Ask Meg: Marriage and Money, Part II

When I started writing about marriage and money I assumed our system – I’ll call it the ‘one pot’ set-up – was just like the majority couples. Friday taught me that that in fact, we seem to be in in the minority. We love it, and I’m going to tell you why. But I’m also going to tell you that you don’t have to love it. Also, let me just say, we’re not perfect. We screw up on money all the time, I swear to it.

When talking about marriage and money, I think there are two things to talk about: the practical and the philosophical. Let’s start with the practical.

The Practical:

David and I consider all money that comes into the household to be OUR money, and all debt that we hold to be our debt. It makes zero difference who makes what, or whose debt is whose. All money and debt goes to the family unit. (Side note: we  live in a community property state, so this is legally true anyway. If you don’t know about community property laws, teach yourself fast. There is nothing like being surprised to find out that those saving accounts in your name are not yours, and those debts in his name are.)

In real life, this is how it’s set up:

  • I run our general account. All of the money that comes in passes through the general account, where I use it to pay bills and give adult allowances. Extra money gets moved from the general account to savings. I know this might sound fancy, like, “Ohhhh… Meg runs the general account!” But really, that just means I’m the person responsible for sitting down and paying the bills each month. As fancy goes, that’s not very fancy.
  • We each get allowances. David gets a food budget (he’s in charge of food shopping/ cooking), and then both of us get the same amount every week for pin money.* We can spend pin money however we want. We can be irresponsible with it or super responsible with it, our choice. Plus, we can buy each other sneaky presents with it, hooray! David has his own account, and all his allowance and food budget money goes it there. I just keep mine in the general account, and track my spending.**
  • Savings! (The best part, if you ask me). First of all, our savings are joint savings. Alllll of them (except retirement accounts, which are legally linked to one name or the other). I know some people break it out savings for various projects: one account for a down payment, another for an emergency fund, another for a car, etc. We don’t do that. That would drive me mad. I’d be frantically trying to fill up all the different pots of money while I slowly, slowly melted down. So instead, we have one big pot o’ money, and it is diversified based on time horizons of when we expect to spend the money.***

Other possibly interesting details:

  • We have three credit cards. One joint credit card, and one credit card under each of our names. I’ve been told that you should always keep a credit card in your name only, so you have a separate credit history, in case, god forbid, anything ever happens to your partner.
  • We, with some sound and fury, ironed out a married budget when we got back from our honeymoon. I have it scribbled out on a scrap of paper on my desk, and tucked away in a google spreadsheet. For us, it’s something of a moving target. Do we exactly make our budget every month? No way. Do we get close enough? Yes. And at the moment, that’s fine.
  • We don’t divide up expenses on our married budget (ie, you pay 50% of the power bill and I pay 50% of the power bill). We pay the power bill. I sit down at the end of the month and write a check for it, and that’s it.


Now, all that is nice, and possibly even helpful, but I think the philosophy of how we deal with money in our marriages is far more important.

David and I are apparently lucky. We don’t fight about money. Well, that’s a lie. We don’t fight about money any more than we fight about anything else. This may be because neither of us comes from a home where our parents fought about money. I was in college when I found out that I most couples fight about money, and I was shocked. When I asked my Mom about it, she looked confused. She said, “But I just don’t get what there is to fight about. Every time we had a financial decision, we just sat down and figured out what we thought the best decision was, given the information we had.” So, in a way, I don’t think it had ever occurred to David and I that money was something you fought about. To us, money was something you reasoned about (Which, by the way, does not preclude crying over money or being terrified over money.) I’m not telling you to brag about what evolved human beings we are, because rrrriiiiiigggghhhhttttt. I’m telling you this because I wanted to offer up a different paradigm on marriage and money: one where money does not have to be one of the main stressors of your marriage (even in years where it’s one of the main stressors in your life). This frees you up to yell at each other about a vast host of issues, and not limit your arguments to money and sex (how boring).

Why do we do one-pot, you ask? We do one-pot because for us, sharing money is the most intimate act of sharing there is, because it involves the most trust. Trust like that is blindly terrifying (I cried a lot when we were combining money, just because it was so scary), but it’s also super rewarding. When David and I started pooling our money, we started very literally pooling our goals. Once the money was ours, we started asking each other questions, like, “What do we want next? Do we want to save to buy a house, or are we more focused on traveling for a bit? Do we want to buy a new couch, or do we want to save that money? Do we want to find a two bedroom place, or do we want to stay where we are?” Each one of these conversations became a small building block of our marriage.

Finally, marriage has given us both an opportunity to unpack our money crazy. When I try to claim that if we buy a couch we’ll never be able to retire, David points out that’s not true, and asks me why I think that in the first place. When David suggests we buy a house right now, I point out that the house looks a lot more like a shack, and does he just want to buy it to buy it because he can? And why is that? We help make each other a little less crazy about money, dollar by dollar. And yeah, we occasionally enable each other to book a nice vacation. And I’m down with that too.

If I were Oprah, I’d say merging our finances has been an invitation for me to live my best life. But I’m not Oprah, so I’ll just say that merging our finances has helped me live out my vows.

That, and its rad.

*I should note here that the point for us is equality in a general sense, not in a dollar by dollar sense. If one of us needed more pin money than the other one for some reason, we’d just adjust our monthly allowances to reflect that.
** We track our spending by pulling out cash on a weekly basis. It’s the only way that has ever worked for us, long term.
*** Sometimes I go look at the number in our savings account, just to relax. I’ve been doing this since I saved in quarters. David thinks I’m nuts. I think you see now why I run the main budget.


 Intro photo by Zachary Hunt Photography.

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  • caitlin

    Wow- what a great post! I am about to combine accounts with my soon-to-be-husband, and while I know this is something I want to do, I’ve been really nervous about actually doing it. One of my favorite things about APW is that it reminds me it’s okay to feel a range of emotions– and that those emotions don’t really say all that much about the decision you’re making! (I was the one who almost threw up when he proposed…) So, thanks again. And thanks for the details, as well! You’ve given me lots to think about.

    • FK

      I am another one who almost threw up. It freaked me out. It’s always so reassuring to know I’m not the only one.

  • Rose

    Sometimes I ask my husband to show me the latest spreadsheet with the accumulated equity in our home loan (our current savings equivalent), just so I can relax. I don’t think you are nuts

  • Carbon Girl

    My favorite part of having one pot of money is watching the checks from two jobs go in there on payday! At first I was gleefully shocked by how much it accumulated ( I had been living on a graduate student stipend for 4 years).

    • TOTALLY!!

      The first month of using a shared checking account I was all, “sweet lordy, we’re RICH!!”

      hahaha! In reality, not rich at all, just a figment of my imagination when two moderate salaries go into one big pot.

      • meg

        Yeah, try being the sole breadwinner. Everything cut in half, the day after the wedding. Not that fun.

        • Lauren H.

          But when David gets a job and your income suddenly gets doubled (or at least increased)– that is such an awesome feeling. I was the sole breadwinner (in a particularly low-paid field) and when Zack got a job again, it was amazing. Granted, we then had to buy a car and sign a new lease (by necessity, not just because we had the money to do so), and we’re poor again now, but we’re poor with two checks hitting the bank once a week. It’s an amazing feeling for someone who watches their money like their life depends on it.

        • Ashley

          This is where I am, too- the sole breadwinner, all my earnings cut in half. It sucks. Some days I feel VERY responsible for the financial well-being of my baby family, but other times I remember that it won’t be like this forever and one day the roles might even reverse:)

        • KC

          I went through something similar when we combined. The boy’s income is variable (yay self-employment) so we can go months with no income from him and then WHAM one big check. It took some getting used to (and diligent planning — I have 3 years of tracked spending) but it is frightful never knowing exactly HOW MUCH there’s going to be and it’s hard watching my once quite comfortable paycheck be spread out between two people.

          • I had a melt-down last summer because my husband had his first job in 8 years (med-school) and I didn’t have a job lined up for the coming school year. I had been the bread winner and waiting for a job to pop up all summer made me sick. I contemplated going to work as a barista just to get rid of that awful feeling. Luckily, I finally got work for the year and the feeling subsided.

  • Jamie

    Sharing money is the thing that is the most scary to me. He makes more than I will ever make, but I’ve been handling my money on my own for so long that it’s a really scary prospect to share that money. I’m more like you, Meg. I squirrel money away. I’m terrified of not having money someday. Neither one of my parents grew up with any money and they treated money this way too, that it’s something to be saved and never spent because you never know when it will run out. So I grew up like that. And my fiance did too. But he can let loose a little better than I can, thankfully, or we’d still be sitting on my 4 times handed down couch and the coffee table rescued from the dumpster one drunken night in college.

    My parents have had a system very much like yours and David’s. The only fight I ever remember them having over money was when the bank screwed up and lost a deposit, and I guess that wasn’t really a fight it was both of them freaking out at the same time. They’ve been married 30 years in August, so I guess it’s a good system for them.

    We don’t live together yet (we actually currently live in 2 different states at the moment, next month we’ll be together) I worry that with the separate accounts and each person writing their own check for their portion of the utility bills that we would feel like roomates rather than husband and wife. We’re still ironing this out, I’m still learning that it’s ok to share money with the one you’re going to be sharing a life with. I’m getting there, slowly but surely. It’s just tough when you’ve been independent for such a long time and have only ever depended on your own finanes.

    • meg

      ‘Tis hard. No way around that. Tears, freak outs, the works.

      But I swear to you that you’ll still feel independent, if you choose to go one pot. I feel more independent now. Because now it’s like, hey, I’m (but could be we’re) supporting a WHOLE FAMILY. Feels much more bad-ass. And (I think) you’ll get to a point where you feel ownership of allllll the money coming in the door.

    • kristen

      sorry if someone already shared a similar situation below…

      for some reason, my husband and each had a checking account and a savings account at the same bank. when we got married, we simply each added the other person to our accounts. my paycheck goes into my account, his goes into his, and each of our debit cards is only linked to one checking account, but it is all transparent online. the longer we have been married, the more frequently we move money between accounts. despite having a few accounts to keep up with, our philosophy is much like meg’s–we don’t worry about who is paying more of a certain bill (except for panicky moments of unemployment) and we move money around whenever we need to do so.

      for us, this system works great–we are both independent and joined in our finances (except those pesky retirement funds, as meg noted). maybe it would work for you guys too. you will find your way, i am sure. :)

      • meg

        Yeah, logistically that’s about what we do, we just put all the paychecks into one account. But yeah, totally. I love how easy you make it sound.

  • I love this. I’m hoping Matt and I get to this point someday. We were both so financially independent for so long, it’s tough.

    We have separate credit cards (but we share the bills), and we do know how much in savings/checking/retirement funds we both have. It’s never an issue when one needs to ask the other for money, we’ve worked out how to pay for things/who pays for things, but sometimes I think it would be nice to just put it all in once pot and go for it.

  • Goodies a plenty in this one- lots of helpful tips I’ll be sharing with the fiance. My fiance will be out of a job on Wednesday, so of course we talk about money. And at first we fought- we were angry at our situation and scared. But then we looked at our financial obligations and figured out how/if I could pay for all of them. And this is where I love that you said “reasoned about money” because that’s just what we did. We reasoned and thought practically and critically… and even better was that I felt like it was “our money” we were using to take care of us.

    Another thing we do- whether this is good or bad- we treat our joint account (which holds most of the money) as our primary funds. We dine out, see movies, go drinking, buy fun stuff for us with that money. We put different amounts of money into it, but when we use it we see it as “ours.”

    Love this post Meg!

    • liz

      one of the most refreshing parts about us BOTH losing our jobs around the same time, was figuring out that the world doesn’t end if sometimes a bill gets paid late (god forbid). i had lived in a crazy lady fear of late fees and foreclosure (umm i live in an apartment) and all sorts of hell. it was kind of nice to be like, “ok. we’re BROKE. but we’re getting by. just no cable tv or bottles of expensive gin for right now…” you can do it, angie!

      • Yay! Thanks Liz! I’ve found that lately with planning a wedding I’ve felt that my relationship with money has changed. Before getting engaged, before finding Josh, money was just money and I didn’t need it to be happy. But now, money is like- life. We need to eat, keep our cats alive and purring, and keep a roof (or someone else’s apartment) over our heads. And that kind of bothers me. Money used to be a luxury and now it feels like I’d die without it. Just wish I could find a balance between the two, yaknow? (And then maybe I’d feel scared?)

        • meg

          I always feel like money is survival, no matter how much we have. I go to the bank and count it out – how long could we live on this with no income, if we had to. I donno, I think that’s what growing up with money tight and being BROKE for most of my 20’s did.

          But I will say, other than the times I was working for $7.25 an hour in New York on my feet all day, and when I got home I could barely stand? When I was a tiny milla-step less broke than that? Those were hard, but AWESOME times. Because you’ve got nothing to lose, so what the hell….

          • Very true. There’s definitely a sense of pride when you’re either breaking your back standing on your feel all day for min. wage or taking care of you baby family on one paycheck. I’m just terrified of being the only source of income, not because it’s “my” money we’ll be spending (because I see it as our money), but because I’m scared that I’ll fail my little family? That’s where the terror comes from. But I grew up paycheck to paycheck, and my mom never freaked out about money, we “reasoned.” So I’m hoping that background and my mom’s ability to stretch a dollar/make a sacrifice will trickle down to me. I’m sure we’ll be fine, but until the fiance gets a job or I somehow make an extra 10K in a month, I’ll still be nervous.

            (and what I meant to say in my last comment was “not scared”. Ha!)

        • liz

          ditto that, girl. i HATE my job. hate it. but we need it to get by, and i know that. and those two thoughts, side by side, equal a lot of pressure. back in the good old days, if i hated work that much, i always knew in the back of my mind that i could just pick up and walk away.

          it took some adjustment to get to the point where i am now- yes, i have my crazy lady moments. but i also know if it was THAT bad and i quit, we’d get by somehow. there are too many people in this world who love us.

          • meg

            Hugs. I know.

        • Katie

          Finally! I feel like I have been trapped in this situation alone! My future husband and I have been dealing with this for awhile. We live together, and shared/separate finances is such a headache. Its just so many ways to do and figuring out what is going to work for us is hard enough. Its like we never ever make enough money to keep buying cat food. I’m more scared than I ever have been before(because we are starting our lives), I am scared I will fail at this, but most of all I’m excited to finally be here with someone I actually trust. It feels so good to be talking about shared finances and oh so freaky scary. Thanks for the post Meg!

      • Natalia

        we went through this recently. 3 months after we got married I moved back home with my parents 4 hours away to work at the family business while my husband looked for a job where we live so we could keep our apartment and pay the bills. I am not going to lie it was a really rough 3-4 months while I looked for a new job. While he still is looking I thankfully was able to find a job at my old salary. Money is tight and it would be ice to have the extra “fun” money that his salary provided. In the 6 years we have been together it was the toughest spot we had gone through but in the end our relationship is better for it.

        • Liz

          i know so many couples in similar situations! but you’re so right- and isn’t that one of the best parts about marriage? that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?

    • CaitStClair

      One of the best things that actually ever happened to me for my “financial mental health” was J being out of a job and I had to support both of us on my meager salary. Now I feel a lot more secure because “Hey, we did it. We survived on that little. What ever comes our way, we can handle it.” Looking back, I’m not really sure how I managed to feed us on $100 a month but I did. It makes any looming spectres of job loss MUCH less intimidating. And then, like Carbon Girl said, when you finally do have two checks coming in you feel down right RICH even if you’re nowhere near.

