Saturday, August 1, 2015

Joint Finances

I, like many, am married to someone very different from me.  This mostly works well, as our strengths and personalities are complementary.  Qualities I admire yet lack, my husband has, and vice versa.  Over the years, we’ve learned to understand each other better, and develop life plans with the other (as a partner and equal) at the core.  We mostly have the same views and values in life (which is not to be confused with our families of origin having the same views and values).  According to Sebastien, over the years he has trained me to be better behaved.  On my side, things aren’t working out as well, as evidenced by my husband’s recent trip to the grocery store: no chocolate was purchased, and he doesn’t even remember my favorite brands.  Sigh, first world relationship problems.

This cartoon is wildly sexist - I initially assumed it was the man who was spendy, in fact.

My husband inherently doesn’t spend money.  He’s generous and enjoys spending money to be social, but generally is pretty frugal.  He’s the person who in the past (as a single guy) bought and ate a Costco-sized tuna can, because … cheaper by weight.  I am not naturally frugal - growing up there was always a ton of stuff I wanted, and I never saved my allowance as a kid.  If I go into a dollar store, I want to buy everything.  If I walk through an aisle of mini toiletries, I want them all because they’re so cute.  When I’m in a clothing store, I start fantasizing about how great I’ll look in the clothes.  But, I’m very much motivated by not needing to depend on someone else (an employer) for a paycheck, and in having autonomy and freedom.  That pursuit of freedom lights my fire in a way that elegant decor and possessions (as much as I can appreciate them) simply can’t.

The way our finances work is basically: I’m in charge of everything, I monitor and pay everything, but give my husband regular updates about our net worth or spending (or hitting credit card bonuses).  Sometimes I wish we acted more like equals in this regard, but let’s be honest I love tracking our finances (it’s a hobby, not), and we’re on the same page so things are low-conflict and mutually beneficial.  All of our credit cards are linked on, plus checking and savings accounts and Vanguard investments.  Any transactions or paycheck deposits show up in one place, which is handy.  I don’t particularly love mint, but it gets the job done.  Personal Capital, I hear, is the cooler shinier new service that does the same thing (provides free tracking/aggregation for all your accounts).  I transfer all of our transactions to a personal spreadsheet (one for each month, plus a master one for the whole year’s monthly spending), with categories like groceries, eating out, clothes shopping, transportation, misc, fixed (rent/internet/phone).  I have a master spreadsheet on our investments (contributions, net worth, allocation).  Travel of the international variety and charitable contributions get tracked separately.

I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the term ‘frugal’ (which evokes to me an image of someone who enjoys not spending money to the point where they avoid fulfilling activities simply due to the cost).  I try instead to be thoughtful in considering how to spend my money, which doesn’t feel like deprivation.  I’m not motivated by not spending money (a growing savings account … nice but meh) but rather by buying investments that will grow and compound and make me wealthy.  My husband does not operate in the same way (at all).  Take for instance, his Daily Bagel (™ - just kidding).  $1.69 every morning at work, when he works a regular shift.  I see this and think - personally, I’ve found that daily minor food purchases are not that satisfying in the grand scheme of things, I/he might be better off planning and bringing breakfast to work in that situation.  Cheaper and could be prepared the night before, which allows you to avoid the extra time to buy a bagel the next morning, which means you can sleep more.  And I truly value sleep.  I also think, if you buy a bagel every workday and work 48 weeks/year, that’s $405.  What a beautiful amount to add to our investments every year.  But when I mention ‘do you think this bagel is providing you with more satisfaction than it costs?’, he is all ‘woman, don’t control my spending’.  He doesn't spend much (inherently), and doesn't want his minor purchases questioned.  Which, fair enough.  I’m not trying to cut the spending (that's just what it sounds like), but rather to ensure utility derived exceeds the cost.  It’s tough to be married to an economist-by-training, I guess.  I need to let this drop, since my husband claims this bagel thing comes up on a regular basis.  For real, we don’t argue about the big money stuff, but … bagels.

As the tracker, I’m much more cognizant of how much we spend and what we spend it on.  As in most life situations, it’s easier to remember the good things you’ve done for others rather than the numerous things others do for you.  Particularly, our own quirks or mis-steps seem minor in the face of the annoying things we remember that our partner has done.  I think this is largely true even if you’re not particularly petty or inclined to keep tabs.  Does it make me a little glum that in marrying Sebastien, I went from not spending anything on a car, to … spending on insurance, lots of gas, and costly repairs?  A bit.  But, not a productive thing to focus on, since the car isn’t going anywhere, and it also benefits us both.  Similarly, I conveniently forget that I’ve spent over $600 on clothes this year, despite viewing myself as not a big shopper.

After 6.5 years together, you’d think I would internalize our differences and be uber-smart about how to approach getting my husband on board with an idea.  But no: I recently presented him with a fun challenge to reach a certain (stretch) amount in our investments by the end of the year.  That went over … about as well as when I ask about his bagels.  The challenge motivated me, but not him.  There was no clear way to achieve this goal, he was happy with his/our spending (and interested in going out for more dinner dates in fact).  I always think my good influence on my husband will draw him to be more like me, but am forced to constantly realize that he remains his (wonderful) original self.  And that I actually prefer things this way.  See: complementary facets of our personalities, and all the things that attracted me to him in the first place.

For those with joint finances: do you have any big (or small) conflicts that come up regularly or unexpectedly?  For those without: what are the reasons your current system works better than joint finances?  What are the biggest benefits you see to not having joint finances?


  1. hi! I found you from the APW discussion on Maddie's article about house buying. Now you're on my feedly so I don't forget where you "live." How do you like Mint? I would like to link up our stuff, but the husband has concerns (well-founded, given all the hacking incidents) about the security of doing so. What do you think?

    Also, I feel you on the chocolate thing. That is a true bummer. I think my solution would be just to ask, specifically. Or go stealthier and put a notification on our shared google calendar so it shows up on his phone :)

    1. hi Kate :)

      Interesting question about mint - I find the aggregation of all my accounts super-useful (though I don't find the rest of the site's functionality valuable for me at all). The aggregation is a big deal to me because we have lots of accounts, including lots of CCs we open for travel hacking (and getting lots of points). Thus there is no way I would be able to track all our spending without a huge amount of effort if I didn't use such a site.

      I'm not super concerned about my information being stolen - mint's site is encrypted just like all the bank websites, none of which have 0% probability of my information being obtained by hackers some way. Obviously, I use a different password for mint than other accounts. But since I track our spending frequently (usually look every few days), I would notice if there were charges I didn't authorize. And the credit card and debit card companies will return the money to me when I report said fraud. So, I don't feel that I have a lot to worry about (at least, relative to the benefit I receive). I do, of course, understand where your husband is coming from, though.

    2. The "same encryption as banks" argument is a good one. Hmmm :) I'm interested in trying to press him more because I feel as though things are getting more unwieldy. I haven't gone down the lucrative rabbit hole of credit card hacking, but it's tempting!! I can see how Mint would help manage that

      (I can't tell if blogger is accepting my comment or not, so apologies if this comes through eleventeen times)

    3. I definitely feel that as far as risks go, and we take plenty of them every day of our lives, this one is pretty minor if you do a few key things to mitigate the potential downside (use different passwords, monitor accounts regularly). It does seem to me that if your husband is comfortable using online banking (and especially if he has bank apps downloaded to his phone), then it seems like using a site like mint isn't incrementally that much larger of a risk.

      (And about the comment disappearing - I have the blog set up to moderate comments on posts that are a few weeks old, just so I make sure to see them and respond. :))