Marriage and Money: How We Make it Work

Marriage and Money - picture of legs and feet of bride and groom walking across wooden bridge

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Although our early twenties were spent wasting most of the money we made, we eventually matured enough to realize what we were doing.  In fact, becoming pregnant with our second daughter made us freak out.  All of a sudden, we began to realize that time was slipping away from us.  Getting older meant that that we had to start taking things seriously.  Therefore we decided to take this challenge head on and pay off all of our consumer debt ASAP.  How did we reach this conclusion?  Together.

The truth is that we’ve never argued about money in our entire eight years of marriage.  Don’t believe me?  It’s true!!  People often ask us why we’re always on the same wavelength.  Honestly, I don’t really know.  Maybe it’s because we ultimately want the same things out of life – peace, stability, early retirement, and lots of travel and fun along the way.

So I decided to detail how we make our finances work as a team.  What follows is a boring story about two people getting along.  It’s not exciting, dramatic, or suspenseful. 

Now that I’m self-employed, we get paid at various times throughout the month.  Since both of our incomes fluctuate, I choose to budget on last month’s earnings.  This way, I’m never trying to create a budget built on wishful thinking.  Budgeting off of our last month’s earnings means that we’re always budgeting on what we made and not what we wish we would’ve made.  Anyway, on the 1st of each month I create a budget for that month.  I put our fixed expenses in the budget and I estimate variable expenses such as utility bills.  I also allow a $500 grocery budget for the month and $200 for unplanned purchases.  Then, Greg and I sit down together and talk.  At this time, we also add in any “extras.”  Sometimes Greg will need new underwear or a new book.  Sometimes I want to get my hair highlighted.  I almost always ask for breast implants and Greg always immediately says “no.”

Once all expenses are agreed upon, we see what’s left over.  We then allocate money to savings, mortgage prepayment, and our kid’s college funds.  Once we’re in agreement, I pay the bills according to the plan we’ve laid out.  I also immediately transfer whatever we’ve decided to save to savings.  That way, it’s out of sight and out of mind.

This approach works great for us and the only tricky part is deciding what goes in the budget and what doesn’t.  Thankfully, I can’t remember a time when either of us strongly disagreed about spending on a particular item.  Greg rarely wants anything for himself aside from an occasional book for his kindle.  And honestly, neither one of us are into “stuff.”  I’m not the stereotypical woman who is into purses and shoes and Greg doesn’t play the stereotypical man who likes gadgets and cars.  It just isn’t us.  Typically, when we decide to put a “splurge” into the budget, it’s for an experience that we can both enjoy- like getting a babysitter and going out alone for dinner and a movie.

So, there it is….a boring story about two people making things work.  Boring is good sometimes and I think that can be the case when it comes to marriage and money.  No, my life isn’t exciting.  I don’t have financial highs and lows or twists and turns…and that’s alright by me.  I sleep great at night, have peace with my spouse, and have peace with myself.  That is truly priceless.

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  1. beautiful pic! budgeting with last month’s income means you have a month of cash reserves in advance to plan for the first month. For many freelancers it is not the case so I would plan on getting either the worst of the past 12 months’ income or the average of the past 12 months.
    That is great that you adjusted your vision together, often it is hard that both persons will change at the same time. We don’t budget much, just have a joint account where we put money when it is empty, and pay common bills from. Nothing extravagant so we don’t really look closely.

  2. Interesting to hear a budget on freelance income. Certainly adds a layer of complexity that we haven’t dealt with yet. My wife is self-employed and is just starting to earn a profit, but we haven’t really fit that into the budget yet. Our budget is pretty set, but we check in each week to see how we’re doing for the month. Other than that, all of our bills and savings are on auto-pilot. Any unexpected income or expenses get discussed at the time, but we don’t really include smaller things like a book in there. With that stuff, we have enough of a buffer that it doesn’t make a real difference. But checking in regularly makes sure that we don’t develop bad habits like buying a new book every day.

    1. Yes, exactly! Buying a new book every month is okay. Buying one every day…not so much.

  3. Awesome picture, awesome story, but above all, awesome formula! 🙂 My wife and I are fortunate that we feel the same way about money and money has never been an issue that caused an argument… for over 40 years.

    1. Mr. William, that’s awesome and I really think that’s key!
      The relationships that I see stress and break over money is because they weren’t on the same page.
      Not in the same chapter.
      Or even the same book.
      So for me (unmarried), I look very closely at this topic in a mate, because unfortunately loving money can apparently cause all types evil (including separation of loved ones).