      • Oh, Cait. Inspiring and touching. I hope that we come out just the same!

      • Caroline

        I feel you on this one. We’re actually barely making ends meet, but compared to when we were living on my meager income alone, we are so rich. It’s. Scone a game for us. “can you beleive we are so rich we ha people over for dinner two nights in a row AND we fed them meat?!” “I can’t beleive we are so rich we can host a big party and feed 15 people meat.” “guess what! We are so rich we could afford to splurge on steaks for dinner”. (and now you know what foodies we are, that buying meat and feeding it to people is what makes us feel rich.)

  • liz

    dude, girl. we are the same person (sometimes. don’t get too offended.)

    the above sounds like a post about me and josh. with a few gritted-teeth-explanations that if we spend money on THIS, that sometimes means we don’t have money for THAT thrown in. (josh doesn’t get this concept, as he’s always had piles of money sitting around)

  • A-L

    Ahh, the long-awaited money post! Since I wrote a fair bit on the other post, I don’t have much to add here. But there are two things I love.

    1) You used the term pin money! Rarely do I encounter that term outside of my obsession with all things Jane Austen, and I think that your use of the word is totally AWESOME!

    2) “Merging our finances has helped me live out my vows.” I’ve never thought of it this way, but it kind of blows my mind. And I like it!

    So though I know my fiance and I still need to iron out exactly how we’re going to do everything and account for some differences in expenses, the fact that it’s an embodiment of our vows is something I really need to keep in mind.

    Looking forward to what the next 200 odd posts will say!

  • Rachel

    I absolutely understand your use of the phrase “blindly terrifying” because that is what this whole experience is for me – not only learning how to share my finances with another person completely, but my whole heart and LIFE with another person completely. It is terrifying but at the same time I find letting go like that kind of liberating! This coming from someone who has not in the past, let her guard down for anyone.

    In preparing to marry my FH, I’ve watched myself let down all those walls and while we still both are in control of our own finances, I know that down the road we will be merging them all. And I’m excited about it! That is so not what I expected my reaction to be. It seems like “the crowd” cautions against pooling all your resources because “what if something happens?!?” and of course that is perfectly rational and true.

    Still, I find the trust I have in our relationship freeing and I can’t wait until we share every penny! Do I sound naiive or what? :-P

    • meg

      I always caution people to make sure they look into divorce laws in their state before they take this, “Keeping things separate because what if something happens.” Because, uh, in California you’d be screwed anyway. The judge dumps it all in one pot and divides down the middle… and better you do it than them, right?

      But regardless, I feel like divorce should be something we’re ok with talking about and looking in the face, but I get iffy about living out our lives like we might get one. I don’t know, I wish I had something more eloquent to say on this issue, but maybe someone else will.

      • SP

        It should be noted that even in community property states, it only applies to assets acquired DURING marriage. Though if you wanted to ensure your pre-marriage money stayed yours, I’d imagine you’d need a pre-nup to be safe

        • meg

          You do need a pre-nup in CA, and it still doesn, t always hold, depending.

          • LPC

            In California, pre-money marriage is called separate property, and as long as you keep it separate, it stays separate. If, however, you gradually contribute it to your family’s lifestyle, anything you have purchased is assumed to become part of the community. Gifts, on the other hand, remain the separate property of whoever receives them. It is all pretty complex, and Meg is right to suggest that everyone look at divorce laws. Not in case of getting divorced, per se, but in terms of truly deconstructing the finances of marriage.

          • FM

            I so agree with LPC here, although I think most people (including my lawyerly self) don’t know all these ins and outs. Meg, I think it would be interesting if you or someone else did a post on their experience with a pre-nup. I am curious about it, and I think it would be helpful for people to know more about what goes into those decisions in case it is something that would be a good choice for them and their relationships. Obviously not to give legal advice since since the laws are different everywhere, but it could be helpful for some people to know why someone chose that for themselves and how they went about doing it. The only people I know of who have done it either (a) had been married before with kids that were being protected from default laws through the prenup or (b) had family money or future inheritances that were being protected at least in part because of the family sources of that money. And of course celebrities. They all have good reasons, but I wonder if it’s something other people would benefit from but don’t think it applies to them.

          • Tina

            I ditto, or exactly, this. It’s true that there isn’t much need to keep things separate, especially in community property states. However, how do you deal with this “all the money us ours except x, y, and z” that can come up with prenups? I think we often equate prenups with a lack of trust and they are definitely not romantic. I think we hear less about them because perhaps they are more common among couples who are more “established” or have something worth protecting like a kid’s college fund from a previous marriage. I do think they can be useful in other circumstances, though. It would probably be easier if the accumulated savings wasn’t so one-sided in my situation. I would like to hear from people who have gone this route. Or perhaps another post on it?

            I think I get what you’re saying above, Meg. You want to plan for the worst, but you don’t want to dwell on the worst. You also want to trust in your partner and take a leap of faith, so to speak. My partner, being very logical and married before, definitely finds a need for a prenup. I think he’s a bit jaded since he’s seen several of his good friends get burned by divorce. I’m a little more bright eyed about the whole thing since I haven’t been married, but I get where he is coming from. This all ties in to both of our views on money, the future, and marriage, and while we haven’t always seen eye to eye, we are getting much better.

      • Alyssa

        “But regardless, I feel like divorce should be something we’re ok with talking about and looking in the face, but I get iffy about living out our lives like we might get one.”

        I think that is about as eloquent as it could be… It’s a sticky subject. It just seems to me that honesty is the best policy in most cases, and especially with money and marriage. So if you’re avoiding the pooling of money because you’re afraid of divorce, then it sounds like a conversation waiting to happen with your spouse.

        I’m all for being sensible and logical – I am just also fairly certain that marriage is about learning to work together and invest in each other, and doing things out of fear of divorce seems to undermine that.

        I look forward to comments from the other side telling me I’m full of bull :). I keep feeling so silly commenting about these issues when I have no actual experience (which is, I hear, the best teacher).

        • Marisa-Andrea

          “So if you’re avoiding the pooling of money because you’re afraid of divorce, then it sounds like a conversation waiting to happen with your spouse…I’m all for being sensible and logical – I am just also fairly certain that marriage is about learning to work together and invest in each other, and doing things out of fear of divorce seems to undermine that.”

          And this is where marriage can be one of the most rewarding and richest partnerships you will ever have, if you let it.

        • liz

          yes! trusting and investing in each other is what marriage is all about. and you can’t do either of those things half-assed. which is what you try to do when you live as if you may get a divorce.

          i know divorce exists and could happen to us. but i live like it won’t.

          does every money conversation turn back to divorce? i find it funny that we willingly share so many other things with our spouses without thinking about “what if we get a divorce.”

          • Morgan

            Once upon a time this guy and I co-owned a house, had joint bank account and credit cards. We didn’t work out. It wasn’t pretty. And yet? The money thing ended up being okay. Some tense (angry) discussions, some mediating from our parents, and we worked the transfer payments out. And there was a lot of money on the table. *shrug* Even if the worst happens, money may not be the sticking point you fear it is. He always thought I was after his money (which was crazy – I had way more than him going in) so I thought it would be the fight to end all fights. It wasn’t.

            (The fight about why I didn’t want to be with someone who was cruel to me was way way worse…)

      • FM

        But the “what if something happens” is not just divorce – it is also illness or death or job loss. I think your point about making sure you each have your own credit history is really important for all of the above. Also, things like making sure each person can get access to resources if the other person isn’t available (and the life and disability insurance issues, in case you are left with expenses that require two incomes and only one worker). Another thing is that having your own separate accounts has two sides from a divorce perspective. One is it helps with freedom and money saavy if you need to prepare for the worst. The flip side is it can reduce transparency so you don’t know all the assets you have (both in terms of seeing if your spouse is doing something with those assets that you didn’t agree to and to know how much you are entitled to so you don’t agree to something upon separating that is based on false information about the total pot). No matter where the assets are held, I think it is really important for both partners to regularly check in on what all the assets are and how to get to them if necessary.

  • LawDoc


    These money posts are fantastic. Seems like, lately, you are really coming out boldly and tackling some big, prickly, no-right-answer issues of modern marriage–and doing an amazing job! Thank you for all your hard work, wisdom, and insight.

  • Thanks, Meg. I know we will be talking about this in our continuing conversations about combining (or not, or somewhat combining) finances. I love how you describe the WHY behind your choices.

  • ashley

    We’ve been doing things almost exactly the same way as you for the last five years… almost as long as we’ve been together. When we moved in together, we had hardly any money, so we naturally pulled money to pay the bills. I think we just learned to deal with money as a unit from the beginning, so we have this arrangement now simply because it’s easier. We’re getting married in August and I’m soooo glad that’s one thing removed from my ‘to do’/’worry about’ lists. I also feel really good about dealing with this before the wedding.

    Also, dealing with this stuff before you get married is generally a good idea in my opinion. Money deals with the small everyday stuff to the huge gigantic scary stuff. It’s nice to know how well you work together for challenges of every size on such a sensitive issue.

    • Jessica

      Same. My fiancé was unemployed when I met him, and stayed that way for awhile, even when he moved in with me. Now that he’s employed again, we’ve opened up a joint account (that’s really his account) so that his paychecks will get deposited, but I still have most control over it, just like it were our main account (which is really MY main account). He’s said it many times, he just wants me to handle the money. Period. He does not want to think about it. Not having two incomes in the beginning made our choice for us, and it worked out so well that we just kept doing it after.

      Like Meg, I was shocked that this was not the norm. I really feel that having all our money pooled did bring us closer together. I was raised not to talk money, so telling my fiancé my bank account balance the first time was super scary and uncomfortable, but it’s so nice to be able to talk freely about “can we afford this? do we have enough leeway to go out to dinner? can we take this trip?” instead of just assuming one way or the other and trying to live up to each others expectations.

  • Oh Meg, every time I’ve thought about combining finances up to this point, I’ve felt like I’m being punched in the gut. Not because I don’t want to do it – I do, but I’m also bringing my baggage of “money is security” and having managed my own finances for years alone. This post was like a deeeeeeeeep calming breath, especially the part where you said that money doesn’t *have* to become a bit marital issue. (That seems to be one of the most prevalent “you’ll seeeeeeee”s out there…) So, thank you.

  • Sara_B

    Thanks for this post! My guy and I were just talking about this the other day and starting to hash out our options. It is great to have another take on the matter as well as the “why we went down this path” because everyone has different situations that necessitate different actions. Thanks!

  • I really appreciate your honest post about money. My parents hid the way they handle money from me, to the point where I feel really unprepared to merge finances. The practical side was great!

    If anyone else is looking for more good practical advice, I suggest reading 2000 Dollar Wedding’s post

    • Lauren H.

      My parents were the same way. Money, in our family, is something You Just Don’t Talk About. That left me unprepared to make responsible financial decisions past my own hoarding instincts. It’s something that I definitely think you should be educated in as you grow up, rather than doing all at once.

      • meg

        My parents were HUGE on the money education front. By High School we had our own budgets, but we were responsible for buying all our own clothes/ lunches/ etc, so it was practice in making it work. I think that is super important.

        • Own budgets for kids is genius! I just wrote that down!!

      • Aine

        Oh yes- when my FH suggested that he ask my father’s “permission” to propose to me, I warned him that he’d get one of two possible reactions:
        1. Seeing my dad cry (I was banking on this one)
        2. Having my dad say “Can I ask you a REALLY personal question?” and then, hopefully before FH’s heart gave out, “How are you doing for money?”

        On the giant list of my dad’s conversation topics, money is quite possibly on the line _under_ bra shopping.

  • Jen

    awesome. My parents did the one pot system, but I am terrified of it. But I’m open and think that for all the reasons you point out, it could be good for our marriage. I’m just bad at sharing… :) Just one of the many areas to grow in as a person and as a couple!

  • I think that the reason people fight about money (we sometimes do; my parents definitely did) is that culturally, money is equated with power. We’re all assholes about something and some of us are assholes about power. Maybe we didn’t have enough power as kids, maybe we didn’t have enough power with our first partners, maybe we don’t have enough power now. Like it or not, some of us here married people who hoard power, too. Then, we respond to their insecurities, too. Both members of a partnership might be trying to feel less helpless by clinging to their ability to decide what is done with money in the family.

    This is normal.

    Like Meg says, these financial conversations/shouting matches can be used for good and not evil. We can explore our experiences with relationship power struggles and adjust other areas of interaction to create some slack for our fiduciary interactions. The hope is that when we adjust the areas of tension enough (think about an outfit that you put on hastily), we can begin to wear each other comfortably over time. It takes most of us awhile, a lifetime even. But that’s the fun, for me at least.


    Does anyone here invest at all? There’s a lot of talk about accounts, credit cards, and various savings accounts, but what about investments? stocks, bonds, mutual funds? retirement plans? Or are your savings accounts actually direct investing accounts? I’m just getting into saving and investing now (i.e. just recently out of debt), and am curious to know how you guys divide up money into “safe” protected savings and more “risky” investing for the future.

    • Autumn

      We have a “one pot” system for what I call our operating account– bills, groceries, small allowance for each of us, other recurring monthly expenses. This amount doesn’t change much, so we take everything that’s leftover and split it– half goes to debt repayment (my student loans) and half goes to our joint investment account for retirement (we also each make a monthly retirement contribution to individual IRAs but we consider that a recurring monthly expense). I would rather pay down the debt faster, but a financial advisor reminded us about the time-value of money, and that we’d be cheating ourselves not to go ahead and put some away now at the same time we pay down the debt (plus the interest rates are really low).

      We also have an “emergency” account that’s got two months of our basic living expenses, that we don’t touch (we built that before we started the investment account, but you could do it at the same time), and a “vacation/ splurge” account that we use for, well, vacations and splurges. The vacation/splurge account gets depleted and built back up as the year goes on– we don’t have a real plan for filling it, but when we have a month where we don’t spend much, we put more into it, or if it gets low we consciously cut back on eating out, etc. so we can fill it up.

      It’s a lot of accounts, but this works for us, just giving you an example!

    • Brook

      I have invested some inherited funds over the years… It’s kind of fun to find ways to use your money to enable your dreams to happen AND to enable other folks’ dreams to happen.

      In my opinion, the first thing you want to do with the extra is put it into an IRA. Your regular bank should offer them. This is one of the best things you can do with your money while you’re still young. Just factor your IRA contribution into your annual budget.

      After that, you can sign up for a brokerage account with a place like TD Ameritrade. Pick out a handful of stocks and funds that appeal to you and you think will grow. Buy one share– just spend $20 or $30 and play with their tools a little. Of course, stocks aren’t that stable but it is an awesome time to buy.

      I think buying your house or apartment is a great investment, but I’m coming from the rust belt where everything was cheap and continues to be cheap. I bought early (a two family home at age 22) and it was one of the best financial decisions I’ve ever made. However, it was only feasible because I had a nest egg and you can get a nice place here for under 100 grand.

      I also love services like RSF Social Finance– they make loans to people who are starting cool businesses that strengthen local economies and have ethical practices.

      As far as dealing with this stuff with a partner, I have no idea. My beau is very financially responsible (worked his way through college with no debt, rarely eats out, commutes by bike, etc) but has been very hands-off when it comes to my money. It’s in my name and I continue to cultivate it and use it; he doesn’t touch it.

