium for quality, a trait they’ve passed on to their son.

      The conflict between he and I arises when my tendency to be cheap meets his tendency toward quality – particularly if I don’t believe the added expense is truly going to pay off in higher quality. For example, he would like to buy all of his shirts at Nordstrom and REI, while I think Target is perfectly fine.

      Another example (and in fact THEE example that best illustrates how our upbringing continues to color the choices we make today) is car maintenance. He would like to follow the scheduled maintenance dictated by the manufacturer to a T, paying for every so-called preventative measure under the sun. I, on the other hand would prefer to deal with issues if and when they arise. That’s not to say that I’m going to wait until the engine blows to change the oil, but it does mean I’m going to be much more discerning than him when determining what to have done and what to skip. Exacerbating this conflict is the fact that being poor such as we were necessitated that we all be a little bit handy and learn how to maintain/fix things on our own. My dad did 100% of the car maintenance and repair in my family and taught me how to do much of it. My husband on the other hand, having grown up in a family “of means,” does not have a single drop of DIY/handy blood in him, because he grew up in an environment where, when something broke, you paid someone else to fix it.

      I’m not even kidding when I say that the one argument we have the most (and the most heatedly) is about how to take care of our cars.

      Strangely, this dynamic – me being raised by people who NEVER saved, and he being raised by people who ALWAYS saved has resulted in each of us sort of betraying our roots and opting for the opposite. Nowadays, I’M the saver and HE’s the spender.

  • Just don’t buy that investment sofa when you’re 23, because you’ll hate it in 2 years and only get $800 back on craiglist. ;D

    My style changes WAY too often for investment pieces.

    Speaking of actual investments, we’re good with communicating about money, but both need lessons on managing it. Sigh.

    • Katelyn

      Oh gosh, us too! We usually agree on things like “we should be more careful with our money” or “we should eat out less”…. but then it never happens, and we never really get a gameplan. We both bleed money, but it hasn’t led us into debt at all, so maybe that’s not the correct definition of bleeding money? It *feels* like I’m bleeding money, living in downtown Chicago after growing up in a farm family with hand-me-downs and ALDI (nothing against ALDI- I wish there was one near me!).

      The thing that I’m not sure if anyone has brought up (haven’t picked through them all yet) is a disparity in starting points. Like, a really big one. Like, he doesn’t have to save for retirement big. And I have enough saved up for an emergency fund and my company’s 401K plan where I’m putting in as much as the company will match, but no Roth IRA, down-payment, wedding, kids, vacations, etc. savings.

      • Morgan

        My husband had ~25K sitting in a NON INTEREST BEARING ACCOUNT when we met. (My caplock’d speech is even more dramatic in person.) I had um a fair amount more money, and it was carefully filtered away in a variety of RRSPs, mutual funds, saving bonds, money market funds and hell, cash hidden in my jewelery box. He finally saw the light when I made him drop 10k into an RRSP, and he then got almost 3.5K back in taxes a few months later. Now he trusts me to lay out the best options for investing and we make the final decisions together. It took a while for us to see eye to eye about investing – not about saving, thankfully, but about what to actually DO with the money.

        This is a problem, I realize, that I’m really freaking blessed to have.

        • Your husband sounds like my husband. I am still trying to talk him into investing it. I keep telling him, I don’t want us to spend it, but I want to grow it. He gets intellectually, but he is really tied to it emotionally and can’t bring himself to move any of it around. Yet.

    • C

      … or you’ll buy that nice couch that should last through all of grad school and through your 30s but then you’ll get that puppy who is so freaking cute that she should not have to sleep on the floor and then that couch that was once so nice is not as nice as the shitty one from ikea via craigslist you had before. so just don’t cave to that puppy face and let her on your couch.

  • I’m an opposite couple!
    I grew up have not, he grew up have. We both witnessed how money (lack of and abundance) impacts every part of your life and impacts how you interact with money as an adult.

    As were discussing moving in together and marriage (as I personally don’t believe in cohabitation) I made sure we sat down and told each other exactly how much we earn, we owe in student loan debt, credit cards, how much we have in savings and retirement. They always say money is the most stressful thing, and I wanted to make sure we started off our life together with transparency and honesty. I really liked this guy and wanted to ensure my actions reflected my commitment to building a life together. This was hard for me, as it meant talking a lot about our money baggage and what we learned from our childhoods. As hard as that conversation was and embarrassing to admit you are credit card happy, it is something I recommend to my friends considering cohabiting and marriage.

    I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford a 50/50 approach, so we do a 66/33 approach. We set up a checking account together, each contributed a share to cover rent, utilities, groceries, netflix, and other household expenses. We saved on our own and he picked up most of the fun expenses (concerts, dinners, movies, fancy cocktails, etc etc).

    In our post grad school adult lives, I was a reverse budgeter: first save and pay all your bills, what’s left is fun! For major expenses, I would have to save up.
    My husband was a saver, and had the luxury of not being able to wonder if he could afford something. If he wanted to buy something, he would. (He would buy books and movie tickets and vacations. )

    We talked about post wedding fiances and what to do, which I can’t recall at this point but something like: Save for retirement through work, put paychecks into shared checking for expenses and fun, automatically transfer a percentage to savings (for emergency expenses, vacations, CDs), automatically transfer to personal accounts for personal discretionary. Purchases under $N don’t have to be discussed.
    Though, I think that is something we will tackle in the upcoming months. One change at a time, and we might be facing a shift in income as well as my hubby looks to change job which will change things, as well as figuring out where to park our savings, retirement and short term. It’s helpful to read that it happens over time.

  • I also watch way too much HGTV (and DJ kindly puts up with it), and we ALWAYS seem to end up yelling “BUT YOU CAN’T AFFORD THAT HOUSE!” at the couples who intend to spend $300k and end up at nearly $400k. And maybe it’s just me, but if you can’t put any money down, do you really have any business buying a house? Anyway.

    We didn’t merge finances until several months after being married. And we also didn’t have a set budget until a couple months ago. There honestly wasn’t much thought put into the merge itself (he moved all his stuff to my bank/accounts since it was going to be frustrating and time consuming for me to redo all my direct deposit stuff for work when he gets an actual check every week) but there has been – and continues to be – a lot of talk about what we do with the money. We don’t have separate accounts at all, and I’m the one who is “in charge” of everything. Mostly because I’m better with spreadsheets and more organized than he is with this sort of thing.

    We always talk through any big purchases and try to do so in advance so they can be worked into the budget. Someone else mentioned Dave Ramsey’s book, and I’d definitely recommend reading it if you need help managing money. Which we did (and do) since we’re both spenders. I wish one of us was a saver, but having the budget helps reign in the spending – a lot.

    I’m looking forward to reading more about how everyone is handling finances in their relationships. Picking up new tips & good advice is always a good thing.

  • Kristen

    For now, I’ll skip the money and talk couches. Two years ago I bought a real couch. I had just finished spending the first six months after graduation in a kind of hell – I was broke, I had a horrible roommate, then moved into my then boyfriend, now fiance’s garage for about two months (my stuff went in the garage with no intent of me staying living there) and had finally moved into a good apartment with a decent roommate and had gotten hired on as a real employee instead of an intern. Buying the couch was a big deal to me. It was the first piece of furniture besides an old dresser I had gotten at a garage sale that I bought that couldn’t be disassembled and stuffed into my car. My Craigslist bed? Came apart and the full size mattress was conveniently the exact size of the roof of my sweet ’89 Lincoln Continental. My table? I went all-out and got the classy card table from Target. Shelves? All those magic wire ones from Target that go together and come apart in a snap.

    It was actually a real, adult, permanent piece of furniture. Before the couch, all I had to sit on were an array of exercise balls and a nest of blankets on the floor. So I went to the store and tested couches. I found a magical red couch that met my requirement of being able to stretch out full length without a crick in my neck or bending my knees. And I bought it and had it delivered.

    I, too, am kind of a tightwad. Which is good. It’s granted me independence and safetly. But it’s important to know when to spend. Having a couch that I knew was new and could just snuggle into without worrying about the home that it had been in before turned my little perch of an apartment into a cozy home.

    Keep that in mind when you’re shopping. Don’t just look at it as an expenditure but as something that will help you to make a cozy little nest.

    • Katelyn

      Excercise balls – check
      wire shelves – check
      card table – check (we finally bought an IKEA table and chairs)

      Our couch was our first major purchase, too.

      But we still sleep on an Aerobed :) 2 years and counting!

