Money, Money, Money

For those of you who might think that PIC and I are rushing into things (we we just celebrated out one year anniversary this past weekend), fear not: pending final approval, we’re getting married under the care of Trenton Friends Meeting. This means (amongst other things) that we’re going through the Quaker version of pre-marital counseling, also known as a “clearness committee.”

George-Fox

(It also means that we’re going to have a totally fabulous, totally feminist wedding, and that all of our guests will be signing our marriage certificate, and that we’re writing our own vows, but more on all of that another time.)

A clearness committee is essentially a group of people (usually Quakers, but in our case we have a total of 6 people including 2 non-Quakers) who ask you a bunch of questions to help you discern whether or not you are “clear” about something—in our case, if we are truly ready to get married.

I also had a clearness committee when I decided to become Quaker 5 years ago. It was a bit nerve wracking but not nearly as nerve wracking as a clearness committee for marriage. It’s a lot easier to un-become Quaker, after all, than it is to un-become married to someone.

Anyway, our first meeting took place a few weeks ago at the home of our committee convener in NJ. Committee members aren’t allowed to offer advice or give suggestions, just to ask questions, and you don’t even have to answer the questions if you don’t want to, but PIC and I were still ridiculously nervous.

After the first hour, however, it became clear to us that there weren’t any major deal breakers between us: no skeletons in the closet, no outstanding debts, nothing we hadn’t already sussed out in terms of values, goals, lifestyle choices, kids, the religious upbringing of said kids, etc. There was one thing, though, that we hadn’t talked about: money.

Actually, that’s not quite true.

We have talked about money.

We just haven’t decided what to do about it yet.

A few months after PIC moved in, we opened a joint account for groceries and utilities. We also use that account for things like going out to eat or grabbing happy hour drinks (although occasionally one of us still “treats” the other person). Because I make a lot less than PIC and also consume a lot less (he eats more, has tendency to leave the lights on throughout the house, and is obsessed with air conditioning) we contribute to this account at a 40/60 rate, meaning I dump in $400 every month or so to his $600.

Couples piggy banks

In addition, because I own the house and put about $20,000 into renovations (not to mention the down payment and all of my oh-so-lovely-sweat-equity) PIC also cuts me a rent check each month, which I then put towards the mortgage.

We had initially discussed splitting the mortgage payment in half but once I added up everything I had already spent, I realized this wasn’t actually fair to me. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be fair to him to keep paying every month without building equity, so we agreed to revisit the issue if/when we got married .

Well, now now that time has come, which means we need to have the next round of conversations about the house, who owns it, and how we’re going to split finances in the long run.

I very stupidly initiated this conversation in St. Maarten a few weeks after we got engaged. We had just returned from a booze cruise, and let me tell you: talking about finances after a steady diet of rum punch and Dorritos is not a good idea.

cruise

Also? A bit of background: PIC’s parents both worked outside of the home in rather traditional 9-5ish jobs. They have, as far as I know, separate bank accounts and always have. (At least PIC is under this impression; he may or may not be mistaken.)

My mother, by contrast, became a stay at home mom when my brother and I were born and neither of my parents has ever worked a traditional 9-5 job. They now have various business and various businesses accounts but they have, as far as I know, always shared everything.

When you try to bridge the gap between these two vastly different versions of what is “normal,” you need to be sober. And you need to be focused. Or else you’re going to find yourself in tears at a restaurant in the middle of an island feeling guilty for having order a shrimp pot pie that you’re never going to eat, wondering why the hell the man you’ve agreed to marry is mentioning the word “pre-nup.” (He was trying to make me feel better, but still: it’s not the sort of word you want to hear.)

***

Suffice it to say, we didn’t know what to tell our clearness committee when the money question came up.

And it’s not just because PIC is used to a different way of splitting finances than I am, it’s also because I like having a fall back plan. I liked knowing that I had enough money in my Barclay’s account tide me over for 3 months in London if I ever had to start over, and even when I had to drain that account to buy my house, I felt better knowing that it was going towards another security of sorts.

Because I don’t have a traditional, pension-earning job, I’ve always viewed my house as an investment in my future. But if I sign that future over to someone else, what happens if we split up? Would I have to buy PIC out in order to keep my own house?

I guess you’re not supposed to worry about these kinds of things when you’re getting married but I can’t help it: I’ve always worried about these sorts of things so not worrying just because I’m engaged would be out of character. Not worrying, in fact, would worry me.

