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.
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.