Relationships and Money : Where’s Our Money Tree?

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Money – if only it grew on a tree that I could just pick off of when I had a bill to pay! That is probably the source of any stress that I have in my life, and I actually have it great compared to many others. As long as I keep an eye on my savings and leave enough of a buffer, surprise expenses like extra property tax bills, random plumbing problems, and car-related expenses have a more cushioned impact. It hurts a lot less when I know I can afford to dish out that extra $$$ without being unable to pay for the regular bills.

Ryan and I have been together for 2.5 years, living together for a little over a year now. I’m not sure other couples handle their finances, but we are very open with ours. From the very beginning, we have laid it all out there. We know what the main course on the plate of the other is.

Relationships and Money - My Plate Relationships and Money - His Plate

My plate: mortgages and His plate: student loans, car payments, medical bills

We each have our separate bank accounts, but about halfway through the last year, we set up a joint account. It is currently funded by Ryan’s rent, and it is used mostly for those surprise house-related expenses. When it comes to groceries or dining out, we take turns paying. For utilities, I take water and garbage. He takes electricity and internet.

So what works for us in terms of managing our finances?

  • Open communication: We talk a lot. I don’t think we’ll ever turn into one of those couples with secret bank accounts. My thoughts on that – if you’re going to keep a bank account a secret, what else are you hiding from your significant other?
  • Constant monitoring: Keeping an eye on your $$ is not a bad idea, whether you use an application online or do this with a spreadsheet. I like to use a spreadsheet to track upcoming bills, so I make sure that I’m not only on time, but that I have the money in the bank for it.

And what we’re working on until a money tree grows from the backyard:

  • Budgeting: I wish this one was as easy, but we’ll get it right at some point. I’m just lucky that we are on the same page when it comes to spending – don’t spend more than we have to. Tracking our budget is a little difficult since we have to consider all accounts, so I am still thinking of an easier way to do this. I am not particularly fond of keeping receipts, but we might give this a shot. As Ryan puts it, it’s just a behavior change, so once we make a habit of it, I won’t dislike the inconvenience as much.
  • Stretching our Dollars: Along the same lines as above, we’re working on getting more for less and taking advantage of deals where we can find them. By looking out for deals, we were able to save over $100 on our lift tickets and dinner this past weekend. That doesn’t mean to save $20 on a massage that we weren’t going to get anyway. <-- I am so guilty of this!

I don’t think a lot of people talk about this, and I’m curious to know what other people are doing. What works for you? What doesn’t? Does one person take charge of the finances, or do you keep it separate? Please let me pick your brain!

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  • Joint account – good idea. I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to handle the rent situation…

    • Yeah, once we figured out what rent would be, he set it up for direct deposit. Cuts back on checks, and I have access to it too.

  • Anonymous

    This is so timely! My man and I have started foraying into joint finances and will be even more so once school starts in the fall and I stop working full time. It’s been challenging for me just because I’m not used to honestly, transparently talking about my finances. It’s always been something I’ve handled on my own and changing that attitude and accepting help has been difficult. But we’ve been having a lot of honest, hard conversations about what’s important to us in our finances, and I think that helps a lot. It definitely is a journey.

    • Sometimes the topics are difficult, but once you talk through them and figure out what you’re going to do, it’s like a weight off your shoulders. :) I feel that when I have these conversations with RV, it reaffirms why we’re together. We want to be around each other, and we’ll work at solving our problems together. Definitely check out some of the other responses to my post. There’s some good information from couples who have been together longer! :)

  • As usual, you have great advice. Just like you’ve suggested in the past on other matters, open communication is paramount. As a detail-oriented, highly organized person myself, I also very much appreciate the constant monitoring and tracking to which you refer. Well done!

    • Thanks for your feedback on the post! :) What we’re doing works for us now, but I really wanted to see what everyone else was doing to get an idea of what we can change or
      keep. :)

  • Okay, jumping the gun here since I’m also writing a post about finances for Clever Girls in two weeks :-)

    I’m a big fan of joint checking and separate savings. All the bills come out of checking but we make sure to “pay” ourselves into our savings accounts with every pay check. That way, if we want to buy something for ourselves (or a gift for one another) we can take it out of our savings and there’s never an issue of “spending my (or our) money.”

    We’ve tried to use online tools like Mint.com, but in my experience it takes less time to access my accounts individually – plus, it always makes me feel like I have horrible budgeting skills! Okay, I do have horrible budgeting skills…

    • I use Mint, and with the number of accounts I have, it’s useful. I just haven’t added RV’s accounts to it, and there are certain accounts it doesn’t pick up the details for, so if I spend more on that card in the month, it doesn’t display the budget correctly.

      Do you put a set amount into the checking or a set amount in the savings and everything else goes to checking?

      Thanks for commenting even though you’re going to put up your finance post in two weeks. :)

  • We have been living together for about the last year and a half or so (it’s a little complicated since we practically lived together before we officially did, but we’ve been together for 6 years, including 1.5 years of long-distance, officially living together since about September of 2009). We don’t have any joint accounts; everything is separate, but we are aware of each other’s bank accounts. We talk about where we are saving (“high-interest” savings, retirement accounts, etc), and we pretty much split up our spending.