    • McPants

      Investing-wise, I will totally own up to the fact that it is not my strong suit. The way we work it is essentially a three-pot system, but with like, sub-pots for investments. Basically, money comes into our personal accounts, and then we each contribute an equal percentage of that amount into the joint account. We use that for paying bills, eating out together, groceries, etc. (It’s really just the reverse of what Meg does, since the percentage we contribute to the household is pretty large.) Then once the bills are paid, my fiancee – who is definitely the more fiscally responsible partner – takes out a percentage of that into our savings. From the savings account, we then take the extra and open CDs or do other invest-y things.

      This seems a little complex when I write it all out, but it doesn’t feel that way. I can’t recommend online banking highly enough. It lets us move all this money around automatically, and it’s really easy for both of us to login and keep track of.

    • A-L

      I can’t speak of what my fiance and I will be doing, but I can explain what I’ve done.

      1) Property: I also bought a house early (savings from a lilfetime of hoarding came in handy). It was a 2-family place so I also had rent income coming in to offset my note. I’ve since repeated this, but kept the previous property just as a rental. Doesn’t make any money now, but when the mortgage pays off that will be good money for retirement.

      2) My paychecks go into a checking account. From there I have a monthly sum go to

      A) a vacation savings account

      B) a car fund-this is at a brokerage house that I put it in low-risk bond funds so that it will grow better than the virtually nonexistent rates at banks, but still be pretty darn safe

      C) a Roth IRA account. The younger you are the better a Roth is because since you invest with after-tax tax income then all the growth it will have over your 30, 40 (or however many years) until you retire will then be tax free.

      D) If I notice I’ve got way more cash in my checking account than need be then I’ll transfer some over to a savings account at the same bank that earns a wee bit more interest. And if unexpected expenses come up then I transfer money from savings account to my checking account.

      I imagine that when we get married we’ll have a joint account where all the money will be pooled, and then have our pin money sent to our personal checking accounts to do with as we please.

      Anyway, hope this helps!

      • Brook

        I also held onto the two family when my beau and I bought our home together last year. The two family has offered a little bit of extra income (basically just enough to cover the time managing it), security and diversified assets. So, YES to two family homes.

        I second the bonds idea. Interest rates on CDs are so low right now and you have many options for making a better rate. Bonds are pretty safe.

        Oh, and to answer your question about dividing up funds into safe and risky investments:

        This is totally an issue of personal style and comfort. You should also give some thought to the liquidity of your investments. Here is my style:

        1/3 super safe, nearly illiquid assets (read: house principal)
        1/3 safe, kind of liquid assets (read: IRAs and bonds)
        1/3 not too safe, liquid assets (read: stocks, which at one point dropped two thirds of their value within a few months, mutual funds and money market funds)

    • meg

      Yeah, as I mentioned, we invest on time horizons. I’m a FIRM believer that if you need it in the next 3 years, it *should not* be in the market (read: stocks, and some bonds). As we’ve just seen, while the market tends to go up over the long term, it can plummet in the short term. We do CDs, and from there we do mutual funds. Some people are into playing the market personally, I’m not one of them. I pick a fund where I like the holdings and the risk level, and let THEM figure it out day to day.

  • I would like to argue for the 3 pot system. My husband and I kept finances separate pre-marriage, during co-habitation. We never argued about money (more than we argued about other things). We evolved to a way that felt fair, a way that had each of us responsible for household expenses proportional to our earnings. We got married and have not changed the system that works for us. It probably helps that neither of us are spenders. Our joint account was started for money we received as wedding gifts and we use it for the fun stuff. This system will continue to evolve I am sure, but for now it works. And I also love to check the status of my savings and retirement accounts.

    • Laura

      We’re planning on a three pot system as well. I’m not comfortable with asking him to contribute to my student loan debt, so that comes out of my account. The rest of the bills come from joint. We each contribute 70-75% of our checks to joint (for me, post-loan payment) and keep the rest. Hopefully, it will work!

      • meg

        But how does he feel about student loan debt? I would be horrified if David asked me not to contribute to his. First on a philasophical level, but second because I consider it our families debt, and I want us to both waork to get us out of it ASAP. Just a thought from the other persective.

        • A-L

          This is where some stuff is still kind of complicated for me. My fiance has a variety of debt: student loans, car loan, and credit card debt. He’s working tremendously hard to eliminate the cc debt. But I know that if there’s any left when we get married that we’re paying it off ASAP because I hate the idea of interest, especially high interest. So it’s sort of theoretically me continuing to pay the house note since I’ve done it as a single person, and all the money he’d spend on rent/utilities will go to the cc debt.

          And I feel pretty okay about the student loan debt for a few reasons. 1) I was very fortunate that my family made sure I left college with no debt. I shouldn’t hold it against others if they were not so fortunate. 2) A lot of his debt is probably going to be forgiven as he’s teaching in inner-city schools. 3) If he goes for further education it will make him happier and raise his salary to boot.

          But the car loans. I understand that lots of people have them. What if one person gets a new car every two or three years while the other keeps theirs for ten? Or what if one person goes for a Corolla while another goes for a Corvette. Maybe the Corvette person really values cars more, or whatever. But should the person who doesn’t care as much have to pay extra into the car fund when they’re driving the not-nearly-as-nice vehicle? I guess I’m thinking maybe there should be an equal amount set aside for each person’s car, and then if that person wants more than that then they can pay for it out of their pin money. But then I’m not so sure that the mature, trusting, whatever thing to do. (And this is not exactly our situation, though his car is nicer than mine. But it’s something I could see happening in a relationship as time goes on.)

        • We do the 3pot system, and we both individually pay our student loan debts. We do, however, think of it as “our debt” as well, which is why I replied with my novel about my internal struggle with how I really want to change to the one-pot system, but just am not ready yet.

        • Laura

          Honestly, I don’t know how he feels about it. I have felt from the very beginning that my school debt is my sole responsibility and would never expect him to contribute towards it. Partly because I make about 50% more than he does and partly because that debt is old, having been deferred for many years while I was making almost no money. The interest that has built up is my problem, not his and certainly not “ours”. Maybe if the loans were recent or if our salaries were equal, I would feel differently.

          • meg

            Ah, but with one pot it doesn’t matter what anyone’s salaries are, you just have a household income of XX ;) So, if I benifit from the income tied to his degree, what does it matter that I’m paying down the debt too?

            I do get what you’re saying, totally, I just couldn’t do it. It would break me up to have his debt and my debt or his paycheck and my paycheck. So, anyway, that’s just me. But I’d ask him what he thinks about it. You might be surprised.

      • Cara

        My husband felt that way about his debt – he really didn’t want me to have to pay it off. But the way I figured, sooner or later that debt is going to come from *our* money. We either pay it off together now or we divide and conquer – he his debt, me our savings. I really didn’t want anyone to feel like the savings wasn’t for the whole family, so the debt had to be for the whole family, too. I finally convinced him to let the debt be our family debt so that we could get out of it faster and start building our future together.

    • Penny

      3 pot is really just what Meg describes, in reverse. Instead of putting money into a single pot and then doling out “allowances” into individual pots, you start with the money in your individual pots and contribute (proportionally or however else you like) into a joint account for certain expenses. Either way, there’s still a yours-mine-ours.

      • I both agree and disagree. They have pretty similar outcomes. But I think from a philosophical perspective they are completely opposite, and will lead to different outcomes when one or both incomes change (e.g. if one parent gives up work when you have children, if one partner loses a job, if one partner wants to start a business).

        The one-pot system comes from the perspective that everything is shared, and that each partner is entitled to some play money/pin money/allowance/whatever.

        The three-pot system comes from the opposite side, where money starts as an individuals. But as individuals, you are responsible for contributing to the joint fund.

        When you have relatively similar incomes, both systems will have the same outcome. Or at least similar. But as soon as one of the major changes above happens, and one partners “pot” is empty, I think the three-pot system will have a harder time adjusting.

        (In case you hadn’t guessed already, we’re a one-pot family. We merged finances as soon as we moved to a new city, a new house on our own, and a situation where the hubboo had no job, and I was sole earner for a while. I don’t think our previous 3-pot (used while we were flatting) had a chance in that situation…)

        • Penny

          Yes, you’re right that if there is a sole breadwinner partner and an unemployed/not working partner, then the systems have different outcomes, b/c the non-earning spouse has no funds at all for discretionary money, and would have to draw on the breadwinner’s income for an allowance. Agreed. I guess I was just saying that, in a two income household (which many of us live in), the “one pot” and “three pot” systems are the same thing with different orders of operations. So-called “one pot” isn’t really a single pot…it’s three. You just call the two individual pots “pin money.”

        • meg

          Yes. I think I pretty much agree. I just wouldn’t be comfortable, assuming our incomes were different, that one person would have more in their allowance fund then the other (and not like, work lunches are more expensive for you, hence you should have more). Then you get into weird situations like your husband treating you to dinner, because he earns more. And that is a weird power play. And right, the big thing, what if I decide to stay home when I’m nursing? Then I feel like I don’t contribute? Or I get an ‘allowance’ from my husband? Or what if he gets laid off? Tough stuff.

          • Penny

            But isn’t it the case in the one pot system that a non-earning spouse is also getting an allowance from the earning spouse? I mean, technically you’re getting it from the joint account, but if you’re not contributing to that pot in the first place, then you’re basically getting an allowance from your spouse. Why is this a less troubling power dynamic than being a non-earning three-pot spouse treated to dinner by your earning partner?

          • Marisa-Andrea

            To address Penny’s last comment, I think that practically speaking, the outcomes look the same, but I think there is a less of a power play there due to a basic philosophical difference. If you start from the viewpoint that everything is shared, that everything belongs to the couple as opposed to the individual regardless of whose name is actually on the paycheck, then I think that definitely takes out that power dynamic (to a degree– hey, we’re not perfect). So it isn’t that one spouse is giving the other allowance. The salary that the one spouse earns belongs to the couple equally. We do something similar to what Meg and David do in terms of our incomes and debt is household income and debt, period. We don’t “borrow” money from each other.

            But it’s fluid. When we initially got married, we were doing things a little differently. We had separate accounts and we had household bills (which were paid out of the joint account) and then our individual bills. It was how we did things before we were married and it worked, so we just continued. But once we were married, it just didn’t work for us. It didn’t feel like us and it didn’t resonate with our idea of how this partnership should proceed.

          • meg

            Noooo…. you’re not getting it. It’s OUR money. It’s all our money, then we, jointly, decide how to allocate it. This isn’t a tricky power dynamic. It’s ours. 110%. No one has more power over the money than the other. It doesn’t matter who earns what. When it comes to money, we’re not two people, we’re a family.

            The thing is, I don’t know anything different. I was part of a family pool of money till I was 22 and graduated from college (related to that in various ways at various ages obviously). I’ve been a single person with money for 8 years, and now I’m part of a family money pool again.

          • Lily

            Meg, first of all congrats on getting the system that works well for you – the most important thing, whether it’s one pot, three or six, is that everyone is happy with The System.

            But I have to say, my husband earns waaaaay more than me, and often yes, he’ll treat us dinner. And you know what? It’s not weird, and it’s not a power play. It’s great.

            Just sayin’ :)

          • Aiyana

            In many one-earner households, the non-earner is contributing mightily to the household’s/family’s well-being. They may be caring for children, doing all the home-making, or doing important-but-unpaid work (aka volunteering) in the community. Sometimes the work of the non-earner is what allows the other partner to bring home a paycheck (keeping everyone fed, orderly, rested, etc.).

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Your comment about reasoning over money as opposed to fighting over it is interesting. Me and Chris have a philosophical rule that we don’t fight about money. Obviously, we have discussions about money and negotiate money and sometimes that is difficult. But we don’t fight about it. We just don’t. What means that means for us practically speaking is that if money is becoming a stressor on our relationship and affects how we relate to each other and feel about each other, then we have to make some adjustments in our individual and joint attitudes about money AND the source of the stress. We’re not super evolved or anything either — I just think on some level, we recognize that if we’re starting to fight about money, there’s some other issue going on so we need to address whatever that thing is. And if it’s REALLY just about plain old money itself — well, that’s just not something we think is worth “fighting” about.

  • Natalie

    Long time lurker, first time poster!
    My parents are big advocates of the one-pot system. Growing up, I would hear my friends talking about how their mom ran out of her “allowance” from her dad that week, and situations like that I cannot fathom.

    Like someone commented above, splitting bills every week to see who-owes-what reminds me of being roommates, not husband of wife.

    My fiance and I will be combining everything when we get married. I earn more than him, but I am bringing in LOTS of law school debt while he is debt-free. At the same time, he has been picking up most of the expenses while I have been in school.

    Sharing money is the most trusting thing you can do- I never thought of it as “living out my vows” but that’s exactly what it is, Meg!

    A rule that my brother and sister-in-law have implemented (also using the “one pot” system) is to consult each other before making any purchases above $200. I think this could prevent “surprise” splurge expenses from happening, especially if one partner’s spending habits are very different from the other.

  • Jennifer

    This is a little off track from the day-to-day money management picture, but where do insurance and wills fit into yours (and others’) pictures? We have a home closing in, oh, four hours, so this is perhaps a little more on my mind, but I’m suddenly trying to figure out what appropriate life insurance amounts on each of us would be, and holy crap does that feel weird. I would think it could feel even weirder for couples where one person is the sole breadwinner (or at least winning the vast majority of the bread) and, if there are no children, there might be a lot of sense in taking out life insurance on one partner but not the other.

    I realized in these same conversations that my will is really no longer appropriate (he doesn’t have one) and we also have to sit down and talk about what would happen to our assets, skimpy as they currently are, if both of us died and if either of us died, whereas before I really only had one scenario to work out. And it brings up the thorny issues of responsibility to other family members besides the spouse. How does my wanting to leave money to the next generation of my side of the family mix with the need to support the prior generation on his side?

    • Marisa-Andrea

      First, congrats to your soon-to-be new home! How awesome! I have somewhat…odd thoughts about life insurance (and if you knew our policy amounts you might think us INSANE) so I’ll let someone else jump right in. But about your wills — I think you need to talk it out. Like, really talk about it. Because it CAN be a thorny issue for you both. Or not. Each couple is different. But please, talk.

      • Jennifer

        Oh, we are talking about it, fear not. (He’s an attorney specializing in estate planning, so it’s not like there was any way the issue of wills was going to be left alone.) Big time, which is why this area is the piece that’s on my mind when “marriage and money” comes up — for us, anyway, the “how the bills get paid and savings goals reached” is such a tiny part of the marriage and money discussion that I felt sort of obligated to bring the after-death-does-us-part piece up. Not that day-to-day money management doesn’t bring up Big Issues for a lot of people, but they’re different big issues, and the insurance/will piece is a lot easier to avoid talking about since it’s not in your face every day.

        • Marisa-Andrea

          Fantastic! When do you get the keys to new abode? :-)

          • Jennifer

            We, um, bought his mother’s house, so actually had the keys already. But now I am sitting in our house that still has a lot of her stuff in it, instead of her house that has all of my stuff in it.

            And yeah, as Morgan notes, the insurance/will stuff is hard because you don’t want to think about the other person dying. And somewhat unfairly, the more important it is to have everything in place (say you have kids, family histories of dying young, a dangerous job, etc.) the more emotional it seems to deal with those practical planning issues, since there’s that much more chance of being faced with it soon.

        • Morgan

          Plus it involves having to think about your partner dying, which is really a place no one ever wants to go, even if it’s important.

          I just renewed my annual benefits at work and had to decide how much life insurance to get for each of us through my plan. It’s a weird feeling, trying to decide if a bounty of 100k is worth an extra $4 a month, especially as we plan to live forever.