    • Jessica

      For me, it was a bed. When I graduated from college and moved into my first apartment, I was adamant I was NOT sleeping in a twin bed anymore. My parents, so generous in giving me their furniture (they downsized about five months after I graduated, and in their new house there is no room for two couches, two recliners, ten bookshelves, etc), did not have any bed for me other than a twin bed. I slept on an air mattress for 8 months, until I saw a commercial for a furniture store that was having 0% interest for four years, and the sale was ending that day. I drove the saleswoman crazy going around, testing the beds and the mattresses, calling my mom, calling my sister, freaking out about buying a bed and being a grown up. I finally picked a bed, mattress and box spring, and a dresser to match. Still my absolute favorite piece of furniture. I’ve been paying it off slightly more than minimum each month so the balance will totally be paid off before the 4 years are up, and I am so glad I did not settle. Words cannot express how adult this bed makes me feel.

      • meg

        I have to admit, at 30, the couch is sort of the last thing. I don’t want to make it seem like we don’t have lovely furniture. We do. It’s mostly inherited, which makes it extra great. But. We’ve never gotten our own couch, as they are ‘spensive. And it’s getting to be about time.

    • We bought a new red couch after we got married. It has made all the difference. We practically live on that couch. :)

  • I love that you stayed up all night thinking about a couch! Honestly, I can’t even tell you how much I love that. My fiancée and I just bought a house, and let me tell you, buying a couch may be the biggest strain on our relationship to date. I wish, wish, wish I was kidding.

    But onto finances. We have lived together for 5 years, and a few years ago set up a joint account for joint expenses. We’d put identical amount of cash in there for rent, utilities, groceries, car payment (that we purchased together), etc etc. The amount we made above and beyond these joint expenses were put into our own personal accounts to spend as we see fit.

    Buying a house changed all that. Or, perhaps, we were ready to change and the house was a kick in the butt. I never in a million years thought I would merge finances with a husband – I have this independent streak that just won’t kick. But it was the little things about separate accounts that started to drive me nuts. If we made a big purchase (say, snow tires) we’d have to both remember to take half the money out of our account, put it in the joint account, and then whoever put the actual expense on their credit card would need to make sure the proper money was in the proper place. If we’d go out to eat, or a night at the bar with friends, one of us would always pick up the tab – but then we’d bicker about who paid last time. I have to tell you, I have better things to bicker about than who picked up our last bar tab.

    So, here’s how we do it. We joined bank accounts right after we bought our house. We took everything we individually had in savings, kept 1/3 for ourselves, and put the rest in the joint account. Now, when my paycheck comes, 2/3 goes into the joint account, 1/3 goes into the Sara account. Also, any work we do freelance above and beyond our 9-5’s (I write and photograph, the fiancée writes and does web design) goes into our personal accounts. We figure, we each did that work in our own free time, and the money is rightfully our own.

    I think it’s important to keep your own account, with your own money, for expenses that matter to you but that you don’t feel you need to justify to your partner. For example. Sometimes, I crave new lenses for my camera. Sometimes, my fiancée craves multi-thousand dollar bicycles. The ability to save for those expenses individually still gives us both a sense of pride and independence.

    Wow, that was long. Synopsis? I never thought I’d merge my money with someone else’s, but I did, and not only is it great, but it’s EASY (it probably helps that we’re both more apt to save then spend). And keeping my own account, with my own spending money, gives a level of independence and financial freedom that keeps me sane.

  • We’re not planning to merge our finances until we’ve been married for more than a decade. It’s not that we don’t want to, or don’t want to learn how to share or work together, but it’s a result of alimony, child support, and messy finances left over from my previous marriage.

    We talk about and examine our whole financial situation frequently, and we come up with a game plan together for savings and spending, but our actual finances will remain separate for many years. Honestly, I like that we will have separate accounts. We are still accountable to one another, but I like knowing where my money is.

  • Oh, money … probably the most difficult part of my relationship. We both grew up in families with out a lot of money and some bad habits (i.e., my mom loves her credit cards and lives paycheck to paycheck, his dad has no retirement savings to speak of), and were broke as we put ourselves through college. So when we both started pretty good jobs after graduation, we tended to spend without thinking because we were so excited about having money.

    While much better now, we keep our money mostly separate. We have one joint savings for a house, and keep discussing doing joint checking for some of our money but it just hasn’t happened yet. Mostly, we each contribute our fair share to joint expenses, still take turns paying when we go out (which is kind of ridiculous for married people, I admit), and have an understanding we can do whatever we want with the rest of it. We are both too independent/stubborn to give up any control over our money, and bring in fairly equal incomes, so this works well for us. For the most part. ; )

    We’ve also realized we have different spend/save styles. I like to sock away as much as I can for a house, emergency savings, and all the traveling I like to do, but still have enough spending money to go out and have fun on a regular basis. He likes to complain about “wasting” money on the day-to-day fun, I have to hound him to save for a house (did the same for the wedding and honeymoon), but he has zero problems saving for “medium-sized” things he cares about, like new flat screens and car stuff and other geeky electronics. I also am a regular, set amount each paycheck saver, whereas he would rather just save a bunch at a specfiic time and have money be tighter for that period.

    Our solution is I tell him how much he MUST contribute for specific things (i.e., “we need this much per month to have our down payment by this date”, “you will need to plan for $XX for our vacation in 6 months”, etc., and then I leave him alone. He figures out how to get to that point.

    At least we do have similar views on debt and things like how much house we can afford and how expensive a wedding should be.

    Now am I just waiting for when we have kids, because it makes a lot less sense to keep most of our money separate where the offspring will be sucking up so much of it!

    • Barbra

      We have the same difference in terms of spending money on “fun” things. It’s important to me to be able to eat out (at least sometimes in restaurants where there are actual servers!), go to the movies, etc. My boyfriend sees this as an extravagance and is always hounding me about it. Plus, he is always trying to figure out whose turn it is to pay, which I have to admit I feel resentful about sometimes because he makes a lot more than I do (although I appreciate his feminism on a deeper level).

      He spends large amounts of money on things like a big-screen TV, Jet-skis, etc., which I find wasteful. He also doesn’t believe in vacations but will drop 400 on a plane ticket to go see friends for the weekend. I have to have vacations.

      Right now we are living together in a house that he bought. We split the bills 50/50 but I contribute less to the mortgage. We have not yet even talked about what things will look like when we combine finances and I am terrified of it! I tend to rush things, so it is very reassuring to hear that some couples lived together a long time (and even got married) without doing it. I don’t want to procrastinate, but I don’t think we are quite ready for that.

      However, I wish we could do more decision-making as a couple and I’m not sure how to do it without combining finances. For example, he wanted a new TV, I didn’t, so he just bought it. I want to go out to dinner, he doesn’t, so I do. Any advice out there for how we can get to that point gradually?

  • So glad we’re going to start talking about this. Pre-baby, when we were both working full-time, it was simple: we both put the same amount into the joint account, he earned a little more than me, so he had a little more left over, so he would treat me more (which kinda suited us) and we both had enough personal spending money.

    On maternity leave, I was earning £1k a month less, so I put £500 a month less in, and he put £500 more in. We were both £500 a month worse off, which made sense.

    But now, I’m about to become self-employed too (eek, two of us self-employed, scary!) and my earnings will probably fluctuate too. Now I have no idea what we should do next, on a practical level. I know what we both want, because we talk about it (which is of course key): one secure joint pot for the essentials (and ideally a little bit left over) plus our own personal spending money. That’s really important to us, even lately when most of it gets spent on joint things, to have that sense of autonomy, to be able to splurge quietly for ourselves or each other, for example. But how it will work going forward, I’m not sure yet, so I’m really interested to hear more perspectives on this.

  • Anna

    I seem to be in a totally different situation. We got married 1 month ago, but we have a 2 year old daughter & we totally merged finances when she was born. I don’t work, so all our income is in fact my partner’s graduate stipend, & state benefits. My partner is the only one who has significant debt (in fact I don’t have any debt) but he is also the only one with significant assets, so we combine it all. What I worry about is my ability to financially support myself & my daughter, if our relationship should end.

    • ANI

      This was me when I was married, though, fortunetly for my situation, without any children. He worked full time, in a job that had us moving all the time, so I worked when and where I could, but I was so transitory, that well paying work or steady work was impossible. We both knew that and were totally ok with it, so that wasn’t the issue per say. In the periods when I did have good income, we would decide what I would pay for. Usually like, utilities, train passes, dinners out, etc and his income would cover everything else. A lot of my part time or temp jobs paid cash, so that was my “free” money or “money I can spend as I please”. Which was great except for when I wasn’t working. ANYway, needless to say, there were about 5 million things about that marriage that did not work. Jumping forward in time, I am now divorced!

