Why Learning to Talk about Money Was Hard, but worth It

two brides standing together

My partner and I were together for roughly five years before we moved across the country together. Before we moved we kept a fairly meticulous list of who owes whom what and would pay out at the end or beginning of each month. When we moved, even after buying a car for the move, we never discussed any other financial plan. Then reality hit. I was making double her income working ten to fifteen fewer hours a week, and we had to have our first real discussions about finances that were not just, “Hey you owe me this.” We wanted to do things as a couple and needed to figure out a system that kept some sort of balance around money despite an unequal income.

As discussed a number of times on APW, finances are less than sexy. Unfortunately, finances become a whole different ball game when the federal government sees you as no more than roommates, when marriage isn’t a tangible marker of relationship stability, or if you aren’t down with marriage at all. We had to come up with our own way of dealing with money.

I was terrified because even the act of tallying what we owed each other was abhorrent to me. It was the opposite of the care and generosity we show each other. To add fuel to the fire, I grew up with a horrible model of finances. My parents fought when my dad made more money than my mom, they fought when my mother made more than my dad, they fought when there was no money and when there was lots of money. I wanted a different pattern of existence around money when I grew up.

Addison, on the other hand, grew up with her mother in control of the finances and significantly fewer battles in the house around money. I had always liked the idea of pooled money, but I was afraid of being taken advantage of, or worse, letting my mother down because she worked so hard to keep her finances her own.

What I found was…it wasn’t awful! Combining our finances meant we both have so much more room to breath and make big decisions together. Our way of combining finances also took into account the cultural mania around money, even in intimate relationships. Both of us come from women and gender studies backgrounds, so we started every conversation with what makes both of us feel the most valuable, from there we got the following setup.

  • Our accounts stay separate, but we have a joint credit card. This allows us to surprise each other and treat ourselves sometimes. Eventually (when we have more money all around) we want to be able to have a truly pooled account and separate fun money.
  • In order to make the separate account situation work we have a single spreadsheet of all family incomes and expenses. The money we make is in separate accounts but tallied as one amount when talking about what our finances look like.
  • Addison is in charge of our budget. This worked out nicely because 1. She is good with money, and 2. It gives her added control over our finances so it doesn’t feel like my decision matters most because I make the money.
  • I pay upfront bills, like rent, so that by the middle of the month we switch to relying on her money. It seems silly to set up a system where I have to ask for money, but it does wonders for balancing both of our feelings of contribution to the household.
  • Lastly, we both put in work to recognize the non-paid labor each of us does. Chores like cooking, cleaning, and errands shift to the person working the fewest hours, and we thank each other regularly for doing that work. Knowing and appreciating unpaid labor has had an enormous balancing effect in our partnership.

A big portion of our success probably comes from the fact that we talk a lot about the power imbalance in unequal wages, and we like to spend money in similar ways (we don’t eat out all year so we can go on vacations frequently). We also have very similar expenses, so we don’t argue about the imbalance of one person’s expenses. Tallying all expenses and all incomes in one place might make up for unbalanced expenses like cosmetics and hair grooming, but we haven’t had to deal with that yet.

At the end of the day, separate but joint finances work for us because we are both committed to the idea that we are in this together whether or not we are married. We know that experiencing life together is more important than whose bank account is financing the adventure.

To be honest, our friends think we are nuts for figuring out this system. Most of them, even the gay ones, are waiting for marriage as a marker to start merging finances, but I am here to say it doesn’t have to be that way! Combining our finances was a way to have and share more and to be brave, because let’s face it…shared finances with no contract saying you can’t walk away with your other half holding all the debt can be scary! We face that fear every day, though, and come out knowing that our commitment is more than a slip of paper. Our dreams and our relationship can’t wait for federal approval, so why should our finances?

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  • This is so timely. For a long time we functioned as having joint income, but without really having joined the accounts. What we used to do (when I was employed, that is, until last September) was live on one salary, and fully save the other one (in a savings account that wasn’t common until last month, when we finally got around to joining both of our accounts, which actually meant closing mine, and having just 1 account where everything goes).
    In the meantime I have struggled with feeling guilty for being “kept”, for not contributing financially at the moment (but I have come to realize that 1. I will in the (hopefully close) future, and 2. I contribute to our household in other ways).
    Just last weekend we were looking at the numbers in our spreadsheet and came up with a budget to try and limit our (small-ish) expenses in fun stuff or unexpected expenses (like gifts), going out, movies, coffee… which actually add up and go up and down in apparently random ways because we were just “spending” as we go. We only use our credit card to pay for stuff like airplane tickets but we pay that within 1 month and for bigger expenses (clothes, shoes, travel… we analyze and decide together and think long and hard before making a decision). It was the smaller expenses that were a bit out of control but hopefully trying to stick to this budget we have made will help us control things a bit more.

  • Ann

    My partner and I started a joint account when we moved in together–after two years of dating when I was 21. We opened a checking account that, to this day, tends to hold money for 1.5-2 months worth of expenses. My mom was displeased when he and I first opened the account, stating with great concern “But if you die, he gets all the money in the account!” My response was “Mom, I sincerely hope that if I die, you are far more upset about MY DEATH than one or two thousand dollars.” She agreed that I had a fair point!

    In the four years since then, we’ve kept basically the same system. He is very big on equally contributing in terms of money, even though I make a lot more than he does. To compensate, I buy the little things that he finds nice, but unnecessary, like dinners out, wine, one weekend getaway a year, etc. Despite is desire to slit everything 50-50, he finds this fair because these are all things he would do without if he was spending his own money. I’m also paying for the majority of our upcoming wedding. Our individual expenses (my car, clothes, etc) comes out of our individual accounts.

    We’ve talked a lot about how we’ll likely keep something like our current system until we buy a house or if he can’t find work after we move (the move is for my career). It suits our personalities, as we like the ease of the joint account (we use the joint debit card for nearly everything), but we like our financial independence.

    Overall, I think the most important thing for finances is figuring out what works for YOU and not being afraid to renegotiate whenever your life circumstances change.

    • Laura

      This is exactly what we did when we moved in together! Now that the wedding is only 2 months away, we’ve begun discussing the ways in which our expenses will change.

      We agreed that while we’d both like to keep separate accounts for individual expenses (clothes, shoes, etc.), we’d likely switch things around and put the larger percentage of our salaries into our joint accounts (to save for a house, vacations, etc.), and the smaller percentage into our individual accounts (which is the opposite of what we have currently).

      While it has certainly not been easy discussing these things – (while we discuss the feminist perspective here on APW a lot, one thing I keep running into is what to do when your future husband feels cultural pressure to “take care of” and “provide for me”), it seems like this arrangement is a happy medium for both of us.

  • Lucy

    We have a similar system – my partner works less hours than I do and he really likes to do the housework to make up his ‘work’ time to the same as mine. It’s not something we actively sat down and discussed it has sort of evolved over time but it works great for us. We both feel like we are contributing. I think that feeling of contributing equally has really stopped any feelings of resentment between us.

    • Amy

      Thank you for saying this! My relationship has a similar dynamic in that, over the course of a week, he works almost 10 hours more than I do so I try to balance it out by doing most of the housework in the intervening hours we are not together.

  • Right now we’ve got something very similar going on, with separate accounts but considering the money joint, and by and large it works pretty well. We have standing offers to pass money back and forth very freely as needed, and if one of us has a large and unplanned expense we both treat it as “ours”. It’s a transitional stage as we’ve both been very clear that we want to have one main account that all the money goes into and each get separate allowances for fun expenses.

    The goal right now is that in the next couple of months things will be completely joint. While things here work decently right now, things just aren’t equitable entirely between income and expenses and we feel like it’s holding us back a little from some of our financial goals. We’re also trying to work our way through a lot of big discussions about the nitty gritty about the budget before we officially join everything.

