If we’re being honest, most of us fight or have fought about money with our significant others. It seems like there are a thousand different ways you and your spouse can handle your money. This isn’t an exact science, and it’s important that you do what’s right for you.
Re-read that last sentence.
It’s important that you do what’s right for you. Both of you.
In my experience, what’s right for me isn’t always what SOUNDS right, or what sounds like the most fun. Given that it’s in our nature to seek what makes us comfortable and happy (or so we THINK but are usually wrong), it’s no surprise that I’m not always that great at acting in what’s truly my best interest. This is the adult version of “eat your vegetables.” Do they taste as good donuts? Of course not. But, they’re better for you in the long haul.
What does this have to do with my money?
Everything! For the time being I’m going to focus on specifically how money functions within your marriage or partnership, and we all know this issue is a HUGE one. How many times have you heard that arguments about money are the biggest cause of conflict or even divorce? I don’t actually know where that statistic came from or its validity but it SOUNDS scary. Not just because divorce is scary, but because it’s so believable. Because most of us have fought with someone we love about money. It’s a touchy subject!
As long as money is tied to our animalistic instinct to survive and prosper, that’s probably not going away anytime soon, but there are ways we can minimize its negative impact on our marriages. Let’s forget the fact that I’m definitely not a marriage counselor for a second so I can tell you what I perceive to be the biggest mistakes couples are making with money.
Keeping it Separate
I’ve heard a whole host of reasons for doing this one. “It’s just easier that way.”
“It was separate when we were dating, and we just never changed it.”
“If it’s separate, then we don’t have anything to fight about.”[side note, WHAT?]
“He/she makes a lot more money than I do and pays most of the bills.”
I am calling bullshit on all of these. It IS effort to combined everything, sure. It’s far from unsurmountable effort, though, and I mean… Marriage is effort. What’s easier, taking a day to get your finances in order, or fighting about money and possibly wrecking your relationship?
I have been known to take literally weeks to remember to go to the dry cleaner so I feel less than qualified to lecture about that, BUT in my defense, dry cleaning is way less important than mawwiage (Princess Bride fans anywhere?!).
My most favorite one is the idea that if you keep everything separate, and just live like roommates, you are removing the fight stimulus. That’s right–you CAN’T fight about money because you just went and removed that variable all together! BOOM! *drops the mic*
Except that makes zero sense.
Don’t even act like you never got pissed at a roommate (or them at you) for not carrying their weight. For missing a payment. For eating all your cereal. This type of resentment can JUST as easily manifest when you happen to be married to said roommate. If anything, it’s worse, because it’s not like you can look forward to the end of your lease in three months. Theoretically you’re stuck with each other now. This just means more time for your resentment to snowball, leaving you one sink full of dirty dishes away from mayhem.
Furthermore, keeping your money separate does absolutely nothing to reinforce the idea that you are life partners. Literally. You have chosen to do life together as a unit, and the subtle (or not so subtle) way in which you regard each other and arrange your lives will either reinforce that idea or retract from it. If you think you can financially function as roommates and combat the mental/emotional separation caused by that via lip service, you are kidding yourselves. Your actions must reflect your perception (thereby forming it, which is some chicken-or-the-egg-shit, I know) that the two of you are equals. This brings me to my next point, the final example justification for keeping things separate:
He/she makes way more money.
Seriously! So your spouse makes triple what you make–GOOD FOR YOU! You are married to a solid earner which means you have resources to make your lives better. Or maybe you’re the one who makes the big fat salary and your spouse makes pennies compared to you. Chances are, you knew that when you signed up. But hey–maybe you didn’t! Maybe you got together when you were both young and broke, but now you’re a high powered attorney and he’s a graphic designer at a local credit union.
Did you have higher hopes? Do you resent your partner for choosing a less lucrative career? That’s a big fat therapy-worthy problem so I’m not even going to touch it.
If that’s not it, though, it’s a perfect segway to the NEXT mistake I see people making all the time.
Yes! This is a big one (made easier and more likely by the former point, keeping it separate). The best thing that my husband and I ever did was remove the phrases “my money” and “your money” from our vocabulary. Any and all income is ours. Our money.
Early on when we were dating, we would often divvy up the bills based on our respective salaries. In other words, if I was bringing home 60% of the bacon, I was paying 60% of the bills. By doing things this way, we were ensuring that one person wasn’t getting more strapped for cash than the other.
It took us a while to update this method after we got married, because you know–it was easier. We already had it setup like that. However, we ultimately moved to joint accounts because we noticed the following complications of the “fair and square” divvied up approach:
- Every time someone gets a raise, changes jobs, etc, you have to reevaluate. This is not only a PITA, but can breed resentment.
- It reinforces “mine and theirs” instead of “ours,” which is a recipe for disaster and misery.
How about some examples?
Let’s say you’re busy slaving over dinner and you ask your spouse to stop for groceries on the way home. After that, you forget to give them your portion of the money required to buy said groceries. And maybe this happens a few times.
Or maybe it’s happened a few times when you went out with friends for a $100 dinner. You don’t want to split it there, because that’s awkward, but doing it later on can be problematic since we’re forgetful beings. The person who doesn’t forget–are they nagging? Being greedy?
Or maybe only one of you REALLY wanted to go to that dinner. Now the other person is trapped into waiting to buy that new scooter because they had to shell out sushi money that they weren’t really into in the first place.
You might think all of this sounds unreasonable and immature (because it is), but unfortunately that’s not something that most humans have fully risen above yet. I’ve seen this time and time again. When you divide up resources and responsibility, you are preoccupying yourself with what’s on your plate compared to what’s on their plate. This is counter-productive when it comes to building an effective partnership.
You are in this together.
The sooner you stop worrying about who’s making more money, the sooner you can begin functioning as a team. This will make it 1000x easier to budget, to set savings goals (jointly), and to finally stop arguing about money.
Not only do joint accounts make it easier, they also allow for transparency, which is crucial to building trust and putting your finances on autopilot. I’ve heard many people say they dislike that approach, because it sounds antiquated.
“I don’t need my spouse to be able to see every dime I spend. I feel like I lose my independence.”
Hmm–okay, I hear you.
The first thing I’ll say is that if you and your spouse have nothing to hide, this shouldn’t be an issue. If your bills are paid, savings goals are met, etc, then it should not matter that the ol’ hubs sees that you spent 80 bucks at DSW.
There is ONE valid argument I’ve heard related to privacy, though, which is the idea that you can’t buy gifts for each other in secret. That’s legit! I have a solution, though:
- All income funnels into ONE joint account.
- From said joint account, all bills are paid, joint cards are paid off, savings/investments are contributed to
- Agreed upon spending allowances are then transferred to each of your separate checking accounts, that are used solely for that purpose.
BOOM. Now you have a working budget with total transparency, but you can still buy things with some discretion. I’ll go into some more detail on how this process works in a later post, but for now, the bottomline:
To think and feel as a team, you must act like one.
Marriage can be hard, but it’s a lot easier than you think to remove the most common complication. If you’re not there yet, really ask yourself why. Where is the resistance coming from? Chances are the pain of removing it and getting your affairs in order is much less than the pain from long-term sabotage and a “mine vs. yours” mindset.
What other ways do you reinforce a team mindset?