      Now I have a steady boyfriend that I’ve been living with for a year now, and it REALLY REALLY took something for me when he wanted to get a joint account. It FREAKED me out. But that was actually before we signed a lease together. That was SUPER tough for me too. Just the fear and the baggage of the past.

      Man, in this relationship, we have tried some version of almost everything that’s been talked about here, and we are finally in a situation that we LIKE, although, honestly, it does not actually WORK, at all. We each have our own checkings and savings, and we have one joint account, that is super easy to transfer money in and out of. There is a credit card in my name only, but that we do use for US stuff a lot, and when we do that he pays me back his portion.

      He is the spreadsheet addict and lover of organizing money and the one with the math brain. I am, uh, none of those things.

      He figures out how much of my paycheck should go into joint every two weeks and he does the moving of the money, and then tells me about it, so I’m clear. And if I have questions, he is very patient and nice about explaining, and repeating, if necessary!

      He makes way more than I do, and pays WAY more of the rent – an exact $dollar amount we agreed to before we signed the lease. But everything else we split 50/50. Utilities, netflix, etc. He also has more expenses, like a car, and more debt than me, although his is hte good kind – student loans, family loans, etc. and mine is the bad 20%+ credit card.

      Dinners out and stuff we talk about in the moment. Like, person 1 – hey lets go out to dinner. person 2 sounds great, but i’m broke till payday. person 1 – i would love to treat you, let’s go OR, ok baby no problem let’s stay in OR hey do you want me to loan you the money and you’ll get me back after payday? OR hey, that’s a good point, i probably shouldn’t be spending the money either! OR OR OR you get the idea.

      This all sounds super good, and it works lots better than all the other versions we tried because we each feel indepent and sane and we don’t fight and we know what’s happening with what money when and where.

      But the problem is we are each often overdrawn, having overdraft on personal or join account. Less so for myself, i rarely have overdrawn on my personal account in this new system, but still from time to time.

      I am super exicted about the account I think that might be exactly what we need!!! For what it’s worth we tried Mint and it made us crazy. Too confusiing and too much extra work labeling and correcting and managing the entries.

      And yes, I LOVE that this conversation is happening. the Last Name majorly was HUGE for me and for us. I told him all about it, and He decided out of hearing all you guys smart ideas, to give our “future imaginary” kids NO last name and let them choose their own when they’re old enough, which I think is INSANE, but that! among many reasons, is why I’m not getting married any time soon!

  • I haven’t read all the comments, but I’d like to point out this blog: Feminist Finance. It hasn’t updated in months, and before that is another months-long gap, but there are quite a few very interesting posts, including several in which the author discusses her strategy for combining finances with her fiance-and-then-husband.

  • Samantha

    Ooh, I like this post! Excellent comments… so interesting to see how everyone does it!

    We have a complicated arrangement involving seperate chequing accounts, a joint credit card account, ING direct (including seperate and join savings accounts), a super-low-interest line of credit in his name that our major debt items — READ: THIS FREAKIN’ WEDDING — goes onto.

    To keep it all straight, we’ve got an Excel spreadsheet where we keep track of who pays which expenses (mortgage, line-of-credit payments, etc), our monthly incomes (as he’s self employed, this varries), and who — once everything is weighted proportionally to monthly income — owes who what at the end of the month. If anything changes, we just type it in and the formulas do the calculating for us!

    It’s a pretty bad-ass system. We loved the process of figuring it out, as it keeps us mindful of what we spend money on and what material things are REALLY important to both of us.

    And whenever another expense or income line item comes up, we get to sit down and go through it over dinner. Just to make sure everything is copacetic. Wierdly, it’s very romantic. NERD LOVE.

  • K

    We’ve lived together for four years, ever since we bought our house. During this time we’ve each had our own personal checking and savings accounts and joint checking and savings accounts with both of our names on it. We pay household bills and expenses from the joint account and personal bills and expenses from our own accounts. We have set amounts that we each transfer into the joint account each paycheck. I’m our bookkeeper.

    It’s worked so well that we’ve decided to keep on like this after we marry. We are considering merging all bills into the joint account though since they will become both of ours (i.e. student loan debt). We will always have separate accounts for personal spending though.

  • mary

    We also have combined our finances totally, that was something that was extremely important to my partner. I was less enthusiastic about it, but in the end really like having one set of joint accounts – it makes me feel like we are a team.

    We each direct deposit into our checking account. We have a budget spreadsheet with our monthly ‘recurring’ expenses, and as part of that we include retirement savings accounts as a “bill” so that we never forgo investing in our retirement. We always have money left over which we just leave in our checking account as ‘safety money’ or ‘extra’ money.

    For day to day spending and going out, we each get a weekly cash allowance, deducted from our checking account, which is the same amount for each of us. That way we don’t have to tell each other about every little thing we spend. When we go out to dinner together, we generally split the bill 50:50 and pay cash.

    For more major purchases – vacations/shopping trips we discuss them and then use our ‘safety money’ or ‘extra money’ to cover those. The ‘safety money’ also covers things like doctor’s visits, car expenses, pet expenses, etc. that are unusual occurrences.

    Overall, this works well for us – but took several months to perfect. We were lucky in that both of us saved a substantial amount of money in the year before our wedding (we had that as a major goal prior to getting marrieed) to put towards a joint savings account. We have essentially just left the savings account completely alone and do everything out of our checking. We have more than the recommended 6 months of living expenses in the savings account, as our emergency fund, but my partner doesn’t feel comfortable with less. I am inclined to think that we should use that money for our retirement and invest it, but that hasn’t happened yet. I think we (and all people) would benefit from talking to a financial planner, but we haven’t done it yet.

    Right now, we make about the same amount but in a few years I will make subtantially more. I wonder if we will change how we do things at that point, but I guess we can discuss that when the time comes.

  • Lauren H.

    I added Zack to my bank account four months after we started dating.

    Yes. Yes I did. It was very risky, and could have turned out horribly- we had been dating four months, and known each other for eight. But for us, it made sense. At that point in our relationship, I have already written a check to pay off his maxed out credit card (at $500… not exactly a high limit on that card), and he had in turn given up most of a fairly large paycheck to help me cover my tuition. So we were already acting merged anyway, and his bank didn’t have a location anywhere near where we were living– it made sense to go ahead and have him on my account.

    Mostly, merging-wise, it’s been a smooth ride. But it’s been very rough money-wise. I put myself through college and came out with a BA from a liberal arts school and only $8000 in loans. His parents paid for his college until he *ahem* was expelled. I was far more mature than he was, in regards to my ability to handle my finances. And when we were both in school, him with irregular work, and me with minimum wage, it was very tough. We were fricking poor. He wanted name brand stuff at the grocery store. He wanted new video games. I wanted a savings account with money in it, and the ability to pay off my credit card every month. There was a little fighting. Like… one fight. After which he admitted I had been right, because we were too broke to go buying anything.

    Fast forward to now. He’s better at eating store brand hot dogs, because he saw how much it cost to eat name brand everything. I’m better at buying a CD every now and then, because I saw how miserable he was with never spending anything frivolous. And because I do actually like CD’s. We make exactly the same salary (Well. I get seven dollars less a week because I didn’t claim myself on my tax forms and he did.) and so everything goes into our checking account, and then goes out to pay everything we buy.

    Until now, we haven’t been able to save much. The savings I brought in with me have been depleted on car repairs (mine). And the jobs where we make enough money to support ourselves are still new– new enough that we haven’t moved yet into a new place which we desperately need– we currently live in a very bug infested, run down, 1930’s mill worker house, and it’s gotten to the point where I wouldn’t have been able to stand to live there anymore even if it were all we could afford. We’re about to go through some big financial changes, as my student loan payments start in July, we move into a new place which costs double what we were previously paying, we’ve more than doubled our combined income, and we’re almost done with paying for incidental wedding expenses. Also, we’re going from two cars to one, and gaining health insurance (which we’ve both been without for a long while).

