Thursday, March 24, 2011

Money and Marriage Part II

In my first post, I documented how Neill and I handled money throughout the first two years of our relationship. You can read about it here. Once we moved in together and I finally found a job, we realized that we seriously needed to get real about how much money we made versus how much money we spent. So, we made our very first budget in good ol' excel!

To do this, we made a list of all of our monthly expenses. We had 24 in all--from groceries, restaurant/bars, phone bills, each household bill (e.g., electric), car insurance, medical bills, money we put in savings, public transportation, etc. Then, we looked through our bank statements and wrote down the amount we spent on each category for the preceding three months. Finally, we averaged these three numbers to determine how much money we typically spent in each category. For example, on groceries we spent $613 one month, $498 the next month, and then $402 the month after that. This averages out to spending $504.33 every month on groceries.

Then, we looked at how much we were spending each month on average for personal expenses (e.g., buying a new shirt),  bills, and joint expenses (e.g., going out for dinner together). All of this gave us a good snap-shot of what we were spending or, in other words, the money going out. We found out we spent an average of $970 dollars a month on joint expenses (groceries, restaurants, gas, and miscellaneous items), and we had an average of $3,566.17 hundred dollars of household bills per month (mortgage plus all the monthly bills). Then there were our personal expenses. The next step was to look at the money going in and compare it to the money going out. Obviously, you would ideally hope to find that the money coming in far outweighs the money going out because any extra money could be spent on frivolous shopping sprees put in savings.

Taking a cold hard look at our bank statements and comparing our in-put versus our out-put helped us realize that if we wanted a hope to save the sort of money we wanted to save, we had to readjust our monthly spending habits. Since most of the monthly bills were fixed, one area that we targeted was how much money we spent at restaurants and bars. For example, we reasoned that if we were spending an average of $500 on groceries every month, we probably didn't need to be spending an average of $300 dollars on going out to eat/drink. So, we developed a budget to help us curb our spending on non-essential items so that we could put more money in savings.

Awesome, right?


I must admit that I don't think we ever truly stuck to our goal spending in each category. Keeping up with a budget every month is time-consuming and hard work! But, our first foray into money management together was still really helpful. It raised our awareness and forced us to talk about our financial details more than we ever had and it set a precedent in our relationship that each of us would be open and honest about how finances. Plus, it gave us a chance to really discuss what our financial goals were. Looking through our past spending also showed us that a lot of what we spent money on were joint expenses. So, we decided to open up a joint checking account. 

With the addition of the joint checking account, we had five bank accounts between us! We each had a personal checking account, a personal savings account, and then one joint checking account. Our respective paychecks got automatically deposited in our personal checking accounts and then each time we got paid we would transfer a certain amount of money to the joint account, a percentage of money to our personal savings, and keep a percentage of money in our personal checking accounts to pay our credit cards and use as we pleased. We would use the joint account to pay for groceries and anything we did together. But, the boundaries were (and still are) pretty fluid. If I needed something but had no cash left, I was free to use the joint account. Similarly, if our joint account was empty and we wanted to order food one of us would cover it. While this is basically the opposite of sticking to a budget, it made sense to us.

Around this time, we started to realize that if one of us spent a big chunk of change it would inevitably effect the other. So, it became less acceptable for one of us to make a big purchase without consulting the other. Do we always consult one another on things we buy impulsively? No. For example, I didn't need to get Neill's permission before I went on my recent shoe buying binge and Neill doesn't need my permission before he buys accessories for his guitar. So how do we know what we need to talk about? Since we don't usually keep a lot of extra cash in our checking accounts, a good rule of thumb is that we need to talk it over if we would have to take money out of our savings account to buy it. Not that we need permission, but rather the conversations are framed like "I want this. How can we make this happen?"But, honestly - we probably talk over most things we are planning to buy. And I think if either one of us was constantly buying things impulsively we'd address it.

Anyways, after opening up a joint checking account a joint credit card was the next logical step. Shopping at Costco was actually the impetus for this because Costco doesn't take any credit cards except the one they issue. So, we decided to open one together. Plus, if we wanted to make big purchases together it seemed to make sense to have a joint credit card. Even though I knew it made logical sense, I was definitely aware that opening a credit card together was a big step to take. I remember being pretty nervous about what might happen and I refused to be the primary name on the account! I guess I was worried about being in charge of a credit card that I didn't have complete control over.