  • As heteronormative and kind of uncool feeling as it is, I got a lot of good tips out of Suze Orman’s “Women and Money” book!

    We were happily shacked up and in it for the long haul but it wasn’t until we refinanced the house and added me to the mortgage that we put those tips to work. We add up all of our household expenses and our joint incomes, calculate what percent of household income we each earn, and then we each contribute into a joint checking account the % of household expenses that relates to our individual % of household income earned. it’s really hard to explain – but if anyone is interested, I have a google doc spreadsheet that does the calculation here: http://bit.ly/household_budget

    And even after successfully merging together household expenses, coming up with budgets that we could each agree to and acknowledged our priorities, and getting a joint credit card to make routine expenses easier to deal with, I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about what success for our partnership means fiscally compared to individual success. I’m a much better saver than my husband (well, *I* think so anyway) and at the end of the month I have some extra cash that I haven’t spent out of my budget available. So it’s taken me a while to figure out that what is best for our personal fiscal success as well as our partnership success is actually me putting that money towards a shared goal – like redoing the bathroom, or throwing that marriage party we are planning for the summer – not just holding on to it and feeling awesome and rich but totally totally lonely.

    • EJ

      I learned about this method from Suze’s other book “Young, Fabulous, and Broke”, and we have found it to be a very successful way to merge finances for the 3+ years we’ve lived together. We’re both contributing an equal percentage of our income to a joint account out of which we pay for what both of us genuinely use (food, utilities, rent, etc.). Right now that also includes saving for a wedding. After we’re married, we figure we’ll keep it up and save for the next big thing – like a car. We re-visit the budget when necessary, especially if there’s something coming up (like Christmas) that will require extra.

      For now, we use our personal accounts to handle our student loan payments and to buy what we each want individually (so if I spend $40 on a haircut I don’t feel bad for it). Although after we’re married, we’ll put the student loan payments into the joint expenses too – in the spirit of becoming debt-free as a team.

  • Lauren

    Once again, APW is timely as hell.

    Fiance and I were just talking last night about finances, because I have a job and am very careful with my money, and he’s a student and likes going to dinner with his friends a lot. I was just saying yesterday that my frustration doesn’t really stem from his spending, per se, but that 50 percent of MY money is going towards OUR wedding and he doesn’t have a ton of money to contribute, so it feels like he doesn’t care. Blah blah blah… point being, we sorted it out.

    But this thread is going to be super helpful! I am looking forward to the reader wisdom that will surely come throughout the day. :)

    ETA: I think remember the lesbians posts should be a once-weekly thing. Y’all rock.

  • BB

    We have a fully joint debit and savings account and one joint credit card, and then we each have a credit card of our own (which get used for surprises). In order to pay for our new car and facilitate FH going back to school last year (and pulling in a quarter of what I do), we had no choice but to combine our salaries in hopes of being able to scrounge up some savings together that we would be unable to do alone. Since then, it has worked really well. It is OUR money in every way, and we regularly discuss our savings/debt paying goals and priorities. We also discuss nearly all purchases (since we are still in a penny-pinching mode). I keep track of day-to-day expenses because I am a control freak and would want to be heavily involved either way. It also helps with his anxiety about money not having to stare at the paltry sum in our account every day. Someday hopefully we will have enough money for each of us to have separate frivolous spending money, but in the meantime, we enjoy spoiling each other, and spend most of our “fun” money on together activities. That being said, if one of us really needs something for sanity purposes, we encourage each other to buy it. This system works well for us, but I do think constant communication is key.

  • Kelly

    We combined our finances before we were even engaged with the full intention of just merging it all completely. We had been separate for so long and after 4 1/2 years, we knew where we were going, had just signed a lease for a new place, and decided to mark the move by officially combining our finances. He wanted to hang on to his savings account for a few more months so he could surprise me with a ring, but when we proposed three months later we finally combined everything.

    All of our money goes into a series of joint accounts for savings, checking and bills. I take care of pretty much all the finances, but obviously we discuss major decisions. While it wouldn’t work for everyone, it’s been great for us, in part because we lived together for so long before combining that we didn’t have any worries about the other person’s habits with money. He spends very little and hates to worry about stuff, so I take care of the day-to-day and clue him in on how we’re doing big-picture. I spend more than him, but eventually he came to see that I wasn’t spending money in frivolous ways and to trust me when I say “yes, we can afford this, it’s in the budget.”

    This has made it feel like paying for the wedding is completely a shared endeavor. I make more than him, but because every dollar comes from and goes to a shared place, it no longer feels like my income vs. his, it’s all family income.

    • This is pretty much our situation exactly (except he makes more than I do, for now). It’s so so much easier to deal with bills when it’s fully “our” money, though I think you and I are lucky in having partners with the same general financial planning outlook as we do. By the time A and I combined, we had been paying for things in a non-50/50 way for so long that it was much easier to just formalize the arrangement (and now I get to keep lots of fun spreadsheets, which I genuinely love).

      Did you get side-eye from friends when combining? I had some friends who were incredulous about a full pooling situation, but they don’t talk about finances with their partners nearly as much or as comprehensively.

      • Kelly

        We totally got the side-eye! I sort of just let them be suspicious and kept on keeping on. Ultimately, no one knows what will work for you except you. In a few years when we’ve been married a while and all is said and done, I’m sure it’ll be water under the bridge, the specifics of when and how.

      • My younger sister skipped the side-eye and just flat our told me I was crazy for fully merging finances with my husband!

        • Yikes! The most common thing I hear along these lines are “You’re ignoring divorce/prenup/etc. issues because you think it won’t happen to you.” I respond that we don’t have any assets that would make a prenup worthwhile, and we’re working on living wills/life insurance to make sure our finances are prepared for external disaster. But it’s hard to convince some people that optimism about the partnership we’ve worked hard to build isn’t foolish…

          • Meg

            Unless one partner has significant assets or debts before the marriage that they want to keep separate in the event of a divorce or death, then you may as well physically merge all accounts. Legally all income and assets accumualted during the marriage is considered community property anyway. If it helps psychologically to keep separate accounts then go for it, but people who think their money is protected just because it’s put in an account without the spouse’s name are deluding themselves.

    • Sara C.

      I agree completely – I love having fully pooled money. My spouse and I have both made more/less than the other at different points over our relationship, but we both trust that at any moment we are both giving 100% to our relationship.

      Our system is simple:

      1. All money goes into a joint account.
      2. We retained our own credit cards (credit score) but we also added each other to all accounts. All of our passwords/logins etc. are shared.
      3. We opened a credit card together.
      4. We set up a budget together for daily expenses. I mainly handle the implementation, but that’s because I like spreadsheets.
      5. When we want to buy something big, we talk about it and decide if we should or not.

      And that’s it – easy peasy. No asking for permission, no feeling guilty, no worrying about whose contributing more. We just assume we both contribute 100%, we have an idea of our financial limitations, we have shared and independent goals we work towards, and we don’t sweat small expenses. For me, it would be difficult to imagine a system without full sharing…

      • Those are exactly our five steps. There’s no “guilt” in spending the pooled money on fun shoes or Starbucks as long as the joint expenses and savings goals aren’t affected by the spending (which is why you budget in the first place).

        And if anyone’s reading these comments and trying to figure out how they want to structure their partnership finances, I think it’s really important to emphasize that when constructing the one pot, you want to be cognizant of how outside institutions are looking at each of you. It’s not so important to each have a checking account in each partner’s name, but using credit cards in each partner’s name is really important for maintaining good credit.

        Also: “but we both trust that at any moment we are both giving 100% to our relationship” is the essential foundation of any financial union within a partnership. If you’re not there, back away from the money and address that first.

        • Sara C.

          Yes – the 100% trust is what I think made us married & eased our finances (and that 100% trust did not magically coincide with the day of our wedding).

