My money vs our money

Couple discussing finance

“Make sure you don’t have to depend on no man!” “As a man, it is my duty to provide for my family” “Finance is one of the top reasons why couples decide to divorce”… With so many conflicting messages thrown at us throughout life, is it any wonder that so many of us struggle to be financially compatible with our spouse when we get married?

Finances will always be a significant part of your marriage, whether you are talking about it or trying to avoid the topic completely.

When dealt with effectively, money management will be a core strength for your relationship.

But when neglected, it can be a very stressful place to remain in! I’ll be completely honest with you and say that conversations about money would give me anxiety up until recently, and I’m sure I will have these moments in future too! With experience and insight into my own areas of weakness, I recognise that this anxiety is based on my engrained tendency to spend blindly and then feel like I wanted to bury my head rather than look at my bank statement.

I’m glad to be able to say that this tendency no longer rules my thinking, but it has taken plenty of intentional work in both learning and unlearning habits to help me get to a place where I can manage my money effectively. Thinking back to when I first started working and earning my own income, I never had any plans for that money other than to spend it! The importance of saving wasn’t something that I appreciated at that time, and I know many reading this will be able to relate. That’s why coming together to build a life with someone else can be a complete shock to your financially incompetent system! (Oh no she didn’t…)

When so much of your life has been spent deciding where your own money goes, and often without a second thought, marriage turns that autonomy on its head. Now you are in a position where your shared finances will directly impact one another, and the way that you navigate this will be essential to your chances of achieving both financial compatibility and financial stability.

I would define both of those goals as the following in the context of marriage:

Financial compatibility

  • To work together effectively and honestly while you manage your money
  • To be able to compromise to build a foundation where both spouses feel equally respected regardless of either financial position (e.g. breadwinner)
  • To fairly consider both perspectives and opinions to decide on the most effective way to move forward together

Financial stability

  • To manage comfortably on a month-to-month basis without struggling from one payday to the next
  • To have sufficient savings for a ‘rainy day’, and a consistent savings structure in place
  • To not be in a position where debt has become a restriction

These are the goals that we constantly strive for in my marriage, and we recognise that we will struggle to get there if we refuse to be willing to work together. For my husband as the frugal partner, this means accepting that there are times where we need to relax, spend a little and enjoy ourselves. For myself as the not-so-frugal partner, this means accepting that there are times where we need to cut back and be strict with our budgets.

But getting to this point can be tough, especially if you are struggling to see your money as our money. Here are some key questions that you need to ask yourself if you haven’t already:

  1. How would I feel if my spouse earned more than me?
  2. Would it work for us to solely use joint bank accounts?
  3. What is the benefit of having our own bank accounts?
  4. Do I prioritise saving as much as my spouse?
  5. Are we on the same page about our current financial situation?

I’ll touch on some of these questions in the rest of this post, as I think it is important to have the answers as well as to have a conversation with your spouse to establish where you both stand on the essential issue of finance.

Firstly, if it is an issue that your spouse earns more than you (regardless of gender) then this more than likely is rooted in your own insecurities or expectations that you have picked up along the way. I say this not from a place of malice, but from a place of consideration for how easy it is for us to soak in our environments, especially as children. We carry so much, often subconsciously, that then goes on to directly impact the type of marriages that we have and the kind of homes that we create.

If the mentality was ‘our money’ over ‘my money’, then it wouldn’t matter who was earning more anyway!

In my marriage, we have decided to have both separate accounts and joint accounts. We have set budgets that we follow for everything from our daughter and our date fund to personal care and free money. We know exactly what goes where and we plan out how this looks together, but we still have the element of autonomy to spend without the need of approval for each transaction. If you don’t already, I would definitely recommend incorporating ‘free money’ into your budget. Even when you are strictly saving, as we are currently doing so towards a mortgage, it makes a huge difference to have a pot of money that you can spend as you please (especially for someone like me!) and it doesn’t have to be a huge amount at all. I heard someone else speak about this idea and I’m grateful we made it happen because it gives me some much needed financial breathing space each month.

We also heard of a helpful perspective from a senior married couple, when the husband shared how he learned the example of a pyramid structure to base their finance on. It is defined as this:

I have my account, and you have yours. We also have a joint account, and all of our bills and essential expenses are set to be paid from that joint account. Both of us pay money into that joint account at the top of our pyramid, and whatever remains is ours to manage and use autonomously.

That is just one example, as I also know of couples who put everything into a joint account to be managed together. I say all of this to say that there is no universal “right answer” but there is an answer that is right for you. No two couples are the same, and what works effectively for one couple may be a point of contention with another, so don’t be afraid to explore your options. If something doesn’t seem to be working, take a step back and try something different.

Ultimately, the most important goal for you both and your finances should be to get onto the same page.

You could be the most savvy-thinkers in effective money management, but if you and your spouse don’t see eye to eye then you will still have problems to resolve. If it seems that a financial mentality of ‘mine and yours’ exists instead of ‘ours’, then that is a good place to start unpacking why that might be.

Marriage is about teamwork. You two individuals with two different ways of looking at the world. The more you can appreciate what you both bring to the table, regardless of whether both of you are working or not, the more you can break down financial barriers and build a foundation where our money remains the core consideration.

YOUR THOUGHTS

When was the last time you had a heart-to-heart with your spouse about your finances? Now is as good a time as any! If this is a source of anxiety for you too, then you may find that the following questions are a good place to start in tackling this topic together in your marriage:

  1. What is your initial reaction when we talk about finances and why?
  2. What is one thing that you think we could do differently to help us work better together financially?
  3. What does financial compatibility mean to you in the context of our marriage?
  4. What does financial stability mean to you in the context of our marriage?
  5. What matters most to you right now financially and why?

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