    I think we’re at a pretty good place for our age (22). But it will be interesting to see how things go when we actually have a choice of whether to save or spend money, rather than nearly everything going towards bills and wedding stuff. Especially as we move into a larger place and look for ways to fill it (Did you know they don’t build two bedroom houses anymore? Apparently, anyway. So if we want a house, we’ll have WAAAAY more space than we have now in our one bedroom apartment). I have a feeling Zack’s materialistic side will manifest itself more strongly than it has. But we’ll work through it. We’ve done it so far by being very sensitive to what kind of spending stresses one another out– he knows not to buy anything super-frivolous without giving me a heads-up, and I know that without occasional purchases like that, he’ll go nuts.

    I’m thinking of suggesting setting up separate accounts so that we can make those kinds of purchases without having to check with one another, but it would only be for things we didn’t need– lunches at work, date nights, necessary new clothes (because neither of us is a clothes horse and I’m still wearing the same things I was whcn I was fourteen) would all come out of the joint account. But that $200 chemise from Anthro? That would be from my separate account. The video games? His account. It seems weird to go back to that after where we are now, and to be honest the biggest thing I’d use my own account for would be buying things to surprise him– it’s really really hard to buy presents for one another when both people can see exactly where every single thing is being spent.

    • Ah yes, gifts from the joint account. For Christmas, dad bought mom a copper teakettle (she loves that sort of thing). Mom, of course, sees the purchase on their account. “I don’t know what he bought me,” she said before Christmas, “but I know what it cost.”

  • Corinne

    Great post Meg. I think that this is an important topic (as are all topics on APW) and I wanted to post, but I’m not sure if I’d be repeating previous comments. I’m not sure about everyone else, but I’m feeling a bit frustrated/overwhelmed about not being able to read all the comments, there isn’t enough time to do this daily. I know everyone has important things to say and that is good, but there are a lot of posts and some of them are HUGE. Am I the only one feeling this way? Does anyone have any suggestions?

    • meg

      DUDE! I feel this way. I don’t read them during the day, and I’m supposed to write new content/ manage the business side/ actually talk to my husband at night. You should see the circles under my eyes. 200 comment days often mean not enough sleep over here. I actually delay posts that I know are going to do this.

      In the past on “heavy comment” posts (you know like 70 or 80 comments) I’d write a little ‘best of’ for you. That is now way, way, beyond me. At least working full time.

      • I completely agree… I wish I could read (and reread) all the wonderful comments. But, it’s a little much with the working, writing and life (and wedding planning, and moving from Australia to the US). Maybe there could be a way to separate the ‘general comments’ from the ‘personal stories’ and the ‘needs more advice and has a question’ stuff so that one (me!) can choose to tackle one category of comments at a time… Man, just typing that seems like it wouldn’t work and would be way too much work. I LOVE the comments. I also LOVE the posts that generate such wonderful comments.

        (also, regarding the post… thank you – this is a great topic – and one that I am very interested. Specifically, on the budgeting as a couple stuff.)

        (oh, and also … Meg, I totally understand how liberating and yet confusing merging finances can be. Good for you).

      • Corinne

        I totally understand Meg. I really don’t know how you do it!! At least I have the option to chicken out if I choose!

  • karen

    my fiance recently (half)joked that he is planning on spending a chunk of his law school student loans on a trip to Thailand and China. I’m not a hoarder by any means, but this use of loaned money is downright sacrilege in my mind. So yeah, we’re going to need to have some talks, and I am so glad that this series is starting now. I’m already soaking up all of these comments so THANK YOU apw people for coming through, as always, just in the nic of time.

  • Kate

    Wow! You put him on as a cosigner of your accounts before the wedding? For some reason, I never even thought about doing that. For some reason even though we have been together almost 6 years, we are still totally financially separate and although we are planning to merge after the wedding, I never even thought about the possibility that we could do it before hand…

    Definitely looking forward to your upcoming money discussions to hear more about how it worked for you!

    • meg

      Like the WEEK before. Which was a huge mistake by the way. The only really huge mistake we made. We should have done it at least a month before. There were some, “But I thought you… what? It’s spent? What the F—?” conversations that almost ruined the week before the wedding. Learn from me, seriously.

  • Kristen

    I haven’t had a chance to read through allllllll of the comments yet – because I know there’s some awesome information in there and I want to give it something closer to my full attention than I can during the day.

    In advance, again and as always, thank you all for your sage advice. It really helps us with some of the issues we’ve been grappling with. It is such a great resource for starting conversations with my fiance. It sort of gives him something to digest and consider before we start talking – since this is all largely uncharted and previously unconsidered territory for us both.

    I do want to say to you all and I’ll make it big not because I’m yelling but because I want it to stand out: VISIT A FINANCIAL PLANNER!!!

    It’s really worth the investment (or many credit unions have a free service for members). There’s so much tricky stuff to know. Like the fact that some student loans will be forgiven if one of you should, heaven forbid, die before they are paid off. This is why you don’t want to combine your student loans – it negates that and the remaining spouse is left still paying. This is also why, even though it seems so magical to be able to just pay your student loans off pronto – it might be a better idea to just keep putting enough to cover them into savings – because if something should happen to your financial situation, credit cards cannot be forgiven or deferred whereas student loans can. Also, I think if I don’t get put onto the deed for the house, I may still be eligible for first-time buyer programs when we get a new house.

    Figuring out the financial stuff and comparing our health insurance plans actually makes dealing with bridal shop b****es seem appealing.

  • Rachel

    Great post! I’m another R with an M (nice theme here!). Luckily, money has been one of the easiest things in our relationship–we’re both anal retentive nerds with spreadsheets and big savings goals. One of my favorite memories of our early relationship is showing one another the spreadsheets we had developed.

    Since moving in together a year ago, we’ve developed a joint-and-separate system, but we’ll be merging everything as soon as the ink on the marriage license is dry. I can’t wait for it to be simpler to keep track of!

  • Elizabeth

    Anyone here the sole breadwinner? That’s also presented itself with its unique set of challenges. It makes economic sense for me to pay all the bills while he’s still in law school – after all, his debt will be my debt after October – but then I can’t help but feel a little annoyed and burdened by having to head up financial responsibility for the house. And if if I’m the only one bringing in the cash, do I have a right to dictate how he spends money?

    • Liz

      i am. for now at least.

      it’s taken a lot of effort- and most of it has been overcome by dividing responsibilities elsewhere. i can genuinely feel like it’s “our” money because though i’m in the office all day, he’s at home handling business. (dishes, laundry, etc) working in his own right.

      this mindset has taken work for me. cooking and cleaning are things i actually like to do, and i’m much better at doing them. but his effort to take care of the things at home is essentially his way of helping financially, if that makes sense.

      • Elizabeth

        How is it going to be when you have 2 paychecks coming in again? I imagine that after sharing everything, dialing back to “my money” and “your money” would be tough. When he graduates and starts bringing in money, I imagine we’ll stick with the single pool of money.

        Although if the legal job market stays as it is, that might be moot anyway. Hey, at least we know we’re able to survive off one paycheck!

        • liz

          we’ll continue dumping into the same pot, no matter the division, i guess.

          it’s very nice to have all the money in one lump, without regard for whose is whose.

    • meg

      I’m the sole breadwinner. But no, I don’t think I get the sole say on how we spend the money. I’m not saying it’s not really stressful (it is), but we’re a team. Right now I’m the sole breadwinner. I assume at some future point, if only for a moment, he will be. That’s the AMAZING relaxing thing of it for me. Now we support each other. THANK GOD.

      • Elizabeth

        Being the sole breadwinner, I found out a lot about myself – my work ethic, my capacity for resilience, how proud I was to point to something tangible I accomplished (ie, keeping is afloat financially). It also got us talking a lot more about finances and our approach to money in a way that I’m not sure we would have if we were both working. When we were living together prior to the engagement and him going back to school, we shared expenses but had no idea of the particulars of the other’s financial picture after the utilities, groceries, and rent were paid. Now we talk about our approaches, values, and choices in a way we definitely wouldn’t if things were split down the middle and his and hers checking account.

        Now, on a practical level, I pay all the bills, including his credit card, and we talk about how much is left over. I don’t comb through his expenses, because he shouldn’t have to answer to me for everything he spends money on, but if it’s unusually high I’ll ask about that too. We use a single checking account that my paycheck goes into and we use to hit up the ATM

        What bothers me is that this worry and stress about making ends meet has fallen to me. I used to think it was because I was the one bringing in the money and paying the bills, but then I realized that’s just my nature. I’m a CPA, so I guess that’s unavoidable. I wouldn’t worry any less if he was the one cutting checks to the cable company, and I’d still want to get a handle on my monthly cash flow. Paying bills lets me see trends, timing, etc of our expenses and lets me get comfortable with how we’re spending money.