But this doesn’t solve the problem. If we keep our separate accounts, and we keep the house in my name, we can both spend money on whatever we want without needing the other person’s approval but I’ll never have as much disposable income to spend. I know I’ll also eventually come to resent him for spending as much as he does on concert tickets and workout paraphernalia, especially once we have kids. Plus, I’ll continue to feel somehow less-than when he buys me expensive gifts (I got him something sweet and heartfelt but ultimately inexpensive for our anniversary; when he started hinting about getting me a new laptop, I felt like a failure at life and convinced him to go to Ten Thousand Villages and get me a pair of fair trade earrings instead.)

Lastly, this would put me in a position of having to ask the father of my children for money for things like new skis when their feet start to grow, or Little League registration fees, or dance lessons, or whatever. PIC has always been super generous (I wouldn’t have a new iPhone if it weren’t for him, or an iPad, and I certainly wouldn’t be eating as many non-pasta, non-tuna fish meals as I currently am) and I know he wouldn’t begrudge me/our children these things but still: it would put me in an awkward position.

On the flip side, we could go all in. I could add his name to the house. We could combine our accounts. We could talk about our personal needs and wants and financial goals and how much we’re comfortable spending on going out to dinner each month and somehow come to an agreement on all of this. We could agree on a set sum of money that each of us can spend on “fun” things without needing the other person’s approval, and we could adjust this sum when needed. We could have a realistic conversation about housework and cooking and who is doing what, instead of the half-assed “I-cook-you-do-dishes” agreement that’s ruled our lives thus far and we could figure out what is fair in terms of resource allocation, both time and money.

This will, of course, require a lot of flexibility (and creative thinking) on his part. And it will require me to get over my fear of not having a backup plan, to embrace the fact that my marriage will now be it… which is kind of scary. But also kind of good.

Suggestions in this case are much appreciated. Everything seems so much more complicated when you wait until your thirties to get married and you both own stuff…

24 Responses to “Money, Money, Money”

  1. Laurie

    My parents kept all of their monies separate. They split it this way: my father paid for all the necessities (mortgage, utilities, food) and my mother paid for all the luxuries (travel & vacations, summer camp, fixing our teeth). Perhaps because my parents (who later divorced) were so insistent on keeping everything separate, I did the opposite. When Jerry and I started living together (a few years before we married), I asked him point blank, “So is everything ours, or is it yours or mine?” And he said, “Ours,” of course. So from that day we viewed it all as “ours” regardless of what account or where the money actually was. We agreed, together, on an account for savings (which I mostly deposited into, ultimately saving enough for a down payment on a house – he was not a saver), and on a budget for vacations, and on the rent we pay and expenses we accrue. We still have some separate accounts (as well as joint accounts), and we each have a joint account with one of our kids, making it easier to make transfers or to keep track of what we each earn. These days I have a paypal account where some of my income gets deposited, and an account in my name just for the purpose of transferring that money, which later is transferred again into our joint account so it can pay bills. So you see, it all ends up in the same place – spent on our lives together.

    BTW – I just read some good travel articles in the NYTimes on the Caribbean, that I thought you might enjoy (sadly, no swim up bars mentioned, but mermen are much more interesting): Tobago – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/travel/tobago-caribbean-islands.html; Dominica for Carnival – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/travel/dominica-carnival-caribbean-islands.html.

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Thanks Laurie! And for the articles too- I’ll definitely give them a look 🙂 I am starting to feel more comfortable with ours, and, to his credit, a few months after PIC moved in, he pulled up his bank statement, showed me the balance on his savings accounts and said, “it’s our, it’s yours, we can do whatever you want with it.” I had forgotten about the conversation in all of the wedding hullabaloo but I think we are perhaps more on the same track run I realized.

      Reply
  2. Meg

    My husband and I dealt with some rather serious decisions early on. We meet them honestly and open-heartedly. And, rather than making our decisions about details, we made decisions about decisions. What I mean is this: we decided to make faith-based decisions, not fear-based ones. The work became about identifying the context of each choice.

    Like this: Is the choice to keep separate accounts and all that that entails a fear-based decision, or a faith-based one? What about the choice to go all in?

    Once we saw what our fears were and that we were letting them dictate or choices, we became willing and able to be led differently. We became willing and able to make choices we wouldn’t otherwise have had the courage to make.

    I hope this makes sense and helps.

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Huh. No wonder your mother is chairing our committee 🙂 And the fear/faith question makes total sense- so simple! And way easier to understand the all of the “how to split our finances” articles I’ve been reading. Thanks for sharing 🙂

      Reply
  3. Heather

    We have separate accounts with separate banks. My student loan information was compromised so we feel a bit safer this way. Especially since our eggs are now in multiple baskets. That said, each of us has access to the checking account of the other person, in case of emergencies or what not. The biggest reminder, if you keep separate accounts, is to name the beneficiary at the bank, so if you don’t have a will, you don’t have to worry about finances should something happen to the other person! (Heaven forbid!)