    When we first moved in together, we kept detailed records. I paid almost all of the bills because he had moved into my apartment and everything was in my name. Once a month, we would go through our spending (via online records and a spreadsheet we created), and settle up. One of us inevitably owed the other some amount of money, and would pay the other back. When we moved into our new place this past August, we divided expenses more evenly (he paid rent and internet, I paid for food, insurance, and electric – in addition to my car payment/repairs and student loans, which he doesn’t have). We have always taken turns paying for (or split the bill on) meals out, concert tickets, vacations, etc. For the first month or two, we tallied things up on a spreadsheet and I usually owed him a little bit of money. And then…we stopped. It wasn’t something we discussed, there were just a couple of months where we forgot. We said we’d do it the next month and never did.

    Now we just kind of each pay some stuff (he’s still paying the rent, though I paid a couple of months when he ran out of checks, and he also takes care of internet and now cable — I pay for groceries, insurance, PG&E, and most random stuff like our season tickets to Berkeley Rep) and we usually split vacations, take turns paying for meals out, etc. So while we don’t have a joint bank account, we kind of operate on a helping each other out policy. We each pay for whatever we pay for, and if one person is short on cash, the other will cover. We haven’t tracked it in months, and so far, as long as we both have money in the bank, we don’t worry about who paid for what and when.

    Not sure how long this will last, or how it will work in the long-term, but it works for us for now.

    • Thanks for your response, Kim!

      I think even though what we’re doing works right now, it will work differently later on once his student loans and bigger credit card bills are paid off.

      What’s most important is that we can sit down and talk about all this, and it sounds like you and Will have that going for you also. :)

  • Are you familiar with Mint.com? You can load several accounts there and keep track of activity on all of them at the same time!

    • Yep, I love Mint for my own numbers, but I hadn’t thought of adding his accounts to it for tracking. Right now, it does a pretty good job, except for certain bank/CC accounts that don’t pull up all the detailed info. So if I spend more on a certain CC, it looks like I saved a bunch when in reality, I just took the money from somewhere else. :p

  • Interesting post! I know a lot of people stress about this topic—-we’re like you, and just keep it all out on the table. We keep it fair on how much we each pay, and it really seems to work without any stress.

    • Thanks! I feel like it’s an area that people don’t usually bring up in everyday conversation, so I thought I’d write to see what others are doing out there. :)

  • Mint kind of pisses me off, since it just stops collecting info on some of my accounts.

    When I lived with an ex of mine (we lived together for 8 years, and moved to California together) we handled things by dividing the rent equitably, taking turns on the bills on a month by month basis, and switching off for groceries, eating out, etc. I think most of that works out well enough that way, the big difference now being the home ownership…

    • Yeah, that’s why I have only used it for individual accounts, mostly to make sure there isn’t fraudulent activity. Some of RV’s accounts don’t even show up, so he doesn’t use Mint to track.

      The home ownership costs are mostly mine for the time being. Right now, he pays a little over half of the actual mortgage. The escrow account (property tax+insurance) that I pay on top of that isn’t included in this amount, which I think is fair for now considering I make more than he does and have fewer bills than he does at the moment. He direct deposits rent and plans to contribute more over time when he no longer has the school/auto loans or the big CC/med bills.

  • First off tell that boy to marry you and do a joint account. Dole out an allowance for each. Save the rest! Save your butts off so you can retire early and sink your toes in Mexico sand!!!

    • Ha! Too funny!

      I’d rather not marry his debt, so I’m willing to be patient about it. But I hear you on retiring early and heading to Mexico! We’ll see if that happens, but I have a feeling I’ll be working for awhile if I intend to pay off my loans. :P

  • J and i don’t live together yet, but i’ve already warned him that i am the captain of the ss unbroke once we get to that point. i think having shared accounts is a good idea as long as you both know where the money comes from, how much is available and where it’s ultimately going. i have mixed feelings on secret accounts. not that i wouldn’t tell J my accounts, but i don’t think i’d feel comfortable telling him how much is in the account(s). probably just residual angst from my last relationship. that guy FLIPPED at just the idea that i would not want to have 1 joint account for everything. i grew up in a house where one person (dad) handled the money, but they had joint plus separate accounts. guess i’m just used to that concept

    • I think it’s important for both to have separate accounts because what are you going to do? Ask for permission every time you want to spend money? And since we have separate credit cards, it’s easier to pay them individually. We might get a joint one in the future, but for now, this works. :) Thanks for your input!

  • I always think it’s neat to learn how different couples manage their money. Andrew and I each have our own accounts, but also have a joint account that pays all the bills and the mortgage. Our car payments come out of our own accounts and we take turns buying dinners and other random things. It works really well for us, but we really should probably work more on the budgeting bits. :)

  • Toddy

    I am very upfront with my boyfriend that I am hopelessly and deeply in student loan debt. The tricky thing is that he is doing VERY WELL meanwhile I am completely broke and fabulous. He pretty much pays for EVERYTHING which I greatly appreciate and say thank you and do nice stuff when I came. Like buy him small gifts (concert tix or t-shirts) or cook for him a lot (though he pays for groceries). But it makes me feel soooooo guilty. Some people might not think this problem is not a problem. He can afford it. I’m not with him for his money. But still, I think NOT SHARING finances can sometimes be as much of a burden as sharing them. Food for thought. You have inspired me to do my taxes though! Cheers, T.

  • Since I’m never gonna get married or have a boyfriend, I’ll have to take care of my own finances, which sucks because I hate doing finance stuff, and I want someone to do my taxes for me! ;-p