        But my fiance? He just can’t bring himself to worry about it too much. He tries, but his eyes kind of glaze over when we start having the Finances Talk; maybe it’s because he feels disconnected from our financial picture, maybe because it’s just boring to him. I don’t know. I wish he’d worry about it a little more, but that’s just who he is too. It helps that we’re essentially on the same page when it comes to spending, even if the details don’t interest him.

        • Corinne

          If you are really wanting him to take finances more seriously, I would suggest telling him that he has to pay his credit card for the month. I know that sounds harsh and bitchy and I don’t mean it to, but sometimes we all need a good jolt/kick in the ass to realise when our partner thinks something is serious and needs to be dealt with with more care.

    • OMG. I totally feel your pain. My fiance is in school, too and even though it’s being paid for (thank you, Army), it still kind of sucks that I make most of the money and work the most. We talk about it, which is good, but sometimes I can’t help resenting the fact that I’m the breadwinner and then when he gets a little extra money, he blows it all on something frivolous while I worry about bills and our savings (which is non-existent). I’m also a total feminist, and I HATE asking him to buy be gas or something. I need a balance, but HOW?!

      What I was trying to say is: I’m with you!

      • Kim

        I was the sole breadwinner when himself was out of work, and aside from the period when we first moved in together to a small 1 br apartment and neither of us was working (I do NOT recommend that for anyone who wants to keep their relationship and their sanity intact), it was the period in our relationship where we fought the most. I found it really hard to be relaxed about spending money — specifically about how he was spending money — when we had to be really careful about how much we had. I think it would’ve been different if he was in school or if he was taking care of a child or something, but it was just that he happened to be out of work at the time. At the same time, it made me feel bad to see himself being miserable about the money that he couldn’t spend/didn’t have. We hadn’t combined accounts at that point, either, so I still felt as if the money was MINE, not OURS.

        I finally had to say, “Hey, it really stresses me out when you buy things that we don’t need or drop lots of money on booze and strippers when don’t have any extra coming in, and the responsibility and stress is all on me,” or something similar. It got a lot better after I blurted out how stressful I found the situation.

  • Eliza

    Whoa! So many comments, so much to say! I’ll try to be succinct :)

    1. Meg, thank you so much for opening this up. (Hooray for sex and money talk!) I’m so grateful for the space in which to have this discussion, and read so many different perspectives on the thing.

    2. I will admit to avoiding the total merging of finances talk altogether with my fiance. (Fiancee? Fiance? I haven’t gotten the hang of this yet, it’s only been a month.) Money scares the crap outta me. In that, he has WAY more than I do, having been working far longer and I went to grad school, and I am a feminist, and the idea of somehow “taking” his money messes with my brain. So, for us, it’s been a gradual process over the almost four years of being together. We’re now at the point (living together) where this is our system (and this is what we’ve agreed on rather than total merging, for now):
    – Separate bank accounts, separate savings accounts, he has a share portfolio
    – Joint credit card that’s used for household items and shared going-out things
    – Rent and big household expenses get split according to our different incomes (which effectively means a 65/35 type split) and we pay it once a month
    I’m really not sure quite how – and if – we’re going to move from this to a truly joint income situation. All the things that we buy for both of us get paid as joint items, from the joint bit. Really we don’t wind up spending much from the separate items – we’re both more savers than spenders, though him even more so than me. (What can I say, I love shoes.) I guess this system might change when we have kids, but that’s still a few years away at least, and for now it seems solid.

    3. I’m really not sure quite how we’re going to do wedding finances with this system though, in terms of paying for stuff. Obviously the wedding is a joint endeavour (!) but there’s also the question of both of our parents wanting to pay for things… I’m not really looking forward to figuring out that balancing act! Keen to hear from anyone with advice about this!

    4. The thing about people fighting the most about sex and money? Is true. I have probably a somewhat unusual approach to marriage, in that I work in divorce court. So, effectively, my bread and butter is people’s *failing* marriages. And sex and money, almost without question, are the big killers, second only to (I bet you guessed it) – communication failures. (Usually about sex and money. Because they’re not the easiest things to talk about! So if you’re not talking about the other stuff, you’re probably not talking about sex and money, either. Cue: problems.) Anyway, this is by way of saying,

    5. Talking about these things is AWESOME.

    6. And I don’t mean this to be at all a downer, but please make sure you know what your legal/financial rights are in your relationship, and you have full knowledge of your spouse’s financial dealings, because they are your financial dealings too, and you can be held responsible. I’m not advocating prenups or anything like that, just saying, if one of you goes into a relationship with a lot of debt or a lot of money, and things don’t pan out the way you hoped and worked for, it can get very messy and unpleasant, and I’ve seen enough people bankrupted because of their ex-spouse’s dodginess that it makes me worried for those people who don’t ask, or who don’t know about the potential impact of the financial decisions they’re making. I guess really what I’m saying is the second part of “talking about these things is awesome” – NOT talking about these things as a couple can be DANGEROUS. Even if you stay together, even if things between you emotionally are fine – if there isn’t full disclosure about finances between the two of you, particularly when things like loans to family members etc come up, it can get UGLY, and cause serious fractures in your relationship.

  • thank god you’re talking about this! I think this is the #1 thing I am most worried about, and we aren’t even engaged yet.

    We’re both frugal but in different ways. We also budget and manage money differently. And I am so nervous. Right now, I can shrug when he pays for us to go out to dinner — it’s his money. But I don’t know if I can handle it when it’s our money. I’d really rather he used that money to pay off his student loans faster.

    *sigh* I hope we can work something out. I’m looking forward to seeing your considerations and continuing to talk with my guy about the money issues.

  • I love this topic! My boyfriend and I are gradually merging our finances, but we’ve got some complicating factors (varying salaries, levels of debt, levels of interest on debt, and savings), so it’s great to read all these different approaches to managing joint finances.

  • C

    so i am feeling inspired by all of your financial planning — perhaps the less organized of us are a little intimidated to post about our financial messes?

    because mine ours is a freaking complicated disaster, but with optimism in the future. the other day i was looking for dimes (because there were no quarters left) to trade into quarters so that i could do a load of laundry.

    the husband-to-be has no debt – thank god because i have 250,000 of med school debt (you read those zeros right), another 10,000 of credit card debt because in part im an idiot and in part training to become a doctor throws a lot of huge expenses at you (like licensing exams that costs a couple of grand), and another $15,000 in college debt still needing to be paid. ugh. i’ve never even looked at it before all added up together, but it looks like our first house will be exactly the size of my brain. did i mention that we have a wedding coming up?

    he also has a design business that currently makes what it costs and both of our names on it and we share an account for that — this means that occasionally he gets a text from me alerting him to the fact there is $3 in the account and he’s gonna need to find something off the .99 menu for lunch.

    we currently just sort of wing things. we split the rent. i pay the other bills and he gives me what he can. he doesn’t make much money so it is pretty much pay check to pay check but i’m happy he doesn’t have a credit card and he puts money into a retirement account at work. plus he is really cute. he is fully aware of how much debt i/we have and doesn’t care, saying, its okay because some day you’ll be a doctor and we will have money and laugh about when we brought our own popcorn to the movies.

    i don’t worry too much about it — i know that i’ll be able to pay back my loans some day when i actually get a job. it also helps because we know that if something really bad happened right now we have parents and siblings who could float us for a bit.

    that said, i do like to fantasize about what we will do with the mystical future paycheck. i think since my field is so much more consistent and stable than his i’d like to use my check to pay all of our fixed necessary expenses (loan repayment, credit card repayment, rent, food, insurance, retirement savings etc) and then pay us each an equal allowance for top-secret personal spending (clothing, going out, restaurants, books etc) and then use his income for reinvesting in his business and shared fun stuff (travel, new furniture, date nights, gifts for relatives, causes we care about, new computers).

    i just don’t want his name anywhere near my student loan debt because god forbid i die i don’t know how he could possibly pay $3,000 a month for 30 years

    also, what is this difference between savings vs retirement vs emergency fund that you all seem to know about?

    • Jessica

      omg, thank you, I was starting to feel lonely being the only financial mess. I have major student loan debt (upwards of $60k), and recently, major credit card debt (my cat’s foray into diabetes really helped that along, thanks Shelby). FH was out of work for the first nine months I knew him, claiming unemployment, but with his cell phone bill, and the occasional dinner out, it was basically nothing. We’re one of the (surprisingly few*) couples that subscribe to the “all in one pot” mentality. Now that he has a (temp) job, we’re kind of making hay while the sun shines, trying to pay as much credit card debt off as possible. It stressed me out to no end at first, but we’ve gotten into a groove where I can go back to sleeping at night and I know things are going to be ok; not great, but ok.

