Personal Finance

Combining Finances: Holly’s Perspective

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Greg wrote a very popular (and controversial) piece about how keeping separate finances is a marital disaster waiting to happen. It’s started a great discussion about how married couples should handle money, and I thought that it was time for me to weigh in. So, here are some of my thoughts on why “nothing is mine and everything is ours.”

Our Romance

When I started dating my husband, he had a few small financial problems.  Thankfully, nothing major was going on, but there were things that still had to be addressed.  For instance, despite having a college degree, he had a low-paying job and was living in a high cost of living area.  He had approximately $2,000 in credit card debt and no plan to pay it off.  Additionally, he was attempting to make a living as an actor – which many of you know is a very hard thing to do.

Once we started getting serious, we quickly realized that he needed to make a career change to have the kind of lifestyle that we wanted.  Together, we decided that he would go back to college for the second time to obtain a degree in an industry with a need for new recruits –  mortuary science.  This career change meant that he would move to a different city to attend school full-time.  It also meant that his earning potential would decrease significantly as he pursued his degree.  Luckily, he found a funeral home where he could live for free in exchange for working for them part-time.  This arrangement benefited both parties. Greg had a place to live, and the funeral home got some relatively cheap labor.

RELATED: Separate Finances: A Recipe for Marital Disaster

Unfortunately, as the weeks and months started to tick by, we found that Greg was constantly coming up short.  He was frequently “robbing Peter to pay Paul” and his credit card balances began growing at a rapid pace.  To top it off, he still had close to a year left in his schooling and was already working part-time in addition to his studies. What could we do?

Combining Our Lives, Combining Our Finances

During this time period, we began falling deeply in love. It didn’t take much time to figure out that we would be together forever.  Consequently, our finances began to somewhat interweave.  I soon began making his credit card payments as he finished his degree.  And why shouldn’t I have?  I knew that any debts that he incurred would soon also be my debts.  We became a team – financially and emotionally.  We created a plan to pay off his credit card debt by transferring the balance to a new 0% interest card.  As we joined forces, his credit card debt soon dwindled, and we began moving into the next phase of our relationship – our engagement.

Once we got engaged, our finances truly became one.  We started saving for our wedding, and I was working hard to pay off my first car.  I made very little, but I was living at home while he finished mortuary school.  Therefore, I could save or pay off debt with almost my entire income. When his part-time gig with the funeral home ended, Greg took a job as a waiter at a pizzeria to hold up his part of the bargain.

We made progress quickly.  Along with some help from our parents, we paid for our wedding with cash.  Was it the exact wedding that I wanted?  Maybe not, but I wasn’t willing to go into debt to have everything my way.  And although we had made great financial decisions since we began dating, we were now saddled with the $17,000 in student loan debt that he acquired during mortuary school.  However, I never thought of this as “his” debt.”  It – along with everything else – was “ours.”  Afterall, finishing mortuary school also meant that Greg would be getting a higher paying job as a mortician.  How could I rationalize benefiting from his new high salary without sharing the burden of the schooling that got us there in the first place?

Marriage = Partnership

The way I see it, a marriage should be a partnership in every sense of the word.  We share a house.  We share our lives.  We share our children.  Why in the world would we not share the income that we both work to make?  In our household, we are 100% a team.  Simply put, there is no escape hatch.  We share our successes, our failures, and life’s disappointments.  We are each other’s shoulder to cry on and also each other’s biggest cheerleaders.  I vividly remember when Greg was honored as valedictorian of his college class.  I beamed with joy and felt the same pride as if I, myself, had earned this accomplishment.  Why?   Because his success is my success.  Because I worked hard to pay our debts while he was in school.  Because I supported him in all of his efforts and cheered him on all the way.  Because we are a team and when he wins, I win.

RELATED: Marriage and Money: How We Make It Work

For Richer or Poorer…

We have had an amazing 7 years as a married couple…but I know that it may not always be this way.  One of us could get sick and need constant care.  We could easily succumb to some unfortunate circumstance and have our lives altered forever.  And if that happens, you will find me here…working to find a solution to our problems.  Maybe I will care for him through extreme sickness, change his diapers, and feed him his meals.  Maybe we will experience a financial catastrophe that will leave us penniless.  Regardless, by his side is where you’ll find me…cheering him on and making our lives the best they can be.  And if someone ever messes with my husband, you can bet that I will karate chop their face.  That’s what marriage means to me.

On the other hand, if Greg would somehow win the lottery, you would find me living a luxurious life…traveling the world with a bottomless gin and tonic in my hand.  That’s also what marriage means to me.  Like I said before, if he wins, I win.  We will succeed or fail together – and together only.

Obviously, I am an opponent of having separate finances as a married couple.  Do we always agree on every financial decision?  No…but overcoming those challenges only makes us closer.  Do we always get what each of us want?  No…but working together and reaching an outcome that we can both live with is what makes us whole.  I am in this for the long haul….”in sickness and in health, for rich and for poor.”  I do not believe in separate lives or separate finances.  We share everything, and doing so morphs us into one powerful and stong superbeing! Together, I truly think that we can accomplish anything…..and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Next → Who Wears the Financial Pants in Your Family?