  4. Holly, my husband and I are pretty boring too. We don’t sit and talk about money, but when we aren’t on the same page we are usually still reading the same chapter. In August we’ll have two in college, so we know that right now isn’t the time for large splurges. We’ve spent almost 20 years saving for college and retirement. That meant some very tight budgets and now that things are a little easier financially, we still find ourselves living on that budget without discussing it. The handful of times in 20 years that we’ve argued about money – it was usually just stress speaking a little louder than it should have. 🙂

    1. It sounds like you guys are on the same page overall. That’s great!

  5. I love hearing how other couples handle their finances. It sounds like you guys have a great approach that works really well for your family. We did something similar…we created an annual household budget, based on anticipated expenses. We also create monthly budgets based on when we expect to incur certain big ticket expenses (like our car insurance, booking plane tickets, etc). That way, we know what our cash flow should look like each month.

    We track expenses against our budget on a weekly basis. For the most part, we do a good job of staying on budget, or making exceptions only when we both decide the purchase is worthwhile. (Although we’re still working on lowering our food budget!)

    1. I really like the idea of an annual budget and plan on using J.W.’s template as a basis for starting the conversation with my husband. We live apart right now and have our money separate, but I want to be able to start having that conversation on specific, mutual money goals (“save $X amount for ABC” instead of a general “save for retirement”).

  6. We didn’t make the money work and that is why we is now me. Money was the main reason for my divorce. A new snowmobile bought on the line of credit may have been the last straw.

    1. Ugh, that wouldn’t have worked for me either!

  7. My husband and I are lazy, so our budget is minimal. We buy only what we need (and Need is the operative word here) and save the rest. We agreed early on that neither of us would spend more than $100 without consulting the other and waiting a day to think about it. Although we never made a ton of money, this has served us well for over 40 years.
    Great picture, Holly!

    1. Sally, this is exactly what my folks did the first 10 years of marriage.
      But their cap was something like $25 (they were a young broke couple).
      But apparently it served them well too as they just hit 35 years.

  8. We have a monthly budget and if we want something outside of it we talk about it. Things will probably be changing soon as we get married and combine finances though, nothing major, but probably a change.

    1. I’m sure you’ll adjust well if you’ve been agreeing on money matters so far.

  9. Great stuff here, Holly. We did fight about money for years, mostly b/c we had no plan and all of our cash was flying out the window on stupid stuff. Very rarely do we fight about money now. Sometimes we’ll get a little stressed b/c the debt numbers aren’t moving fast enough, and we start to get a little scared about the possibility of never reaching our goal, but not very often. Having a plan, like you guys do, and being on the same page (or at least respecting each other’s differences) is key!

    1. Totally! I’m glad you guys are moving in the right direction!

  10. We have a joint account that we both contribute to that pays our mortgage, grocery expenses, and other bills. Outside of that, we each have our own “allowance” account. My husband and I have an agreement that as long as you contribute your share to the joint account and all the bills are paid, it’s your decision what you do with your allowance. (This has been our system ever since we lived together as boyfriend and girlfriend.) However, we still consult each other on larger purchases even if it is from “allowance.” My husband knows I’m much more money conscious than he is and always runs it by me to see if I have any glaring reasons for veto.

    1. Haha, I hear ya. All of our finances are combined and we don’t have any separate accounts…but to each their own!

  11. I love that you are realistic on your food budget for the month. I have seen pf blogs where folks clam their budget for two people is low, like $150 a month. If you care about the quality of food you are eating and are eating fresh produce, while savings can happen during high produce season (lots of veggies now), the budgets need to be able to accommodate food purchases year round.

    And your ability to budget on money you have earned as opposed to what is expected really speaks volumes of your self control and determination. It’s great to see folks keeping determined when spending temptation creeps up every once in a while.

    1. Thanks, Tara!

      We are vegetarian which can be expensive. The fact that I buy mostly organic also adds to our costs. I cannot imagine trying to feed a family of 4 on any less than $500. What would we eat? Pop-tarts and pizza rolls? Yuck!

  12. Great story Holly! I can relate as we never have fought over money either. It really is refreshing to have that. Sure, we made mistakes when we were first married and spent money that we should not have…but we have always been on the same page. I find that makes things much easier for us and never have to worry about what the other might think.