      Probably the best thing ever to happen was the credit card he was using increased their interest rate astronomically on purchases from a set date. That finally got him to put the card away, and now we’re so much more responsible about money. Not that he was just blindly spending money, but the card has such a high limit, he didn’t really ever stop to think how that $30 Blu Ray would add up along with his Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s runs. I’m no saver (bad, I know), but it is mind boggling to me how someone who has no free time can spend $700-$900 in a month on crap.

      *seriously, I had no idea other couples kept things so separate. I almost cannot fathom splitting bills, it’s so different from how we do it, how I was raised, how he was raised. It’s just… wow.

    • Cat

      Oh, I can totally relate to the financial mess. Thankfully student debt works very very differently here than it does in the US so its not a pressing issue, but my wife had a pretty hefty non-student debt coming into our relationship. I’m in grad school so when she lost her job & had no income for several months we fell into a HUGE hole that we’re only just starting to climb out of. I fantasise about that mystical future pay check like some people think about tropical island holidays ;)

      I CAN answer the difference between savings & emergency money though (I had both before they were eaten up by living on one grad student income). My financial planner’s advice was to aim for three months -at a minimum- of necessary living expenses in an emergency account, to cover rent/food/bills case of things like serious illness or unemployment. We have an account for that reason that is set up so we can put money into it, but cannot take money out unless we physically both go into the bank and both sign for it. Our savings account is mostly empty at the moment but I do try to put at least SOMETHING into it every week, we’ll use that for big things like travel and a house deposit when we get to that place. I can’t speak for a retirement fund though, in Australia your employer is required to put 7% additional to your income into a superannuation account which you legally can’t touch until you retire.

      So that’s my take on it, I’m sure other people will have varying thoughts :)

      • We took the Dave Ramsey course that’s been mentioned here a few times. We took away from that:
        1) An emergency fund with $1000 for actual emergencies (car dies, appliances break, tickets to fly to a close relative’s funeral, etc). Fund that first so you don’t have to ruin all of your budgeting plans or put those expenses on a credit card.

        2) 3-6 months living expenses in a separate savings account. You don’t actually access this unless there’s a life-changing emergency. Put this away somewhere that you can’t get it out easily.

        3) Regular savings account for vacations, big purchases (couch, anyone?), home renovations, whatever.

        Hope that makes sense/helps.

  • Liz

    merging finances is such a tangible way to merge lives. it’s freeing to no longer feel a tit-for-tat need to worry about who is paying for the coffee this time.

    we both lost our jobs during our engagement. yeah.

    i started working again about 3 months after the wedding, and josh is still mostly unemployed. and it has been a unifying and strengthening experience. when you’re not tied to careers, there’s such a freedom in starting a “new” life together. you can essentially pick what you want your life to be like, without feeling tied down.

    but we do have debt. so money issues for me, are wrapped up in a lot of guilt that i need to overcome. i have no problem saving, no problem splurging. together, we hit a nice middle ground of thrifty and generous to ourselves. but good lord, those debt-collecting calls about my student loans bring on waves of guilt.

  • Liz

    and also? we grew up VERY differently.

    i grew up in the ghetto. we had no cash ever. i’m not exaggerating- one christmas, a nearby church ‘adopted’ us, to donate christmas gifts to us.

    josh grew up wealthy, in an affluent town. his parents paid for his college education, gave him a car, etc. things i can’t fathom, but are normal to others.

    so our perspectives of spending and saving are HUGELY different. we’re just at culturally financial odds. so i’m in charge of the checkbook, because i know what it’s like to do without and have a tighter grip on my purse. josh is used to money being there, and not needing to worry about spending it.

    • Elizabeth

      More than that, it causes me a lot of anxiety not to have a handle on it. Ian, bless him, is just oblivious to money sometimes, because he’s never had to worry about it.

      For example, I had to get new tires on my car the other week. It TOTALLY caught him by surprise when I told him we should probably wait a few months to buy our wedding rings, because the money we earmarked for wedding expenses just went to my car. The idea of economic trade offs had just honest-to-god never occurred to him before now.

  • Ok, I guess I’m on the other side of the issue in that I’m wanting to merge my finances with my fiance’s asap. We’re moving in together soon (we’ve still got about a year left before we actually get married). I feel like merging now will make it easier to pay the mortgage and the food bills and the phone bills and everything else that will start paying for together here in a few months. We’re both gainfully employed, though I make about twice what he does so I guess I’m the breadwinner here. I’m also the financially savvy one, and he’s already deemed me keeper of the finances once we do merge.

    Am I crazy for wanting to go ahead with this? Should I be waiting ’til closer to the wedding?

  • Oh lord, money. This is perfectly timed, because our current way of doing things is very likely to have to change soon, and I’ve been sticking my head in the sand about it. Which is pretty much my general attitude to money…

    We both earn near identical amounts at the moment, as we are at identical stages in almost identical careers. (I know, right?) We both have ginormous student debts to go along with that. However, our assets are VERY different. He owns property, and a lot of savings. I own… well, nada, and have a moderate amount of savings in my own name. I *do* have other assets, but overseas, and in my parents’ name for tax purposes, which makes my financial situation all kinds of messy.

    For day-to-day purposes, we both pay equal amounts into what is theoretically a joint account to cover household expenses. (Except that account is solely in my name. The boy has a whole lot of misguided trust there.) The rest of our salaries is our own. It’s up to each of us to individually save, splurge, whatever. This has worked well so far, largely because we’ve discussed our savings plans (or lack thereof on my part from to time), and it allows us to remain pretty independent while knowing exactly where we both are.

    BUT. I expect that pretty soon my earning potential is going to take a blow from which it will never fully recover (compared to his, this is). So we’re going to need to do a lot more by way of merging, while thinking of other ways to still maintain the feeling of relative financial independence (by which I mean not having to ask the other to OK every single purchase you make. This feels important to me). I’m thinking that absolutely everything should go joint, including both salaries going into one joint account, joint savings, merged assests etc, but we then pay ourselves an individual allowance into our personal accounts, with which we can do as we please. Working out the relative personal allowances? I have no idea. We haven’t started talking about that yet. I am therefore *very* interested to see how others have done it, and if our plans seem sensible and workable.

  • We have been married for 7 months and our sharing of finances plan is always ebbing and flowing and constantly changing.

    My husband is very detailed oriented about where our money goes, enter “the budget notebook.” In this notebook, every night, we write down EVERYTHING we spend money on. Pack of gum, in the book. Spent way too much on my hair, in the book. He bought some kind of guitar accessories, in the book.

    But this is the thing – even though we had money budgeted for all these categories (yes, in a spreadsheet. he loves spreadsheets), we would get in little tiffs about what each other was spending money on. Here is where we came up with Personal Money. Every pay check, $100 gets deposited into our personal accounts. We can spend this money how ever we want on whatever we want. It’s for gifts for each other, expensive lunches out with my girlfriends, and clothes.

    This has been working for the past two months. I like personal money, it’s kind of like an allowance. Awesome.

    (my brain is spinning right now with so many things to say on this topic, thanks for the great post)

  • Jess

    Gah. Just started replying and lost whole thing. Let me try again.

    We already own a house together (or rather, own a mortgage). So we’ve been sharing money for awhile. We do as many of you do. We have a joint account which covers house payments, bills, some living expenses. We then have personal accounts and personal savings accounts for “fun money”. I think this works well. So many couples fight about money… yet there’s nothng to fight about since we’re paying our joint stuff first.. and the rest is up to us. I dont care if he goes nuts at the pub with his mates. He doesnt care if i go nuts on new clothes. It just doesnt effect our “joint” lives.

    Now we’re engaged.. and wondering if anything needs to change? We’ve kind-of decided that things will stay as is, except that our “joint” allocation will become bigger than our personal amount. And the savings will become cmbines instead of separate.

    The thing is… he and I earn very similar amounts. I dont know what we’d do if things were out of balance. Do you pay as a % of your income?? Or do you pay equal amounts?? Should one be able to spend extravagantly from the “personal” account, while the other struggles? Or should one have to pay more than their share.. because thats what marriage is about? And when babies come aklong and one doesnt work, it end sup being uneven anyway. Maybe the personal account thing doesnt work in that instance.
    I can only be thankful we dont have abig difference in income!

