About a week ago, I walked downtown and opened my own bank account. After three months of using my husband’s bank account and debit card to do all of our finances, having my own card again was more exciting than I anticipated.
Three months ago, I packed up everything I could fit into two suitcases and moved to Canada to live with my husband and attend graduate school. Things didn’t go exactly as planned (because they never do), and I found myself living in Newfoundland on a tourist visa for most of the summer. This had some major consequences for my finances; I couldn’t open a bank account, and I couldn’t get a job. I transferred most of my savings from my U.S. account to my husband’s.
The next few months were an unexpected experiment in having complete transparency when it came to our money. We were about to learn a lot about sharing finances real fast.
Creating a shared budget
Having served a year in Americorps, I’m used to being on a strict budget (well, I’m used to being on a poverty-level stipend, because that’s what they pay you). For the first time a few years ago, I started really tracking my finances. I thought I had this budgeting, excel-spreadsheet, read your credit card statements thing on lock. Throw another person and a shared account in the mix, and now I wasn’t so sure.
My husband didn’t track his finances very studiously and is a live-in-the-moment kind of guy. He’s not a big spender, but while I was sweating it out over what the happy hour special was, he was happily ordering an imported IPA that cost $10 a pint. It started to rub off on me, too, and I loosened up on my frugal ways to live a little.
Before my student visa was approved and I was able to open my own checking account, we shared one debit card. I started tracking our spending within the first month, and it was clear that were going to have to set some ground rules for our budget. Not the sexiest thing for newlyweds to dish out, but one of the most important.
We don’t have a car, and we use the gym at our University, so our expenses included our cell phone bill, rent, utilities and wifi. We share Spotify and Audible accounts which we deemed essential, so our biggest and most flexible expense came down to…
With our rent and utilities stable, the biggest lifestyle adjustment was how we were spending on food. Going out, at the grocery store, coffee dates, you name it. I insisted on bringing a list to the grocery store and actually buying only things on my list, but somehow sweet potato chips made it to the checkout line anyway. Along with coconut ice cream, because I love that stuff, and he knew it. I had to let go a little bit after my extreme frugality in Americorps and try to not control every single thing in our cart. I added more vegetarian meals into the mix, which was a challenge sometimes for my bacon obsessed S.O. But I think my store-brand, on-sale obsession has rubbed off on him a little, too.
We agreed to make lunch at home, and that was one of the most successful ways we trimmed our budget. Not a revolutionary idea, but that simple change allowed us to spend more intentionally elsewhere. If we did get coffee out, we’d go sit in the coffee shop together and hang out. This led to making our coffee at home and having coffee dates be, well, dates.
One of the most difficult places to trim was our alcohol spending. We’d go out maybe once a week and preferably hit up happy hour, but we both love craft beer. Plus, now we have a beautiful porch and a fire pit, which lead to more drinks and BBQs on summer nights. I can’t say we’ve financially resolved our craft beer-loving issue, but as we’ve settled in, the celebratory mood has dissipated and led to less excess. My body and budget needed a little reigning in after the first few weeks of summer.
To share or not to share finances
These last few months have been an interesting, if unintentional, lesson in sharing finances with my partner. It made us both recognize the different ways we tend to spend money, from quick stops at the convenience store for overpriced snacks, to buying new makeup — something I realized was a more expensive luxury than I previously thought. Having our finances completely pooled for a few months also made it easier to create a baseline budget, because all of our spending was on one card.
But personally, I’m relieved to have my own account again. Even though a good chunk of the money in the shared account was mine, I missed having my own account to do whatever I liked with. Keeping my financial independence — just like having my own interests, friendships, and passions outside my relationship — is important to me. But, I do feel confident in pooling some of our finances by choice — and, when it happens, relying on one another by necessity.
Natalie is studying Folklore in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She is also the Arts, Culture & Lifestyle Editor at The Muse.
Image via Unsplash