This post is about how to handle combining finances after marriage, if you’re dating or engaged, check out my last post Simple Tips for Discussing Finances while Dating and Engaged.
My husband and I kept our finances separate until after we were married. It really wasn’t something that we thought about, but we talked a lot about our finances. We knew we wanted to pay off my student loan debt in 5 years, so our plan was for me to use the majority of my checks towards the loan and then he would pay for most everything else-rent, utilities, groceries, etc. Actually, looking back, I’m not sure who paid for groceries or eating out, but it definitely worked for us at the time.
After we got married, we decided to combine our finances and are firm believers of combining finances after marriage. Besides the legal protections that marriage affords, there’s something about officially becoming a team and saying your vows that solidifies the financial commitment as well. Part of being in a relationship is being a good teammate and having to discuss finances adds another layer of teamwork that serves to strengthen the relationship.
Once we combined our bank accounts, we began budgeting together. There were a few tricky months as budgeting for the first time with a joint bank account means a little trial and error, but that’s where communication comes in. We talk about every penny that comes through our account. For some, that may seem exhausting, but making a plan for our money keeps us on the same page about a lot of other things that could easily get out of whack.
For instance, we have to decide what to spend on groceries, which means we have to essentially agree on what to buy and what we’ll be eating. We decide how much to spend on clothes, gas, and anything else that comes up. I think this enhances our communication because we have to talk about those things. He knows if I need extra work clothes, and I know what he’s going to spend on hunting supplies. It takes a lot of talking to keep everything straight which is great for our relationship because we have to work as a team to keep things going.
Here are some things we did after we got married to transition to combined finances:
- Use budgeting forms or software to direct your budget-We were working to pay off my student loan debt and ended up following the Dave Ramsey plan, including their budgeting forms to get us started. We still use their budgeting forms every month. Starting a budget is a lot like jumping into a pool without knowing how to swim, so using ready-made budgeting forms provides a kind of life jacket until you get the hang of it.
- Have monthly budgeting meetings to discuss the month’s needs and expenses-Since starting a budget is tricky, communication is essential. Talking to each other about what expenses are coming up in the month makes it so we don’t forget anything. Some budget meetings take longer than others depending on what the upcoming month is going to bring. We also have to have conversations about what is necessary and what isn’t.
- Figure out who is the saver and who is the spender and negotiate-I am definitely the saver and my husband is definitely the spender. He is much more willing to purchase things than I am and, many times, he wants to buy things that I don’t necessarily think we need. This includes toys as well as household items. Discussions over these things have the potential to be difficult, so I make sure that I ask a lot of questions and say what’s on my mind and voice my concerns. Here are some questions I make sure to ask if he starts talking about a purchase that I’m uncomfortable with (which are most of them):
- How much do you think we’ll use this?
- Will we use it enough to justify the purchase?
- Is there a cheaper way to accomplish the same goal?
- Where will we store it? *We have a small house*
As he answers these questions, I start to understand his thought process a lot more and through my questions, he understands my hesitations. Sometimes we decide to go ahead with the purchase, sometimes we decide to wait until I’m more comfortable with it, and sometimes we scrap it altogether. The important thing is that we come to the decision together, and we’re both aware of the other’s thought process. You can read more about this here.
- Budget money for entertainment and decide together what you’ll spend it on-Our transition to combined finances and budgeting actually went very smoothly because of how much we talked about it, but there was one fairly significant hiccup. In our initial budget, we had only budgeted personal money for each of us and no money to spend together. I knew I wanted to go out to dinner later in the month and was saving my money to take us out. I watched in annoyance as he spent his money, and I felt like I couldn’t spend mine. I let him know how I was feeling, and we decided that the thing that our budget was missing was a category for both of us together. Once we got that in there, we were able to do things together and still have personal money.
- Have personal money to spend on whatever you want-We pretty much discuss everything and make most decisions together, so it’s nice to have money that just belongs to each of us. I can spend mine on burritos, and he can spend his on energy drinks, and there’s no judgement and no discussion over what we spend it on.
Combining our finances was an adjustment, but a good one. We talked a lot about money before we lived together and were married, but actually working our budget and making our financial plans together definitely makes our relationship stronger.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about when to combine finances!