By the time my husband, Ben, and I got married, we’d had quite a few conversations about our finances. It was a great way for us to learn about each other and our relationship with money when we were dating. But it took us a little trial and error — and advice — to find a method of merging our finances as a couple.
It all started when we moved in together a couple years in to our relationship. We decided to keep our finances separate, splitting rent equally and vowing to take turns purchasing necessities. It was about three months before we (read: he) started to slip up, and another two before the resentment kicked in. One night, I found myself passive-aggressively eating dry cereal out of a plastic cup for dinner while I waited for Ben to remember to replenish our milk and dish detergent. It all came to a head one day when I broke down in tears, taking all this as a sign that our relationship was doomed.
If keeping separate accounts was tricky, the alternative seemed no better. The prospect of merging sent us both into crisis mode. I’m a saver. He’s a spender. He worried he'd start sneaking home new purchases, and I began calculating how much I'd need to store in my sock drawer for when his coffee habit bankrupted us.
HOW TWO BECAME ONE … SORT OF
So there we were. By the time we got engaged, keeping our money separate felt like we weren’t holding each other accountable, but merging all of our accounts felt like we were giving up our autonomy. Before tying the knot, we knew we needed a method that would keep us financially sound without feeling restricted.
"Like a lot of things in our relationship, our budget is something we revisit."
Then came one night, my soon-to-be sister-in-law suggested a method that gave us the best of both worlds.
Here’s how it works:
- 40 percent of our monthly income funnels into one joint checking account that covers our rent, utilities and a joint credit card for shared expenses, like date nights. The money in here funds our living costs. We included our student loan payments and contributed to our combined debt equally until we paid it off last year.
- 20 percent of our monthly take-home pay goes into one joint savings account to use for big-ticket items, like trips and furniture, or our emergency savings.
- The remaining 40 percent of our individual paychecks are for personal spending and saving.
WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT OUR BUDGET BREAKDOWN
Two years into our marriage, this budgeting system has eased us into newlywed life. Here's why we love it:
We contribute proportionately. Splitting shared costs was a weak spot for us early in our relationship, especially when our income disparity was significant. We now allocate percentages of our individual paychecks to the household budget, because we share the burden and benefits of income changes. If my husband takes a salary cut, we’ll both need to adjust our contributions and joint expenses to make it work. If I get a bonus at work, we’re both one step closer to taking our next big trip together.
We share equal responsibility for shared expenses. I’ll never again buy sandpaper-like toilet paper just to send a message to my husband that it’s his turn to stock up on household necessities.
Personal expenses are just that — personal. This one is big for both of us. If I want to buy a new computer, I will. If my husband wants to buy a fancy bicycle, he doesn’t have to clear it with me first (as long as he also buys a helmet). Having the ability to make expensive purchases without checking with my husband is empowering.
It keeps gifting a surprise. Our method allows us to truly gift one another, which was important to us both. Funds come from our own earnings, and since the transactions don’t post on any joint bills, we can keep the element of surprise alive.
While this method works well for us, it does require two fairly regular paychecks. It takes a little work to figure out the percentage split that works best for you, too. Like a lot of things in our relationship, our budget is something we revisit. As circumstances change, so might our approach to money. The important thing is that we’re keeping the conversation going.