When we were newlyweds, my husband told me he viewed making good financial choices as an investment in our relationship. That was a major “aha” moment for me: By staying on top of our financial health, we were keeping our relationship healthy as well.
But as we worked through how we wanted to manage our finances together, we realized that there was no such thing as one-size-fits-all financial advice for couples. We agreed with a lot of the advice we heard, but decided to tailor it to our situation and personalities. Here are the money “rules” we came up with that work for us. Not only have they helped us stay on track with our goals, they also help us avoid money fights.
WE FOCUS ON PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION
Generally, setting a timeline for reaching a specific financial goal can be helpful for keeping you and your partner accountable. But whenever my husband and I gave ourselves a deadline, more often than not we’d watch the date sail right past — which led to major disappointment.
This mostly has to do with where we’re at in life: My husband is a full-time graduate student, and we don’t know yet what his job prospects are after graduation. I run my own business, which means our household income varies from month to month. This means that certain goals, like buying a house, have had to stay on the backburner.
We were hoping to be in our first home by the end of 2021 and were starting to feel pressure to make that happen. But in the current seller’s market, we sometimes had trouble just getting appointments for showings. When we did find homes we liked, we found ourselves in bidding wars, which we weren’t emotionally or financially prepared to compete in.
Since putting pressure on ourselves wasn’t doing anything to help our finances (or our well-being), we’ve decided to take a step back and wait until we are more financially stable to resume house hunting. While it would have been nice to be settled in our first home before my husband graduates, we realized we’re not in a rush. To us, what matters is that we’re making progress on our homebuying goal, rather than how long it takes us to get there.
WE DECIDE WHAT’S WORTH SPENDING ON — AND WHAT ISN’T
Because we rely solely on my varying income, we’re already conscious about how we spend our money. Plus, thanks to renting and no kids, our expenses are on the lower side to begin with.
As such, we don’t feel the need to account for every dollar we spend. Instead, we generally agree on what we think is worth spending our money on (or not). For example, we like to buy healthy food and cook at home because it brings us joy, which means ordering pricey takeout is a rarity. We’ve also agreed not to spend on any new furniture or home decor until we buy a house.
Another thing my husband and I agreed on is never to make impulse purchases on non-essentials. That’s not to say we don’t splurge from time to time — we do. We just prefer to wait and see if we actually care about the purchase a few days later. If it slips our mind, then we know it wasn’t worth the money to begin with.
If one of us is looking to buy a big tech item or book a trip with friends, we’ll talk about it first. But it's not to ask for the other person’s “permission.” After nine years together, we know it would be out of character for either of us to make a wildly expensive purchase.
Rather, we talk through whether the purchase is something we consider to be a good use of our money. So far we’ve been on the same page about major purchases. But if we were to disagree, ideally we’d find a way to compromise, such as having the partner who wants to spend find another area to cut. But we stay away from setting specific spending limits because we want to continue building trust and respect, which is the overall goal when managing our finances together.
WE DON'T PUT OFF TALKING ABOUT OUR FINANCES
While I love the idea of scheduling a regular “money date” to go over our finances, my husband and I prefer to face the topic head-on as it comes up. I look at my income very closely on a monthly and quarterly basis and always keep my husband looped in. That way, we’re always on the same page and there are never any surprises.
We do have an exception to this rule, and that’s our year-end financial check-in. Every December, when things are a bit slower during the holiday break, my husband and I sit down to review our progress from the past year and talk about what we want to work toward in the coming year.
Perhaps we’re lucky because money isn’t a taboo topic for us. But having these smaller and more frequent conversations also makes managing our finances feel less overwhelming. Not only do the conversations feel more organic, but it has helped us build trust and improve our communication.