My wife and I have always been very open about money with one another: we discuss our incomes and monthly expenses several times per week. On a quarterly basis (while difficult for most individuals who do not have this particular expertise), I prepare a balance sheet (a listing of assets – what you “own” – less any outstanding liabilities – what you “owe”) to come up with our household net worth, year-to-date income and expense summary, and a performance summary of several of our investment and savings accounts (i.e. IRAs). While almost unheard of for two early-20’s to start this behavior, it has made sure we are transparent with one another on what our financial status is. The purpose of these “quarter-end” sessions is to be educational in nature, and it helps us both know where we stand should something happen (disability or death) to one of us.
AJ: When people hear about our “quarterly presentation” I feel confident they think we’re nuts, but Kirby is right. Were something drastic or tragic to happen to one of us, the other would at least know when to begin to look for our resources, and that’s a huge hurdle for a lot of couples. What makes a quarterly presentation for me is that while Kirby chooses many of the specific components of our portfolio (specific investments, account allocations, long-term strategy), we’re regularly saving for my goals in prominent ways, too, and seeing that quarter by quarter makes me feel equal in the decision-making power.
KJ: Our three recommendations to having an open discussion on money are:
1) Regularly prioritize what is most important to you TWO. The purpose of this exercise is to come to terms with one another about what is most important and valuable as a couple. Sure, there will naturally be items from time to time where you may disagree, but it’s most important to come to a mutually agreed upon solution. Think: have X now and Y later or part of each now and the rest later (if possible).
AJ: My two biggest priorities are living as full and meaningful a life as possible and saving for the long-term. Full and meaningful means travel, wine, being with my family, expanding our family one fuzzy, life-filled fur baby at a time and giving more than we take. Saving for the long-term means spending more thoughtfully and saving even more thoughtfully. Acting like raises and bonuses don’t happen, so that I can breathe a little easier when I think about retiring isn’t quite as fun as taking four vacations a year, but I rest well at night and know that my planning will afford us a comfortable lifestyle forever.
KJ: 2) Know where you stand. Track your combined income and expenses (whether the accounts are combined or separate is a different discussion point) through a tool like Quicken, Mint.com, Yodlee, or other resource.
AJ: Some weeks I ask Kirby the same question about our budget three times before I finally remember how much we have to spend in a certain category, but we talk about it in a healthy, ongoing way, which makes it more approachable. Kirby and I love Mint.com. It was the first tool that worked for both of us in a way that I could really use. Even still, though, I track our food and miscellaneous budgets in a spiral notebook along with my monthly menus and weekly grocery lists. It works for me to see it in two ways. Kirby gets REALLY confused with all of my lists, but at the end of the month, we always wind up in the same place and that’s what really matters.
KJ: 3) Identify what method works on how to own your checking accounts. For some couples, it is optimum to maintain separate checking accounts, while for others (and us) it’s better to have it all commingled in a single ‘pot.’ Neither one is inherently right nor wrong; it’s how well you communicate with one another on upcoming expenses (significant or not) that is most important.
AJ: What works for us now, isn’t what “we” always wanted. I did well maintaining my own checking and savings accounts, and I liked the independence. We began by sharing an “equal” budget comparable to our income percentages and that worked really well while we were dating.
When we were planning our post-wedding lives, it became very apparent that Kirby wanted to merge finances, and I really didn’t see the benefit. I heard a number of marriage-ending horror stories about sharing finances, and I wasn’t sure I knew how to prevent that from happening to us. The reality is that we’re better together through and through and sharing our finances has made us better friends and partners. I’m still not sure how to buy a gift in complete secrecy or save a little at a time for a huge surprise, but for the most part, sharing finances is a great fit for us.
Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.