    • FM

      I exactly your life insurance talk here. It is the same thing I am thinking about. I hadn’t thought about the family members in the will issues. That is such an important point. My biggest problem with end-of-life discussions is that my husband does not want to talk about it. He is in total denial that I could die and refuses to discuss this stuff. Yes, it’s terrible to think about but marriage is not all romance and flowers, it is also till-death-do-us-part stuff and I need to know that he will be financially ok if something happens to me. I think what I am going to have to do is get it all prepared on my own and give it to him to sign, and make him talk about it when it’s in front of his face. I think he’ll be more willing to deal with wills when we have kids.

    • Kim

      I don’t know if this might be of help to anyone, but Suze Orman does a Will & Trust Kit (including a Will, a Revocable Trust, an Advanced Directive and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and a
      Financial Power of Attorney) — from what I understand, you answer questions and based on the answers (and on the state in which you live), you get the correct documents.

      Here it is, if anyone wants to see the details. You have to pay a little for it, but it’s nice for those of us who find starting the actually process of documentation kind of overwhelming.

      • Tina

        I just need to comment on the Suze Orman insta-will or trust fund. Please do not just crank out one of these documents and get it notarized. You can use it as a guideline, but you really do need to take it to a lawyer. You may think you’re saving money, but it can cost you in the long run. Also, PLEASE do not put off thinking about what your partner, children (if/when you have them), and your families will do in the event of your death. I have more life experience with this than I would ever want to have.

        My father didn’t deal with this stuff before or during the time he was managing his cancer. I think he procrastinated on wills and trust funds once he was faced with his own mortality because he was trying to be strong and still not think about the worst. At the last moment, on lots of pain meds, he used one of those computer programs to create a trust fund with the help of his brothers. He put one of his brothers (my uncle) in charge of it rather than an impartial third party. (He was damn frugal/cheap to the end too). This caused a lot of hurt amongst his other brothers that could have been avoided. Then, not long after his death, the brother in charge began dipping into the funds for his own use. When no one in the extended family was willing to help, we went to a lawyer. He said the wording in these documents just made absolutely no sense. After all the legal fees required to salvage one asset and the torn apart family that ensued, the money saved WAS NOT WORTH IT. Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but that’s my two cents.

        • Kim

          Wow, what a mess. Thanks for sharing. I’m not an advocate of the kit, per se, seeing as how I’ve never used it. I just think (as you mentioned) that it might be a good place to start with all of the overwhelming stuff.

    • meg

      You wanna talk dying? My parents worked out funeral plans. Picked music, the whole bit. They don’t want one having to make those decisions in shock/grief. That, I’ve found, creeps people out.

      • FM

        I might be in the minority (and obviously my husband doesn’t want to go there although I’m sure he’d be happy to tell me about his own funeral – it’s mine he insists will not happen), but I think that’s nice. To me, that’s part of the life partner package.

        • Morgan

          My husband’s parents have done this too. Not long after I met them, we were down for the weekend and his dad mentioned that it’s all done, all paid for, and this is where the documents are located. Slightly creepy, sure, but I think it’s a far better plan than the chaos my father left behind by refusing to deal with things as he was dying.

          • Tara

            What happens if he dies away from home? That happened to my dad when he passed — he actually died nearby to me, a continent away, and his cremation and all expenses were in my local area. If he had paid for that at home, who knows — he might have lost it all or a deposit.

      • Courtney

        This is an old post, but you linked to it recently, and I’ve enjoyed reading through the comments today.

        I love that your parents did this! My family is so candid about death that it freaks my boyfriend out to no end, but I actually find it weirdly comforting that they’re thinking about things so that I don’t have to.

        Creepy, though, was attending a funeral recently with my grandmother. She whispered a few times, “Oh, I don’t like the way they did that. At my funeral, I want it this way…” It sounded eerily similar to the things I say at my friends’ weddings.

        • Margaret

          I’m coming to this post later as well, and I just had to comment on this. Meg, you say “My parents worked out funeral plans. Picked music, the whole bit. They don’t want one having to make those decisions in shock/grief.”

          I feel exactly the same way. So much so, in fact, that over the holidays this year, when I knew I was going to have a five-hour drive with my parents, I brought a legal pad and a pen and made them tell me what they wanted for their own funerals. Now, this wasn’t completely out of the blue—for years, every time they go to a funeral, they’ve been saying, “Well, I wouldn’t want to do that, I’d do this,” so I knew they had opinions.

          I hope they’ll be around for a long, long time, but I’m really glad we’ve got this document now (and it’s been shared with my sister, too), precisely because it means we won’t have to be making decisions about ceremonial details in the throes of grief.

          I want to add that one of the things we covered in that conversation about funerals was what to do in case my parents were to die at the same time. Yes, it is awful to think about the circumstances in which such a thing might happen to you and your spouse, but in my parents’ case it was really worth talking about, for a number of reasons: 1) my dad’s parents died at the same time, in a car crash, so my family knows that planning a double funeral can make what is already a horrible, fraught moment even worse—for example, my grandparents’ church could not accommodate two caskets, or the number of mourners for two people who died tragically and unexpectedly in the prime of their lives; 2) my parents are both religious, but go to different churches, and so it is important to establish which church we’d use if we needed to pick one; 3) my parents’ cemetery plot is in a religious cemetery adjacent to the too-small-for-two-caskets church I mentioned above; 4) my parents are very, very opinionated about the funeral homes they’d prefer to take care of arrangements.

          So, I’d advise that a conversation about funerals address that question, even if it’s just to say “Use Wife’s funeral plans in case we die at the same time.” And make sure that another family member outside your marriage knows your funeral plans; if neither of you are there to carry out the plans, that will save the loved ones in your extended family the same grief you hope to save your spouse from by making the plans in the first place.

          My partner and I aren’t yet in the stage of our relationship where I feel comfortable having this conversation with him (we’re unmarried, and there are other important conversations that need to happen before this one) but we will have it eventually. It is very important to me.

    • Aiyana

      Re Life Insurance: It seems to me that life insurance is only necessary if my family could not support itself if I died (single parent, a spouse unable to work, etc). Both of us are able to work and we don’t have kids, so we have no life insurance beyond the couple thousand dollars provided for free by our credit unions. It might be nice to have a small pot of money set aside for death-related expenses (funeral, grieving period away from work, etc.), but this could be savings/investment rather than insurance.

  • Autumn

    So, money was hard for us. My husband started a business just before we started dating, and after a year of bad decisions + the real estate market tanking, he literally lost everything. Were it not for some kind infusions of cash by his parents (which we’re now paying back), he would have had to declare bankruptcy/ been foreclosed on. He actually wanted to put off getting married til he paid down his business debts, but that would have taken years (and it turned out the debt got wiped out pretty quickly once we had two incomes and could throw our collective dollars at it).

    Prior to this, he swears he was very responsible about money. And yet, all evidence I saw was to the contrary. I was very nervous about it given his track record. I’ve always been loosey-goosey about money, had enough to live well but didn’t save much, but also never got into trouble.

    When my parents told us they had very little money to donate to our wedding fund, it was horrible, but also the best thing that could have happened to us. WE had to scrimp, and save, and plan to get the wedding we wanted (modest but really fun) together. And over that year of scrimping and saving, I saw him make the same deposit I made into our wedding account, every single month. We both did without but he earns less than I do and was also paying enormous sums on his business debt, and I know that it was much harder on him than me. But he did it. I cannot tell you how much confidence and trust he EARNED from me during that year.

    So when it came time to combine accounts (we decided on one big pot + we each get an allowance that no one can fuss about), I wasn’t nearly as terrified. Because he had a track record.

    I never thought I was anal about money until I saw that he just wasn’t into planning, calculating, etc., etc. I love adding up what we have and seeing what we could do with it, deciding which debt to tackle next, how much to put into savings, etc., etc. And my husband? I have to nag nag nag him for any type of financial discussion/ task. It took months to combine accounts because I couldn’t get him to sit down and call the bank to actually do it! So it was natural that I am the “CFO” in the family, and every few months we sit down and look at the accounts and make sure we’re on the same page with everything. No more nagging. We are both quite happy with this.

    Oh, and since we’re both operating on a budget for the first time ever, and the cash thing didn’t seem like it would work, we use to show us where our money is going and whether we’re meeting our goals– a lifesaver!

  • Yay! I really appreciate this post and am about 99% won over to the one pot idea and here’s why:

    I’ve been supporting our little family (the two of us, and 3 pets) for the last year. Mostly. C has had some crazy job situations- did ya’ll know that restaurants frequently just stop. paying. their. employees?! True story. Twice in the last year we’ve had to file with the labor board. And wait an eternity for her pay. Yikes! So back to my point- I’m pretty much single handedly supporting our little family AND paying for our wedding. It’s enough to make my head want to explode at times. But I CAN do it. And I have been doing it, just not with as much grace as I’d like!

    I’m embarrassed to admit that it still makes me a little bitter sometimes. A little “OMG I would have SOOOO much money if I didn’t have to pay for every last thing.” It’s frustrating. And yet I WANT to be able to support my family. And I want to feel supported if one day the roles are reversed. Or my job stops paying. Or. Or. Or.

    The one pot system is a light at the end of the tunnel for me. I think it might ease my mind to switch up the way I look at money and just start seeing my money/her money as OUR money. That way when we have a lot it’s awesome and when we don’t have as much, well, we just don’t. But I won’t really have any reason to feel bitter or annoyed by it. That’s the goal anyways. It’s definitely scary. And it’s definitely a big change. But I think it will allow me to breathe a little easier. And that’s a good thing.

    Now on to the brass tacks. How much (or maybe a percentage is a better indicator since we all earn different amounts of money) per week do you each get in “pin” money?

    • I’ve been in this situation for the last year — I made money, my partner was unemployed, so I paid for everything. For the most part I didn’t resent it, but I definitely had moments of “OMG, my student loans would be gone if I wasn’t paying all the rent”, and I have gotten caught referring to MY apartment, rather than OUR.

      But! Working through all that was definitely good for our relationship. It was also good for me, personally — my partner is 14 years older than me, so in theory there could be a power gap there. Supporting us both gave me a world of self-confidence that I could never have achieved otherwise, and reassured me that he wasn’t going to have some sort of masculine ego crisis over the need to provide.

    • Emily

      Yes! I appreciate this sentiment. We’ve been on one income since December, with my fiance in school and now with looming wedding expenses. Yikes! I’ve added and re-added the same number what feels like nine dozen times and I almost never love how it comes out.

      Plus, I came into our relationship with higher income and lower debt, and I had a little panic attack when I added up all that across our accounts for the first time. After some deep breathing and reading these posts, though, I’m feeling better. Thinking of the income and debts as “ours” could help resolve some of that panic (like, it’s dumb that I’m saving while he’s taking out student loans, right? At least, that would be pretty dumb after marriage, and with that date about 6 months away it feels pretty dumb to do it now too).

      Looking forward to more helpful and affirming comments on this thread to help me sort out the his/mine/ours scenario that is slowly dawning on me.

  • There are as many different ways to handle money as there are couples. The important thing is to find what works for you and then make it an ongoing conversation, not something that’s decided once and then never spoken of again. I think this post did a great job getting that idea across.

    I also really liked the point about if you aren’t fighting about money, it opens you up to be able to fight about a whole host of other things. That made me smile.

    Great post!

    • K

      Yes, this is a good point. I know reading posts like this can make me question the way that I already do things, even when it works wonderfully. It’s nice to remember that there are many options and not one is better than the other, just different. Like our weddings. :)

  • Percy

    I thought I’d offer a variation on Meg’s theme, for those who are terrified by the straight-up one pot system… In our house, we do proportional contributions to a single pot, and pay all household expenses out of that pot. Whatever is left over in each of our accounts each month is our “allowance” so to speak. This can be a really good system if one partner makes a lot more than the other partner, or if one partner has a very different attitude towards money than the other. What you do is look at each of your earnings, and figure out what your income ratio is. In our household, I make about $55,000 and my husband makes about $35,000, so our income ratio is basically 60/40. Accordingly, instead of contributing evenly to the household account, I contribute 60% of the total household expense budget, and my husband contributes 40%. To be clear, that doesn’t mean I out 60% of my take home pay into the household account, and my husband puts 40% of his in. It means, if out overall household budget were $1000/month (it’s not, it’s much more than that, but the math is easier this way) then I’d be responsible for contributing $600 and he’d contribute $400. We fill up that account first, and then whatever we each have left over after our household contribution, we are free to spend it as we like, without input, oversight, or judgment from the other partner. In my experience, the source of money fights for many partners is disapproval of how one partner is spending what are perceived to be joint funds. We’ve both agreed to fund the household first, in proportion with our earning capacity. If the ratio between us shifts, so does the household contribution rate.

    The key to this system is having a more or less accurate household budget, so that there’s always plenty of money in the joint account to cover those expenses. It took some doing, but we tracked our actual joint expenditures (the things we tended to split 50-50 when we were living together unmarried) over the course of a year, and made a very accurate household budget based on those numbers. The budget covers rent, groceries, dining and entertainment together, household furniture/supplies/repairs/etc., gas, car payment, pet supplies, incidental spending (average monthly unexpected costs for things like like sudden vet bills, plane tickets to a funeral, car repair, etc.), and joint household savings (new to our married life, we started saving together).

    • mollymouse

      That’s the exact system we hoped for, but it’s not working so well for us. Neither of us are very good at math and the idea of dividing up our money by percentages makes my mind spin. We just deposit in money when someone (cough*myhusband*cough) notices it’s low. My problem with that (as I said in my comment below) is that I feel like we’re not saving together.

      But I 100% agree that all our money disputes come from how much and what we spend our discretionary money on (“How much did you spend on that dress?!”). I’m a little more lenient than the Mr. is, but do get frustrated often when we jointly purchase Big items. I think he’s expecting to pay too little for quality items, but he will hunt for days (or weeks!) to find the very best deal. So we do argue about that, but we’re getting better at recognizing each others motives and being understanding while we buy things.

      • McPants

        MollyMouse – Two words: automatic transfer. It will save your life. Figure out what percentage of your income you want/need to be contributing to cover the bills, and set that up to automatically transfer into your joint account each month after you get paid. There’s no way I’d remember to transfer money in each month without doing it like this.

      • K

        If you need a bit of mathematical help, this might assist you:

        Example: You earn $25,000 per year. Your spouse earns $50,000 per year, for a total of $75,000 joint income. Determine the contribution by performing the following calculations:

        1. Add your annual income to your spouse’s annual income.
        2. Divide the lower salary by the total combined salaries to get a percentage for the lower paid spouse. $25,000 / $75,000 = .33 or 33%
        3. Multiply this percentage times the dollar amount you need in the joint account monthly to pay your shared bills. This is the lower earning spouses’s monthly contribution. .33 x $3,000 = $990
        4. Subtract this amount from the dollar amount needed in the account monthly. This is the higher earning spouse’s contribution. $3,000 – $990 = $2,010.

        • mollymouse

          McPants: I do automatic transfer for just about everything in my life (maybe that’s why I’m so bad at remembering?!), but my personal account is a different institution than the joint/his personal account. I thought about switching to be at his bank, but I just don’t like that bank (I prefer the Credit Union I’ve always been with). I don’t think there’s a way to do automatic transfer between institutions that isn’t expensive.

          K: I’m laughing out loud, because as soon as I saw your reply with all the numbers, my eyes crossed and everything glazed over! I’ve tried reading it twice, but my brain is yelling “Why are you looking at those numbers? What’s going on?!” Hahaha, I’m going to try again. I’m sure once I get through it, it’ll be very helpful.

