You get married and then it’s living happily ever after, right? Well…
A few months after we were married, my wife came home from Target with a couple of large shopping bags.
“What did you buy this time?!”
No, I didn’t say that out loud. I’m not that stupid.
But the thought did run through my mind, and it concerned me.
Why was I so upset over a trip to Target? I love Allison! I trust her, and I know she’s responsible.
She didn’t come home with a new car. She didn’t gamble away all our savings. So what’s the big deal?
Then it hit me.
I couldn’t answer the question, “Are we okay?”
We were married and happy except when it came to money. Every day, my wife used her money from her bank accounts, and I was using my money with my credit cards.
I realized that we were still paying the bills and shopping like we were roommates rather than like a team or a family.
And as I thought more about it, I discovered that how we used money was only part of the problem.
At the time, I had just started a career as a financial advisor, and I was being paid with a combination of a fixed salary and commission. The amount I was making was changing every month.
I left the financial advising career about 4 years ago. Wasn’t for me.
Allison had a stable job, but her hourly rate was low. Plus, her job was centered around tourism, so the number of hours she worked went up in the summer and dropped in the winter.
At any given moment, we had no idea if we were spending ourselves into a hole or climbing out of it.
We could compare how much we were charging on our credit cards and how much money was in our bank accounts, but that got complicated.
We had 8 accounts at 5 different banks. Answering the question, “Are we okay?” took a shit-ton longer than it needed to.
Allison and I weren’t working or planning together when it came to money, and I wanted to make a change.
All I wanted was to answer the question, “Are we okay?” without getting a degree in Accounting.
We learned how to handle money as separate people.
Before getting married, Allison and I really were separate people.
We both had savings accounts, checking accounts, and credit cards to manage. We learned how to pay bills in our own apartments with our own roommates (who were also our groomsmen and bride’s maids).
Allison and I ended up moving in together for the summer right before we got married, so we were–from a legal standpoint–roommates rather than a family. We got used to paying the bills and shopping as separate people.
Looking back, combining our lives and becoming a family needed to happen. We realize now that this moment was inevitable, but no one ever taught us how.
We were responsible as individuals, but not as a couple.
I figured that if we didn’t start working together with our money, the “Target incident” would just get worse.
- If I needed a new suit for work, could we actually afford it?
- What happens when we want to go on vacation?
- Would Allison start to resent me for spending a lot of money on craft beer?
- Would I start resenting Allison for buying another purse?
- What if we go further and further into debt without knowing it?
- What if we want to buy a house?
I love my wife, and I trust her. But the way we were going, I didn’t trust us.
No one ever taught us how to handle money as a team.
No one ever taught me how to handle money as a spouse. Fortunately, I have great parents that I got to watch, and I learned what a great marriage could be. But they never talked about money around me.
In high school and college, I learned how to balance my checkbook, use a credit card, and pay my bills. But it’s easy to make decisions when I don’t need anyone else’s opinion or permission.
Allison and I needed to do something different, and it was up to us to change.
We needed to find some help.
I was on edge to begin with. Trying to network, gain clients, and work long hours already had me stressed out. Worrying about my clients’ money didn’t leave much energy at the end of the day to take care of our money.
Any time we needed to go shopping was stressful. Hanging out with friends made me feel guilty. We live in Florida so of course we like to go to Orlando (“Sea World…Disney…putt-putt golfing.”).
I wanted to worry a lot less about money, have some fun, and not ruin our marriage in the process.
It was time to find some help.
What were the problems we needed to solve?
Allison and I already worked well as a team. We were both responsible, but we had separate financial lives that needed to be combined somehow.
I realized that the three basic problems we needed to solve were: * How do we see all of our money in one place so we don’t miss anything? * How can we manage day-to-day decisions without nagging each other? * How do we financially and emotionally support each other in our goals and dreams?
This took some time to figure out.
Step 1: See everything in one place.
The first thing we did was to get everything into one place. I had been using the app, Mint, for years to help track my own stuff. So we decided to start a new account. I took out the link for Mint to help out with the thumbnail issue. I’m guessing you can find the app just fine without it.
I am not an employee of Mint, nor am I being paid by them. I’m just a fan, and the app has worked well for me. The comments on this post also strongly suggest (but are not limited to) YNAB, Good Budget, Personal Capital, EveryDollar, Mvelopes, and Quicken. You could also use Excel, Google Sheets, Apple Numbers, or any other spreadsheet software you are comfortable with to budget and keep track of your finances.
- Every savings account.
- Every checking account.
- All the credit cards.
- Student loans.
- Car loans.
- Every transaction.
- Updated automatically.
- All in one spot!
The clouds parted and the angels sang.
We both had access to see everything at any moment on a computer or our phones.
Step 2: Give each other permission to spend money.
The next step was to start budgeting together, and I had to talk Allison into this. She had some valid concerns, and it all started with toothpaste.
Since I’m a detail-oriented person, I was gung-ho about budgeting and tracking our money. I love it when everything works together perfectly. Whereas Allison has more of a “good enough” personality. She was happy as long as we were staying out of trouble.
So when I started to talk about budgeting, one of Allison’s first questions was, “If we spend our budget for toiletries and we need toothpaste, I can’t go out and buy more toothpaste?”
It was a good question, and I didn’t have the answer right away. Over time, we’ve learned how to budget each month without making the budget set in stone. It’s flexible, and when we need to change it…we change it. Toothpaste for days!
Allison also asked, “And what if we want to go shopping on our own? Do we need to give each other permission?”
The solution here was to budget fun money for each other. Every month, Allison gets some money that she gets to do whatever she wants with. And every month, I get some money that I get to do whatever I want with. Sometimes we overspend our fun money amounts (okay, honestly…it’s usually me), but we make it work out.
We also have an “Entertainment” fund in our budget every month, which is for anything we do together. You could call it “Date Night” money, too.
After making a lot of mistakes, hitting road bumps, finding solutions, and practicing, our monthly budgeting hasn’t caused any fights or headaches….for years.
Step 3: Decide what we want, together.
When it came to our goals and dreams, we tried a formal system of tracking what we wanted. But it didn’t really work out. It was too much for us as a couple.
Our bigger goals like an emergency fund, retirement, and debt took some time, but those goals take months or years or decades to accomplish. Once we set the plan, there was no need for a conversation every month.
For the shorter-term ideas, we developed a habit of asking each other, “What do you want this month?”
Sometimes I want new running shoes. Sometimes Allison wants to throw a party at our house for friends. And sometimes we both want a new dining room table.
In the end, we just wait until an idea pops into our mind (“Is it time to go back to Disney World?”), and we decide if we can afford it now or we need to save up. And then put it in the budget.
It’s flexible, and it works for us.
I calmed down…fast!
After all our financial information was in one spot, I immediately calmed down.
I had one number that showed me how much combined money we had in “the bank” and one number of how much we had charged on the credit cards.
One number minus the other gave me my answer. We were okay.
After we started to budget, seeing a Target bag (or any other shopping bag) hasn’t bothered me since.
We never fight about money.
Allison and I have had a lot of fun with friends, visited family, and had wonderful vacations. But we have made a lot of mistakes and have had to deal with a bunch of emergencies.
We talk, discuss, and decide. But we don’t fight.