Managing money is hard. It’s even harder if you’re in a relationship and your partner doesn’t always agree on how to do it.
When my boyfriend, Rob, and I started dating, we worked the same job for the same company and had similar paychecks and lifestyles. Because of this, we split bills down the middle while keeping our accounts separate, even after we moved in together. Over three years and several career changes, the gap in our incomes began to grow, as did our everyday spending. We had to get real about our money habits — fast. Here’s how we meet in the middle.
Our Views on Spending
She Says: My family jokes that we “spend money to save money.” Basically that means wait for what you really want and spend a little extra for higher quality. Then you won’t have to repair or replace. I feel in control of my budgeting, so I like to make bigger “investment” purchases where it’s worthwhile.
He Says: I’ve had difficulty staying level-headed about my financial stability, especially in recent years. I’m either down in the dumps and feel self-conscious about my money history, or I’m elated about my bank account’s status and drop a significant amount on Amazon — because I deserve it, right? I know how to budget for the things I need (like rent and medical bills), but I’m sometimes overconfident pulling the trigger on the “wants.”
Our Compromise: For shared expenses — rent, groceries, meals out — we do our best to live within both our means. We don’t have any joint accounts and each control 100% of the money we make. We stay on top of joint bills, but spend our own extra money however we choose.
Our Views on Saving
She Says: During my first job out of college, I deposited a set amount from every paycheck into my savings and retirement accounts. Everything else, I spent on fun, like triathlon training and solo travel. However, I worked seasonal and hourly jobs for years and never really considered having a financial backup plan. I only recently made it back to a salary that allows me to save in a more meaningful way. That means emergency fund first, fun second.
He Says: Either my parents never thought to teach me about saving money, or I never heard them. I only ever saved my weekly allowance if it didn’t cover the latest movie ticket or video game (but once I earned the needed amount, you can bet those “savings” were gone). Once I had to pay my own rent in college, any extra income always went toward my social life or a hobby. Now that I’m older, I wish I had a safety net. Instead, any extra income today gets tightly budgeted for medical bills and daily expenses. I have high hopes for regularly contributing to a savings account in the next year or two.
Our Compromise: Given we’re both working to improve our saving habits, we’re patient when it comes to making big purchases.
Our Views on Credit
She Says: I was taught early on that building credit was important for my finances. I got my first credit card in college: a low-limit card from USAA in my name that was attached to my dad’s membership. Over years of careful use, I was approved for several more credit cards, as well as a car loan. I treat my credit as though it’s part of my cash flow, meaning I pay off my balance each month and stop charging if my paychecks won’t cover purchases.
He Says: I didn’t know about my bad credit until I tried to get my first credit card at age 25. A student loan my parents took out in my name had fallen into default, and the only option for me was a $200 secured card from my bank. My credit score was 460. At the time I really didn’t understand what a low score could mean, and I avoided learning how to fix it. I’ve struggled with the concept of credit ever since, but I’m slowly improving my score.
Our Compromise: We’re now on the same page about credit in general, but we each use it differently. I put more expensive buys like furniture, plane tickets and doggy day care on my cards because I have a higher limit. He charges day-to-day spending like groceries, coffee and social events. We settle up monthly on these shared expenses to make sure we’re splitting equally.
What We’ve Learned About Managing Money Together
We’re continuously taking steps to reconcile our money differences. Here’s what we do:
Pick a date each month to review your finances, budget, and settle up if necessary. We pay our rent on the 1st of every month and go over other bills on the 15th. Spacing out major expenses keeps our financial stress in check.
Have more frequent, honest conversations about money. Finances are one of the leading causes of stress in relationships, and it’s often easier to ignore the issue than to answer the tough questions. We try to be more open, without judgment, about what we can and can’t afford.
Not everything has to be split in half. We’ve always divided bills 50/50, but that won’t make sense for every couple. For example, if one person earns significantly more, he or she may contribute a higher percentage of joint expenses. We no longer stress over splitting equally when one of us has an unexpected financial emergency like medical bills. Instead, we’re more open to managing money collectively.