  • Great timing. Just had a big ‘ole discussion yesterday (same day this post went up) about money. (On a bench in a mall, of all places.) Too bad I didn’t see this post before the fact! And…I kid you not, I even mentioned in our discussion that I was really hoping that money would be addressed soon on this site, because we have no idea what model we want to use as we continue to figure out how we want to combine money (now almost eight months post-wedding). So….I can’t wait to read more when it comes…. Thank you.

  • I’m really glad you decided to open up about his, Meg. Money is a huge issue for my fiance and I, mostly because we don’t really have any of it. He was in the Army for six years and his wife at the time pretty much spent all of that money on herself, so he has no savings to speak of. Since I’m only 2 and just got my first ‘Real’ job, I don’t either! He’s also in school, which gets paid for by the VA, and he started looking into filing a new VA claim to get disability for PTSD (which would be our house payment and AWESOME!). Still, most of the financial worrying falls to me. It’s just not his thing to worry about money. So I do! A LOT!

    We haven’t merged yet, but I’m sure we will soon. We do talk about it, which is a great start to our marriage, as well as not having THAT much debt (less than $3000, collectively). But I still worry! There just never seems to be enough. I can’t wait until he’s out of school and working full time, just like you and your husband, Meg! We’ll either be more even, or he’ll be the breadwinner, which will take so much pressure off of me. It’ll be so nice not to worry ALL the time!

    I’m going to read through all of these comments and I’m really looking forward to your next few posts about money! Thanks so much for talking about this, since no one seems to!

  • I will definitely go back and read the 200+ comments later.

    I just wanted to say that it really bugs me that there is apparently NO good advice on merging finances written for women with assets, by women with assets. FOR REALS. It’s not 1952. So what’s the deal? For that reason (among others), thank you for posting this.

    Our own journey of finances is not quite the same but the same feelings apply. We’re not poor. We actually enjoy a pretty good lifestyle: not rolling in dough, but we can drink fancy beer on the weekends and still travel the world on (almost) a whim – a pre-planned whim anyway. We have savings, he has an inheritance fund (modest, but extant) and I have an IRA. Merging these was never an issue – we know we will be there for each other financially and that all of those assets are ours to share.

    Our issue – not a problem, really, just a hilarious bad habit holdover – is that we STILL split everything like we did when we were just friends. 9 years of friendship will do that: our habit of splitting the dinner bill or saying “I’ll get you back” for something that cost, like, $10 US (we live abroad so I am translating prices into US for y’all)…it amuses our mutual friends to no end. We’re about to get married, and still saying “I’ll cover you” or “I’ll get you back” or both throwing in close to the same amount on things.

    It hasn’t caused any problems – it’s more of a hilarious story fit for a romantic comedy – but still. Getting it through BOTH our thick skulls that as two people who are as good as married already, there is NO reason to keep doing this. And yet we do.


    I dunno.

    • Meredith

      My parents do this, and they’ve been married for 33 years. Their finances are 100% combined but whenever they are buying something with one another, they say, “are you going pay? or do you want me to pay?” Uh, it’s THE. SAME. THING.

      • Hee hee. My mom *made* my dad take her out to dinner on her birthday – same joint checking account, mind you, but she scooted the check over to him. “It’s the feeling of the thing,” she said.

        “Should you pay or should I?” is hilarious if it’s from the same account. But do they still do what we do – “The bill is $50 – so I throw in $25 and you throw in $25”?

        Our friends get no end of amusement out of that.

  • Oy vey. Meg, I just popped on to see if you’d updated, and VOILA, a fabulous post about money woes with…. over 200 comments. Good luck, Meg.

    I’m in the very lucky contingent that your mother was in– we’re still relatively young (25 and 26), and really have no assets to mention. I’m a young professional in a nonprofit, and my greatest assets are my computer (which is actually on its last legs anyway), our 10 year old junker of a car, and my engagement ring. My fiance has just started a PhD program and has even LESS in terms of assets; the stipend he started earning in January is his first real income in a very long time. I’ve been mixing our money for years now; when we were younger (high school sweethearts, here), whoever was working the part-time job paid for pizza or gifts or whatever. When we became Real Adults and moved in together, his half of things was paid by student loans that got deposited immediately into my savings account, which we budgeted carefully for living expenses.

    So, assets? Not a problem. Debt? Scary as shit. I have only about 14k in student loans, but my fiance has over 125k in student loans (hello, paying for undergrad all on his own). But as it stands now, with only a bachelor’s degree, he would be earning significantly more than me in the for-profit fields. And after he gets his masters and PhD? His paycheck will skyrocket past mine. I’m confident we can pay off his debt together, and that’s a big part of his future plans (HUGE; he haaaaates his loans), but it’s still a tricky twist to our lives.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Meg– it’s not always puppies and rainbows and easy conversations about Twoo Wuv. Life is more complicated than that. :)

  • Kim

    Ahhhh, money. Makes a mess of everything, doesn’t it?

    Strangely enough, merging our money hasn’t been as awful as I thought it was going to be. Our situation was partly out of necessity, though; I’m from one country, himself is from another country, and we live in a third. We still each have our bank accounts and credit card(s) in our “home” countries, but when we moved, we thought it made the most sense that we had one checking and one savings account, with one credit card. (Otherwise, I think my head might explode.)

    I will say, however, that we combined finances without the burden of debt, so we didn’t have that *big* hurdle to deal with. I was able to pay off my student loan debt before we combined finances, so we entered with a clean slate. He views everything as ours, though (and I’ve pretty much come around to seeing things that way as well), so even if I had debt, I think we would’ve approached things the same way. (If he was the one with the debt, however, I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I’m not sure that I would’ve been as . . . sold on the idea.)

    While I was 100% on board with combining finances in terms of practicality, I was a little hesitant because of our attitudes toward money. Like Meg — and many women here, it would seem — I’m a hoarder. I was the kid who saved all of my money throughout the year and spend it on buying Christmas gifts for other people. (I remember one year, I was buying a gift for someone at TJ Maxx and I was crying as I forked over the $20 bill. My mom was standing right there, and I think she was trying not to laugh at me. ;) ) I’m great at saving, and it’s hard for me to spend the money on anything other than things I NEED. Himself’s view, however, is that we work hard (okay, fine, he works hard, I just work) in order to buy things that we enjoy — and if we can afford it, why not? To be honest, I was a big fan of the ‘contribute X amount into the joint checking and savings accounts, and keep separate checking accounts for fun purchases’ plan, especially since himself makes more money than I do and I know that I save more than he does. I honestly thought I’d be checking our accounts compulsively, questioning every purchase. After we established our savings plan, though (x amount into the saving account every month), I felt that I was able to relax a little. We’ve got a good amount of savings, and the money that’s “left over,” I actually don’t mind if we spend it. We’ve both come to understand the value of a purchase, rather than just the dollar amount of it. We balance each other out on this issue, like we do on many others.

  • sarah

    this whole “merging of money” thing is still kind of an unknown. my fiance has deferred his student loans and gets hounded a lot because of that, so we’ve decided to not combine our finances anytime soon. but we still obviously share the paying of the bills and life expenses and divvy them up and all that. so whenever the issue of merging finances comes up, i feel like i just kind of smile & nod politely, but i’m not really sure. neither of us makes much money right now (well that’s a whole other scenario – you know about that, Meg, but not for public consumption yet!). but this whole things is made more complex because i do have some money from inheritances, most of which is currently invested in my condo that we live in… and i anticipate that one day, more to come. so i decided to get a prenup. this was something that i had stated from the beginning with my fiance, and it was a little uncomfortable to think about (no one wants to think about the possibility of divorce when you’re getting married!), but at least it didn’t present itself as a huge surprise at the last minute. also, my parents are divorced. i think without that, i may have gone about this a bit more naively (i.e. my fiance said, “but that’s *your* money, why would i ever want to take that from you?” and i replied, “you say that now, but later when you hate me, you may feel differently!”). it’s not that i think we’re going to get divorced, but i think of prenups kind of like homeowners insurance – no one ever anticipates or hopes for a fire, but what do you do when one happens and you’re totally uninsured??

  • Elisabeth

    My fiance and I bought a house two years ago, before we were even engaged, so we’ve been legally bound for some time. We also had to have a serious conversation (at the request of our attorney) about what would happen if we split up…how would we handle the house and other joint assets. At that point, we had been together maybe a year and a half… It was a tough conversation, but we were glad to have it.

