If you asked my husband how much money we have in our checking account right now, I’m guessing he wouldn’t be able to tell you. Sure, he could look it up — log in to his online banking app on his phone and check the balance — but he’s not worried about it. He doesn’t have to be. Managing our finances isn’t under his umbrella of responsibilities in our marriage, and that’s okay.
There are a lot of different perspectives on how to handle money in a marriage. You can get a joint account. You can keep separate accounts. You can have one shared account for the bills and separate accounts for everything else. But one thing that isn’t talked about as much is who should be responsible for managing the finances in a marriage, and should that responsibility be shared?
Most often, financial responsibilities are dictated by the bank account situation. Joint account = joint financial responsibility. Separate accounts = separate financial responsibility. I’m pretty big on shared responsibility, especially when it comes to parenting. We don’t even have kids yet, but I’ve already told my husband that I want us to both have equal parenting power. He doesn’t get to be the fun dad who says yes to everything while I have to stand my ground and be the lame mom with the rules.
But with money, we have taken a different approach. When my husband and I moved in together, he relocated from Oregon to Utah. I set up bill payments through my bank account because I had an account with a local Utah bank and I had a job. My husband opened an account at the same bank and we could easily transfer money back and forth. Sometimes he just deposited his paychecks directly into my account. One day, we sat down, and I asked him if he wanted to manage the money.
Let’s be real — this was probably in direct response to a fight we were having. Something like, “Oh, you want to eat out three times a week? Well why don’t you manage the money?” But it quickly turned into a serious conversation about our finances, and he admitted, “I absolutely hate managing the money.” He had been in charge of the finances in a previous relationship and was ecstatic when we got together and I kind of just took it over. He said he would be happy to help — or take it back over — if I didn’t want to do it anymore, but the truth is: I love managing money.
If it’s been a slow, boring weekend and I’m looking for a new project, I will create a new budgeting spreadsheet (from scratch) and start messing with it. I particularly love figuring out how realistic or attainable a specific goal is, and in what time frame. If we want to save $20,000 this year, how much do we need to save each month? What if we wanted to save $25,000 or $30,000? Where can we cut our current spending to make this an achievable goal? This is getting me fired up just writing about it, and in a minute I’m going to pull up my 2019 budgeting worksheet and go through it just for fun.
So, does this mean my husband has no financial autonomy? Do I give him an allowance? Can he buy things without my permission?
My husband makes 50% of our income, and although we currently have one joint bank account, that is technically his money. If he wanted to go out and buy something with it, he absolutely could. Last year, we paid off all of our debt, and during that time, we had to be very open with each other about our spending to make sure we stayed on track. Some things were agreed upon, like not going out to lunch or buying Starbucks. We checked in with each other if something came up that we wanted or needed to buy, and we discussed it and decided whether now was the right time to make that purchase. Now that we’re debt-free, we’re a little more relaxed on this front, but we still talk openly with one another about where our money is going.
It’s less of a permission thing and more of an open communication thing. A few weeks ago, my husband told me he wanted to buy a new Xbox. He knows I have the pay cycles organized, so he told me to tell him when it would be a good time for him to order a new Xbox. I was supposed to get a bonus from work on an upcoming paycheck, so I suggested he order the new Xbox after that paycheck came in. Personally, I don’t like the allowance thing, but a friend of mine does it with her fiance, and it works great for them! For us, communicating openly about our spending and occasionally having conversations about the right time to make a purchase works really well.
So, how and why does this work for us? I’m a Type A, list-making, house-organizing, sticky-note writing, spreadsheet-loving person. I like being in charge of things. I am focused and goal-oriented. My husband provides a perfect balance to this by being more spontaneous, stress-free, unstructured, and flexible. I set our financial goals and make sure that we are on track to meet them, while he steps in every once in a while and reminds me that money is just money and we can treat ourselves to a nice dinner and a new Xbox every now and then.
He isn’t completely out of the loop when it comes to our finances, obviously. He helped me set our financial goals for 2019. We have a “budget meeting” once a month at Starbucks (so he gets his luxury coffee fix) and we go over the previous month’s budget. We discuss our progress toward our goals, areas where we were under-budget, and areas with room for improvement. He is aware of the areas of the budget that he needs to focus on, as well as any financial goals that month that are specifically related to him.
It’s not a perfect money management system, and it continues to evolve as we learn and grow together, but it works for us and I think that’s the most important thing. If I were still waiting for him to be more involved with the finances, we might not be hitting all of these financial milestones. I feel confident in my ability to manage our money and he is so confident in me that all he needs is a coffee date once a month to catch him up. As a newly married couple, figuring out how to manage our money in a way that works for us has been the foundation for our success in so many other areas of our marriage.
If you are in any kind of a relationship, I encourage you to have the uncomfortable “money conversation”. Ignore what the rest of us are doing and figure out what works for you. The most important thing — at the end of the day — isn’t how you manage your money, it’s managing it.
Sami Hertel is an Oregon native currently living in Utah with her husband, Kevin. Her blog, Life After Oregon, narrates her adventures since leaving her hometown. She loves road trips, family vacations, reading a good book in one sitting, and watching her husband cook dinner. You can follow her on Instagram @lifeafteroregon.
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