How We Manage Money As a Couple
We met the way many great love stories begin—totally by accident. After midnight on New Year’s Eve, our eyes met in the middle of the dance floor at a local funk show. We spent the next several months getting to know each other. We ate, drank, went to shows—all without any thought of the bill at the end of the night.
Her Finances, His Finances
I (Liz) had been managing my money with You Need a Budget (YNAB). It came highly recommended by many of my friends and fellow numbers nerds. I was making a reasonable (if modest) public-sector salary, and I wanted to make sure I was living within my means and saving.
Michael, on the other hand, lived with a roommate, had inexpensive tastes, and a programmer’s salary. He didn’t give much thought to budgeting or saving. He would transfer money to a savings account each month, but as long as he had enough in his account to buy whatever food he wanted, he didn’t bother making a plan for the rest. So when I first suggested budgeting with YNAB, he gave it a half-hearted attempt but quickly fell off.
After a particularly expensive summer building a project for Burning Man, Michael’s reserves dwindled and he started to get stressed out about daily purchases. I, confused about how he could be broke on his salary, suggested he pick up YNAB again—but this time with the specific goal of saving for his big yearly projects.
We Learned the Same Money Language
We scheduled an initial “set-up date” where we talked through the Four Rules and what was important to Michael. He estimated his yearly costs and we set up monthly savings goals. When the next year’s Burning Man expenses came up, all the funds were already waiting in their categories. He was hooked.
Through these budget dates, we built a common language around planning for our goals—and not just the financial ones. As our relationship grew more serious, we used this same language to talk about taking vacations, getting married, having kids, buying a home, and following our personal passions. We moved in together, we got engaged! This brought on a whole new set of money conversations: notably combining (or not combining) finances.
To Combine Money or Not?
At first we were nervous about giving each other full control of our finances. Michael would pay the bills and I sent him my share through Venmo. But, I got sick of feeling like I had to “report” all my purchases pretty quickly, and splitting and categorizing all those transfers was a headache.
Many vulnerable and difficult conversations later, we decided to take the plunge together and fully combine finances. Not only did it make sense practically, but it helped us stay connected about our goals and feel like an unstoppable team.
We officially became members of Team Joint Everything.
We had our second “set-up date” one Saturday afternoon. With laptops side by side, we set up a new joint bank account, a new joint email, and a new joint YNAB. Just like before, we had a detailed conversation about how to organize and categorize our money. We talked about what was important to us: we both wanted to save for the future and give to causes we care about. And we’ve never shaken that fancy food and cocktail habit that made our first months together so fun. With our new budget laid out, our combined dollars had new jobs to do. We officially became proud members of “Team Joint Everything.”
Ready to learn everything there is to know about managing money with your honey? Check out our comprehensive guide on Budgeting as a Couple.
How We Handle Specific Expenses
One of the big topics we discussed was how to handle expenses that have a big gender disparity. For example, Michael rocks a bald head and doesn’t need to pay for haircuts. My quarterly haircuts cost more (quite a bit more) and are part of my professional appearance. While we each have our own equally-funded, no-questions-asked pools of fun money, my haircuts come from the shared pool, just like hand soap or laundry detergent. We’re liberal with what we consider a living expense, and we share all of those equally.
We’ve seen such great returns from YNAB that we trip over each other rushing to use it. We both consult our budget before purchases. We check it a few times per day to see if there are new auto-imported transactions to categorize. Whenever a paycheck lands, one of us will assign dollars to categories (most important first) using “Average Spent” as the guide. We’ll touch base over chat to divide the remainder, consulting the calendar or our chore list to anticipate any unusual expenses coming up (ie. replacement cookware, a friend’s baby shower, family visiting from out of town).
The Surprising Upside of Budgeting: Making Life Plans
We’ve found that using YNAB has given us more stability, more savings, and a better understanding of our needs. We expected that. What we didn’t expect was that budgeting together taught us to compassionately and competently make our larger life plans. The process of giving dollars jobs has made what we want to do together so tangible. And watching our wins spill over has been incredible.
Budgeting together taught us to competently and compassionately make our larger life plans.
Our biggest YNAB accomplishment to date was paying for our wonderful wedding. Now, we’re rolling those savings over to our next big goal: a fantastic honeymoon to celebrate.
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