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Nothing says romance like a discussion about joint finances

I hate money. Unless I have it. Then I really do like it.

I hate money. Unless I have it. Then I enjoy it quite a bit.

Imagine this: a home-cooked dinner for two, candles throwing a gentle and flattering light, sexy jazz playing softly … and spreadsheets marked up with red pen covering every surface of our living room. That’s right, Jim and I are planning an evening of budget planning. To date, dealing with money has been the most difficult subject to tackle in our marriage. We both entered our relationship with our own financial fears and histories, and when we came together there was some head-butting.

Unlike many couples we know, we chose to have completely joined finances. Somewhat. I have separate business accounts as I’m an independent contractor and need to keep things clear for tax purposes. Other than that, we followed our parents’ examples and plunked everything into the same accounts. We both feel that no matter who is making more money (and that title has ping-ponged back and forth through the years), our assets should be shared. Neither one of us wants to be on an allowance or feel like a kept man/woman. Share and share alike. What’s mine is his and what’s his is mine. I realize that this would make financial expert Suze Orman roll her eyes and cringe in anticipation of what could happen should our marriage bust apart.

Like many of you who are suffering in this economy, Jim and I are straining to stay afloat. And this is the first time in the past 7+ years that we’re dealing with it calmly. We’re trying to look at our necessary belt-tightening and creative budgeting as an opportunity to work together toward a common goal. We’re reminding each other that we’re a team in this. We’re not pointing fingers. [Past financial blame-games: “Well YOU wanted to join that expensive gym!” or “Why do you need to buy so many lunches during the week?” or “Do you need to own so many movies/albums/pairs of jeans?!”]

I want my marriage to be a true partnership and a team doesn’t scratch each other’s eyes out before hitting the playing field. All this might go to hell the moment we sit down with our bills, bank statements, and paystubs…but for now we’re remembering to breathe. We have the capacity to change, to improve, to be happy no matter how tight our belts. We can either be each other’s emotional life rafts in situations like this, or we can act as each other’s punching bags. I choose the former. And while this sounds as if I’m really well-adjusted: In all honesty, I might need you all to remind me of this when the receipts start to fly.

Your comments

  1. Katie says:

    Great googly moogly! I don’t envy you, it’s probably the most difficult conversation a married couple can have next to views on children, which I have a feeling may not be as difficult as money conversations.

    If you step back and think about it, it’s really interesting how emotionally involved we are with our finances. We are so sensitive about it and we are controlling, defensive, protective over what?

    Money isn’t subjective, it’s not in the eye of the beholder, it’s there or it’s not. You cannot debate how much money is in the account, or who makes what, it is a fact. It’s concrete, a thing, an object, a barganing tool changing the hours that we work into the things that we want. How we turn it into this explosively emotional thing is a mystery to me, but we all do it.

    Was it always like this? 100 years ago were people sitting down to figure out where the money is going in the household? Did they have this strong of an attachment to it? Did marriages end over money back then?

    • admin says:

      Katie, well 100 years ago women weren’t contributing as much to household income, so perhaps the ‘unevenness’ made for fewer debates? I’m just guessing though. Plus…I don’t think there was as much of an issue with credit OR college loans. But fab question to bring up.

      And you’re right — we are so defensive about money. What on earth? Is it cultural? Capitalistic? I mean, dollars and cents are finite and it really only takes simple math to figure things out: addition/subtraction/multiplication/division. What on earth does it hold such power over us? Why would I allow it to impact my marriage?

      I don’t get it, but I do see and feel it’s effect. Maybe knowing is half the battle. Maybe I can get better now.

      I like the phrase “step back” that you used. I will need to do quite a bit of that in my money-discussions with Jim!

      Best, Robyn

  2. Michele says:

    I will probably get blasted by feminists for this, but I allow my husband to handle our finances 100%. I try not to overdo it on my spending and always consult him before making a big purchase, but having him take charge of it has been fine with me. If we are tight on money, he will simply let me know and we easily agree to cut back on eating out or unnecessary spending. If I have questions, he breaks out bank statements and shows me what I want to know.

    The major drawback is if, heaven forbid, he died unexpectedly. I would be completely lost and with three small children, that’s not the best scenario. We keep saying that we should sit down and write down all the pertinent info so I have it “just in case,” but we never have. Maybe this is a reminder for us to actually get it done!

    • admin says:

      Michele, Thanks for sharing this. I really like hearing how other people handle money. I think as long as both partners are ok with the arrangement, I’m not gonna judge. It’d be one thing if you felt manipulated or controlled or something. I think we’re all in charge of different areas of our marriage-structure.

      But you are right — knowledge is power — I think it’s important to be able to protect yourself should the unforeseeable force you into the role of accountant for your family. Funny — I always think of Suze Orman in these situations. She’s burned into my brain.

      Thanks for your comment! Best, Robyn

    • Susie says:

      My husband handles all our finances too, although I am closely involved in what we buy and how we spend, and we never make purchases without the other involved. This arrangement does not feel oppressive to either one of us. He has the business degree after all and is good with numbers. Don’t get me wrong, he hates handling the bills, but I refuse to do it, and this is how we have negotiated the tasks in our life together. I have noticed that regardless of our income, we are very careful about what we choose to add to our life and we try to teach our children that no matter how much money they have, responsible people don’t just get whatever they want.

  3. Blue Girl says:

    Check out Dave Ramsey. He does a great job of teaching ‘money management’ IMHO.

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