    1. I’m glad you guys get along so well. Greg and I mesh together really well overall, and it’s a huge blessing!

  13. Greg says no to breast implants? Whadda guy!
    The boring stories like this are the best in my opinion. =)

  14. Love your picture. We never argue about money also, and I think it’s because we’re on the same page about our goals and where we want to be in life. We try and talk about money as much as we can 🙂

  15. We track our spending each month (I enter all the receipts into an Excel file) and we’ve actually had a bit of trouble because no month has been consistent. Whether it was buying a house and spending money on that, or renovating the rental, or a car expense came up, or we get $1k in plumbing bills over the course of two months (which we SHOULD get compensated)….it just hasn’t been consistent. I’m really hoping we are finally getting to the point where the unexpected expenses stop giving us whiplash and we can start really sitting down and have a consistent budget. With that being said, a large majority of our expenses ARE fixed expenses that are consistent…it’s the stuff that’s left over that hasn’t been.

    1. I’m glad that you had the funds to cover those surprise bills, no?

  16. What a cute picture of the two of you! B and I are going to have a joint account that’s used for household and other shared expenses. We’ll also have a joint retirement account. We will each still maintain our individual savings accounts with much lower balances, and we can use that money however we want.

  17. I would say that’s the most exciting kind of story! Great to hear. We are honest and upfront about any disagreements. Separate bank accounts also help.

  18. Glad you both are on the same wavelength! I’m sure that makes life as a married couple a lot easier. I hope that’s the case with my future husband.

  19. That’s great. My wife and I are both frugal so we are usually on the same wavelength on spending. We used to have a separate account and a joint account which we would transfer money into, but now we just have both our paychecks go into the joint account. I think it’s better that way. There’s more transparency and you feel more like you’re working together financially.

    1. I also think that’s a better strategy. We share a house, children….why wouldn’t we share all of our money?

  20. Your story sounds similar to mine. The difference is I am older and married longer (45 years). We were always savers though and that can be boring. If I add that I I was a CFO and plan everything, I might the “boring” award! 🙂 Doing the things you are supposed to do is not boring though. Is the opposite exciting? Of course not, the opposite will lead to tragedy.

  21. I think we’re going to try the monthly budget planning meeting for a few months and see if it helps. It’s a lot easier to plan for purchases in advance that trying to justify them after the fact.

    One question – Have you ever gotten into trouble using prior month’s earnings in your budget? Like if you had a great month followed by a horrible one?


    1. I think one of the reasons this works for us is that our expenses are so low. Our only debt is our home and living expenses- utilities, groceries, etc. Although our income fluctuates, we’ve never had a month where we didn’t earn a lot more than it would take to cover our necessary bills.

      One thing that I’ve considered now that I’m freelance is paying myself a salary out of my earnings. I’ve thought about withdrawing the same amount every month for our savings, bills, and living expenses. That way the good months would compensate for the bad and I’d have a regular amount of income to work with.

  22. What a great picture!! I’m wearing a big dress and curly hair in mine. In my defense, it was 23 years ago …. 🙂 I love how in sync you and Greg are. Sadly, it’s been my experience that you are not the norm. I feel fortunate because my husband and I on the same financial page, which absolutely makes life a whole lot easier and more fun!

  23. Beautiful pic of you two! We don’t fight about money, but he’s usually the one veto’ing my expenses. It’s for my own good, and I appreciate it. 🙂

  24. Love your pic Holly!

    My husband and I are also on the same page financially. Definitely a good thing! 🙂

  25. Good story Holly. My wife and I are a little different than some as most people learned from my post about Love and Money, but we still talk about our finances to make sure we are on the same page. My wife brought no debt into the marriage and I brought way too much. My wife backed me up with encouragement and I tackled my debt. Anything we incur now, we kill together and we have a good financial relationship.

  26. Thats fantastic! Life is good when things are boring. Now that I am on my own finances are a lot harder. But eventually I’ll get to where I want to be and be boring by myself 🙂

  27. The first year of our marriage it was a bit difficult when we talked about money. We were super broke, both going to school, and had like a $1,500 budget per month. It was super tight and I had to watch every penny. But now that we both working, we are both less stressed. We have the same goals in mind 🙂 Financial Independence!

    1. My thoughts exactly. I think it’s easier to be on the same page when you’re not broke and stressed about how you’re going to pay bills. While we’re still on a tight budget because we’re saving for a house and paying off student loans, we hardly ever argue about money any more because we’re making progress on our goals and we don’t feel as strangled by our finances.

  28. Our money is combined as we are married, that is a no brainer for me. It takes so many things off the table that include money fights. The other thing we did is to talk about all larger purchases. And by large, I mean not so large (maybe anything over $50 that is not grocery related).

