From the outside it can look easy. Watching a couple together for 30 years and still madly in love is something everyone can enjoy and learn from. We forget the ride from when they met to this very day where they are still together wasn’t a smooth one. Life intervened. Money problems arose, fights broke out, angry words were uttered and myriad other problems interjected into the relationship.
Mrs. Accountant and I are such a couple. We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary earlier this year. Some people like to throw a party as they reach anniversary milestones. Mrs. A and I prefer a more solitude ceremony of two. We share stories and wondered what we did that was so special we would beat the odds.
Both of us came from poor, lower middle-class backgrounds. Mrs. A had a small car loan when we met and a modest balance in the bank. I was starting to make headway, but money was tight. I say this with a brave face. It’s easy to forget how hard we had to work to build our wealth and maintain a stable relationship.
Readers object when I talk about frugal living because some think I have a duty to spend more because I amassed a certain level of affluence. When I proudly proclaim my love for Mrs. A after 30 years of marriage she squeezes my arm tight in delight. Congratulations come from those very same readers. Then they ask how we did it.
I wish it were a simple elevator pitch answer I could give. It’s a lot more. We always communicated and were honest with each other. We accepted each other’s faults and worked hard to improve ourselves and encouraged each other as well. The number one reason people divorce is they fall out of love or are incompatible. If compatibility is the issue, inadequate preparation before the wedding took place. If falling out of love is the issue, spending time together daily planning a future was absent or limited.
If you are honest in your relationship with your significant other there should be a very limited chance you fall out of love. Love is in the mind, not to be confused with lust. Compatibility, if it once existed, can be cultured and grown.
Over a fifth of divorces are due to money issues. That is where this accountant comes in. Incompatibility and even infidelity frequently begins with underlying financial issues. A year ago I published a brutal post on the consequences of poor spending habits and money problems. Back then I decided to take the proverbial 2×4 and plant it right beside the reader’s head. People cringed and walked away. How many readers divorced over money issues since publication of that post is unknown. The answer should have been zero. I made an emotional appeal. In case you need a refresher in lifelong happiness, I will now appeal to the intellectual and planning side of your brain. You can have love and harmony. My 30 years of marriage has taught me a few things about relationships and money I will now share.
His and Her Money
A common practice is to separate family financial resources to keep peace in the household. I’ve never subscribed to that theory and neither does Dave Ramsey.
As I look back over my 30 year marriage I noticed the “his & her” money concept wasn’t exactly ignored. Except for the first few years of our marriage, I am the only income earner in the house. (Mrs. A keeps the home fort intact and brings in some money doing surveys or other side gigs. She keeps household expenses low due to her hard work feeding the herd with healthy home cooked meals with many ingredients from our garden.)
Every couple argues now and again. Mrs. A and I are not exempt! When we disagreed we found ways to climb to common ground. Sometimes I needed to walk away for a bit and really think through the issue from Mrs. A’s perspective. She did the same. We had an agreement to never make it personal or resort to personal attacks; it’s the idea or situation we didn’t like. We always found common ground or agreed to accept our differences in opinions. It worked.
Money issues are the third leading cause of divorce at 22%, according to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysis. Nearly a quarter of marriages are terminated (I use that work precisely) due to money problems! There must have been residual compatibility. The loss of love or falling out of love is common when the relationship is a never-ending pressure cooker of stress. Money problems can lead to infidelity, the second leading cause of divorce. Money problems might claim 22% of the causalities, but never forget the other issues causing divorce are frequently instigated by financial problems. Considering these factors, money almost certainly is the true leading cause of the destruction of interpersonal relationships (marriages and people cohabiting).
A variety of methods have been devised to smooth money problems before they happen. His and her money is a common solution. Mrs. A and I never kept separate accounts. We combined our finances the day we married and never looked back. Sometimes assets get titled in one name only so both of us don’t have to be there. Buying a car is a good example. But Mrs. A knows before the purchase is actually made.
His and Her Spending
While we don’t keep separate accounts, we do have separate spending.
The idea of his and her money is to give both parties involved an opportunity to spend on something they want without judgment from the other party. Mrs. A and I never found the need to keep spending hidden.
Everyone has their own special pleasures. I love books and spend a lot on them. Mrs. A loves books, but gets most of hers from the library. I use the library, too, but not as much as Mrs. A.
A few weeks ago my mother asked Mrs. A and my daughters to a girl’s day out. I knew money would be spent. The girls bought some tea cups as a souvenir. I raised an eyebrow when I saw this. Tea cups are not of interest to me. I politely asked, “How much?” “Eight fifty.”
Some married couples would get mad over a hedonistic purchase. I didn’t. I laughed it off and enjoyed the tea cup purchase with the females of the house. Mrs. A knows she can spend without consulting me first, especially for minor purchases. I can do the same. A car and other large purchases we discuss and plan beforehand.
Even investments are more a discussion to bounce ideas. If I want to invest in a project, Mrs. A listens as I outline my plan. She points out things that don’t add up to her, but always lets me make the final call. The same goes for major business decisions. I want Mrs. A’s feedback so I lay out the details for her. Regardless the outcome, Mrs. A never complains over an investment or business decision I make. No disgusted glances if it doesn’t work out either.