    I would like to point you in the direction of a person who did a TV show here in Canada called “Till Debt Do Us Part” about getting couples in serious debt back in the black. It was on a network here called Slice. Her website gailvazoxlade[dot]com has an ‘Articles’ page, and I suggest you look through the ‘Love and Money’ and ‘Life Happens’ categories. She also has free worksheets for your budgeting in her ‘Resources’ page. Also, if you get to see any of the shows in the US, they will really motivate you with your finances. She also has some books, but the main stuff is free.

    I hope this helps! (and it doesn’t get relegated to spam!)

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Thanks for the resources- I’ll take a look! And sorry to hear about your student loans getting compromised- I can see why that would make you a bit more cautious afterwards 😦 Hope everything has sorted itself out by now! And I must say, I do love those Canadian reality show- they’re a lot more logical I think than many of their American counterparts. One of my favorites is (of course) Rich Bride, Poor Bride.

      Reply
  4. Kara

    We have found a compromise that works really well for us, and it likely would work for you too. We keep almost everything joint, although we both still have one CC each that the other does not have access to (how else do you buy each other gifts without the other person knowing?). Even though everything goes into one pot though, the big thing that helps us keep things sorted out is our budget. I HIGHLY recommend the program called YNAB (You Need A Budget). We have categories for everything… bills, mortgage, savings accounts, groceries, etc etc. We also each have our own categories in there as well. We allot certain amounts to everything (most of which is “joint”), and then there is also a small amount for each other’s discretionary stuff. We tend to run big purchases by each other, not because we “have” to, but because we realize that big purchases affect the bottom line of everything. How you divvy up the money into the categories is up to you. Things for kids, no matter what it is, is joint stuff. The kid is equal parts both of you, and therefore it all comes from the joint money. What it all boils down to is that the actual management of the accounts and paying of bills is very easy because it’s all in one place, but when you look at the budget, you know how much is “for” certain things. I can show you how we have ours set up if you’re interested.

    Believe me, I was very much like you when we got married. I always want my backup plan, and I will admit that I was a bit perturbed about how much debt hubby was bringing into the marriage. I paid off all my loans two weeks before the wedding, but then married into 6-figure debt, so I wasn’t thrilled. I still had a mentality of “my” versus “your” money/debt. It took me a while to get over that mindset, but I think it’s necessary, because to marry someone is to be a team with them. You’re in it for the long haul, through thick and thin.

    As for the house, we bought ours after we were married, so your situation is different, but I’d leave the actual paperwork alone if it were me. You own the house since it’s in your name, but the mortgage payment should come from the joint money (you both live there after all!). If you someday split, the house (and down payment and sweat equity) is still yours, but for the time you were partners, you paid equally.

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Yikes, 6 figures? I would have been scared on taking on that much student loan debt too but at least he works in a field where he’ll eventually make it all back, even if it takes a while (as opposed to the non-profit sector, say). Luckily we are both completely debt free, aside from my mortgage, but that’s different. And although I know he would absolutely contribute 100% to kid expenses, I feel like I would likely be the one keeping track of when they needed new things and that I would be the one to have to bring it up- Although who knows, our toiletries have started magically replacing themselves ever since he moved in, so who knows. I’ll take a look at that budget program you mentioned- luckily neither of us are huge spenders and we do both save a lot but I would like to do a better job tracking where everything goes.

      Reply
  5. no longer her landlord

    Wow, great questions!
    As you mentioned chauffuer and I have always had joint accounts, and although he does have an economics degree, he is not the one in charge of our financial matters, because he is just not organized enough. Like Laurie, we have various linked accounts, and our PayPal for the businesses.

    Although I will admit that there were times when I felt “less than” authorized to make decisions/spend/benefit from our income, because I did NOT work outside the home for most of our married life, chauffeur NEVER, EVER, EVER made me feel that way, so I would say those feelings were based on fear=insecurity of whatever was going on in MY head at the time. Deep down I knew that I was definitely an equal partner in both what I brought to the partnership AND what I took out of it.

    Your roles will change back and forth over time, be flexible and discerning when they need to change. (I cook, you wash, I’m overloaded, you deal with this)

    The house is really only a SHORT TERM conundrum, one very clinical and pragmatic way to deal with that is to actually ask an expert, and get something in writing, as horrible as that sounds, some type of formula which gives PIC back some of his contribution if something-we-shall-not-speak-of, did occur. Put it in a box and don’t think about it ever again. It is still so much harder for women to get ahead on their own and it is doubly hard if you work freelance/non profit.