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44 Comments

  1. Awesome!

    When I saw the title, my first thought was uh-oh, why is there a second take? Now I can exhale – order is restored to the universe!

    I like your writing style, too… 🙂

    1. Ha,ha- thanks!

      Yes, don’t worry. We are almost of one mind at my house!

  2. I read that post too and it got me thinking. I made a lot more than my husband when we got married, and when I offered to combine finances, he said no – he’d just be tempted to spend more money. So, we’ve just never done it. Seems to be working ok – we’ve been married 9 years!

    1. Hey, to each his own. If you have been married for 9 years then you must be doing something right =

  3. I love your perspective on combined finances (and marriage in general!). It’s about working as a team. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely worth it.

    1. Yes- it is. Sharing household respoonsibilites and finances makes us stronger, I think.

  4. I’m impressed that you started combining finances before you were married! We had a pretty casual way of combining finances before we were married – we both just chipped in and no one kept tally. Pretty sure we were paying equal weight in supporting the relationship. But neither of us had any major debts that we couldn’t handle – I actually paid off all my student loans a year before we married and the Mr didn’t really have any debts – we didn’t start accruing debts until we started working together! (ironic, huh?)

    1. Well, it wasn’t really planned that way… I just couldn’t sit back and watch him go broke during school. It has turned out well for us, though. He’s stuck with me now =)

  5. I think Emily at evolvingPF shared a study on the number of people who are divorced that combined finances vs. didn’t, and if I remember right, (not surprisingly) the number of divorces is higher for people who don’t combine their financial lives.

    1. That is not surprising at all. The people that I know that don’t combine finances are all on shaky ground. I’m sure there are people out there who can make it work…I just don’t know any =)

    2. While I would have loved to find a study directly answering this question, I wasn’t able to! I think the most I read was that separate money management is correlated with decreased marital satisfaction. I wasn’t really able to find any longitudinal studies addressing this area, which is what you really need to say anything about divorce.

  6. Great post! My husband and I also started combining finances as soon as we were engaged. We figured why wait? As soon as we were married, everything was combined. We saved a lot of money by combining our car insurance, cell phone plans, and of course, health insurance.

    1. Yeah, exactly. And combining finances means that you are both in the loop with what the other is doing. It means you are accountable to someone other than yourself!

  7. “We will succeed or fail together – and together only.”
    I could not agree more, that is what marriage is about.

    It’s not about me, but we as my wife likes to say. Combining finances and having an attitude to share in each others successes AND failures only helps make the marriage grow and be more successful as a unit.

    1. I agree, John! When we got married, we did it to share our lives together…not just the bits and pieces and were convenient…but all of it.

  8. I think the best way to approach a marriage is as a team or partnership. My hubby and I tackle everything as a team, even finances and it works great. Even if we have separate goals they become our goals because we both like each other to be happy.

    1. Yeah, I hear ya. Same here. If he really wants something, we buy it. It happens so infrequently and I think we should treat ourselves every once in a while!

  9. Great to see both of your perspectives on this topic. You two should take that approach with more topics on here. I’m totally leaning more towards shared finances now. I thought having 1 combined account and separate accounts for each person was the way to go, but now I don’t think so.

    Right now I actually started dating this girl that has big student loan debt. So it is definitely on my mind more. If we become more committed there is no way that I would want her to be struggling with that debt on her own. I would want to help her tackle that debt and get us both moving in the right direction.

    1. That’s awesome, Jeremy! And if she is a keeper and you are going to marry her, then I say more power to you. There is something really awesome about being a “team” with someone else. It has definitely made my life more fulfilling and exciting and I think that our “team” approach has benefited us in many ways. Obviously, we work together at our jobs. When we come home, we are a team when it comes to caring for our children. We are financially a team as well and I think it’s seriously awesome.

      Good luck in your relationship. And if she is a keeper, don’t let her go!

  10. Combining finances has helped our marriage out tremendously. It’s something we started right off the bat and I’m not sure I could imagine living our lives with separate bank accounts. It would kill great conversations about our goals and dreams, and it would certainly be weird to see what she was spending her money on.

    1. That is the only problem with combined finances, I think. There have been times that we have wanted to surprise each other with a birthday or anniversary present and it’s almost impossible to hide those purchases from each other!!!

  11. We’re not married (have been together for over 6 years) and we combined finances as well. Worked out well for us!

  12. While I totally agree with Greg’s perspective of how married couples should have shared finances, I disagree with your approach of combining before marriage – that stems from the bright line I draw between married and not-married, and I realize not everyone shares this view. I think it would have been a better experience for Greg to right his financial situation on his own (more student loans?) so that he could enter your marriage a stronger partner. That isn’t to say that he should have paid off his debt, but at minimum stop the credit card balances from growing. http://evolvingpf.com/2012/02/delay-marriage-until-youre-debt-free/

    1. I just don’t see it that way. Once we entered into a serious relationship..then our engagement, I didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t combine finances. Should I have let him suffer financially and take out more student loans- that I would have ultimately had the budren of repaying- just to stick to some moral standard that someone else has set? Or should I have made some small credit card payments to keep him afloat in order to keep debt down to a minimum and start off our marriage with as little debt as possible? I guess it’s just personal preference but once our relationship got serious I didn’t see any reason for me to not help my future partner get through his situation.
      And now that we have, he makes about twice as much income as I do so it seems that the help I gave him was a good investment for our long term financial health.