  • natalie

    Ah, money. On a Monday, no less. I spent the entire weekend talking (fighting) with my husband about this. Before we got married, we discussed that all of our money would be ‘our’ money, but since getting married last June, the only thing I have managed to do is change my name legally with my bank. We have NOT merged our money in the way that we discussed when we were engaged.

    When we were first married in June, I was working only part-time, but I was doing a lot more around the house than he was (is.) Now I have a great, full-time job, and so my feelings about merging money are 2-sided:

    1. As somewhat of a feminist, is having my own income and autonomy kind of NICE? It’s kind of cool to not worry about overdrawing on an account…I can order things online from Antho and 10 pairs of leggings from the GAP without my husband necessarily knowing, but why do I care if he knows in the first place? I changed my name; I changed my identity in a lot of ways for this person and now I’m supposed to surrender the money that I earn?

    2. Since we are husband and wife, and since we have common goals (like buying a home and having a baby in the distant future,) it makes sense to operate from the same bucket. It’s how most of our married friends do it, and not merging our money makes me feel like we are roommates who happen to love each other a lot. Plus *(added pressure here!)* this is the way my parents did it, so not doing it this way makes me feel…weird.

    Not merging our money in the beginning was a decision based on the fact that my husband has tremendous debt, which I expect him to pay down this year. But not merging our money ALSO made me feel like less of a partner…less of a wife…as though I was not entitled to his money (since he makes 2x what I make.)

    Anyone else married who hasn’t merged their money?

    • We don’t have merged finances, which seemed weird to me at first (I had merged finances in a prior long-term relationship), but which I actually really like now. They aren’t totally SEPARATE either – we make our money plans together of course, and we do have one joint savings account, but we also each have our own checking and savings accounts, and our own budgets. Everything is transparent, I have her bank log-ins, she has mine, the budgets are shared Google Docs, but having our own accounts feels nice in a way I hadn’t expected. After I’ve taken care of the regular responsibilities, I truly feel like the money left is “mine” and I can spend it however I want without feeling guilty or having to justify it. This works for us right now.


      Yup – we’re still in in-between land as well, though for slightly different reasons. We both own condos that we purchased in 2007 (i.e. “underwater” doesn’t quite cover the situation) and chose to live in his and rent mine out. In lieu of merging finances, we’ve chosen to have him pay for just about everything related to his condo (mortgage, utils), dinners out/groceries, and trips (he got an airline card so that we could double the miles). I pay my mortgage/HOA fees out “my” job money and “my” rental income and I save the remainder for a our next house (plus any bonus money and our 2012 tax money). Because it was too convoluted to change banks (autodrafts and whatnot), we kept our individual accounts (savings, checking) with different major banks. I added him to my account when we got the wedding checks made out to both of us. He has access to the big bucket savings account to pay a linked credit card if needed, but otherwise he doesn’t have access to the accounts.

      Anyway, I wouldn’t say it works perfectly. I’m pretty OCD about tracking every dollar and not knowing exactly where 1/2 our money goes on which day of the month is something new to me, but I’m learning. Our current system was born out of necessity and will have to be reevaluated when we buy another house, have kids, finally sell one of our albatross condos, etc.

      I would love to hear other perspectives on how people figured it out.

    • MDBethann

      My DH and I have both separate and joint accounts. We do direct deposit of our salaries into our individual accounts. We set up the joint account 3 years ago when we bought our house together (pre-engagement). We decided then to pay our bills and mortgage out of the joint account, as well as any home improvements. Groceries, gas for the cars, etc. we just pay for individually. Some of the separateness has been because we have expenses for my old condo, which was a rental property we’re now hoping to sell, and for tax reasons (before we got married last spring) we needed to keep the stuff for the rental property as separately “mine” as possible.

      Additionally, my DH was married before and his ex was not the greatest with money; she left him with a lot of debt when they divorced. While he’s paid it all off and she’s slowly paying him her share, it’s been baby steps for us. Our next step is going to be adding him to one of my credit cards for household purchases and we’ll probably increase the amount we each put into the joint account. He knows I’m even more frugal than he is with money, but we both recognize baby steps are important for us.

    • Maddie

      We were married a WHILE before we merged our money. It also took us a while before we saw my humongous student debt as our debt instead of MY debt.

      For us, it took a while before we got to a point where our separate finances became a hindrance instead of something helpful, and that’s when we made the switch.

      I sort of wish we’d done it earlier, but I don’t think you could have convinced me otherwise a few years ago. :)

    • kyley

      Oh, I totally get this! The idea of relinquishing my own personal checking account seems terrifying. I make good money, I contribute to heaftily to our savings and pay half our bills, but I want the autonomy of controlling a portion of my money–independently. The thought of it stresses me out.

      So here’s our plan which, 5 months out from the wedding we’ve yet to implement:
      1. a joint savings, which we each automatically contribute to each month
      2. a joint checking, for all bills, expenses, and a bit of “fun” money for dates out and the like. My student loans and his credit card bills (our respective large-ish debt) will both come out of this fund.
      3. an individual checking account for each of us, the funds in that account are to be spent however you like.

      It sounds great (to me) on paper, but we haven’t moved towards putting any of it in action yet. Anyone have experience with this kind of a semi-pooled financial system? How did it/does it go?

      • Caitlyn

        This is what my husband and I do, we have a joint checking and savings account, and then we each have our own personal checking accounts. Basically, we each get $100 a month for our personal checking accounts and everything else goes to joint. It was really important for my husband to be able to surprise me with gifts, and not see the purchases on joint statements. Our monthly $100 is basically for gifts for each other and personal fun spending money. Gifts for relatives, utilities, groceries, etc. all come from the joint account. We have no joint credit card and I don’t plan to ever have one. Suze Orman says not to; for example my dad left my mom with a ton of credit card debt (she had to file for bankruptcy) that he racked up because she filed for divorce. My husband is a much better person than my dad, but still, it seems like a good lesson.

        The only thing that hasn’t been quite perfected for me is when I spend my personal money versus using our joint account. I’m currently unemployed and have been since right before our wedding in September, so I do feel a little guilty about spending joint money…even though my $100 allowance is also coming from that account. Basically, I feel like if I have money in my personal account, I should spend it first when I buy something like clothing. Really I think clothing should come from the joint account because it is kind of a necessity, but the guilt stems from my husband never buying new clothes or shoes and me loving buying new clothes and shoes. Basically some bits are not as black and white as they should be. My hope is that once I’m contributing to our joint account in some way, my guilt will be relieved and nearly all my clothes and shoes will come out of the joint account, haha. And also at that time we will each get bigger allowances too, but maybe I will use more of that money for gifts for my husband.

        Money is hard and confusing, I think it’s just important to have an open dialog. I prefer even to have the same conversation about it over and over just to make sure that we continue to be on the same page about things. Thankfully, though we would like to have two incomes, its more so we can save more and take more trips and be able to replace my car if needed and stuff like that, we pretty easily live off of my husbands income, so there isn’t any tension or fighting about money.

    • Natalie

      Thanks ladies. These are great responses. I guess part of my problem, too, has been my insecurity about money. The author of this post points out that, unfortunately (but unavoidably) our self-worth gets wrapped up in money in ways that are super complex (and made even more complicated bu gender roles, etc.)

      My husband and I haven’t formally merged our finances on paper, but we of course discuss money on a daily basis and make plans to pay our bills. It is still very much of an adjustment for me to consider some of my ‘personal’ expenses (doctors visits) as ‘group’ expenses (where do you draw the line?) So I kind of consider anything that benefits BOTH of us to be a group expense. Medical stuff counts because my husband is no good to me dead! ;)

      My husband pays the bulk of the bills that come in the mail, in addition to his student loan payments, our rent, internet, Netflix, and our gas bill. On the flip side, I am responsible for 80% of the food we eat (groceries and preparation/planning) as well as my car insurance, and other misc. expenses that we have, including my horrible online shopping habit, savings, etc.

