This is a guest post by Deborag at Pennies to Nickels. Deborah and her hubby keep their finances separate, which is opposite to what Clever Dudette and I do, so it should make for an interesting read!
When The Professor and I got married 3 ½ years ago, we came from very different financial backgrounds. One of the reasons was simple: He’s 18 years older than I am, so he’s had a lot more time be involved with money.
When we got engaged, one of the first things we wanted to do was decide how to keep both our sanity and our finances. Maintain separate accounts? Open a brand new one just for the two of us? Keep everything in baby food jars wrapped in duct tape buried under the house?
Some of the factors we had to consider:
- I was in graduate school. I had taken out student loans to finance almost all of my undergraduate education, and went on to get more for all of my grad school expenses. Total bill when all was said and done: $80,000+.
- He has a (Wonderful! Magnificent! Future President!) Teenage son, meaning we were looking at several years of child support payments.
- I had credit card debt (about $3,000); he didn’t.
- He was divorced, and had a couple of years left on some financial arrangements that came from that situation (Oh, I could write a BOOK on this one).
- I had just signed a five year car loan. His truck had been paid off for about 6.
- Some psychological baggage from a previous marriage’s financial situation.
About two days after I got my shiny piece of engagement jewelry, we had a sit-down-no-really-be-serious conversation about our respective financial situations. After we got the basics out of the way (“How much do you think we’ll be spending on toilet paper?”), we put all our cards on the table – which for me wasn’t easy, because I had made some mistakes; even though he knew the basics, I hated talking about it.
I was still two years from graduating and dealing with the real world; he had put in 15 years at his job. I knew when the happy day came and I got my Master’s Degree that my starting salary would be anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 a year. He had W-2s showing exactly what we could expect in the future. We knew we weren’t going to have children together, but still had a teenager to plan for.
One thing became very clear in that conversation: Only one of us likes the planning process, and that is definitely me. I had a lot more uncertainty in my immediate future, and he had a lot more income in his. But I’m the one that can get so wrapped up in a spreadsheet that I forget it’s my mother’s birthday.
That conversation was one of the best things we have ever done together as a couple. I think we learned as much about each other in that conversation as we had in all the months leading up to our engagement.
In the end, we decided it would be better to keep our financial accounts separate (except for our taxes, which we file jointly). I know that some people argue there’s no reason to be married if you’re not going to be completely committed, including finances. But for us, that just wasn’t going to work. Our current arrangement does work, and these are the big reasons why:
- We have clearly divided which bills belong to each person. We went down each and every bill deciding who is responsible for what.
- We do not pay the same exact dollar amount for our respective bills – we don’t make the same amount of money, so that wouldn’t make sense.
- We are completely open with each other about money. If I come home and say “I bought two new pairs of shoes today”, he trusts and respects me enough to know that I would only do that if I could afford to, and that I don’t need to be treated like a 15 year old that just got a boost in her allowance. If he comes home and says “I bought five new books on Queen Elizabeth”, I trust and respect him enough to know his account balance and can afford it – even if I privately wonder what in the world anyone could have to say about her that hasn’t already been said.
- We make any big money decisions together (for us, that’s over about $100). Usually with a bottle of wine and at least one of my spreadsheets open.
As I’ve said, we’ve been married for 3 ½ years. We’ve tweaked our system and our arrangement when it’s needed. And over that time, it’s become even clearer that I’m the financial planner and that he loves the fact that he’s not.
I know that it’s been said so many times that it might sound trite, but communication – as with So. Many. Other. Things – really is the key. I cannot stress enough how important it is to our relationship that we trust each other when it comes to financial decisions.
As for toilet paper expenses – well, life goes on. And so, thankfully, does the toilet paper.
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