His and her spending doesn’t require separate accounts. Mrs. A and I keep a small amount of cash for purchases and use the credit card (paid in full each month religiously) for most purchases. If we don’t want to share what we bought we just keep the credit card receipt. It doesn’t take long before we admit to the purchase for one really good reason.
Mrs. A and I share what we spend on so we can both enjoy the purchase! Yes, if Mrs. A finds a neat outfit or shoes; I’m not excited about the purchase. Clothes are more a girl’s thing (is it a guy thing too?). What I mean by enjoying a purchase is the time I get watching Mrs. A talk about her shopping stalking skills as she hunted her prey and got the best deal possible on something she wanted. There is a gleam in her eye and that is what I enjoy. Even more than Mrs. A enjoyed her purchase.
Mrs. A extends the same courtesy. When I buy yet another economics, business or money book, Mrs. A just gently smiles. (I am so far behind in my reading.) But she gets the same pleasure I do when I share the purchase. I walk around the house paging through the book, even if I intend to read it much later. I share my feelings about the purchase. I can tell she isn’t any more intrigued over an economics text than prior to the purchase. But she is delighted with my excitement.
Then there are times his and her money gets in the way and his and her spending is superior. We don’t allot a special spending limit. We always respect each other and keep spending low. But we are much more willing to spend larger amounts when together! Even if I want something Mrs. A isn’t excited about she instantly does what she really enjoys: hunting for the bargain. I return the favor whenever it arises.
Yes, there are some things we want just for us. Individuality is important even in a committed relationship. Of course major purchases are decided together. But small indulgences do not require permission or disclosure.
Many years ago Mrs. A and I decided not to buy each other Christmas gifts. We do buy ourselves something whenever the situation is right and call it our Christmas gift. One year we decided our 25 year old bikes needed updating. We spent what I consider serious money on new bikes for the whole clan. It was June. Merry Christmas, honey!
You see, we don’t trap ourselves in societal spending requirements. If nothing shows up we really want we don’t get a Christmas present that year. (We still have each other, but I can’t tell you what Mrs. A has for me under the tree.) Sometimes we get several Christmas presents in a year. Several years back when Bess (our 1987 Oldsmobile) died we bought a bank repo to replace her. Merry Christmas! We decided to tag along with my parent to Cost Rica that year, too. Merry Christmas! Mrs. A wanted to upgrade some appliances. Merry Christmas! And a happy New Year, too!
Mrs. A and I are wedded to each other, not a limiting game plan dictated by societal norms or previous discussions. We can, and do, change our mind as we go.
Honesty and Budgeting
What makes his and her spending work is honesty and budgeting. The honesty part is my bid. I tend to have my fingers in all facets of household finances. If things are tight (income is low because I’m horsing around instead of working) and I don’t want to take money from investments to pay for purchases, I let Mrs. A know in advance. I might manage the money, but I discuss finances a lot with Mrs. A and invite the girls to listen in, too, so they can learn how I think when planning spending and investing. My finances are an open book in my home.
Budgeting is a different story. The idea of setting up categories with limits on spending in each is foreign to me. I hated the process when working with non-profit organizations and I hate it in my business and personal life.
In business my budgeting is super easy. I compare this year to last year and work hard to have higher income and lower spending over the prior year. To increase the fun and challenge, I break certain categories into segments to monitor performance. Call it a sickness.
At home it’s even less formal. We only spend on what we need unless we plan additional spending. Unspecified room is allotted for unscheduled spending. If a client wants to go out to lunch I don’t need Mrs. A.s approval. Nor do I have to tell her about the expense. I probably tell her anyway as I share my day, but the unscheduled expense is perfectly within our spending agreement.
Mrs. A has more unplanned spending than I. Once per week she gets groceries. She loves a bargain so she shops hard for the best deal. She might find shirts in clearance. She buys several even if we don’t need them now. Mrs. A has more fashion sense than me so I let her buy all the clothes. She also tells me when I need to divest of a t-shirt or other article of clothing. (But homey, there aren’t that many holes in it yet. Besides, it’s comfortable.)
Honesty is the most important part of finances in a relationship. Hiding spending is different than unscheduled spending. If we get an urge to buy a lottery ticket we can talk the other down. If I have a mid-life crisis, Mrs. A can sooth my nerves as I let the sweet Z-28 slip through my fingers.
Spending desires happen to even frugal people. Our marriage is teamwork and we treat it as such. There is no predetermined spending limit. If Mrs. A wants something, she can dip into my stash. Without his and her money we can spend “our” mad money with limited restrictions. Remember, we’re frugal, not deprived!
Money is so important in life. It can make life a breeze or an unmitigated disaster. If his and her money works for you, great! I suggest the “his and her spending method” instead.
It is vital to keep communication open with your significant other. Be honest. Allow room for personal spending without accountability. If necessary, set a spending limit so finances are not stretched. Too frugal can be just as damaging to a relationship as over-spending. Honest discussion allows you to find your common ground or lack thereof. It is okay to be the frugal one in the household. Don’t require the wife (or husband) to be a carbon copy of you.
And don’t forget to spend together sometimes. That’s more fun than something only for you.
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