      At first, I really wanted access to my husband’s account, just for the sake of keeping everything transparent. But I trust him, and I know we are moving in the same direction, which is all that matters to me right now—especially while we are still adjusting to living together and being newly married. :-)

      • JASHSHEA

        I feel you. After some pretty epic financial screw-ups in my early 20s, I was pretty proud of myself for being back in the black. It’s something I fixed all by my single girl self, by learning all the boring Dave Ramsey/Suze Orman rules and putting them to practice.
        Because of my experience, even as my paychecks grew and my expenses dwindled, I tracked pennies obsessively and avoided any type of consumer debt. My husband is more analytical and has an economics background, so he’s more comfortable taking on affordable and reasonable debts (i.e. low or no interest loans) and is more concerned with not tying up liquid assets. Neither one of us is completely right. We’ll just have to keep working towards a solution that makes sense for us.

      • Granola

        I just want to chime in that I had a lot of insecurity about money and combining finances and I was pleasantly surprised at how fast they went away.

        Combining finances completely was the right thing for us, and we didn’t/don’t have a ton of assets. But a couple this stick out to me as worth considering:

        1 – We didn’t overdraw our individual accounts, and we don’t overdraw the joint account. I’m not sure why I thought we would magically turn into profligate spenders when we merged finances, but needless to say we didn’t.

        2 – Negotiation: For me, keeping a half-separate system that entailed both joint and separate accounts would have created a logistical nightmare. What is considered a joint expense? What if one of us doesn’t approve? Etc. I didn’t want to have to delineate or argue over it all, so I opted not to. We talk about big purchases, but otherwise no problem.

        3 – Having a credit card in my own name does allow for surprises, and I pay it off every month to build my credit. It feels like the best of both worlds for me.

  • streamnerd

    I really like the system my husband and I have now that we are married. Before we did a lot of I pay for this, you pay for that, you owe me this…which was a lot of work to keep track of. When we got married we made a budget for all our combined needs and determined the percentage of our take home pay that we must contribute to meet those needs which goes into our joint checking account. The rest of our incomes go into our separate checking accounts for our wants. Neither of us are big spenders so we are also saving money in all three accounts.

    I like this approach because even though we do not make the same salaries, we each contribute the same percentage of our incomes to our family needs (rather than a set amount). This feels really egalitarian to me. Our current split is 60% joint account and 40% individual accounts. If our jobs, incomes, or needed expenses change we would of course have to adjust these percentages. We agreed quite easily on what gets paid out of what account and so far this is working great for us.

  • i wish i had come on board with merged finances sooner. which sounds odd if you know us, because we *bought a house* together after dating for 11 months and (i don’t remember when) got joint accounts and all that – and made a decision to live on a single income with minimal weirdness (i mean, not no weirdness; no one likes to feel like they “aren’t contributing” – but it helps that that’s bullshit).

    but then she got an inheritance and wanted to get a new (used) car. which is fine. except that i hate our car. and it is definitely our car – it is the only car we have, and i use it to get to work every day. and i hate driving it. and i knew all that when we bought it, but i felt like it was her choice because it was her money, so i just stepped out of the process. which is a bit stupid – we don’t do “ownership” of stuff or money really anywhere else in our relationship, but it suddenly felt huge there. live and learn – i just wish i had learned that lesson somewhere else, because even if i don’t like it, i fully intend for us to have that car for at least ten years.

    and, p.s. on the house-buying for non-married folk – get some good legal/financial advice *before* you do it (not the “can you afford this” kind – i mean, do that too, but i’m talking about advice specific to your non-married legal status) – for financial/credit reasons, we got the loan in my name, so all the paperwork is in my name, so she doesn’t have any legal standing to our house (or our debt). it turns out that once it’s all said and done, adding her to the deed is considered a taxable gift of half the value of the house – if we’d know that going in, we could have included her on the deed in the first place for free.

    p.p.s. a general note on merged finances: it has been wonderfully simple, for one. both logistically and emotionally – in fact, i think it has been critical for being a one-income household (which we intend to stay for a long time). and i think the only reason it works (for us) is that we have allowances. this allows me to not feel guilty about my alcohol, and makes me leave her alone about her silly tech gadgets (or, at least only roll my eyes, rather than actually being upset) – and keeps the unemployed person from being stuck with no pin money, which is a terrible place to be (even if the amount is small, it is important emotionally to have some choice available).

    • yes! on the deed/gift tax. my partner bought the house before he met me and when we refinanced to put me on the mortgage and the deed our accountant called us up *after we were all done!* to say that he owed a gift tax! we had NOT planned on that. apparently this is a place where, because we’re heterosexual, if we had gotten married and THEN he’d put me on the deed/mortgage it wouldn’t be an issue (aka, we were hit with what I call the GAY TAX because it’s a federal tax issue).

      you will never see this in writing anywhere else but LUCKILY WE WERE UNDERWATER ON THE HOUSE. So we could argue that the BANK owns the house, and therefore no gift tax because all I was receiving was a DEBT. PHEW. (ha! only time I am ever happy about the real estate market crash.)

    • MDBethann

      I wholeheartedly second what Lady Brett advised.

      I provided the bulk of the down payment money but the mortgage is in both names and we both pay equally on it. When we bought the house, we weren’t yet married, so we asked the settlement attorney to draw up a legal document stipulating how the house was to be handled if something happened to one of us before we were married. Additionally, it also addressed how the property was to be treated if one or both of us wanted to sell the house. We planned on getting married (and now are) but we wanted to make sure we were both legally and financially protected in case the worst happened.

  • David and I lived like roommates (split everything 50/50–he paid the bills upfront and we totaled it all up at the end of the month and I wrote him a check for half) for the first two years we lived together and for the first 6 months of our engagement. At which point we opened a joint account and contributed to it according to earner percentage (roughly 60/40) to cover bills and shared expenses. Whatever was left over was ours to keep. About two months before our wedding we merged finances altogether.

    It was really, really hard. It was important to me to merge finances completely (previous APW posts helped me articulate why) and my husband was very resistant. He insisted that we go through the process in stages, which was a compromise that I knew was reasonable, but yet was still super hard for me to accept emotionally. It was really hard to talk about money at first (sometimes it still is–though mostly we are comfortable with it now). Especially because we had to figure out that we weren’t really talking about MONEY, as in dollars and cents. When we talk about money, we’re really talking about our VALUES. heavy.

    Still, having come through the other side, we now have fully merged finances and it’s all that I hoped it would be and more.

  • lmba

    When my now-husband was in grad school and I was desperately underemployed, he ended up buying a new computer to replace a laptop that was literally almost in pieces! We were both on very limited and unreliable incomes with no assets, so this was a pretty major purchase. When he booted it up, he grinned as the screen popped up with one account for him and one for me. We had been talking about getting married and (silly as it sounds) this was the moment where I understood that we were going to be in it together. We weren’t doing each other favours anymore; our belongings were really held in common. To me, that was one of the most profound moments of our relationship because it represented, in some way, the start of being a family rather than “romantic associates.”
    In the three years since then, we’ve had crazy financial extremes (both of us being in school at times, unemployment, underemployment, booking flights for overseas research without knowing if the funding would come through, discussing the very real possibility of moving in with my parents out of desperation, landing a dream job with high salary, maxing out literally every bit of available credit to relocate for the dream job, paying off piles of debts, saving real money for the first time(!), juggling multiple part-time jobs, planning for maternity leave…). We are still in a state of upheaval, although we can now reliably cover our expenses (plus some), which is a beautiful thing after years of barely scraping by.
    For my husband to get that dream job (and yes, it is he who has the dream job, while I have the pretty-good-for-now job), we had to put in a lot of work. I worked my bum off at low-wage jobs while he was in grad school, and when he graduated into an impossible job market and had to take low-wage work himself while drafting cover letters all night, I jumped in full-force into the job search process. We developed a system over the many months where I would come home and search through all the postings for literally every municipal/provincial government I could find IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. I screened the listings for relevant jobs and sent them to him, and he crafted individually-tailored resumes and cover letters for each. When he finally got work in his field, it was because we had searched high and low and chased down every possible lead. He was hired on his own merit, but *we* did the work to get there, and that is a good feeling.
    What I have loved throughout this journey is that my husband has always assumed that what we each have belongs to both of us. He earns about double what I do these days, and I could have all kinds of big feelings about that (occasionally I do), but it has always been “our” money. Even when I was not making any money, he would still talk about how much “we” earned. We are both contributing to our family, and if I can support other parts of our lives while I’m not at a job, then it makes his work life easier and his home life more relaxing. When I am working a million hours a week (because the nature of my job now means that my hours are super inconsistent), he can support me by picking up the slack when he gets home from his job, which has more comfortable hours. In this way, we are *both* earning every dollar.