          The funny thing is both my parents spend lots of time doing math in their professions (computer programmer & loan underwriter), so I don’t know why I’m not better at it. I always say that I teach in Early Childhood so simple division is pushing it for me!

          • mollymouse

            K: Yay! I got it now! Hopefully I’ll remember it :)

          • Percy

            MollyMouse, Katie (below) is right to suggest ING Direct. It’s an online bank that makes it really easy to set up joint checking and automatically transfer money between institutions. You can both keep the banks you’re happy with and set up a joint household account at ING with auto tansfer. Then you can pay all your household expenses online (also through auto pay, if you like) and voila! problem solved. I heart ING. Mint is also a cool tool for tracking the status of all your accounts in one place. Recommended.

          • K

            I’m glad to see you got it! I was going to suggest breaking it down one step by one step as it does seem totally overwhelming to read through it all at once.

    • K

      This has been our system during the four years we’ve lived together. Now that we’re getting married we talked about it again and plan to stick to it, although we may put all of our bills (currently we each have some “personal” bills) into the joint pot. It saves so much stress between the two of us with personal purchases because it alleviates differences in the need (needed to live) vs comfort (makes life more enjoyable) vs luxury (something extra special) categories.

      E.g. a brewed coffee from Starbucks might be a luxury to someone who sees homebrewed coffee as a comfort, but someone else might see a brewed coffee from Starbucks as a comfort and consider a latte a luxury.

      • meg

        Yeah, but for us, your pin money is your pin money. You can do WHATEVER you want with it, no one will even ask. Starbucks, porn, dresses, save it for a trip to Hawaii? All good.

        • K

          Yup, we have similar systems, but I’m realizing not quite as similar as I initially though. I saw your responses up in the comments regarding the different mindsets between one pot with stipends vs three pot and it makes sense to me now. In the three pot system, each partner ends up with different amounts of fun money, whereas in the one pot system, the stipends are equal. I do see how the former creates more of a you and me mentality and the latter a team mentality where both partners are considered of equal importance regardless of how much money they each make.

          I’m finding it hard to get by the belief that the person making more has a right to have a higher stipend though… Funny though, I currently make less than my fiance and imaging that I make more than him erases this belief.

          How do you deal with larger purchases like clothing where the need vs want vs luxury factors can come into play in a much bigger way than with just daily coffees? Do your stipends cover that, too; where they’re large enough that some money can be set aside for those larger, but less frequent personal purchases?

          (This is such a fantastic, intriguing topic!)

          • meg

            I just don’t think that what we contribute to our partnership is limited to what we make. Yes, I make the money right now, but David cooks and does the laundry and run errands… plus he’s in school, which is important and will help his future contributions to the partnership. So, why should I get more in a stipend than he does? He’s putting just as much into the partnership as I am. Or, what if I stay home for a while with an infant, and he’s working? The idea that he would deserve more money than me then makes my eyes roll back in my head. I’m growing a baby and then feeding a baby from my body and somehow he deserves more cash because his SALARY is higher? No f*cking way. CLEARLY I’d be devoting as much to the partnership as he is.

            As for luxury goods, for a quick topic change ;), For us it’s pretty easy. As I’m writing this David is buying a instant camera for our vacation this summer. We just discussed it, agreed, and then he found the best price for it. He thinks its cool, but I’m the one who really wants it, and he’s cool with that. So, easy. In the five years we were together pre-marriage, we got to know each others spending habits and started influencing them (I think you should save up before you buy that TV…. but I know you want it, so it’s fine to get it) so for us it was a pretty natural switch over.

            But, if it were not natural to us, I think we might just have higher pin money, so we each could save a chunk each week to buy luxury things we care about.

          • karen

            My partner and I have a shared savings account that is there for big purchases we have both agreed on (the one account will cover multiple things – at the moment it is covering the garden renovation, savings for the wedding, travel and will probably include the next car, house extension etc).
            For big expense items that we don’t agree on, we will save separately out of our pin money. These have to be items where there is real disagreement, no urgency, and will have disproportionate use. Our current example is ‘the amplifier fund’ – we have a perfectly adequate sound system, but he wants an upgrade. Fine, but there’s more than enough other priorities on the savings account. If our current sound system broke down irrepairably, then the situation changes and we might reassess the amplifier fund into a joint savings priority.
            This system does rely on us discussing, and rediscussing, our priorities and both being willing to give and take while being clear about our lines. Still, it saves us from only talking about the weather!

    • Katie

      This is how we do it too. We aren’t super exact with the percentages, since his income fluctuates, but we contribute to our joint checking account and savings accounts (ING Direct FTW!) proportionally to our incomes and can spend the rest on whatever. It’s working pretty well. We also use to track all our accounts, and we can see what the other is earning/spending. So far, very few arguments about spending, and I find it helpful that he can see what I’m spending on, since it reminds me to only pay for things that are worth it to me.

      Great post, Meg.

  • Aimee

    We use a shared AMEX account that we put every possible bill and expense on (i heart auto pay!). We pay it off monthly and accumulate points on every day stuff. We have a monthly budget in mind but have savings in case we go over and have an expensive month. We always discuss purchases over $200.

    My husband is in grad school right now so we aren’t completely combining checking accounts right now (although we can easily transfer back and forth to each other). The only reason for not combining is that we don’t want to spend student loans the same way we spend real cash. I look forward to the “one pot” day when he has a pay check coming in!

    Our credit card allows us to tag all of our expenses as shared or break them down by user (so we can allocate school expenses vs my own personal spending that I don’t want to feel guilty about and pay separately…). Plus at the end of the year, I can see where our money went (wedding reception that is still to come in August, eating out, utilities, red wine habit, clothes, etc). So really, I end up only paying 2 bills every month: AMEX and rent!

    I like to balance things to the penny and have spreadsheets and feel in control. This system has allowed me to do that and not spend much time actually paying bills, balancing checkbooks, and breaking it down by person. I hope this method can benefit someone else who wants to share everything but also track it, whether combined or separate!

  • mollymouse

    We do the 3-pot system, with our paychecks going into our separate accounts and then transferring a certain amount to the joint account each month for bills, dinner, etc. It’s really not working for me, so we’re struggling with what to do instead. I am TERRIBLE at remembering to transfer money (I have a whole different institution that I keep my money with, while MDT’s account is at the same bank as our joint), so I frequently forget and am late and feel tons of guilt. Also, *we’re* not saving anything. I’ve got savings and he’s got savings and I have a 2nd savings called the Fun Fund (solely for vacations), but nothing that is OURS. Mostly, if we need extra money we go into “my” savings because it’s larger.

    So I like Meg’s way of putting both paychecks into the joint account (which I’ve been resisting because I don’t like his bank) and rationing off from there. Kinda like the reverse of what we’ve been doing. We both want to keep our own accounts; we both want to be able to have private spending money. This has given me lots to think about (in a short amount of time: I’m starting a new job in 2 weeks and I’ve gotta know where to send my paychecks!)

  • While my fiance and I share a pretty darn similar approach and philosophy to money as Meg and David do, we fight about money ALL THE TIME.

    BUT I’ve realized that we’re rarely *really* fighting about money; we’re fighting about our other issues, which seem to surface during conversations involving spending. (Because spending is just another medium through which we express our values.) And I think that’s what’s really happening when couples say that they fight about money.

    My fiance has been the breadwinner for 2.5 years while I have been in grad school (and working at an unpaid internship). I said hell no to buying a new car that he wanted. So we fought. And we got the car. Then again, I buy fruit and veggies every week that end up rotting in the refrigerator because I can never quite get myself to eat as healthily as I intend to. He gets pissed that I waste grocery money. And so we fight.

    I think the reason why we sometimes fight (as opposed to negotiate) is because it feels like we’re fighting for some big emotional cause, not just over whether we should spend or save. Like when my fiance fights, he’s fighting as a stressed out breadwinner who struggles with the issue of “fairness” – understandable given his situation. As an unemployed new graduate, I fight for the issue of “if someone can’t afford to eat you should pay for their meal” – understandable given my situation.

    Basically, we both value fairness but we define it differently. And so yeah – that feels like something worth fighting for. (That is until I cry, he feels helpless, we get sleepy, and we finally decide to negotiate.)

  • LPC

    I think the concept that you are investing in each other when you get married is the right way to look at it. And you should know, in advance, how much are you comfortable investing? Of your work, your money. And how much is your partner comfortable investing? If the need and contribution are fairly even on both sides, the conversation should be easy. If it’s quite unbalanced, for one reason or another, one person with huge debt, or low-paying work, or none, it can be trickier. And, if staying home with a baby is a goal, unbalance is bound to show up at some point. Good to have the discussion outright in the beginning.

  • Yes Yes Yes! You articulated the benefits of one money pot oh-so-well. It’s been the best thing we’ve done for our marriage. Thanks!

  • Melissa

    We are in the process, or are continuing the process, of combining our finances. It started with joint savings for the wedding and we continue to save together, but are just now figuring out how better to pay our mutual expenses and plan for our future. What is freaking me out is my husband looks at every penny earned and spent as OUR money. I still view it as HIS and MINE. He is completely debt-free, no student loans, no car payments, etc. Just a credit card that is paid in full each month. I came into our marriage with debt. Student loans, a credit card with a significant balance and car payments.

    What has amazed me and made me feel really, really, MARRIED, is how willingly he has taken all of this on as our problem. To him, how we got here doesn’t matter, it’s where we are and as a married team, we only move forward if we do it together. It’s our debt that needs to get paid so we have the kind of financial freedom we long for. It’s wonderful but oh the guilt I feel. Insane levels of guilt. Feeling like I am holding our family back guilt. I’m working through it. We’re working through it. And we have a plan to tackle it and I am confident in that plan. But it’s all scary and hard and have I mentioned the guilt?

    I think, perhaps, the one-pot system would be good for us. I mean, if we are going to really look at all of our assets and liabilities as truly ours, all of our income should be too, right? And maybe if I am to get over the guilt I feel, combining our money (I make significantly more) will help me feel balanced in also combining our (my) debt.

    Time will tell, but I’m excited to keep working with him to build this beautiful future we keep talking about!

    • Sally

      I definitely understand your situation. I’m about to get married to a wonderful guy who is super responsible with money and despite the fact that he makes significantly less than me, he manages to save more and never carry a credit card balance. I spend more than he does (lunch out here and there, random shopping when I shouldn’t, etc…), and feel a lot of guilt that I am not “better” at money. Part of my debt and lack of savings is outside my control – expensive grad school (which equals mountains of debt), growing up without money, etc. I try to be a little gentle with myself and realize that money is a big part of life, and like everything in life, learning to deal with it (and the emotions that accompany it) takes time.

      What money can do to a couple can be horrible (hello, #1 reason for divorce), but it can also be really great. I still remember when we had to apply for our first apartment and I had to show him my less-than-stellar credit score and explain lots of painful family history regarding money that made me very sad/stressed/uncomfortable. His wonderful reaction made me realize, even more, what I a totally supportive partner I had. That’s something that money can’t buy :)

    • A-L

      Thanks, Melissa and Sally, for sharing your thoughts on this. I’m in the opposite camp (fiance is the one with more financial liabilities) but to hear your takes on the situation is very helpful to me.

  • I really appreciated this post, Meg. I never thought I would participate in a one-pot system. It felt like losing my independence and autonomy. Before B and I got engaged we had a lot of money talks and he proposed the one-pot system. That’s how his parents did. I wasn’t sure at first, but after several conversations, I decided I wanted to give it a try. It really helped me unpack my own baggage around money. When we finally made the change, it was nerve-wracking, but once we settled into it, I was surprised by how freeing it felt. How stable. How rewarding. For the first time I in my adult life, I felt like I could relax a little where money is concerned. It does take a lot of trust to pool your assets and debt. I am glad I trusted and took the plunge. I also love how you state it as “living your vows.”

  • Christina

    We are three months into our marriage, and combined our finances shortly after. But, we have yet to really sit down and make a plan on how exactly we are going to budget. I HATE budgeting. He does too. So, we need help! So, THANKS for being so open and sharing how you “do it”. I know several couples who handle their finances similar to you two and are very successful.

    It was super stressful and scary for me to combine finances, because after all our dough started going into one account; I felt guilty whenever I wanted to buy ANYTHING. While I can’t really trace these feelings to any one thing, I have a lot of stress about it lately. I guess as far as combining money goes, I’m a work in-progress.

    P.S. My parents fought about money ALL the time. I am scared of this happening to us.

    We need a plan. We need a plan.

    • So this is an old thread, but your point about feeling guilty every time you buy anything is a huge fear I have about combining finances. In the off chance you’re still reading, I’d love to talk more about that and how it’s been working out for you.

  • Ruby

    I’m not married, I’m not even engaged yet, but my partner and I sorted out the money worries years ago when we bought a house together. We pretty much use the three pot system where our paychecks go into our individual accounts and then bill money/pension money/savings money goes out to our joint account by standing order on the 1st of the month. All bills are standing order/direct debit out of the joint account, bar mobile bills. I then log into both individual accounts to pay our (individual) credit cards, sort out our respective allowances which stay in our individual accounts, and siphon any extra money (hah!) back into the savings. We each have an ISA, one for pension money, one for the mortgage, and we have three savings accounts, one for holidays, one for home improvements and one fun money. Now, it all sounds seperate, but in our heads its all *our* money. Because I’m a PhD student my income and allowance are way lower than my breadwinner partner, and our bill money contributions money reflects that, but we both pay the same percent to bills i.e 50% and have exactly the same allowance. What it means is that the bulk of my partners paycheck goes to our future savings, and we are totally happy with that. I grew up in a house where my breadwinner dad paid for pretty much everything and my mum paid for us and for ‘fun’. Sounds great, until my dad decided to totally remodel the house and went ahead did so behind my mum’s back, despite the screaming rows and humiliation it involved, because it was his money and he could do what he liked. I am never going down that road!

  • Marina

    I completely agree with all of your pros about the one pot system

    Unfortunately, my husband does not. And so we have 6 accounts–a joint checking and a joint savings, my checking and savings, and his checking and savings. We each contribute the same amount to the joint checking each month (automatic transfers ftw!) and there’s an automatic transfer from the joint checking to the joint savings every month as well.

    So far so good, right? Except he has debt and I don’t. Except I have a job and he doesn’t. Except when he does have a job, he earns half again as much as I do. Except I have a cell phone data plan and he doesn’t and so I put $30 more into the joint checking than he does, but he also buys more expensive groceries than I do, except I eat out more and sometimes take that out of the joint account… And on the more long-term side, I have a 401(k) and he doesn’t, and I’m started to get really nervous about that–what am I supposed to do if he doesn’t save enough for retirement? Should I be saving enough to support both of us after age 65?

    And believe me, we have talked and talked and talked about all of this. (Not fought, at least most of the time–hooray for reasoned discussion.) I would love to have HIS debt become OUR debt–it makes me really uncomfortable to know there’s this debt that is legally OURS but that I am not contributing to. But… he’s always had issues around money. He’s always had a really hard time feeling like he’s supporting himself, and has asked for time to feel like his money is his money before becoming our money, and conversely that his debt is his debt, and something he takes care of himself.

    I don’t know. I don’t really understand it, but I honor it. I would love any advice anyone has about either coming to a sense of peace about it, or convincing him to move to more of an “OUR money” viewpoint. Because we’ll have to eventually, right?