  29. Kyle @ Debt Free Diaries says:

    Leslie and I budget based on our combined expected income each month. We have a pretty good idea how much will be coming in now, it’s fairly consistent. I usually work out how much we’ll be spending in each budget category and she helps me enter purchases throughout the month. Leslie is also completely in charge of the food budget after we set what it will be for the month, and I’m in charge of paying the bills. We’ve both taken over the areas of the budget that stress us out the most, and it seems to work for us.

  30. I’m amazed – we don’t argue a lot about money, but we do. We have different philosophies on how much should be spent on stuff. 🙂 We generally have bills/expenses we’re each responsible for, then automated savings for everything else..and after that, in theory, it’s all extra, but I wish it wasn’t spend on CDs so much! 🙂

  31. I make the budget, she spends the money! LOL!

    But seriously, I put together a budget on last month’s money as well, give my wife her spending cash and let her know the food/other budget for the month, and away we go. I’m in the process of moving all our bills to land on the 5th of the month for simplicity, and most are automated. Nice and easy works for us.

    We have had some overspending the past few months, so we’re having a budget meeting to make some adjustments, as I think EVERY married couple should do. And we, too, haven’t fought about money in our 4+ years of marriage. It’s all about aligning your goals, and we did that during our engagement, which was awesome.

  32. Boring IS good! My wife and I started as poor college kids, so we are very grateful for all the money we enjoy now. I do all the heavy planning and budgeting, and she helps me make it work. We both talk and dream about retiring early – I think that is the most important thing: To talk about it and keep the communication open!

  33. Such a gorgeous couple! I think it’s AWESOME you and Greg are a “boring” couple making things work with your finances. If J and I ever combine finances, I’m hoping we become a “boring” couple making our finances work together as well 🙂 This was such a cute post Holly!

  34. Money was never a problem for my wife and I as we talked about it when we were dating. Even now we’ve been married for coming up 7 years and money is not a problem. We talk about it together, we budget together and we talk about big expenses together. That’s what’s worked best for us and it’s certainly the only way we know. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

  35. Since my hubby and I just got married, this helps a lot! We’re pretty good with our finances but we’ve always done it separately so this is the first time ever we’ll be making financial decisions together. He also works freelance and I wasn’t sure what the best way to budget for that would be but since you do it I guess we can figure it out too. Cheers!

  36. This is great advice! From everything I have read, heard, and experienced money is the number one source of problems for most couples. I’ve found that going over the budget each month really helps us get on the same page and avoids future disagreements.

  37. J and I don’t budget together, but our finances are separate. Every once in awhile we do an informal financial check in with each other, to see where we are at. I have a budget for myself which never changes, because my income from my full-time job never changes, so it works.

  38. I wonder if not arguing about finances is easier when you actually have money to play with. For example, when my husband wasnt working for four months and we were living in a shack, we argued a lot more about money because we didnt have any. While we still live on a tight budget today, there is more money to go around so we don’t feel as much pressure and we hardly ever argue about money these days.

    1. Oh definitely – living on the edge always makes money talks more stressful. We have opposited money personalities so it’s never been effortless like Greg and Holly, but it’s certainly easier than back during the worst of the recession.

  39. When it comes to my wife and we will typically review our finances once a week and pay the necessary bill accordingly. On top of that we will typically look for ways to cut spending and increase earnings.

  40. You haven’t argued about money and you have been married 8 years? That is impressive!

  41. That’s not a boring story at all, I found it really heart-warming and encouraging.

    We are married for just 2 years now but been together for the past 8 (and living together) and we also rarely had fights regarding the money. Rarely, not never 😛 We’re also both working now on learning how to save money and we do the same thing: budgeting based on the previous month. Glad to see that it has such amazing results!

  42. Haha, peaceful/boring is good sometimes. That’s especially true when it comes to money. I think it’s great that you and Greg get along so well when it comes to financial matters.

    Making marriage and money work well together takes effort and the willingness to talk to each other. I’m learning to talk to my girlfriend about money, and yeah, sometimes it can get very uncomfortable. When that happens, we just step away and revisit the topic later. But no matter what, we do make an effort to come back to it.

    I’ve found that the harder it seems to talk about something, the more important it is that you talk it out. That’s because we would rather deal with the discomfort now than to have to fix the consequences later!

  43. What a beautiful wedding picture.

    I love that you ask for a boob job every month..good to keep a sense of humor when allocating the $$$.

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