  • KateM

    This one is tough I know for a lot of people. We combined accounts when engaged and man do I wish we had done it in the beginning of our engagement rather than a year into it. We both were so much better about spending when we became accountable to each other. The split conversations interest me, but I honestly found them unrelatable to a certain extent. I make double my husband’s salary and I found that the pooling of accounts made that go away, I don’t feel like I am contributing more, and I am pretty sure he doesn’t feel like he is contributing less. As our incomes grow and change in our lives and what retirement savings are (his plan is much better than mine, so it makes more sense to go with his first) the thing is that we are in this together for the long haul so the money is ours and we both need to deal with it. We are also about the have our first baby, and that obviously changes the financial dynamic again. I think the big thing is that you both know where you are at, and are having open communication regularly.

    • KateM

      I also want to add that I think it is a really slippery slope thinking about anything in marriage as as scale and the goal being to keep it even. It is 100%/100% not each partner putting in 50%. “I make more, therefore, he should do more around the house to offset it.” Things are never even between partners, and dude, whoever gives birth wins forever. We don’t keep score because we all know that it is bad for relationships, why is the money conversation different? I know for me, it is pride thing, and I mean the bad kind of pride, not the good kind. Just throwing this out there are well.

  • Kess

    This reminds me that this is a conversation we definitely have to hash out. We’ve only had vague discussions where we talk about how it will be ‘our money’ someday. Honestly, I’m not too worried. We have similar expectations about money and spending.

    I think the biggest thing is that we haven’t managed to call debt “our debt” yet. I think this is mostly my issue.

    I managed to get out of undergrad with $6000 in student loans, and I’m funded for my grad. With car and student loans, he’s got about $20,000 in loans – which is perfectly reasonable, particularly as he’s an engineer with a good engineering salary. He’s got a plan to get rid of all of that in about 3 years. (although the wedding might screw that up a bit) It’s 100% responsible debt. The car is new and shouldn’t need maintenance for quite some time, we went to a good school with majors that have a high chance of being employed, etc.

    Buuut, I’ve got a lot of pride in the fact that I essentially have no debt (I got an unexpected inheritance ~5 years ago that’s in a trust from my grandma that will just about cover my loans) and it’s just so hard to say, yes, this is OUR debt.

    I hope that I can become more comfortable with it and just remember that with us both working (we’re both engineers) OUR debt is going to be gone in no time, and we’re going to do it together.

    • Granola

      What helps me with this, as a person with no debt married to a spouse with education and car loan debt (and even a little credit card debt, though we’re about to pay it off completely!), is thinking about it in terms of potential.

      I don’t think of his debt as mine, per se, but I think of it as something that needs to be acknowledged as affecting both of us and taken into account during our financial planning. And if part of “his money” is going into paying it, then more of “my money” will be going into other joint things that are important. So it’s not as if I can really keep it separate, given that it affects me in real ways.

      Just to say that you can acknowledge that it exists and is important to tackle together (because you both benefit from the earning power his degree confers, for instance) without having to feel like it’s also “yours.”

  • Crayfish Kate

    My fiancé and I do the Yours, Mine, & Ours thing. We have a joint checking account, and still keep our own checking, savings, & credit cards. The idea is we’d each contribute to the shared checking account to pay for bills & shared expenses (rent, food, cable, dates, fun, etc.), but then our personal bills (cell phones, credit cards, student loans, etc.) are paid from our respective checking accounts.

    Right now it’s all his money, since I’m in grad school & not working. This makes me feel guilty sometimes, like I’m not doing my share, but I’ve tried to pick up on more of the household chores. I’m also the one who pays all the shared expenses & keeps track of when all of those are due. This happened b/c when we first moved in, he was traveling a lot for business & it was just easier to have the person at home keep track of the bills.

    In the future when I land my own job, we may have to look at the numbers again, (we also need to look at retirement & savings) but so far, this way has worked well for us :-)

    • KC

      I’d note that being in grad school *is* working, sort of (unless your grad school field is one you plan to never work in). It’s like an unpaid internship that you hope will lead to other things, or portfolio building, or the first year or two of a just-started business – it still requires gobs of work and effort, it’s just your pay gets deferred for… possibly a lot of years, and possibly never.

      Maybe that is not encouraging. But grad school is usually an investment, that will hopefully pay off. You’re not frivolling your time away dancing with peacocks and picking daisies (unless you’ve found a very unusual program). I mean, yes, absolutely, it is *ideal* if the person with the more flexible schedule can do the errands that are faster/easier to get done during the day, etc., but what you are doing for grad school also has investment value in your shared future, even though it’s not currently financially remunerative. So, hopefully that will help prune some guilt somewhere, maybe?

      • Crayfish Kate

        Yes KC, you’re exactly right :-) I’m going into medical research, so yeah, we’re both expecting my Masters to pay off. I came really close to landing a good job in the fall which was encouraging, but I wasn’t quite yet done with school. School definitely feels like work some days, and man, do I wish it were as fun as dancing with peacocks and picking daisies!

      • Rebecca

        I did substantially less housework when I was in grad school and he was making all the money than I do now with both of us fully employed and me making about 1/2 of what he makes. He was putting in 40 hour weeks (and working from home, so doing zero commuting) when I was putting in 80+ hours- if he hadn’t cooked and done laundry, we probably would have starved and gone naked towards the end of every term!

        I still don’t feel guilty about it at all- just lucky I had someone around to take care of me!

        Now we’re working pretty similar hours and we put in more equal amounts of time around the house- he still does a few more day to day things, and I do more of the advance planning stuff (booking travel to see family, finding a CPA, etc.). But how much either of us makes doesn’t drive how much housework we do- it’s a lot more about how much time we both have to maintain the standards of cleanliness/ home-cooked food we both value and appreciate.

  • Emily

    Our system is that we have created a joint expenses budget that covers all household expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, car stuff, etc). It amounts to about $2000/mo. Based on our individual incomes, we each pay a percentage of the total. I make more money right now, so I pay about 65% of the total, and then we each keep and manage the rest of our money individually.

    It isn’t totally combined — we’re still paying individual debts from our own accounts (student loans, etc) and when we max out our joint date budget, we usually end up dipping into our own funds. But we track everything and the budgeting has actually been really good for us. I SUPER DUPER recommend YNAB software. It takes a little effort to understand (it doesn’t work like other budgeting programs/software), but we actually USE IT to proactively create and track a budget, which is a big improvement over other systems we tried, like mint.com (in which we sort of tracked spending, but did not have a budget).

    Anyway, in the future, I think we’re going to keep this model, but move to a model where we put all our money into the joint account, have as many expenses as possible come out of there, and then have the percentage used when determining what comes out for individual spending money. So if our pooled income is $4k/mo and the pooled expenses are $3k, then we split the last $1k for individual use, either evenly or based on income.