    • meg

      Oh honey, I felt all cluch-y and heartfluttery mid way through your post. I kinda wanna suggest sitting down with a financial planner that can lay out what you need, what needs to happen, and where you are headed if you keep doing what you’re doing. You know, in an even-handed way (that knocks some sense into him).

      Because YEAH. You are going to retire together, you hope, and then what? Or he doesn’t handle his debt and it effects your credit score? PSA on this, by the way, I had a friend who’s husband was a financial disaster, and she got SCREWED when they divorced. She just had to suck up half of his horrible decisions. Not pretty.

      • Marina

        As always, you are brilliant. :) I don’t know why I never even thought about sitting down with a financial planner, but I think that’s EXACTLY what we need–someone objective to say the things that sound silly when I say them, because both of us know I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

        Come to think of it, sitting down with a financial planner should be part of wedding planning right next to premarital counseling. It’s the same sort of idea, isn’t it? Setting up the tools you may not need right now, but will definitely need down the road.

  • Thanks Meg for doing this series on money. We were actually talking about money not too long before the first post and we really weren’t sure what kinds of options should be considered. We just know we can’t continue the status quo. I could write a long, long post about what we are going through but I think it would more cathartic for me than useful for anyone else! :) But thanks for sharing. It’s really good to hear what other people think about this. I’m going to make Jeremy come read all of this. I think he needs it too.

  • KC

    This is basically the system we’ve been using for the past year and a half. When we bought our home 3 years ago, we did everything in halves and that was a pain in the ass. This way is not only simpler (for us), but it saves us the “I owe you how much” talks. Those? Not fun. Also, if left to his own devices, the boy will only pay bills when he remembers: every few months or so (I kid not).

    In a way it’s weird since we did it all backwards (bought a house, combined finances, get married) but I think it’s made the wedding planning easier. If I had to worry over who was paying for what on top of everything else I think I would have driven myself crazy 8 months ago.

  • I love your system. I REALLY want us to get there, but I am holding us back. (Mind you, we got married 10 days ago). We’ve been on the 2 personal checking accounts feeding into one joint account model for about a year now. (we determine a percentage of our individual paychecks that goes into the joint account. We pay everything together out of that: rent, bills, groceries, dinner/drinks when we are together, etc. Then we have our personal accounts for all of our individual expenses. We also each put a certain amount into our joint savings every month. This system is working really well for us, but I really would like to get to the one pot system with pin money. I think it takes an amazing amount of trust, and there is something really powerful about that. I absolutely feel guilty that my husband is ready for it and I’m not.

    I trust my partner completely. This issue is that money has always been a source of stress for me. Growing up, we never had enough of it, and my single mom was terrible with money. I have always been a responsible saver, but I like to splurge on myself as well, without worrying what anyone will think. I also recently watched someone very close to me go through a divorce, and they really got burned by their one pot system. Adding to my nerves around taking the plunge…

    Sorry for the novel, this is something I think about a lot. I love the way you put it about how it has helped you live out your vows.

  • B

    I’m so happy to see this. My boyfriend and I have talked about this and money is one area where we have major major differences. I freaked out one month when I thought I’d be $5 short on my credit card bill (I had forgotten I could just take $5 out of my savings–this a month when my cat needed unexpected surgery, but I still felt awful that I hadn’t planned better). I pay my credit card in full every month a few days early, I track my spending every few days, I worry and fret over purchases ranging from $20 shoes to a $150 air purifier when my asthma was acting up and my neighbor was smoking more. I also have no debt and the simple idea of debt makes my throat tighten and my brain spew out scenarios screaming that I failed. For me, if I don’t work to exercise control, I outspend my income by about $100-$200 a month so I need to have that level of control. I also believe in saving for big purchases or vacations and not buying tickets or whatnot until I have all the money.

    He had a ton of credit card debt and graduate school debt. His approach to big items is “well, here’s a great opportunity, I’ll figure out how to pay it off afterward” which can mean great things (he’s put on a show in NYC, he’s taught abroad in the middle east, etc) but means that as soon as he pays off his previous debt, he almost immediately goes into a new one. He just paid off his last major that non-education debt so I’m holding my breath another opportunity doesn’t come up until he’s saved for it. He said that he wanted to get his non education debt taken care of before getting close to proposing because he knows it would cause me anxiety and he didn’t want the idea of life with him to cause me anxiety. Which is comforting, but it still worries me. Many of our friends who were originally “his” have a much looser idea of money than I do and see nothing wrong with massive credit card debt (“I’ve already got student loan debt, I may as well have credit card debt”) and have already ribbed him about the change in his spending habits since he started dating me. I don’t want to change who he is, but I also don’t want to be without money.

    How do you reconcile that? Coming to an agreement about money/spending without feeling like you’ve changed them?

    • meg

      Um. This is one area where I think we can, do, and should require our partners to change (and vice versa). I’ve put my foot down on some of David’s single money habits. I made him close a whole bunch of credit cards the week we got back from the honeymoon. And he changes me too. He INSISTS that we travel when we can afford to, for example. And we’ve improved each other. Money is serious stuff, and sh*tty habits have to be changed, and that’s just it. It doesn’t change the person you love (but it can make it easier to love them on bad days ;)

  • bts

    We have a three-pot system, his-mine-ours, but we use Mint, less for its budgeting functions than as a way to get a snapshot of our big financial picture. We both have access to everything there, bank accounts, credit cards, student debt, retirement accounts, etc. It helps our financial communication and it functions as a sort of virtual pot that our smaller pots sit in.

    Regardless of how you divvy things up, but especially for people who are maintaining separate accounts, I recommend having some kind of virtual pot that both of you have access to (doesn’t have to be Mint, it could be on paper or in a spreadsheet or whatever system you like). It helps us both to visualize the household finances as a whole (things like our net worth, the cash available in all our checking and savings accounts, the current balances on all of our credit cards) and makes it all feel like our money, our debt, our savings. We find the individual pots easier for cash flow purposes for now, but the virtual pot provides transparency and gives us that sense of common ownership while we each retain control over our own accounts.

  • Michele

    Can you guys elaborate a bit on allowances? How much are they? Are they cash or electronic transfers to individual accounts? Are they weekly? Biweekly? Monthly? How did you decide on your dollar amount? Is it the same for both of you? Are they flexible? Where do you draw the line between what is to be paid for from your allowance versus what is paid for from the big pot/joint account?

    Sorry for all the nosy questions, but my husband and I toy with the idea of using allowances from time to time, but can never be bothered to answer the above questions, so we get nowhere. ha!

    • This is what we do when is comes to allowances:

      We both work salaried jobs, get paid every two weeks, and do a pot system for shared expenses such as rent, loans, car, entertainment, eating out, groceries, medical..etc. $100 from each of our paychecks get automatically deposited into our personal checking accounts. So, each month we have roughly $200 in personal money to spend however we wish.

      The catergories that we use personal money for are gifts for each other, clothes, shoes, hobbies, expensive face moistorizer (me), crazy guitar stuff (him). He tends to save his up for a few months and buy a pricey musician toy. I like to buy too many pairs of shoes and craft supplies, so mine burns up pretty quickly.

      For the past 8 months, that has worked for us. Before we used this system, we would have small tiffs like, “I can’t believe you spent a million dollars on face cream!”, and “do you really need ANOTHER guitar?!”

      Now, I can buy as many pairs of shoes and creams and frivolious items as I want with my personal money aka allowance, and he can’t say anything about it.

      (yes, this is probably being used to avoid a converstaion over WHY we got so annoyed when the other person spent what we thought was too much money on something personal. but hey, it has worked, and the tiffs have stopped.)

      • KB

        Our allowances are tied to our paychecks, so we get them twice a month. It looks like it works out to roughly 20% of our gross paychecks. Our budget categories are groceries; target, cvs, etc.; gas; “dates”; savings; utilities; rent; student loans; car payment; cell phones; student loans; and gym/athletic fees. So the allowance pays for anything outside of that — clothes, hobbies and personal travel seem to be the biggest ones. If we can plan for it, we try to build it into the budget or savings.

        These are electronic transfers, and for now, are not the same for both of us. We are not married, and this has worked well as we transition into a totally joint system. My BF was a little hesitant to lose the feeling of financial freedom, and I don’t want to get into a situation where we are sitting on our own money or ever feel like we “owe” or have to borrow from each other. Now that we are getting a good sense of how much we actually spend, and are setting our future financial goals, it seems like we will move toward smaller allowances and nearly everything covered under the budget.

        • KB

          Ooops, should have said net paychecks — so about 20% after insurance & retirement contributions, etc.

          • Autumn

            We each get $200, which was kind of an arbitrary amount, not based on our incomes at all (I make more), that sounded reasonable. We decided to live with that for a few months and see how it felt, and it’s felt good– small enough to make us think before we buy, but big enough that we don’t feel like we’re scrimping every single day.

            For Nina, who says her husband/fiance spends less than she does, and she’s afraid having equal allowances would make him spend more, that has not been the case for us. My husband rarely spends all his blow, and has yet to tell me he feels cheated, or spend more just because he can. It rolls over month to month though– so when he wants something pricey, he has to let it built up.

            I use my blow for: books, makeup, etc.– anything that benefits me only, basically. He uses his blow for: coffee habit, beer out with the boys, cash for random stuff… honestly I don’t even know and don’t care. That’s the beauty of it– we can’t fuss about what the other spends blow money on!

            I know everyone’s different, but we decided to have lots of other budgets that some people might consider blow or pin money– we have joint budgets for clothing, eating out, entertainment, home improvement, cell phones, etc.

            Since we just have one pot though, it’s a virtual allowance. I track everything on Mint so I just categorize spending on our credit or debit cards as “Autumn blow” or “David blow”. Mint also allows me to split up purchases, so if I spend $100 at Target, but $50 was groceries and $50 was makeup/silliness (blow money), I can divide it that way. (That is why the cash envelopes system never seemed practical to me, too much juggling).

            I sound like I’m a Mint spokesperson, I’m not, it’s just revolutionized the way we deal with money, and we’re accomplishing things we never thought we could because it keeps us honest. Whatever your system, I think this is an important piece of it.

          • Vanessa

            Autumn, I agree about Mint. It is awesome and has made joint finance tracking a thousand times easier. My fiance and I went to a joint system several months ago (like a lot of people it seems, this was really hard and emotionally charged for me – it has gotten a lot easier though, thank God) and are still working out the details of how many accounts to have. We currently both have the checking and savings accounts we had before in addition to a joint checking account, but it has gotten unwieldy. We’ve been talking about consolidating, and you all have given us even more to consider. So, thank you!!

    • Nina

      I have no wisdom to offer but rather want to echo your questions – I too would like to move towards a “share first” approach, meaning our money goes into a shared account from which we take our individual allowances, but I hesitate.
      I do feel the individual allowance is necessary for me – like someone mentioned above, spending directly from OUR pot would cause me a lot of guilt whenever I bought anything. But my main concern is in how to determine the individual amount?
      I probably spend a bit more than he does and if the allowances were made equal based on what I spend, it might actually cause him to spend more than he normally would. So would it work to have allowances be different sizes? This seems unfair to me. But I don’t think he is denying himself anything by spending less, it just happens that I like clothes and nice haircuts more :-)
      How have others handled this?

    • Michele

      I guess the thing I’m most confused about is the logistics of it. What if you’re at Target getting cleaning supplies for the house, and pick up some facial moisturizer and a pair of flip flops for yourself?

      Do you separate items based on whether it’s common or personal and pay for them separately? Do you “pay yourself back” if you pay for it all from your common fund? Do you pay the common fund back if you pay for it from your allowance?

      It seems like the kind of complicated that makes me say ‘eff it.’

    • meg

      NOT complicated. I’m not going to disclose our numbers, but it’s pretty easy to figure out. How much pocket money do you need in a week? Hum, if you take away $25 what happens? Etc. And you’ll figure out what makes sense. Our pin money is unchanged since our single New York days, when I did it, and then convinced David to try it out too. Suffice to say we’ve lived in two expensive cities.

      Anyway, logistics. Ours is weekly, and we each pull out our weekly money in cash at the beginning of the week, and spend till it’s gone (or save it if you want). So for us, if it’s not in the budget (or a special expense we jointly decide on, like we bought a grill the other week out of the joint fund) it’s pin money. So for us we have separate line items in the budget for groceries, farmers market, medicine, incidentals. We also have a “weekend fund” every month, just for whatever we feel like on the weekend – dinners out, movies, whatever.

      So, basically we just put it on the card unless it’s from pin money, and then we pay in cash. If I was at Target, I’d probably just pay twice for ease. Bleach? On the card. Flip flops? Lemmie give you cash for that.

  • I like your system. Like I said before, we don’t one-pot *yet*, but we plan to. Our philosophy towards money is similar, so I think something close to your lines would work for us as well.

    And ohdeargod the money crazy. This is why we haven’t yet combined finances totally. (Which, of course, I completely neglected to mention on Friday.) I am the one with the money crazy, but sadly, my problem is not like yours. I tend to be a bit bipolar with spending – I go through phases of extreme thrift and saving, only to be followed by completely bonkers (and embarrassing) spending. This is why I’ve not combined with the boy yet. Because I’m ashamed of that behaviour, and I’m working on it. I’m getting there, thank goodness. But, *for sure* he will be the one with the keys to the general account!!!

  • peanut

    OK so as two poor grad students, our system is: whoever has money in their account pays the bills. I think Meg touched on this earlier, but being on the cusp of brokedom (aka not really having any money to fight about) has forced us into a one pot system so that we can collectively make it through. Technically we have three accounts – his, mine, ours – but that’s because our direct deposits were set up four years ago into our personal accounts before we met (and it’s a nightmare to deal with University accounting beaurocracy to change it). It’s always been on our minds to change our direct deposit, but honestly it hasn’t been that big of a deal. It’s more like “OK rent is due. How much do you have?” “$1000, but I need to pay at least $300 on the credit card bill.” “OK then, you pay $700 for rent, and I’ll pay the rest”. etc. Our goal when we get “real” jobs is to funnel all money into one pot (as our parents did/do), but for know this works – and we’ve had no big arguments about it for the approx. 1 year we’ve been doing it. Anyone else have an unsophisticated financial story like ours? :)

    • meg

      Love that. Um, that’s one pot. Just with two pots.

    • Actually, this is pretty much EXACTLY my system with my honey. We just got back from France, where I was legally employed, and he was freelancing. Now we’re back in the states, I’ve got a full time job, he’s got two part timers (we consider ourselves very lucky/fortunate/etc) while he continues to freelance. When we pay the bills or go grocery shopping, we look at our accounts and go, “OK, today, I have more money in my account, so I’ll pay.” And maybe next time around, he’ll have more, so he’ll pay. But maybe not. And it never matters, and we don’t keep track.

      In terms of extra spending money, I still have my final paycheck in my bank account in France which I am slowly but surely withdrawing from American ATMs (maximum weekly/monthly limits on withdrawal amount, so it’s a kind of slow process). So, whenever we are low in cash for groceries, date money, whathaveyou, I get out the envelope with twenty-dollar-bills in it, hand a few to each of us, and that is that. Instant spending money, kind of.

      A recent event (that I love and keep thinking about) was at brunch the other day. We were with a group of friends and asked the server to put us on the same ticket, separate from the others at the table. When it came time to pay, we both pulled open our wallets, but he said, “I’ve got it,” and put a $20 on the table. And later, we were walking and I said, “Thanks for paying for brunch, honey.” And he said, “No problem.” And we kept walking…

      … it wasn’t until later that I remembered he paid with money that I had given him earlier that week. But that’s exactly how I would want it to be. Ours, but in a delightfully casual way, where we can each take pride and ownership in contributing to the relationship in all sorts of ways.