    We decided on how we would be listed on the mortgage as owners of our house and opened a joint checking / savings account. Money from our paychecks goes directly into our joint account and the mortgage is automatically paid. We pay most bills through that account as well.

    We also have our separate bank accounts…I have student loans and minor credit card debt (that I pay) and we each have car loans that we pay on our own. We try to be equitable about things…but my fiance makes more and has waaay more in his savings (I have more in the way of retirement savings), so as much as I try, he sometimes ends up paying for things.

    After our October 2010 wedding, I’m not sure we’ll change anything about our financial arrangement (at least for now). I think once my student loans are paid off or some other big life event (kid(s)) we’ll revisit things, but so far, so good.

  • Surprisingly, the money thing came quite easily for my now-husband and I. We started sharing finances a little bit at a time when we first moved in together. We would go back and forth, one person getting groceries one week, the next, the other person might get them. Our paychecks tend to have a buffer week between them, so whoever had just gotten paid would get them that week. Generally, things would all come out about even in the end.

    We have a joint account that we opened before we were married as well. If one person was low on rent, the other would just cover for them, and again…we just sort of went with it, figuring in the end…it’d all just sort of even out.

    At this point with being married…nothing has really changed. We have that joint account for savings, and we still each have our own private accounts, but we really don’t keep track of things being exactly even, because if one person buys something at some point…well, the other will buy something else that’ll probably even things out. We always laugh a little when one person buys something for the other one, like ice cream or something, because of course we know it’s going to even out, and it’s really not so much a matter of one person sacrificing for the other…since money-wise, we come out even in the end. We figure. We haven’t really done the math, but we just sort of assume!

    We might merge our private accounts at some point. *shrug* What we’re doing now seems to work for us, and we figure why fix something that isn’t broken? We don’t really see it as “his money” vs. “her money” even though it’s in our own accounts because we do share without really tallying up the exact ratios and such anyway.

    And things might change. We might switch things up and officially merge and whatnot. *shrug* But for now, this works.

  • angela

    So, money. I´m spanish, i live right now in a small city in spain, my then fiancee left our capital city and job in Madrid (with a good income)in order to follow me to our actual city (i am working in a small family business that is suposse to be my job for all my life(i really love my job) if this financial crisis resolves some time)with a new brand job in city. After 3 months, he was fired, let´s me say it, 2 months prior our wedding, and on my opinion, without any reasons. OH, and we buy a house the year before, so we were having one job, one big economical crisis, one wedding on the go, and a mortage on my back all alone.At least, all our carrers and studies expenses were clear then and completetly finish.
    As we decided to buy our house we talked a lot about if we were married, what will we do with our finances. In spain, if you dont say nothing, you merge your finances with your husband when you married. All you can obtend from then, it shoul be 50%. So we decided in order to protect one another from the posibility of a financial berakdown in one of the spouse, to separate our finances, so all i can earn its mine 100%, all he can earn is his 100%. But. We have a join account in wich we put monthly enough money to pay the mortage, the meals, the electricity, the phone, etc…. this system works for us, but our economical world here is a little different than yours there, so i´m not sure this system works for anybody there….in USA you have those insane credits rates thats define what you are and what you can afford….
    My only advice: try to talk about money as long and fully as you need with your partner in life, try to thinks all those financial caos scenarios, and find the point in wich you and your partner feel confortable in it.
    And about feelings: i´m the one that save money in the couple, and also the one that want that marvellous couch that you bay once in life…..i doný really like to spend my savings, i prefer see them grow…..but it´s important to enjoy your money, because you deserve it, you earn it, and i doný wannabe the richiest of the graveyard….

  • Tina

    I read a huge chunk of the comments, but I can’t finish them all. I still want to get my comment out there, though. In a few of the comments that I did read, there was mention of parents and financially assisting parents. I would love to hear more about that. Maybe not in the first few discussions, but down the line. For some of us in our 20s and 30s this may or may not be common yet, but it is coming. I read comments that said that they differ on their money values related to caring for parents, and I also read comments where significant others are already helping out their parents. What do people do when these views are not the same amongst you and your partner? I am in no way against helping out our parents, but where is the line when you also need to be planning for future kids, their schooling and your own retirement? It was just a very interesting thought that came to my mind while reading the comments, that my partner and I are also currently in the midst of. Great post as usual, Meg.

  • Kim

    Oh, I totally know all about this fight…nah…battle. I always talk about how the first 6 months of our marriage were tough, and the blending of finances was the main reason. There were no surprises, but it was less about the money and more about a hidden fight over balance and control. Once we got to the root of it, we were golden.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Ah, Meg, I love you. Money is a BIG thing with me. I’m like a lot of people on here — I hoard and hoard. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money and lived in a household where the people in charge of the money were bad with it and constantly lived on the edge — paying bills at the last minute just because, etc. So I came out of that with serious money baggage and am STILL struggling with it. My first instinct is to save and I freak out if I don’t have at least 50 bucks in my savings account. This, in turn, leads to a lot of control issues with our money and who has access to what, etc. BUT with that being said…

    Our set up is pretty typical — we have a joint checking from which ALL bills are paid (rent, utilities, groceries, my student loan, his student loan, car payments, etc), joint savings, and separate checkings/savings accounts. This was the most practical for us for a few reasons. One, we consider the income each of us earn as “our” money. Thus, it only makes sense that it belongs to the household first. Two, my employment has unstable since before getting married making splitting the bills down the middle impracticable. I know not everyone is keen on the idea of paying for their spouse’s credit cards (particularly when they were incurred before you were married and is legally, separate debt), but we’re a team and it works for us. Our household budget merely reflects all of the bills and we also budget in discretionary income for each of as well. That works well because we can save up individually for our own toys, luxuries, etc and still meet our joint financial goals.

    It’s not the best system and is still a work in progress, but it’s what we’ve got for now :-)

  • Michele

    I’m a little late to the party, but wanted to chime in anyway to give props on a great post, as well as all of the awesome, thought-provoking comments. It’s so refreshing to read about other couples’ approaches and it only serves to reinforce my belief that we all have license to largely make our own rules.

    I don’t even know how to characterize my husband and I’s values and habits when it comes to money, because they’re sort of all over the place. I think we’re both spenders by nature, but not detrimentally so (if that makes sense), but we’re both learning to be savers. Or at least trying to anyway. We seem to go through spend/save cycles where one or both of us is particularly savings-oriented for a while, then ready to splash out for a while. Sometimes we’re in the same place at the same time, and sometimes we’re not.

    From time to time, I’ll get a bug up my ass and want to be all “mature” and “responsible” and start tracking and categorizing every little expense, but like Erin who commented much earlier – I’m just not Type-A enough to maintain that sort of system.

    My preference would be to set most of our finances to “auto-pilot,” complete with direct deposit, immediate transfers to savings and auto bill pay. My husband, being the ultra-cautious, slightly-paranoid person that he is, doesn’t “trust the system” and would rather play a more direct role – making transfers himself and paying bills on his schedule, rather than the bank’s.

    At this point, we each contribute 100% of our paychecks to a joint checking account and pay almost everything from there. However, we both have a secondary source of income (he a second job, me a small amount of interest income), which have come to be sort of an “allowance” for each of us by default, simply because they each go into our personal checking accounts rather than the joint account. That said, we’re not particularly stringent about using that money only for ourselves. Likewise, we’re not particularly stringent about NOT using money in our joint account only for ourselves. It’s essentially just MORE money, in a different place.

    My husband is much more comfortable with carrying a small amount of credit card debt from time to time (even if it’s not actually necessary, which is so bizarre to me!) than I am as I prefer to pay the balance in full each month. After a couple months of discussion, I think I’ve finally brought him around and we’re going to TRY to transition into paying for EVERYTHING (except our mortgage) on a rewards-card that is paid in full each month. The reason (and the benefit is two fold): First, we’ll be making our money work for us, since we’ll accrue airline miles. Second, this particular card actually does a really good job of tracking and categorizing expenditures, so at the end of each month we’ll be able to see where our money is going without having to track each and every expense ourselves.

    I think our system is a little more free-form and a little less deliberate than most, but so far it seems to be working!

  • Pingback: Daily Links: Daily Routine Edition | Financial News and Information()

  • Great issue to tackel Meg! I’ve always been curious about how this works.My boyfriend and I (of five years) are at the point of merging finances and i don’t know where to start.

  • Pingback: Best Self Improvement Blog()

  • Pingback: Money and Partnership | Small Strokes()