Money at 30: Couples’ Finance Lessons After Eight Years of Marriage
This week, my wife Rebekah and I celebrated our eight-year anniversary. In that time, we’ve made a number of financial decisions together. From big ones like our frugal wedding, moving across the country, and “splurging” on a new (used) car to smaller ones we make on a near-daily basis, I feel like we’ve learned a lot about managing our money as a couple. In fact, at the risk of sounding braggadocious, I think we’ve been pretty damn successful at working as a team to accomplish our goals.
So, to mark the occasion, I thought I’d reflect on some of the lessons we’ve learned about couples’ money since being married, share some of the specific things that work well for us, and, yes, celebrate our success so far.
The Finanical Lessons We’ve Learned As a Couple
The $50 rule holds up
Starting with one of our money rules — and one I’ve mentioned before — my wife and I have a limit on how much we can spend without needing to mention it to the other. As you may have garnered from the name, this limit is $50, meaning that either of us can buy something that costs less than this without consultation. But, when it comes to larger purchases, we need to at least discuss it with the other partner. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I can spend $50 a day on anything but we don’t have a hard rule on when the limit resets.
To be honest, even when I’m mulling buying something that’s under $50, I still often talk to Bekah about it anyway just to help myself decide if it’s a worthy purchase. Meanwhile, for those larger purchases, it’s funny how the person who proposes the item is often the one who withdraws it once they start discussing it and realize they don’t care about it as much as they thought. That’s really the key to this whole thing: making sure we’re spending our money intentionally. Thus, having this added accountability helps ensure that that’s the case.
Be open and listen when it comes to spending and money
You could delete the “when it comes to spending and money” from this heading as it applies to nearly all of marriage, but let me be more specific. Whether we’re discussing a purchase, a money move, or other financial matter, it can be easy for one of us to jump in with the knee-jerk rejection. However, once we take the time to actually hear the other person out and ask any questions we have, the conversation can be much more productive. In the end, one of us may be convinced, we’ll find a comprise, or decide against it. Clearly, any of these scenarios are much better than starting a fight by instantly shutting the other partner down.
By the way, this doesn’t always happen in one session and could take place over the course of weeks in some instances. I think this speaks to the level of consideration we give to such matters as well as to just how often we discuss money in general. This open dialogue is absolutely one of the main reasons I think we’ve been successful.
Some people will surely think it’s strange that my wife and I mostly have separate bank accounts. This is partially because both of us already had accounts when we got married and also because I open a crapload of accounts to review. In any case, just because one of our names may be on an account doesn’t mean that the other is locked out of it. Not only do we have access to each other’s accounts but we also use Personal Capital to show all of our balances in one place. Meanwhile, in addition to splitting accounts, we also each have certain bills we’re primarily responsible for. In my case, it’s rent, health insurance, auto insurance, cell phone bill, and a few credit card statements I make sure to pay while she covers the car payment, the rest of the card statements, and also manages our Roth IRA contributions among a few other things. Of course, we still communicate about all of these — whether sharing an update that we made a payment or reminding the other about something — but the split responsibilities approach has worked well for us.
Thinking in “our” money terms
Even though we maintain separate bank accounts, make no mistake that the money we earn belongs to both of us. To me, there’s no sense in worrying about whose money is whose when we ultimately spend it together. With this in mind, I’ve never been upset when my wife has made more than me or vice versa. Either way, it’s a win — more money for us! This mindset has helped us work as a team to accomplish things we both want out of life, thus making for a happier marriage overall.
The power of a “player two”
Lastly, one of the hobbies I’ve really grown into over the course of our marriage is credit cards. Heck, when we were first wed, I didn’t even have any! And while I haven’t gone full-on enthusiast or travel hacker, I have definitely acquired a taste for maximizing rewards. As it turns out having a partner — or, as they are often referred to in the credit card game, “player two” — can be advantageous for this. That said, Bekah is still warming up to the whole credit card hacking thing (she’s kept an open mind just as I mentioned above) but did eventually apply for the Sapphire Preferred on my recommendation. Ultimately, even if we don’t use her player two status to its full potential, it’s nice to have the option.
Throughout the eight years that I’ve been married now, I’ve definitely learned a lot about couples’ finance. And, while we’ve handled challenges and found approaches that work for us so far, I’ll undoubtedly have more to learn in the years to come. However, I’m confident that the partnership we’ve been able to build through our various systems and philosophies will help us weather any storms that may come. With that, here’s to another eight (times eight) more years together.
Also published on Medium.