      • luc

        We started sharing money when we’d been together about 3 months, because he followed me to London, ran out of money before he got work so I just started paying. When he got work and he had money, he paid. It’s now been 2 and a half years, we’re getting married in December, and the “one pot” in two accounts thing just works for us. Small stuff we just buy, big stuff we talk about.
        (I think it’s easier when there’s less money, cos my spending habits just don’t even get a chance to breathe. If there was more money available I’d probably get scolded for buying clothese etc, but as it is we’re all good. Being a broke student is good, sometimes.)

    • This is totally my situation. My boy and I aren’t married yet, but we’re doing the whole sort of see-saw between accounts (one pot as two). We used to be a 50/50 couple, or more like, “it’s your turn to buy groceries,” but we’re starting to acknowledge the fact that we are going to be supporting each other, instead of being vaguely financially independent. For instance, we recently had a conversation about how much student loan debt we would each have coming out of grad school and he was like well I’ll have $$ and you’ll have $$$, so, eventually we’ll have to pay off $$$$$.
      And for now, both being on student budgets, it makes sense for us to join efforts and not really make distinctions.
      Kinzie, that’s pretty much exactly how it goes down when we’re out to dinner or standing at the checkout in the grocery store. To the extent that money does matter, it’s nice to know that it can be a casual arrangement and but you still feel equally invested and supported.

  • Kee

    We’ve kept the separate accounts, I even shout “you owe me 38.50” when I’ve paid the electricity bill. Does it mean that I’m not letting him be a part of all of me, that we are not a unit and all that deep meaning? No, I don’t think so. To me, it means that we aim to have full equality in our relationship while also keeping our individuality.

    I will never manage his economy for him, he’s a grown up who can take care of it himself. And he will never pay off my student loans, because that LLM was my choice and I decided that I could afford it once. I like being able to take decisions without imposing the consequences on him. It leaves room for being two individuals with different characteristics, the person that wants to save more can do so and the person who spends more can do so as well, without anyone needing to keep the other one under control or place limits or “teach” or “raise” the other person on how to act.

    Now, this doesn’t of course mean that I would run away and buy a house one day without his consent or that he would get into serious debt suddenly. We still have a responsibility to each other to have a healthy economy and we do actually have a join savings account. But money doesn’t have to be a problem, or they way you are handling it does not have to signify something deeper or being a sign of your relationship. It’s just money, it’s not the end of the world.

    As mentioned by several others already, one’s behavior often comes from family history. We were not rich when I grew up, but money was never an issue. It was there, not too much, but always something. I don’t stress about money, because money always come. And if it doesn’t one day, we’ll solve it then. I guess it can sound a bit spoiled, but things do work out most of the times. And if it doesn’t, you cry a bit and then you sort it out. (also, it helps that I live in a european country where unemployment benefits consist of 70% of your original salary and where healthcare, childcare and schools are free…)

    • Lily


      Separate savings accounts doesn’t mean a marriage is any less strong, or a couple has any less respect for each other.

    • (This is months late, but) I completely agree with this. He wants shared finances and I feel more like you do. Your comment about living in Europe makes me wonder if you’re Swedish, by any chance? Because I am, and I wonder how much that contributes to my attitude…

  • Meg, when you write about your feelings about money, I just want to hit the *exactly* button. I have the same tendancy to hoard. I really appreciate reading about how you make it work.

    I would love to read another couple’s perspective on this situation. I guess I will start reading all of the comments!

    Thank you Meg!

  • Meg, did you watch Oprah yesterday? Those people *freaked* me out. I got anxious just thinking about the vrazy debt, how it was affecting their marriages etc.

    • Kim

      I’m not the biggest Oprah fan, but I did happen to see it yesterday. The crazy thing to me was that it wasn’t as if these couples had a medical emergency or a horrible accident or someone lost their job and that unexpected incident caused them to go into debt. Rather, these people just spent — and continued to spend — money that they didn’t have, and soooooo many families do it. Hell, so many of us probably do it more than we’d like to admit. Hopefully, being open about money as our baby families are . . . ah . . . developing will help us to be clear about what we really earn, what we really owe, and what we reallyhave.

    • meg

      OH MY GOD THE DEBT DIET! No, I watched those all the first time around, but with popcorn and glee. I love that sh*t. David would take one look at my face when I came home in Brooklyn and be like, “Oh, the debt diet is on, huh?”

    • Next time I will add popcorn. I see how chewing instead of grinding my teeth would be preferable.

  • I have a t least 4 credit cards, but we’re planning on reducing to a plan similar to yours. I’m afraid that my credit score will tank if I cancel the other three cards…? Oh and BTW thanks for sharing this with us! It’s very insightful.

    • You shouldn’t cancel them. Consolidate the debt to one card (preferably the one with the lowest interest rate; if you have a good credit history, you may even be able to get a special 12 month rate on this), and pay it off. Then take all but one card out of your wallet, and put them in a drawer somewhere. I have three credit cards myself, and right now my debt is split between two cards (after the wedding it will be one), with the third for managing monthly bills (one payment is just easier than four or five – I pay this one off every month, no exceptions).

  • Kim

    I commented about our “pot” situation over in Part I, so I won’t repeat it here. I’d like to comment, however, on how so many of us have mentioned our parents and how their attitudes toward money affected our own. I know, I know, it’s common sense, but still.

    My parents didn’t operate out of the “one pot” plan, but I think it’s because my dad had really bad credit and my mom’s was okay. We didn’t always have money, and sometimes they had to borrow money so I could continue doing the extracurricular activities that I was doing, so I think we were actually guilty of overextending ourselves. Even as a kid, I knew that we weren’t rolling in the dough, but I was also aware of the sacrifices that my parents made for me — and that it wasn’t the best thing for them. This isn’t to say that parents shouldn’t do that (in fact, I think that’s one of the definitions of being a parent), but just to say that they tried to keep it from me and I knew anyway. It also made me feel a bit guilty that I was costing them so much, and that’s why I’ve tried really hard to be responsible with my own finances, and want to do so with my partner as well.

  • We combined our money when we officially started saving for the wedding. We try to live off his wages (he is paid weekly) and save mine (I’m paid monthly). It is working for us.

    It was kind of scary to begin with, and frustrating. I think that was the fact that we are saving so much, more than the fact we are sharing everything.

    Now that we are used to it though, it is quite freeing.

    • meg

      I’ve heard of this. We’re thinking we’re going to do this when we have two incomes again. One will just go straight to the bank for awhile.

      • That’s actually a really fantastic idea. We’re one income right now, too, but hopefully that will change soon.

    • My husband and I did this before we both lost our jobs. Now that we are both working again and the regular checks start flowing again we will move back to this model. It is pretty amazing to see how much you can save. Plus it feels good to know that you can live off one income should something happens. And when something does you have money in the bank to see you through.

  • april

    Meg: “When David and I started pooling our money, we started very literally pooling our goals”

    YESSSSSS! :::waves hand::: US TOO! My husband and I are in the “one-pot” camp also, and while it scared me at first (as well as him – he’s the big-time finance dude, I’m the spend-it-while-we-got-it type), once we started doing the finances all as one, it really helped our relationship and our life goals. It wasn’t “this is MY $$$” it was “this is OUR $$$… do we want to save for a trip to Greece? Or, are we buying a Dyson and iPhones this year?”

    We “discuss” money on a weekly basis in our house… sometimes strongly, sometimes casually. Thankfully, we both want very similar things and even tho I’m often distracted by vacations, one-of-kind art pieces we could have for the house, new shoes.. etc., what pulls me back to center is that I have a responsibility to my partner to help our family and our savings and do right in the $$$ dept. for myself and for each other. And that is super awesome. It feels grown-up. It feels like partnership.

    That usually keeps me honest, on the straight and narrow, and outta the DSW shoe warehouse. Usually…. ;) Thank Buddha for my monthly “allowance”. LOL

  • great post – i’m moving in with the fiance in about amonth, wedding is in january. we are in the process of making the “ours”. i make probably 3 times what he does-er, did – as he got laid off in february. super timing what with the move, home improvements (try living in a man cave with the original 30 year old flooring – awesome!!), and funding our wedding! yay!

    i am a “one pot” girl as you describe. i feel we should make the household the priority – and he has a 16yr old son who lives with him/us – paying bills, getting in shape financially. we will be doing as you describe. the only thing i quibble with in your situation, though you describe the “how”, is i guess i would insist that both of us had and used seperate personal accounts for our allowance? its not that i wouldn’t trust him to keep his allowance seperate from the household, but it would just be easier and if a mistake were made or something, it wouldn’t mess up the main budget. this from the former bank employee who totally screws up her checking account balancing if she doesn’t check it online everyday.

    that said, PIN money???? how OLD are you woman??!!?? you sound like my grampa!! :)

  • mollymouse

    Meg, you’ve seriously inspired me! I’m commenting for probably the 5th time because I can’t get my mind off of our finances. I talked with the Mr. this evening about wanting to change things up (he was non-committal, but he generally takes time to process and decide) and expressed how I feel financially insecure. Not because we don’t have money (we’re ‘aight) but because I don’t have a firm grasp on what we spend, where we spend, and how we save. We’re bearing down on some big decisions (home buying, baby having, honeymoon taking) and I want details dammit!

    Anyway, I found myself a budget tool (YNAB, I’m testing the week-trial, but I like it), went through our 7 (Yes *7*!) accounts and was able to see a very clear picture of our status. I can’t thank you enough for this post – it’s just what I didn’t know I needed!

  • Dani

    This is my first time commenting, but I think its such an interesting and lively discussion, I thought I would share what we do: a two-pot system. Meaning, we both have completely separate accounts, credit cards and investments (and student debt on my side), but all of that is considered “ours.” So, whoever has making more money at the time, pays rent. Whoever has cash at on hand pays the groceries or other stuff bought at the store. We both buy whatever we want with our own money, but also buy stuff for each other.
    At first this was kind of weird, since I had previously done all the 33.3/33.3/33.3 system with roommates and was prepared to do lots of math to figure out bills. But now I find this system very stress-free. Yes, we have to both keep an eye on our bank balances and savings because money is coming out of kind of randomly, but it works out. We check statements together fairly frequently and feel reassured (or panicky as the case may be and then we readjust our spending with cash withdrawal limits).
    The only other complication is that we both have bank accounts in 2 countries, because we are an international couple.

  • Because of this post and this discussion, Andrew and I had our first ever “finances” talk last night. He read (both) of your “money posts” Meg and was surprised that the comment section was just as helpful (I told him how this space was one of the few out in bloggy-land with ridiculously awesome commenters).

    He makes a LOT less than me and I realized after we talked about it for a bit, that my reticence for getting married in general has always been tied to anxiety around losing independence…. through money.

    I (like many I’m sure) grew up being told to work hard, get a fantastic career so you’ll *never* have to depend on a man to live. Money=independence and the thought of pooling our resources makes me want to vomit. I have these visions of being “that” person who always supports her husband. Which is ridiculous because this amorphous “husband” is never Andrew. It’s my own emotional baggage. Couple that with a good dose of feminism and voila- instead anxiety.

    Which we took the first step in discussing- sans tears, yelling or fighting, last night.

    There will be many more talks as we work out what is best for us, and for that Meg and your commenters, We thank you.


    • Chelsea

      I read somewhere that women often have a harder time giving up control of their money for exactly the reason you say: they’ve been taught to keep their financial independence so that they never have to depend on a man. Men, on the other hand, often grew up assuming that they would eventually be the sole breadwinner for their family, so when it’s time to contribute to the family pot, they see it as normal.

      Definitely not true for every person/relationship, but useful to think about in terms of the expectations you each have about your income.

      • Leigh Ann

        I’ve been living with my BF for two years, and we basically keep everything separate. We’re both students; I have a decent job and he’s been unemployed for over a year. We talk about money from time to time and he is pretty adamant about keeping it separate even after marriage. I used to fight him about it, feeling like married couples should share everything. But now I think that separation might be what works best for us, because of the whole attitude described above about women and the idea of independence. My mother ended up being the breadwinner in our family by accident, when my father decided to switch careers and ended up floating around for several years with no real income. She didn’t want to be the one with the money, taking care of everyone else, and she became resentful; it eventually ended her 30-year marriage to my father. She told me I don’t even know how many times: “Make sure you get a good job so you never have to depend on a man to take care of you.” I catch myself from time to time — even if I’ve volunteered to shoulder the load of paying for all the food in the house, or cover the bills for a couple months — feeling stressed out and slightly resentful, and I wonder if I’m really resentful or just mimicking what I grew up with.

        I know myself and my partner well enough to know that we can make, keep and be responsible for our own money, and still fairly and generously contribute to our household together. It’s what will work for us and feels right, at least for now. And we DID agree on a joint savings account after marriage, for big purchases like a home or braces for our kids or a villa in Tuscany.

  • I think all of this talk about money and independence is interesting. Think about it – marriage is a partnership. You are supposed to make sacrifices. Just as you can’t just take a job cross country without consulting your spouse first, you really shouldn’t be buying a $4000 TV without talking to them first, either – REGARDLESS of how you have your money split up. Because your debt is now his (or her) debt. And your money is his (her) money. You’ve binded yourselves not only legally but emotionally as well.

    And, in doing so, there’s this money thing. And it’s complicated. And everyone has different feelings about it. Both FH and I are responsible about money, however I grew up in a household like yours, Meg, where $2000 in credit card debt was considered “our of control.” FH grew up in a household where his parents had quite a comfortable income compared to what they had growing up, and very much like to spend it. (What’s funny about this, is FH is actually better about saving money than I am, and I’m not exactly sure how that works.)

    We haven’t talked as much about money as we probably should, and it is something that I’ve been sidestepping, because it stresses me out. Moreso because I don’t want to relinquish control of my finances than anything else.

  • E

    It’s funny, because my man and I (we’re newly engaged, but have lived with each other for years), were JUST talking about this last night. We are currently a three pot system, but now that we’re getting married, I think it’s time to transition to a one pot – especially because neither of us keeps a very tight hold on our “own” money – most of it ends up being used for joint purchases, anyway.

    I also have an “allowance” question, though – to me, the hard part about the allowance is the line between personal and joint expenditures. Like, if I buy a new suit, but I need it for work, is that pin money? If my man goes to a baseball game with friends, but at the end of the game, they switch and start talking about business opportunities, is that pin money, or is that an investment in “social capital” that will help our marriage?

    My man and I have similar spending habits, so I am really tempted to go ALL one pot – no allowance, just “think before you spend, and if the thing/experience is truly important to you, go for it”. I think we would both trust each other to consult when it came to BIG items, like a TV or a vacation. Are allowances necessary?

    • Chelsea

      We’re pretty much exactly the same – we’ve been doing 3-pot while engaged and beginning to live together, but I think we’ll do one pot once we’re married or start making different incomes (right now we’re pretty much exactly the same). For us, I think the allowances will be useful because we spend money in different ways: he spends money less frequently but when he does he tends to splurge, while I plan every purchase, am big on coupons, etc. While I’ve accepted this difference in theory, I think that seeing his purchases on our joint account would stress me out.

      Plus, we can buy each other presents and not have to worry about the other person choosing THAT DAY to look at the balance.

    • Kim

      Hey E . . . we don’t do allowances out of our pot, and it works just fine for us. Just one joint pot divided into savings and for spending. Not to say that you should do the same, but just saying it can be done (relatively) drama-free.