    This was all a REALLY BIG DEAL for us to set up. Especially because my partner wants to have a time when she is a stay at home mom and we both vehemently believe that just because she wouldn’t be making money at that time doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be contributing to the household. So how does that get reflected financially? So we’ve had many many conversations about what would feel fair to both of us and I really think it’s a conversation more people should be having!

    • Karen

      What is YNAB software?

    • for us, it has been really important that we get the same amount of individual money (we call it an allowance, but whatever) no matter where the money is coming in from – because our incomes are extremely unbalanced, and we hope that they always will be. for now, that is because i am working and she is in school full-time, and our plan for the future is that i can be at least a part-time housewife with her carrying the primary (or full) financial role. that type of financial imbalance doesn’t lend itself to a proportional split in personal money – (like, 70/30? maybe fair; 100/0? not a bit fair).

      i think, in the end, it simply comes down to trusting that you are both contributing to the household, because no matter how much tallying you do, it eventually breaks down.
      you start with “i’m bringing in $$$$ and you’re bringing in $; you’re doing #### chores and i’m doing ## chores – are we even?” maybe her chores are harder, or i’m overestimating my input, or chores and money are worth different amounts. or maybe the chores aren’t split fairly, but she changes way more diapers than me. what about her dealing with my occasional panic attacks? that definitely contributes to how well the household runs – but i listen to her bitch about school…

      it’s a lot easier to address all of it as a team – is *our* money system working for *us*? is *our*chore system working for *us*? are *we all* happy with the way we’re raising *our* kids? are *we* taking care of *each other*? and, no, not always, but it’s a team problem, not a “why aren’t you pulling your weight!” problem.

      not to say it’s simple – this ridiculously long comment shows a little bit of the amount of thought and concern that’s gone into it all.

    • I’m curious (I’ve seen it in other comments to this post as well) why student loans, or Partner A’s car loan, are paid out of the yours/mine accounts when other fixed expenses are pooled? Yes, student loans don’t attach to a spouse when you get married, but lots of expenses that could be “assigned” to one or the other partner are pooled in the same system. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the system, I’m just genuinely curious.

      • Maddie

        I don’t think this applies to everyone, but for us it was part of transitioning from you and me to us. My student loans were something that Michael saw as being between my parents and myself, and if I’m being honest, he didn’t feel like he should be responsible for them. Now, of course, we realize that any debt is our debt and we’re paying them down together. Similarly, he has some consumer debt he’s worked up, and it took me a while to understand that WE couldn’t have fun with our money until we paid that off.

        But it was more of a mental shift than anything else for us. We were really young when we got married, so it was symbolic of that shift from independent to mutually responsible. The money was just a physical representation of what was happening in our minds.

        • Cool, I totally get it as a transitional tool. And there’s no way I would have been able to make the pooling switch as easily if I had been the age you were when you got married :).

          • Maddie

            It balanced itself out by making us too young to have any money to pool anyway. :)

      • irene

        For my fiance and I, the joint living expenses (mortgage, HOA, etc) come out of the joint checking, and things attached to us individually (student loans, car loans) come out of our primary accounts; our (my) logic for this is IMMENSE TERROR of switching the auto-deduct of my student loans, something going HORRIBLY WRONG, and having both accounts deducted*, or neither, and somehow losing my “always paid on time” .25% interest discount.

        *This is not an unreal fear – the last time my federal loan processor changed the old processor and the new processor both took out a payment. Luckily they reconcilled it all and I got a nice hit to the principal, and happened to have enough in my checking account to pay it twice on the same day.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          THANK YOU so much for this. Just a few minutes ago I was looking at my student loan repayment options because the checking account they’re deducted from went from free to $12/month, and I’d like to close it, but, of course, not if it’s going to mess up the interest and loan history on my student loans. I’ll be really careful if I make any changes.

      • MDBethann

        I paid off my student loan debt (which was a small amount because of scholarships) before we even met and my DH has 2 BS degrees, the second of which he finished only 3 years before we met, so he’s got more student loans to pay off than I do. He’s also an engineer and making more than me, so he just pays it straight out of his personal account each month. He also chose to pay for the new car out of his personal account too, since he’s the primary user of the car. In some ways, he decided he wanted to do that because I’m stuck with making mortgage payments on a now-tenantless condo until we sell it. Once it’s gone, I think we might move more money and more bills (like the car) into our joint account. But even though we pay for stuff out of our individual accounts, I don’t feel like it’s “my” money or his money.

        Some of it is laziness I guess – we had to change so many things after the wedding because of my name change, and then we had several large things to fix at the house plus replace a dying car last year that changing how we physically do our finances has been low on the totem pole, so we’ve kept our “yours, mine, ours” system in place, though aside from equal contributions to the joint account, we just both pay for stuff – if we’re on a road trip, he pays for gas and I pay for the meals, if we do dinner & a movie, we each pay for something, but we don’t keep tabs on dollar amounts. But we aren’t big spenders and we always talk before we make big purchases or do anything for the house.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        We’re a single-income household, so obviously all expenses are paid “jointly.” As a practical matter, only the income-generating spouse’s loans are being paid, while the disabled spouse’s are in deferral. Technically, legally, I don’t think this is correct. Technically, legally, while the DEBT is individual, because the married INCOME is joint, payments should be made on both sets of loans, because both spouses, technically, legally have income in our community property state.

        But we can’t afford the payments on both sets of loans. Payments on the deferred set would eat up about half our income, while the present payments already eat up a quarter. We’d have to put both sets of loans into partial deferral. That might be more “fair” between the 2 banks, but it’d just be a bunch of paperwork that wouldn’t substantively change our financial picture.

        Returning to how things should be, one reason student loan debt might be “ours” even when the debt legally isn’t, is that ability to repay considers total household income.

        • Yes! While loans will stay just in your name for credit purposes (and credit scores don’t merge), it sucks that they take both incomes into account for repayment. Luckily, if I ever make enough above the minimum for my (school-paid) LRAP to force a monthly contribution on my loans, they will take A’s loan burden into account in measuring our ability to pay. It super sucks when lenders don’t do this.

      • It was a lot easier for me to mentally merge expenses and debts that have been in flux since we got together than before we got together. My student loans? My decision that he had no say in. I also chose about the most impractical thing ever. His truck? Not something I had a say in, and I’d deliberately avoided even allowing myself to think about a vehicle because it wasn’t something I financially valued. So those are harder emotionally to merge than the things we’ve since decided on together.

        Just because of how our accounts are structured, my paycheck goes to paying my loans and his paycheck pays for the truck expenses, but we’re still viewing the money as joint.

        What’s funny is the way our views have changed about them over time. I’ve completely accepted all truck expenses as part of “our” budget and don’t really think twice about pitching in for the car. He accepted my loans as our debt while I still think of it as “mine”. So in some ways we’ve been lucky that we’ve been very open to accepting the debts and expenses the other partner brought into the relationship, but I don’t think it’s an easy thing and while in some ways it feels like it happened overnight it’s actually taken years.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Approaching our 3-month anniversary, I go back and forth about my spouse’s student loans, from long before we met. I do try hard to embrace the community property idea – that all “my” income is really “our” income, but that’s hard. Following from that, there’s no reason “my” income shouldn’t go to paying off “his” loans. After all, our income is going to pay off “my” loans.

          I guess this is another way of answering the “why are student loan payments a joint expense” question: They’re so big and seemingly permanent and (the schooling) made us who we are. Absent fairly unusual circumstances, what is separate debt at the time of marriage must be paid off with community property. There’s just no other place for money to come from. If “his” loans are going to be paid off at all, and I think they should be, WE are going to do it.