    Ultimately this will become a “side” business income for you, you will one day “buy up” together and possible keep this as a rental or to fund some other “pension” investment, which in the long run, he will benefit from in your “golden years” together. His “contribution” to it, (his rent) will not be forever.

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Yeah, I have a lot of smart people who read this blog, right? But yeah, I know that if I cut back on my hours once we have kids, which I would like to do, I will probably feel guilty for splurging on shoes or stuff like that 😦 And yes, once we get married, his rent will definitely change. Lots to think about in the coming months!

      Reply
  6. Kelly

    Oh, I completely understand your concerns, and I do not envy you those decisions at all. And I guess things have changed so much, even in the last generation, in that more and more people own their own houses (separately) before marriage, and the death do us part element of marriage seems to be no longer guaranteed. I’ve just split up with my boyfriend of 4 years, and am very glad that I bought my house by myself and not together (interestingly, I bought it two years ago, so not prior to the start of the relationship). But had we stayed together and eventually got married, I hadn’t worked out how it would work – would we have combined everything, and so he would have ended up owning half the house, despite not contributing anything to the (£100k) deposit. But if we didn’t combine, then how could I expect him to perhaps financially support me if we’d had kids and we decided that I wouldn’t immediately go back to work. I’ve got out of having to make that decision any time soon, but it’s only going to come up again as and when I end up with another partner in the future. I wish I could offer more useful advice, but I can only offer my sympathy, and I hope you come up with a solution you’re both happy with. I think it’s an issue many many couples have to deal with these days.

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Sorry to hear of your split 😦 I saw a few of your status updates on Facebook that made me wonder if something along those lines was going on… That is so interesting to me that you bought a house by yourself while in a relationship with someone- but well done you on such a hefty deposit! That’s amazing that you were in a position to do that (where’s the house by he way? I’ve been stalking some of your sewing projects on your blog but can’t seem to figure out where you are these days.) Although discussions about money aren’t exactly my favorite thing in the world, I am sure we’ll figure it out, and hopefully end up all the stronger for it 🙂

      Reply
      • Kelly

        Yeah, the kinda hinting facebook posts – as in, I don’t want to have to announce this to the world, but I also want people to know, so that 6 months down the line I don’t have people still asking me how Marcus is (“er, probably fine, but I wouldn’t know…”)

        The house is in Oxford – still here! I had wanted to buy a house for years, and he had no interest in it whatsoever, and wasn’t in a position to do so (and is self employed, so was convinced he’d never get a mortgage despite me telling him that self employed people do manage to buy houses). Plus, I saw it as a bit of a business investment – if I ever move away from Oxford, I would rent it out rather than sell it, so from that point of view, it was just much easier if I owned it on my own. Actually, I miscalculated, the deposit was slightly more than that! But my parents and grandad both helped me out – there’s no way I would have been able to do it by myself.

        Ah, my poor neglected sewing blog. I haven’t really had the headspace for sewing this year, but I’m hoping that things might improve a bit now – I actually made a dress the other week, so hopefully it will see a bit of a revival!

        Reply
  7. Katie

    FWIW, Justin and I just threw everything into one pot. Granted, we got married really young before either one of us was making much money. Then eventually I was making more than him. Now I’m making way (way) less than him. Maybe I’m too blasé, but I think you’ll find that things even out, as long as you’re very open and communicative with each other. (And always discuss major purchases — and define what “major” is.) My point is, your situations are always going to be fluid over the years, and re-working individual budgets and contributions every time something changes seems like an awful lot of work… and marriage is a lot of work in itself. Plus, (this is going to sound awful but it’s true) knowing it’s financially more difficult to split up can actually help motivate working through those inevitable tough times. (Told you that’s terrible, but I’m keeping it real here.) That said, it does come down to personalities. If you’re both much more Type A, then just throwing everything together with the trust that you’ll both stay communicative about resentments might actually be MORE stressful on you. So you have to go with what works for you as a couple. 🙂

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Haha- I love your reality checks, you’re like the big sister I never had (and never met, lol!) 🙂 The difference, though, is that you are a great cook so even if you’re making less money, you’re contributing in other ways, whereas I’m like, here, I made chili, again. And don’t even talk to me about mopping the floors… But yes, we’ll figure it out 🙂

      Reply
      • Katie

        Ha! We spent a quick night with Justin’s aunt and uncle in Philly a couple of weeks ago on our way back from NY. Next time we’re meeting up for a drink! (And fwiw again, we take turns each week coming up with a menu and cooking. He’s a great cook, so yeah… totally spoiled over here.) 😉

        Reply
  8. casespace

    Wow! We just discussed finances in our counseling class and our meeting with our mentor couple for pre-marital. So many questions. So many variables. I am reading through the comments and learning myself. I am definitely decided about the joint account thing, but like you, own a home and always wondered if it was trouble to add a name to the deed. Anyway this is all so interesting to me, and I’m just going to stake out your comments section.

