Money, Money, Money…

Managing finances is one of those issues within marriages that frequently causes conflict.

I can say that, in my own marriage, we have never had arguments or even disagreements about money.

It just hasn’t happened.

Not now when we are living comfortably, and not when I was still in school and making very little.

While I know there are several different ways of doing finances as a married couple, I will share what has worked for us.

Transparency

We have and have always had joint bank accounts.

Period.

Venmo, part payment tool and part social media platform, allows you to see who is paying who and for what purpose. Admit it, you creep Venmo too to see which of your friends are paying each other. I can’t be the only one.  

I was struck when I first started using it at the number of married couples who send money to each other for their share of the household bills.

I’ve seen “mortgage,” “rent,” “electricity,” and other explanations that indicate one spouse is paying another his or her share of a regular household expense.   

I’ve even seen one spouse pay another for his/her share of lunch.

This means that they have separate bank accounts and keep at least partially separate finances.

Frankly, I didn’t realize anyone did it this way, naively assuming that everyone just shared money with their spouses in one pot that pays for everything, like we do.  

I could not imagine sharing the payment of bills in this way within my own marriage.

Perhaps my situation is not the norm because my wife is currently a stay-at-home mom. With that said, even when she worked full-time this is still how we handled finances.  

I am particularly cognizant of reminding my wife again and again that the money in the account is not my money – it is our money – no matter what its source. This means she doesn’t have to ask me for permission to spend anything, just as I don’t have to ask her permission to spend.

Now, this doesn’t give either of us carte blanche to blow through the account, and neither of us would ever do that. We both have complete trust of the other. Any large purchases within our home we are both always involved in anyway. She knows, for example, if I am shopping for a car.

We are constantly communicating about finances so there are never misunderstandings, ever.

There will be times I will say something to the effect of, “try to limit the use of the debit card until a check I’m expecting arrives in a couple of days. Use the Amex instead until then.” This isn’t an example of control, since I am also following the same admonition. It’s simply my way of saying the account is a bit low at the moment.

Sharing an account means we are fully transparent with each other. If I was blowing money on hookers and cocaine, she would see the large withdrawals and I would expect her to question me about it, and vice versa.

Our joint accounts extend to our credit card. We each have an Amex charge card on the same account. Using this card keeps us disciplined since we must pay it in full at the end of each month. We use the card mostly for the points, which we convert to airline miles for trips. The flights for our December vacation to Jamaica were paid for using these miles.

This transparency means that neither of us have secrets or opportunities for arguments about money.  We talk things through.

Finances are just never an issue. This was true when we had no income, when we were jointly making $35,000 my first year out of law school, and now.

Allowances

At the beginning of each week, we withdraw an agreed upon sum of money from the bank and split it evenly. This serves as an “allowance,” for lack of a better term, for each of us for the coming week.

This is our personal spending money for the week to be used for whatever we want.  I’ll be honest, I end up putting large chunks of my allowance into my dresser drawer as a sort of savings. When I go on vacation I prefer to use cash, and this mini-savings becomes our spending money during those times.

The allowance amount varies depending on the week and the current financial condition. 

The money in the drawer is also used for buying each other gifts. Of course, if I buy something from a store on the credit card or debit card, she is able to see that I bought something, which can make it hard to surprise each other. The easy solution to that is that we sometimes use some of our saved cash for presents. Each of us have also had a family member order items online for us for complete secrecy.

Do What Works For You

I understand that the way we do things may not work for everyone. We met so young and had nothing in the beginning, so when we started opening bank accounts it just made sense to make them joint. I know those who meet later in life when both parties are established in their careers and already have separate bank accounts may view and do things differently. I am not saying our way is the only way or the right way, but it has worked very well.

My suggestions for those contemplating marriage are:

Discuss Financial Issues before Saying “I Do”: We know that finances are big flashpoint for many married couples. Have the discussions for how you will manage your finances before getting married. This is important. Make sure you share the same values and same goals and are on the same page so there are no surprises or misunderstandings after the wedding.  

Include Money Management in your Vetting: Let’s face it, marriage is a risk and divorce is costly for men. When you meet who think is the girl of your dreams, examine how she spends money. Is she in major debt? Does she make impulsive purchases? Does she save money? These are important questions to consider as you prepare to tie your finances together hopefully for the rest of your lives. If your future wife is compulsive in spending, and can’t stop herself, it may presage other issues, other than financial, down the line.

Be Transparent, Always: Don’t lie about money. Just don’t. Neither of you are children, and you should be able to communicate without fear. Of course, you may not always be able to buy what you want when you want it but communicate what is important to you and work together to spend your money in a way that not break the bank, but still allows you to enjoy life. Lying about finances will inevitably lead to lying about other issues and lead to a marked lack of trust.  

Assign One Spouse the Job of Paying Bills: This is my role in the house. I keep track of bills and pay all of them online (well, except our lawn care company, which doesn’t give that option). With one person responsible for knowing due dates, it will eliminate any confusion and inadvertent blown deadlines, thereby eliminating opportunities for recrimination.   

I understand that every couple has their own system, and some have separate accounts. I am not being critical and would never urge anyone to change something that works well for them. There is no one blueprint for a successful marriage. It depends on a variety of factors, especially the values of the two partners.

There are so many stresses involved in the modern world, particularly for those with children, and it’s sad when married couples allow disagreements about money management add to it.

Don’t let that happen. Talk through these issues. Talk about your values. Find a system that works for you. I recommend full transparency and a joint financial life since I believe it generally leads to greater trust and a better partnership.