Sometimes, one of the hardest things to negotiate in a marriage is money. This can definitely be a struggle in any relationship, but marriage can add the complex layer of fully joining finances (or not). And as it so happens, money is also one of those things that polite society just doesn't talk about. It can be tricky to talk finances with family and friends and I've noticed that, at least in my own life, when it is discussed people tend to paint broad strokes and avoid getting down to the nitty gritty details.
This hesitancy to divulge makes total sense. The number in your checking account or on your credit card bill is personal. Plus, because people rarely talk about this there is also the nagging fear of whether your numbers match up with what everyone else has. And god forbid they don't. What does that mean? I know I can get anxious just thinking that maybe everyone else on the planet is saving gajillions more dollars than me or that my credit card balance is exponentially larger. Yikes. Makes me nervous just to think about. Given this money shroud of secrecy and all of the feelings wrapped up in what each number means, it can be HARD to talk money with your significant other. Damn hard.
No wonder people fight about it, right?
So, I thought I'd share with you the money history of my relationship with Neill. I'll be detailing how we handled finances throughout our relationship and how it has changed over time.
When Neill and I first started dating we each had a personal checking out and a personal savings account. I had some small mutual funds that were set up for me by my family and Neill had a retirement account started. Neill had a job and I was a college student who worked during school breaks and got money from my parents. Neill lived in his own apartment and paid his rent and bills, while I lived in a dorm and was on a meal plan that were both paid for by my parents. Obviously, we started in very different places!
The first two years of our relationship we dated long distance. While only seeing each other every other weekend sucked, I think living in different cities protected us from dealing with money issues early on in the relationship. For example, I don't think we talked about how much money we had saved, if we had credit card debt, or Neill's income. And we certainly didn't have to talk to one another before deciding to buy something. When we saw each other, Neill usually paid for dinner or whatever we were doing. But, once in a while I would use the cash I had to pick up the tab. As you can see, money between us has never been fifty-fifty.
A few weeks before I graduated college Neill officially became a homeowner and when I was finished with school I moved in with him. I think we had some general discussions about what he was expecting financially from me, but the expectations were pretty low. We knew we wanted to live together and so we figured we would make it work somehow. At this point, Neill paid the mortgage and all of the bills. I, on the other hand, was an unemployed college student with my eye on graduate school. I wanted to find a paid position working on a research study, but I couldn't find anything. So in order to get the experience necessary to be accepted into a clinical psychology doctoral program, I started working on a volunteer basis in two different research labs. Yup. You read that right. Volunteer. As in for free ninety nine. As in Neill was pretty much completely supporting me, with a few hundred dollars from my mom every once in a while.
While this arrangement let me build my CV, living completely on Neill's dime brought up all sorts of weird feelings for me. For example, I remember when we would go grocery shopping I felt like I had to ask Neill's permission before I put anything in the cart. Plus, with taking on a mortgage Neill's monthly expenses went up. Even though Neill has always been EXTREMELY generous and never once made me feel like he differentiated between what was his versus what was ours, I hated feeling like I didn't have any cash to burn.
Thankfully, after six long months I finally got a job. I wasn't making much - but at least I had a full-time salaried job and I was earning an income! Neill still made about five times my salary, but bringing home a paycheck made me feel good about being able to contribute to our household. It was during these few months that we made our first household budget -- an excel document that I still have saved to my desktop.
In my next post, I'll share how we made our budget and how we decided to open our first joint checking account. Until then, I'd love to continue this discussion in the comments. How did you and your partner handle finances in the early stage of the relationship? Have you ever been in the position of not earning an income or being the breadwinner? Is it easy for you to talk about money with family and friends?