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Yes! You are in the same boat! Am I correct in assuming he will move into your place? And if he does, will your sister stay there too? So many variables is right!! The guy I spoke to at the bank said I was smart for keeping the house in my name, at least thus far, because Mike is thinking about maybe one day buying a house (that we would likely move into eventually) while the mortgage rates are still so low- if I keep our current home in my name only, he would be in a better position to qualify for various first time home owner grants, etc. Just one more thing to consider! Sheesh!

      Reply
      • casespace

        Yes, he would move in with me and my sister would find her own place. We’ve already discussed it and she’s cool with that potential arrangement. 🙂 Interesting tidbit, thanks for that info on keeping the house in the original name. That makes sense.

        Reply
        • Kat Richter

          Glad to hear 🙂 We’ve had some even more interesting potential developments on the house front but they are not yet blog-able so we’ll have to meet up for drinks soon!

          Reply
  9. Katie Moriarty

    Congratulations on your upcoming wedding that is so very exciting! I got marrried three months ago now, 12 months after meeting my husband. I have read that the number one issue couples argue about is money so you are right for taking the issue very seriously. That being said I had my own dilemma not disimilar to yours during my engagement. I owned my apartment and my fiance did not have permanent residency in my country so of course everyone in my life was jumping up and down scare mongering me about everything I had to lose and what his alterior motives would be prior to the wedding. Add to that I earned a lot more money than him. However, after tossing up the idea of a pre-nup for a while I decided against and we didn’t even really have discussions around who would pay for what. We did stumble accross the system that has worked great for us (everyone is different) which is that I have always paid mortgage and bills etc and he pays for everything else ie day to day spending on groceries, medications, shopping for both of us, our holidays our date nights etc etc. Not long before the wedding I got very sick, and had to take some significant time off work. So we both had to knuckle down, stop spending so much and save for that HUGE event. My husband never once complained or commented on my inability to work he simply supported me and had my back through the whole thing and I was so very grateful for that, and I would do the same thing for him if necessary. That is what a partnership and being a team is all about. For us, rather than particular rules or expectations we just found a very casual arrangement that suited us both and we allow mutual respect to guide us through any financial decisions we make. Thats how it worked before the wedding and nothing has changed since – and we are both very happy! Good luck and I hope you work it all out in time to focus on the exciting day and times ahead!

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Thanks for weighing in 🙂 And I’m glad to hear your slightly-sooner-than-socially-acceptable marriage is still going strong. We’ll be hitting the 18 month mark by the time we get married but sometimes I still stop and think “wow! I’m marrying a man I’ve know for only x months.” But then again we’re both in our 30s and both know who we are and what we want. This post (and all of the great comments) have shown me what a wide variety of ways there are to divvy up the finances, and really there’s no right or wrong… Very interesting reading for sure!

      Reply
      • Katie Moriarty

        Glad it all helped! You should read my post on post wedding depression … it may not apply to you at all but I suffered from a bit of shock afterward and i dont think I was the only one. Best of luck hope it all goes really well! ☺

        Reply
  10. GirlAstray

    We were in a difficult situation in the beginning of our relationship; we met abroad when traveling and then spent seven months in a long distance relationship; I then decided to move to his country and when i did, we had almost no money, lots of depts to his mother and no job. We got jobs after all, payed out the money we owed (mostly him) and saved up for plane tickets and schengen visa. We moved to my country some months ago, got married, now we´re trying to get his residence permit. He is abroad again and i am studying; he´s the only one with a job right now. Since we needed to put everything we had together in order to obtain the visa and his residence permit, i don´t even know who put how much. We have separate accounts but we don´t really distinguish my money / his money. Either way, I hate asking him for money and prefer to have my own income to be able to spend on stuff he deems unnecessary and useless (hah, like, most of the stuff we women want :-D) – well, it´s complicated. But we had only a few talks about money; I ´m more concerned with him not wanting to do his share of chores…
    BTW, how do you become a quaker?

    Reply

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