  • Calumnia

    My parents are absolutely terrible with money. Like “paid of all our debts last year but are back spending more than we earn again.” Growing up I was always told the family chose to live in a beautiful house and eat well then to drive a fancy car or go on vacations.

    When I first left home this made me want to block my ears and not check my bank balance. I was utterly completely broke. I lived on $800 a month (including rent) and when I ran out of money in the third week I lived on food bank canned goods.

    Now, in my early 20s, I’m finally making enough money that I can save, but I’m also making enough money so I can spend. All those years buying thrift store socks at a dollar a piece has made me appreciate owning things that won’t disintegrate in 6 months. So, to keep my spending reasonable I check my balance every week and pay all my bills on payday. At the same time, I transfer a set amount into savings (about 14% of my after tax income) and throw an amount on my student loan. I also lay out any upcoming expenses for the next two weeks (phone bill, contact lenses, dentist, etc).

    One thing I’ve noticed about having a life partner; it makes me want to be more careful with my money. Because it will be our money one day. And because anything I save now will help support the plans we are making together.

  • Kristen

    My husband and I do this sort of. We live off of his income (pays for food, clothing, going out etc…) and mine goes straight into an account that our bills come out of. Since I don’t make enough to cover all the bills we’re still paying some out of our regular account but hopefully one day instead of seeing the money go in and straight out again it could just sit and accumulate for a while.

  • i cant belive i stumbled upon this post. since getting married almost a year ago this is the one and only area that has been difficult. Thanks so much for the great advice and input….nice to know we aren’t the only ones trying to figure it all out.

    xx kristen

  • SweetAdeline

    We had a little snafu trying to figure out the best way to work this. We opened an account at the same bank over a year ago, but since we’ve been back from Japan and really on our own (about 3 years) I have been the one handling the money. I like doing it. I have my own way of handling it, I have a spreadsheet to track the bills and after many trials and errors I am getting really good at saving some, spending some, and keeping the lights on too. He’s pretty irresponsible with his money. Not that he spends a lot or unwisely, but he doesn’t track his bank account (especially not obsessively multiple times a day (an hour) like I do and due dates on bills just seem to escape him. So he does the laundry, I do the bills. It works for us.

    Or it did until his mother suggested we get a joint account.

    Now technically we already have one. We have separate checking accounts with a shared savings. We both have complete access to each other’s accounts so if one of us is running low we can just transfer money instantly back and forth. I like this arrangement because we spend a lot of time apart during the week. I’m commuting to or from or at work for upwards of 12 hours a day and both of us spend money in dribs and drabs most days. Lunch here, a six pack there, etc. If we both had a debit card linked to one account, I would go out of my mind worrying that one of us was going to decide to buy a sandwich and overdraw the account. That’s right – we are generally a sandwich away from disaster at all times. So two separate checking accounts works great! I keep him apprised of what’s in his, we can each do our daily stuff like normal without having to call and check every time we get a snickers bar and it works.

    When he told me he wanted to combine the accounts I said no. Too complicated for me for daily life, especially when I’m the one who would have to adjust EVERYTHING to accommodate it. And just when I was figuring all this out! We make all financial decisions together already, we share everything, but the actual logistics of it gave me a headache and I didn’t want to change up the system. And he was upset about it which I don’t really understand. He still has 100% access to all of the accounts, but what is it about the idea of joint checking that appeals to him so much? It seems to have blown over for the moment, but the whole thing was really bizarre to me.

    Maybe now that the wedding is over and we aren’t quite so broke anymore it will make more sense with more than a $13 cushion in the accounts at any given time. But I kinda of like our little system. Is that wrong?

    • meg

      First of all, no system is wrong. Second of all, David and I have two separate checking accounts too, for similar reasons. See above :)

      And I remember being a sandwich away from disaster. That’s one of the reasons we pull our weeks money out in cash in the beginning of the week. Then we know how much we’re spending and don’t risk over drafts very often.

  • Fitz

    Meg, I love that you look at your savings account balance for comfort. I’m guilty of this too; my husband thinks it is weird, but I find it reassuring, having finally paid off my student loans, to see our balance growing in the right direction. (I know this is coming from a position of privilege, especially in this economic climate; my parents had to drain their hard-earned savings to weather a few economic crises, and I hope we are lucky enough to escape that turn of fate).

  • Lady D

    My mother always told me “if you can’t share your money, you can’t share your life”. And I think that was pretty good advice. But she was married in her late teens. It is obviously a tad bit more complicated, though, when you get married in your 30s and each of you brings your independent selves and sometimes surprising money styles (baggage?) to the table.

    About the student loan debt. I understand where you’re coming from, Meg. I also know that I would be deeply offended if my fiance insisted on paying for it. My law school loans are MINE and I incurred them long before I ever met him. It is a point of personal pride and independence. I chose that path, I took on the commitment, and dammit, I want to pay it off. By myself. I am certainly not getting married so that I can dump my responsibilities onto someone else who happened to take a less expensive graduate school path. We no longer operate under a “coverture” system whereby the woman is incorporated into the man’s existence upon marriage, but I would feel that way if he paid off my loans.

    I understand that this is all a bit of juggling–I mean, if I’m paying off student loans then obviously I have less money to put towards the mortgage or other “joint” ventures. But it’s still important to me.

    • meg

      Right. I was going to say, but you can’t be contributing to your retirement fund on the same level, or your mortgage on the same level if you are paying your loans… so really, your partner is helping to pay them even if you’re acting like he’s not. And might be easier for him emotionally if he could just openly help. I don’t know. It’s complicated. But you should ask. If David was trying to be independent like that I would be DEEPLY hurt. But, on the flip side, I do totally see where your coming from. I run my own business. I’m pretty proud of that in a similar way.

      • Lady D

        I have definitely considered all of those perspectives. (Fiance does not really care. He is of the opinion that it’s all coming from the same pocket(s) eventually.) I have to also mention another key factor–he is seven years older than me, makes more money, and has had the time to pay off his (cheaper) grad school. So there is already an imbalance.

        What I’ve been thinking lately is that this is the best money plan for us RIGHT NOW and we can re-evaluate in 3-5 years. It has occurred to me that perhaps if I pay my student loans for a few more years, get them closer to a level that I feel appropriate for both of us to contribute to, I think I will feel OK with both of us tackling them to finish it off.

        We have collectively decided on our money goals and we are both putting our efforts towards those. I look at is as, well, if my income were $12K less, then that is what I would have to contribute. This is what I have to contribute after my loan.

        No one really commented on money systems that change over time. I just do not feel comfortable with a complete one-pot system right now. But I might in a few years. My parents have been married for 40 years and changed their money systems several times as they entered different phases of their lives.

  • Meg, I’m so glad to read about your experience. I think we’re cut from the same cloth in regard to money. I was shocked too to learn that money was such a source of ire for so many couples. It never was that way with my parents, and I’m so thankful they set a great example for me (and unintentinally for my fiance). I’m actually looking forward to blending finances!

  • we are the same system, pretty much. except we both have david’s habits. :O

    is it weird that right now i am fantasizing that next time i see you, we can sit down and have a budgeting counseling session? seriously.

    (you know what the woman at the bank did? in her suggested budget, she noted that, god forbid, should something happen to one of our pets we would have 2 instead of 3, so that there would save money, and it was included in her tally of a less spending budget for us. wtf?!?)

    • meg

      Her budget planning suggestion was that you KILL YOUR PET? Man. That’s classy.

      We’ve been trying to shape up lately and have a nice excel budget, we should chat, obviously.

  • keep the money posts coming, meg! 1+ year later and we’re still wondering what the heck to do about our finances.

  • Gah. Almost enough to make me finally want to consider combining finances. We do separate + joint checking and savings accounts, each contributing a pre-defined amount into the joint account each month. Also, separate + joint credit cards.

    I am a money squirrel, whereas he is more comfortable with spending (in a completely reasonable way) and I worry that if we were to see each other’s day to day expenditures we might not handle it so well. That’s always been my sticking point. I trust him completely, but I know myself and I know my head might explode if I have to see his $10 daily lunch outings on our account. He might feel the same way about my thrift store purchases. We’re fine with each other’s spending in theory, and we know the total cash flow, but I don’t really want to know the nitty-gritty.

    But I suppose we could make it work with separate allowance accounts. I’ve honestly never considered it before, but I know you and ESB have been really happy with the one pot deal. Hmmm…

  • Meg, you are awesome. I haven’t combed through all of the other posts but finances have been on my mind for a while. I’ve been trying to come up with an elegant way to write about money and you did a fantastic job.

  • Sarah

    My fiancee and I have been keeping our finances separate. This is probably what we’ll do even after the wedding. Since we can’t legally get married in our state (NY), we aren’t really sure what to do about money. The legal complications of merging everything make our heads spin so we have resolved to continue handling things the way we always have – pay things as needed, and discuss our money currently/future goals, but keep our accounts separate. This works because we also don’t fight about money, just reason about it.

    But what do other same-sex couples do who consider themselves married? Eventually we could get a lawyer and work out documents that allow us to fully merge, but it’s all so iffy, it just seems safer not to merge finances in the first place.

    • meg

      Our friends in New York have a lawyer (you HAVE TO as a gay couple: you need wills, you’ll need to cross adopt if you have kids, etc. You have to protect yourself becuase the courts are not going to do it for you). But to answer your question, yes, they share finances, yes, they are properly protected.

  • Jamie

    My sister told me about this post and I finally had enough time to set aside to actually read it! I’m new to APW :) I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your words, Meg, and seeing what all the other well educated, savvy posters have to say about all this.

    Money talk creeps me out, for the most part. Ah, money baggage. A different post for a different time. Let’s get down to business.

    I like to spend but I don’t like to talk about it with my FH because he is Mortis the Safety Tortoise. (About everything, including money.) My FH spends a lot, but he can, because he makes a lot. He also saves, he pays off his law school loans, and he lives very comfortably. He often pays for nice vacations for us, dinners out, and entertainment- but I also contribute wherever I can (what I feel comfortable contributing). I never have asked him to pay for anything for me. He offers. When I start my new teaching job in the fall, I will be making 3x less than him. He has expensive law school loans but makes a lot, and I will have moderate school loans and will be making a little.

    I really, really like the idea of the one pot. Obviously I make far less than him, and I would benefit from this arrangement money-wise. BUT when we move in together I will be doing the laundry, enjoying making dinners, and probably run most of the errands. (As well as working full time.) Reading these posts have really made me excited to talk about money with him even though I’m a little nervous about it. I wanted to see if anyone could give me advice about what I foresee happening in our conversation…

    I’m pretty sure he will NOT want to do the one pot thing because he will feel shafted. He is accustomed to buying expensive stereo systems, electronics, things for his house, etc.; whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He often expresses how he enjoys this luxury and he’s very proud how hard he has worked to have this. If we do the one pot system, he will probably feel like his ‘allowance’ has dramatically decreased, and he won’t have that luxury anymore of just buying anything he wants. I, on the other hand, will be able to spend a greater deal of money every week (If I so choose) from my allowance than I ever had before. When I actually type it out and think about it, I almost feel selfish, like it shouldn’t be this way- his spending dramatically cut and my spending dramatically raised. BUT then I remember that when we move in together, I will be taking care of the home (I cringe as I write this–it sounds SO Little House on the Prairie–but I swear I look forward to being a domestic goddess!)

    Anyway, if anyone out there has any suggestions for me (I know this post is much later than all the others!) I would really appreciate it. Kudos to you, Meg, for creating this safe, insightful place to write, reflect, and glean ideas things that don’t need to be uncomfortable.

  • Martha

    Great post! Really good insight. It’s always difficult to discuss finances and share money in relationships. Thanks for your advice. I recently stumbled upon this blog like I stumbled upon yours. I think they offer some good points and laughter about the topic:

    Thanks for the post! I’d like to see more like it.

  • A little late but…

    I was never really worried to combine my finances with my fiance. We aren’t married yet but we already consider all the money in the relationship to be “ours”, not just mine or his. For a couple months he was the one supporting me so when I finally got a job and a paycheck it made me feel good to be able to contribute and help out and take some of the pressure off him. We both have great credit, so that wasn’t really scary either. I tend to be a little more frugal while he is the big spender, but we balance each other out really well in that I make him think twice about spending money on something we don’t need, and he makes me feel more confident about the money we do need to spend. We try to talk about money and bills at least once a week just to make sure we’re on the same page and it seems to work out really well for us.

  • Cary

    I’m also a little late, but very grateful to have found this thread.

    I have been struggling with money issues for a while. The short story is that my boyfriend and I both left our jobs and moved back to NYC (from CA) to be closer to his family, as his dad was very ill. His dad died about a month after we returned. While my boyfriend found a great job relatively quickly, I have been unemployed (with a few freelance projects here and there) since January.

    We got engaged in July. Since then I’ve tried to initiate a financial discussion many times, without much success. I have been totally transparent about my credit card and student loan debts, as well as any freelance money I had coming in. But he has yet to lay any of his specific financial information on the table, and we certainly don’t have joint access to “one pot.”

    Our “system” is basically that I ask him for money to pay my bills, deal with household stuff, or whatever, and he writes me a check for a few hundred dollars. At first I figured it was an okay temporary fix, and that I’d get a job. But now, it feels downright demoralizing. I have never made tons of money but have lived independently since college. I’ve suggested getting a part time job, but we have two dogs, and the cost of a dog walker in New York City basically negates any small income I would make.

    He told me that he opened a joint account for us, but that we have to go to the bank together to authorize it—and after many lazy Saturdays with no bank action, I’m starting to think either he is lying, or there’s some reason he can’t go through with it.

    Before this sounds like my fiance is a huge jerk, I’ll say that his previous marriage ended unpleasantly, and he suffered significant financial losses because of that. So I can understand why it makes him nervous. But if he’s ready to remarry, I think he should be ready to trust me enough to share what I think should be OUR money. I search and network daily for a job and believe me, I’m not enjoying my life as a “lady of leisure.” In fact our apartment feels like a prison, as there’s no way to do anything in NYC without spending the money I don’t have.

    I know this is a complicated personal situation, but I’m desperate for some advice. The last thing I want to do is throw down an ultimatum, but I’m so frustrated, I’m ready to give him the ring back and go stay with my parents until we can figure this out. Has anyone else dealt with anything like this?

    (So grateful again for everyone’s comments here.)

    • Olivia

      Hm, I doubt that you will ever see this, and perhaps (hopefully) your situation has changed by now, but I’ll post anyway.

      a) you two have got to deal with this issue asap. Money in marriage is as big of an issue as everyone says it is – even when you’re on the same page, it’s still a lot of effort to manage your money and stay on the same page – and your fiance’s unwillingness to talk about finances is a huge deal.

      b) the Met is suggested donation, you can go for peanuts. MoMA is free on Friday nights. It is summer now, check out SummerStage, Celebrate Brooklyn, and more of the free outdoor festivals. The parks are all free and awesome. Or just walk around and people watch. NYC is constant free entertainment :)

      • Cary

        Thanks so much for your reply, Olivia. (Glad I checked the “notify me” button!) My fiance and I broke up in January. Money was a big issue, among others, and I could not continue in the relationship. I am now gainfully and happily employed, living on my own, and feeling an ENORMOUS sense of relief to no longer feel trapped or ignored. This website was an invaluable resource in my decision to end my engagement, and I have grown in leaps and bounds since then. Thanks to all APW folks for their encouragement and good advice. :)

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