          • Amanda

            My husband feels terrible about the very large sum of student loan debt he acquired from his expensive private school – debt we are paying off together now. I don’t have student debt, but the life insurance from my father’s death covered school (which is something I would obviously trade for the world). I remind my hubby often that 1) we are only paying off one, not two, students loans (so it could be worse!); 2) going to school helped shape him into the man he is today, a man I can’t dream of living without; 3) he was very young when he signed on the dotted line for those loans (18), and it really isn’t his fault that he wasn’t fully educated on the reality of the cost (maybe some naivety there, but so be it). Taken together, what is done, is done, and we cannot waste time and energy with the “what ifs”. What if he’d gone to a different school? What if he hadn’t gone to school at all? What if someone had co-signed so he could get government vs a private loan? We just pull up our socks and move on. Plus, our paths led us to each other, and that, is priceless.

  • We are another couple that has the Yours, Mine, Ours arrangement. It’s working well for us, although we disagree a bit about what is “ours”. He thinks things like my lingerie bill should be in the “ours” category as he enjoys it; I think it belongs in my group, so I pay it out of my account. If he wants to “debrief” on Fridays after work at the local watering hole, that comes out of his money, and I don’t ask questions about it. If I want to buy a new pair of shoes (or the Litterobo…which I’m going to go ahead and set up on a payment plan out of my next paycheck), he doesn’t question me about that.

    I contribute the most to our joint accounts. I struggled with that a lot because he wasn’t helping out as much around the house as I would have liked. It felt like I was working all the hours, paying all the bills, and then coming home and doing all the work too. He’s gotten better, and I’ve frankly let go of some things because ultimately they don’t matter. If there’s dog hair on the floor, I’m not going to sweat it any more. If he leaves the kitchen a mess, I remind him that that was the chore he choose to do, and he needs to follow through.

  • Briggs

    I always love the money posts on APW, and this one was a good one.

    Jack and I got engaged in June and switched our household to a joint checking account in August. I tell people it feels like that is when we really got married. Since then, we’ve been playing around with our best way to combine money and balance paying off debts while still saving for an important vacation and going out enough so we don’t feel deprived while not spending a ton of money at restaurants.

    Our situation is complicated by the fact that he makes more money and works more hours, but less of that money goes into the household bank account because half automatically goes to his 4 kids and ex wife. We’ve talked a lot about how this makes us feel, whether it’s fair to the household, what changes we might be making, how our standard of living is affected, etc. It’s a really sticky subject and one I wish was talked about more openly.

    Right now, our finances are completely combined. All the money goes into the same account, and all the bills are paid with that account. We are following the Dave Ramsey debt repayment and envelope systems, so we each get an envelope for personal ‘fun money’ at the beginning of each money, plus we have an envelope for ‘date money’. We sit down and make a budget EVERY MONTH, and often revisit that budget.

    We’re happy with our system, but we’ve found that the key is to talk about it and re-evaluate it often. The more we talk about money, the easier it is to keep talking about it, and the less we get ‘money’ confused with ‘value’ or ‘worth’ as a member of the household.

    • in the spirit of being open with sticky subjects we have this situation too – he makes 56% and I make 44% of our combined income, but he has child support to pay as well – and it’s, like, 20% of our combined income. We decided to just take it off the top of his income because it’s immutable and this is the quickest way to get it off of our ledgers and out of our minds. Hilariously (?) this shifts our earning contributions to 56% ME and 44% HIM.

      it’s kind of boggling, but it’s just the way it is, and the kids are happy and healthy and well cared for. And then there’s the comforting fact that I never have to go clothes shopping for my little stepdudes because their mom does all that “fun” stuff. but it’s really never something I ever considered when I got involved with a divorced dad.

      • Briggs

        Yes, this exactly. The money we make each month is almost identical, but since 1/2 of his goes to his other household, I actually make 2/3 or our household income. It’s crazy unbalanced for us, but it will be our financial reality for the next 11 years.

        What I would really love to see, though is a discussion about how you deal with the potentially icky feelings that this situation can bring up. As a child of a divorced home myself, I know how badly a single mother needs this financial support and I would never begrudge those boys anything. Because of salary changes since his divorce, my fiance is looking into getting the support order reviewed, but we are very worried that this will strain our mostly good relationship with his ex.

        When I first got engaged, an older and wiser friend asked me how I would be dealing with this, and I responded that as far as I was concerned it was a separate financial situation he would be dealing with himself. For some reason I saw this as separate from the credit card and student loan payments we would be making together.

        Well, that’s changed. The money he owes his kids became the money we owe his kids / my stepkids. Back child support went from being a debt he owes to a debt we’ll be repaying together. Not all my friends understand this (mainly the ones without kids and/or who have never dated anyone with kids) but I feel very strongly that making his family my family (including his kids and, yes, his ex wife) makes the most sense for us.

        • oh, this exactly: “I feel very strongly that making his family my family (including his kids and, yes, his ex wife) makes the most sense for us” – I had a really uncomfortable realization last month that when I blame something the kids do that I dislike on their mom, I’m doing us all a huge disservice because actually? ALL kids are kind of distasteful sometimes, and many parents don’t have an ex to blame it on! So I took a deep breath and decided that if I’m going to love these kids – which I do, ALL of them – I am loving their mom in a twisted still-not-friends way.

          I deal with potentially icky feelings by treating this as a mortgage payment: super hard to renegotiate, will always be the way it is, and after a finite period of time, it’ll go away. I just can’t think about it too much. Understanding what *I* was personally liable for before and after the marriage was important too, but I felt like SUCH a jerk when I called legal aid to ask them if I was responsible for child support if my husband couldn’t pay it! Even though I don’t have to cough it up in dry times, though, the fact that it impacts the rest of our financial obligations and capacities means it’s still my problem.

          We have the boys pretty exactly 1/2 time, and their mom has been traveling for work a lot more lately too, so we have them even more, and it’s tough to deal with the fact that we’re paying 2x more on food than we normally do, or the part where I am doing all the homework checking and bossing around during the week and then she gets all the fun time during the weekend. However, this flexible arrangement means we can take the kids when we have family events that are off the regular schedule, and when my husband was out of work for several months his ex was really gracious about him not being able to pay child support during that time.

          Mostly, I really love these little dudes, and it’s important to me that THEY never worry about this grown-up stuff (hi! also from divorced family!)


    yes indeedy, quite timely…

    My fiance just got laid off three months before our wedding. Like, seriously HR?! Only three months?!

    Anyway, because of this, we’re having to enact a lot of the vague discussions that we had earlier in the engagement sooner than expected. Before all of this, for all intents and purposes, we’ve had a joined income informally. We simply pay for things for each other that we’d like to do, we cook for each other out of our own groceries at each of our places, and pay for small trips together. I’ve had a rough year and a half working as a temp with a SHIT ton of student loans and he’s been there for me to help out when I need it – car breaks down or the cat goes to the emergency room (she’s a bit of a fail cat!). After marriage, we’d been planning on living on his income and paying off my student loans with mine now that I have a permanent position.

    But now, monkey wrench with the layoff. We’re trying to establish domestic partnership status with my job so that he can go on my benefits before we get married and I am going to try to take over our monthly food/travel/misc expenses after his severance pay is done. It’s scary considering my salary was less than half of what he’d been making, but I’m also glad that I now get to help him out after everything that he’s done for me.

    So we’re hoping he can find employment before severance pay is done, but if not, we need to have some intense renegotiating and budgeting. Kinda sucks when you’re trying to do your wedding at the same time :/

    Sidenote: Why does it seem like everyone comments only before 10am and never any later? :(

    • Maddie

      Ugh, I’m sorry. :(

      As for the commenting timing, much of our readership is on the East Coast, so it’s 1PM there by the time a lot of comments have happened!

    • Not Sarah

      I hate that too! I’m on Pacific time and it feels like all the conversations have already happened before I’m even showered and I have work to do too, you know!