We've basically stuck to this system, with a few added tweaks, for the last three years. Our attention to finances as waxed and wane--some months making a big effort to keep our spending down and other months allowing our selves to put things on the credit card and worry about it later. However, just this month we've made some big changes!  

Have you ever made a budget? Where you able to stick to it? If so, what are your secrets? How much do you and your partner talk to one another about things that you buy? Do you keep a stash of money that you're allowed to spend however you want? How do you manage having a joint account or joint credit cards?


  1. I'm not married, but I do have a personal budget. I try my HARDEST to stick to it otherwise I can get overwhelmed. I don't have a lot of wiggle room right now because I'm on my first "real" job and I don't make a lot of money. So for me, I focus on what I want in the future (to be free of credit card debt) and I also use the "envelope system." Budgetting is hard, but well worth it in the end. I know I feel more at ease when I stick to mine.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Mandy! I definitely hear you on feeling more at ease when you know you aren't over spending! What is the envelope system?

  3. I think I might write about this soon. Our relationship+financial histories are similar. Even now that I have a "career" I make the same hourly wage as my husband, but get about 25% of the the hours. It takes me four paychecks to equal one of his!

    From the day we were engaged B-man has always called his paychecks "our money". I do all of the buying (grocery shopping, bill paying, etc.) and he has never once said something when I came home with a new cardigan or have bought something for myself.

    During my senior year of college we sat down and looked at our finances and realized that we were also spending a lot of money on groceries, but eating out a TON... so we tried to cut back. It didn't work out too well in Tennessee, but now that we live in Virginia we stay home a lot more. I think it's because our "going out" now consists of going to relative's homes for dinner... which means I don't have to cook, and we don't have to pay for dinner! Win-win!

    We definitely don't live off of a budget though. I use to track our spending, and if things seem out of whack we talk about it and adjust.

    (The envelope system (as I know it) is a cash budgeting system. For each category you get an envelope, and label them "groceries", "gas", "fun money", etc. Then you put the amount of money in for that category in the envelope, in cash. That way - when it's gone... it's gone. The system is really good for keeping a strict budget!)

  4. We also struggle with food costs, but I imagine you have a better excuse because you live in a bigger city than we do! We spend about the same as you guys ($800 total) but a smaller percentage is on dining out. We've started trying to shop around at different grocery stores for different items... takes some forethought, but it's kind of a fun challenge!

    To answer your question, we have two joint accounts (checking and savings). I pretty much don't spend any money on myself (a purely self-imposed limitation because I'm not employed). It's going to be interesting once I do get a job, though, I know that once I contribute to our income I'll definitely start spending money on myself. Should be interesting ; )

  5. Also, I just started reading href=""<>this blog; she talks about eating for two on only $60 a week. Holy smokes-- we're struggling to keep our grocery budget around double that! Definitely some inspirational stuff.

  6. Wellll, I sure screwed that one up. That's what I get for commenting in the middle of the night!

    Here's the link again, not even going to try to hyperlink it this time:

  7. @Jessica - you're right - our situations do sound similar. I've seen so much about, I feel like I should test it out. Is it easy to use? Do you like it? You should totally write a post about this!

    @April - believe me, we have NO excuses! Just last night we went out to eat even though though we just went grocery shopping. We are little piggies, but foodies is a nicer way of saying that :) I checked out your blog recommendation - that is insane! The only way I could see us living off of 60 dollars of groceries a week is if we seriously cut out calorie count (which would probably be good for us, but that is another story all together). But, it does make me think about being more mindful about distinguishing food wants from food needs. Shall we say, some food for thought?

  8. We sure eat a lot too. I think our biggest problem was not only that we were trying to eat meat with every meal, but that it was free-range meat. Oh, the naivete of thinking we could enjoy our food, be ethical about our food, and afford our food all at the same time : (

    Emma's meals (the blog I linked) are vegetarian, and I think that helps a lot. We're trying to substitute beans and quinoa in place of meat a couple nights a week, and I think it's already helping.


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Every comment brings a smile to my face!