      And, quite frankly, to imply that Greg is a weaker partner or somehow didn’t share his part of the burden is not only weird- but just plain wrong.

      ***flying karate chop to the face!!!!!***

      1. I’m not trying to say that he objectively weaker or that you totally rescued him and he didn’t have a part of it. I’m just saying I think it would have been a good experience for him to get his feet under himself on his own – with your input but not direct financial assistance. I’d say that about anyone approaching marriage – as I did in the post I linked.

        Like I said, JMO on the pre-marital combination. I’m glad you guys are both/together in a strong position now.

        1. This is probably where the difference in our philophies lies. Our partnership began during our relationship and was only made legal by our marriage. Getting married didn’t create an immediate moment where all of the sudden we joined forces. Really, I could have gotten married in a court house and it wouldn’t have bothered me one bit. It is just a piece of paper to me so it made perfect sense to help him through when he was having a hard time.

          1. Marriage shouldn’t change anything. If you are in love, that happens long before marriage. Marriage just ‘seals’ everything forever. We also combined our finances long before we were married as we already loved each other and knew we were going to be together forever. I disagree with you Emily that it would have been a good idea to let him deal with it on his own – what is the point when you are essentially making things worse for the both of you long term? That is a BAD personal finance decision! 😛

  13. We did something similar, planning for our finances to be combined, but didn’t officially combine until married. But we started making joint decisions as we were aproaching marriage, especially after we got engaged. We knew decisions made would affect our marriage, so it just made sense to start planning.

    We’re noww 4 years in, and it’s not a 50/50 marriage, it’s a 100/100 marriage. We are both in 100%, and like you said, their failures are your burden to carry, and their successes are your successes. It’s truly a great way to approach your finances in marriage 🙂

    1. So far, so good! I would say that 7 years of happiness and prosperity is a good start!

      It sounds like you guys are doing great as well!

  14. I respect your opinions totally and understand them. I don’t agree though. I agree with helping each other out and being codependent during marriage, but I support separate banking accounts…at least one. At least a savings. You just never know when things are going to go wrong. And especially as a woman, I feel the need to have finances to back yourself in case something does. An account that only you have access to. You don’t have to keep it a secret or the balances a secret. It’s not about lying. It’s about being prepared. Because no one thinks they’re going to ever get divorced.

    1. I don’t feel that way at all…but it’s just personal preference I guess. And I feel very secure in my marriage. We have two kids together, work together, own investment properties together. If I felt less secure in my marriage, then I might feel differently.

      I don’t think Greg would mind if I wanted a seperate account with just my name on it. I just don’t find it necessary- for me at least.

      1. I understand. I was married previously and felt everything was safe. We didn’t have kids, but all our finances were combined and it ended up being a nightmare when things went sour. Like I said, though, I totally respect your opinion and choices. Life’s just made me a little jaded and that experience has led me to encourage others to at least have a little something set aside.

        1. Honestly, that makes perfect sense to me. You have had a marriage crumble before, so it is perfectly reasonable for you to prepare yourself for that!

          Actually, Greg’s parents each have their own “slush funds” that they spend on what each of them want….and they have been married for 35 years! Obviously it works for some people. They are a perfect example.

  15. Wow! What a rare opportunity to have a married couple share both sides of the story. My wife and I have been married 5+ years and combined all our finances. Sure, it’s hard sometimes to come to an agreement on spending sometimes, but the end result is worth it.

  16. This was never a big discussion for us! We were both of the thought that “what other way is there? Of course we’ll get a joint account!” We also never did sign a prenup. I just think seperate finances and prenups are for those couples that just aren’t that in love! (I’ll wait patiently for the hate mail to arrive!) :))

    1. I laughed out loud about the possibility of a prenup. When we got married, all Greg had were some ugly clothes and some fiberboard furniture!

      But yeah- I agree. I don’t get the whole seperate finances thing. However, if someone found a way to do it successfully and not have any problems, I would be okay with it. It’s just not for me.

  17. sleepydad says:

    When sleepymom and I got married 9 years ago, we had everything separate except for a shared credit card to pay for all the wedding expenses. I tried to combine some stuff before we got married, but sleepymom resisted. Now – we have combined everything; and i’ve been taking care of most of finances. But we have a better picture of our combined financials.

    1. I just think it’s easier that way- for me at least. I cant imagine having conversations about who is going to pay the electric bill this month. It would be weird! =)

  18. I totally agree on your take on marriage. We are recently married and share everything. I never think of my paycheck as mine or my wife’s as hers – it is always ours! I am glad you found common ground and are able to stand by each other! 🙂

    1. Thanks Scot! Being in a happy marriage and true partnership is awesome!!!!!

  19. “We became a team – financially and emotionally. ” Very well said. Hard to argue for separate finances if your intent in marriage is to live as a team, deny your own wants, and live for one another.

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