My money, your money?

WARNING: When you get married, things will change! You will have problems adjusting to your new routines! Your habits will get in the way of each other! He will leave the toilet seat up and it will really irritate you. He will leave socks lying around the house! You will fight over remote control ownership! He will get irritated if he doesn’t find space by the sink to put his shaving kit! It won’t be easy…

All these warnings came a month or so before I got married, a long list enough to put me off marriage for good. So when I started living with my husband, I was ready and armed for all the coming arguments. A month after living together, I started to put my weapons down as I slowly discovered that none of the warnings actually applied to me. I didn’t care if he left the toilet seat up; I would just put it down. Equally he didn’t mind that I had invaded the sink area, there were other places where his shaving kit could live.

There was however, another dilemma (which was not included in the list of warnings) that sparked a little brain cell to work overtime. This was the issue of money. While brutal honesty has always been our way with each other, when it came to money, it was a discussion that was for some reason or other avoided. Perhaps not consciously so, but I remember few discussions about money prior to marriage. I had my money, he had his. Sometimes he would pay for dinner; sometimes I would pay for dinner. Nothing was ever discussed; it all came quite naturally.

Discussing money makes me uncomfortable. Most of us grew up in households where money was a deep dark secret. Your parents never talked about it calmly in front of the kids, but instead fought about money issues behind closed doors – where they thought (or hoped) you wouldn’t hear the fights. So when it came to my own house, I wasn’t quite sure how to handle money talk. Just because you have made a commitment to share your life with your partner, does that necessarily mean you have to share your money too? Is my money still my money, or is it our money? Is he responsible to pay for my little things? What if I want to buy a present for a friend of mine… why should he pay for that? What if I want us to save for a holiday together and he goes and spends “our money” on motorcycle maintenance books? And so the dilemma begins…

I suppose that material transparency and trust in a relationship is a beautiful thing, the fact that you are open about money and trust you partner with it. The tricky bit however is that it could take away each partner’s right to his/her own financial decision-making power. We asked 2 married women how they handled money… here is what they said:

WOMAN 1 (she works):

“Depending on character, you may feel obliged to spend money only after discussing it with your partner, or depend on your partner to figure it out for you. Or you may take the initiative and spend the money and perhaps upset your partner by taking that decision alone.

I feel that once we both share all our money, each partner loses the right to take random decisions. Once a strong sense of joint finances is established, each person will be looking at this sum from their own point of view and own set of priorities. While we feel secure knowing that “together” we will be able to achieve something, together we can cover our expenses and live through the month, there will always be a sense of compromise & responsibility. I believe that financial independence IS important.

I am working and I think it is only fair that we split the cost of things. For example, if he brings in 2/3 of the income, and I bring in 1/3, that is used to determine the portion of our share for joint expenses like dinners/rent/bills etc. Then, the rest of my money is mine to spend as i want, and his money is his to spend.”

WOMAN 2 (she doesn’t work):

“As a woman, I feel very strongly that I should be financially independent as much as possible.
I am currently not working and my husband’s salary is sustaining us both. Therefore, the only way to maintain an amount of independence as a woman is to make sure that I get ‘an allowance’. Maybe not as much as I used to earn before, because that may not be financially feasible – but at least enough so that I feel I can live. If he is in control of finances but there is real trust – than you can rest in peace knowing that your partner will put your dreams & happiness as a priority along with his own.”

I agree with both women, financial independence in this day and age is a must. The question is how to achieve that. Start by opening up about money with your partner: if your lines of communication are open and based on an understanding of each other’s money habits, there is a much better chance money fights won’t slowly eat away at the relationship. You need to really understand your spouse’s money philosophy. Whatever your dreams and goals, talk about the role money will play in reaching these goals.
Openly discuss how you will handle everyday money matters. Who will be responsible for paying the bills and managing the joint accounts? Also, decide how you will plan your long and short-term savings and investments and who will manage what aspects of these accounts.

Remember that your plans should be flexible and should be reviewed regularly to re-evaluate your current status and your goals. Be selfish about your money and be reasonable too (and we all know women are good at being both!) Once those communication channels are open and assuming that real trust exists, you will be able to spend a good amount of money on your much needed retail therapy AND he can buy the motorcycle maintenance books he wants!

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