I got married last summer, and my husband and I chose to combine all our finances. We now have one checking account and one savings account for the both of us. Our paychecks are both added to the checking account before our money is divvied up into savings, bills, and other categories in our budget.
I want to be clear that there are lots of other ways to combine finances, such as having one joint checking account and two separate accounts where each individual then contributes a certain percentage into a joint account. The purpose of this article isn’t to argue that my way is the best way for your relationship, but I want to share my experience and lessons learned in the hope that if you and your partner were considering doing the same, it will be helpful.
1. Get aligned on short-term and long-term goals.
When we first got married, we set a budget and tried to stick to it closely. However, in certain situations, we had a hard time sticking to limits. For example, if we had already exceeded our budget for eating out, my husband and I would have a hard time convincing ourselves to choose not to eat out — instead, we might go for the cheaper option but still exceed our budget even further.
The reason we had a hard time is that we didn’t have any concrete goals — we knew we should save x% of our income beyond retirement savings, but what we were saving for was ambiguous. And admittedly, this is tough at our age (we are 23) since some larger, more standard goals, such as saving for a down payment on a house or beginning to think about children, are far into the future. But that doesn’t mean we can’t establish smaller goals, such as saving for a nice vacation or a milestone in our savings account. It helps us to stick to our budget if we know why we are.
2. Have some space for flexibility and different preferences
When we first sat down to determine our budget, we made standard categories such as groceries, date nights, and car maintenance. But we didn’t include any “discretionary” spending categories — that is, money we could consider purely our own to spend on whatever we wanted versus needed. Within a few weeks of our new budget, my husband and I were constantly clashing heads on some of his purchases. While I’m exceedingly frugal and choose to bring lunch every day, my husband wanted the freedom and luxury to use a small amount of money to eat lunch out as a treat.
Neither one of us was wrong in what we wanted, so I eventually had the idea of an allowance system where we each have $80 a month to spend on things we want. For him, it’s mostly spent on lunch. For me, I’ve mostly been saving it, but I’ll use some of it to buy smaller things, such as Bluetooth headphones for the gym. An allowance system might not work the same way for you, but the basic idea of both parties feeling like they have freedom in their budget is extremely important.
3. What’s mine is yours, even if we contribute different amounts.
Oh man, was this difficult for me starting out. I earn about three times more than my husband and as a result, I felt that I should have more power in our financial decisions and budget than he did, simply because I earned more and therefore contributed more. But the reality is that once you choose to truly combine finances, it doesn’t matter how much one party contributes because you are both in it together.
Both partners should feel like they have equal say in every important financial decision. That doesn’t mean I ask my husband about every purchase I want to make, but it does mean that when I received a small inheritance from my grandfather, we both had the opportunity to voice what we thought we should do with it. When I planned to invest a small amount in my Roth IRA every month this year, we discussed it before I committed. Both of our opinions not only hold equal value, but we both feel like we have equal opportunity to voice them. This is vital not only to the success of our budget and financial goals, but also for the health of our relationship.
While we’re not perfect six months into marriage, combining finances has taught us a lot about each other. It has also taught me a lot about the importance of constantly adjusting your budget and evaluating how it’s working for you.
How do you and your partner deal with finances?
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