      • Kat

        It’s even worse when you’re on the other side of the world!

  • I had a nice long comment but the internet ate it.

    In short, we have separate accounts (for personal purchases) and a joint account (for shared expenses like rent).

    I’m wondering if those with completely merged finances seem to save more money, since perhaps you’re maybe more mindful of spending?

    • soleil

      I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel like we have waay more left over to save after bills with our finances being totally merged, then we would if we were to keep our finances separate. I am kind of amazed at how much we can save together. But I also think this could attributed to our spending habits, how we allocate spending money, and that we don’t have many bills. However, B is the expert budgeter, he can work numbers to take in an account an extra expense that comes up, get it paid, bills paid, have spending money, and still meet our savings goals. I don’t have that kind of skill so I’m sure that’s part of it too.

      • We’ve found this as well. Since money’s tight right now we worked out a budget and the general types of spending that we can handle (the biggest restriction is making sure to spend a reasonable amount or less on lunches at work), and track all of our spending in a spreadsheet (easier than it sounds and it’s actually a lot of fun to make the numbers line up). As long as it’s not something outside the budget, I feel no “guilt” about getting dinner out or buying some clothing or even a Starbucks treat, but I also think harder about whether I need it because I can see the entire picture of our finances and have a clear sense of what we’re saving for. Sometimes that’s all it takes to resist that cute dress that looks exactly like three other dresses in my closet :)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Honestly, I’ve been surprised by how expensive it is to have a spouse. He’s unemployed, and we worked out a budget as well as we could before I started supporting him, but we didn’t have good information, and we didn’t have total information. For example, he was unused to tracking his expenses, so he underestimated them, and we couldn’t plan around the tax changes.

      Between my spouse’s healthcare, transportation, and food costs, each month we’re bleeding about the same amount as the filing fee for divorce, or $400-500. We have savings to get us through, and we’re both looking for work, but it’s really, really hard. The people who talk about joint expenses (like housing and groceries) only taking up 60% of their income really astound me. We have no room for “allowances” or other separate spending.

    • I’m not married and don’t have any merged finances yet, but personally, I find it easier to save money when I have more money. It’s a little counter-intuitive, because I really need savings more in lean months, but its more about seeing the progress. When I can put a significant amount in savings, I get excited to grow that number even more. When I can only put a piddling amount in savings, I think why bother- it’s going to take forEVER to reach my goals anyway! I would imagine that with merged finances, this will come into play again for me.

    • Meg

      Good observation! I bet that is true. I’ve been debating merging all savings and checking accounts with my bf when we move in (his preference) versus making savings and checking joint but keeping separate accounts to spend what’s leftover for a little autonomy (which is what I lean towards).

      However if we each reserved, say, $500 in our personal accounts each month then I think I’d make sure to spend it rather than add “my” portion to our savings while he had more to spend. However if everything was coming out of the joint account I would a) not probably splurge as often on things I’d be embarassed for him to know I spent so much on and b) not feel obligated to spend it all since any leftovers would presumably go to joint savings.

  • Cynthia

    We have one of those “Sort of” combined systems. We each have our own accounts, and our own credit cards, but we mentally treat all money as “ours”. At the end of each month we sit down and go over all shared expenses. This way it doesn’t matter who pulls out the credit card when we are at dinner, it all get evened out at the end of the month. We started this system when we were living together, not married, when everything was split 50/50. Now it’s a bit of a looser system, as it’s less about moving money around, and more a set time every month where we talk about where our money is going, and if we want to make changes (eat out less, buy that media cabinet, etc.).

    Now that we are married we’ve adjusted the expectations to account for things like student loans- now I pay more on our mortgage, knowing he is paying loans, so that the overall contribution to all things is even. We recently bought an apartment, and I provided the down payment, but we talked together about how much we were willing to spend, and where we should draw the line etc., based on the idea that “my savings” pre-marriage where really now “our savings” regardless of the name on the account. And yes, while the mortgage is technically in my name (my credit is much stronger than his), the apartment is in both of our names. I felt strongly that he still owns the apartment just as much as I do, regardless of the origin of the money involved.

    Right now our incomes are similar, so we contribute a balanced amount to common expenses, once he starts graduate school, we’ll re-balance to account for his lower income/higher expenses. Our system is less about being 50/50 fair, and more about keeping the conversation open, and being clear about expectations. So if we decided together to buy expensive furniture, we both understand it’s not ok to then go shopping with our private accounts and spend tons of money. All things are shared, decisions are shared, but actual accounts are still separate.

  • Penny

    For quite a long time we did totally separate finances and just asked each other for money when bills were due. But I found it added a lot to my stress and anxiety about the relationship. While it sounds perfectly fair in theory, in practice it left a lot to be desired. I earn a lot more than he does (like three times as much) and my income is also a lot more reliable. So when a bill was due that he couldn’t pay, I’d just end up paying it. I’d also pay for all the “extras” like flights to see family at Christmas, dinners out, other vacations, etc. It sounds terrible to say it, but I did start to feel like I was paying all of the expenses for both of us, and he had no incentive to try to improve his lot. It eventually got to the point where I wouldn’t even show him the bill, I’d just pay it myself. Which of course left me feeling totally taken advantage of, since he wasn’t even aware that all of this was happening.

    Even worse, I started feeling like I wasn’t sure I even wanted to marry him if it was going to be like this forever. We’re not ready to be engaged yet, but the finances stress was making me feel like we were moving further away from that rather than closer to it.

    We’ve recently created a joint account, but we’ve also kept our individual accounts. We worked out what all our bills and expenses are, and we each contribute to the account when we get paid. He doesn’t put quite as much in as I do, but the proportion is consistent and fair. Because there is always money in the account, he can pay bills out of the account himself and we can both see where the money is going. The joint account (and budget) makes it a lot easier to talk sensibly about our finances together and to commit to savings goals together.

    We still pay for some of our individual expenses ourselves (like mobile phone bills), and I still buy some luxury items on my own (like our wine subscription). But we save for larger items like a new car and vacations together. So far we’ve kept our savings for a loan deposit separate, but we’re thinking about merging those some time soon.

    I’m feeling so much better about the situation, and the relationship, now. I feel like we’ve made a big commitment to each other and taken a big step forward in our relationship, without feeling like it’s stupidly risky.

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  • Leah

    In my household, I manage the money. This has largely to do with the fact that I am in finance, but also rests on the fact that my fiance doesn’t like managing money. He’s what I like to call a “dragon-style” investor; he accumulates money, dumps it in a pile and then lays on top of it to guard it from thievery. A little dramatic, but a mostly accurate description. I’m more savvy in the ways of finance and long-term investing, so the money situation is my responsibility. When we first discussed moving in together, we talked about what expenses we would incur. I drafted a budget that include all our shared savings goals and liabilities, including individually-held student loans. We live in a community property state so it makes sense to budget debt as joint liability, regardless of who originated it. After agreeing on the budget, I determined what percentage of our incomes would be required to meet the monthly demands of the budget. It surprises most people when I tell them we contribute an equal percentage to our joint account, because that means I have voluntarily accepted less discretionary money for myself. However, I believe this to be the most fair way to divvy up financial responsibilities. He will bear a greater burden of the shared expenses, even if it is the same percentage as I contribute, simply because he makes more money than I do. The remaining income percentage is funneled directly into our respective personal accounts. We do not have to account for how this money is spent at all. There is not oversight on our personal accounts, which allows us some autonomy. We have separate retirement accounts, both of which I manage. We have a joint savings account, as well.

  • stacy lynn

    i listened to this marketplace money podcast today about financial intimacy. it was very interesting and I immediately thought of this recent article.

    The financial intimacy section starts at about 40 mins 30 sec in.

    As a library employee i have to plug libraries as great places to find books about couples and personal finance. My library totally owns a copy of the book they mentioned.