Marriage is a huge life transition. Like childbirth and parenting, everyone can give you loads of advice beforehand but nothing is like experiencing it for yourself. This is our story of how we decided to combine finances after marriage when we didn’t agree.
At the time of writing this article, my husband and I have been married for a total of 7 months! We are still in the infancy of our marriage and have already made some big decisions.
I wanted to write this article while the topic was still fresh in my mind. It was one of the first decisions we made as a married couple and it was hard. People say that finances can make or break a marriage. This decision didn’t exactly break us although it wasn’t the easiest road.
If you’re about to marry someone, you probably know a little bit about their finances. You may have an understanding of how they handle bills and whether or not they budget on a monthly basis.
Before marriage, despite living together and raising our daughter, we handled our finances separately. For shared expenses like the house, utilities, and daycare, my then-fiance gave me a set amount each month for his portion.
We had completely separate accounts and managed our own personal finances outside of the shared living expenses. Before getting married, this system worked just fine for us.
Setting up a discussion to talk about it
We got married in June 2020 and had the initial discussion of whether or not to combine finances about a month into marriage. I kept hinting to my husband that we needed to have the conversation soon but, for one reason or another, we kept delaying it.
So, we finally set a time to talk about our finances after our daughter went to sleep one night. It turned out that we were both afraid to have this conversation. Our expectations were all over the place and it turned into our first marital argument pretty quickly.
Going into the conversation, I guess I thought we would decide pretty quickly and be done with it. Instead of making a decision, tensions rose as we kept going back and forth for about an hour on whether or not to combine finances.
In hindsight, a little bit of preparation for this marital finance discussion would probably have helped both of us. We went into the very first discussion with very different expectations of what would happen. In essence, we had very different ideas of what should happen.
My expectation was that we would combine finances completely and be done with it. His expectation was that there was no need to change much because our current system was working well. You can probably see why we didn’t get anywhere that first night.
Tips on setting expectations
- Do not expect to make a final decision on an issue this large in one evening.
- Set a timer to talk about it for an hour, or maybe even 30 minutes, then stop. Allow time, maybe a few days, for each partner to process the conversation.
- Do not spend time trying to convince your partner why your point of view is better than theirs.
- Don’t let your emotions get the best of you.
Of course, this is all easier said than done.
Compromising in the decision to combine finances after marriage
It turns out that combining finances after marriage was the first big compromise in our marriage. At least, it was for me. When you don’t agree with your partner about marital finances, compromise is always going to be the solution.
Now, compromise is a tricky thing, especially for a newbie married couple. I was willing to compromise because I knew that was the ‘right’ thing to do but I didn’t want to be over-accommodating to his position. I think the lawyer came out in me.
Basically, once I gave up trying to dominate the conversation and convince him that my way was the right way, I wanted to meet in the middle and just settle the issue.
Talking about combining finances is emotionally exhausting. It requires vulnerability and giving of yourself to better the whole, both of which are not my strong points.
Compromise is an inner journey
My husband and I are both normally an agreeable couple. We get along well and we respect each other, thus the decision to get married. But combining finances hit a sore spot in both of us, one that threw us for a loop.
I had to get over the initial shock that he didn’t want to combine finances. How could he think this way? Why didn’t I know he had this opinion beforehand? There was a point in our conversation where I thought we might not be able to compromise and reach a decision.
For me, the process of compromise involved letting my guard down, being able to let go of my inflexibility, and trusting that my husband’s points were valid too. I knew that we wouldn’t get 100% of what we individually wanted, and that was okay.
The decision to combine finances after marriage
We finally decided to meet each other halfway. For us, that meant opening a joint family account but keeping our separate accounts as well. We transitioned all of our accounts, both joint and separate, to the same credit union to make transfers easy.
We decided that a majority of our income would go into the joint family account and we would set up a monthly budget for our shared expenses, sinking funds, and savings goals. With this, we combined a couple of bills that were previously separate.
The decision to keep our separate accounts for our personal discretionary funds was a compromise. Although I was against it in the beginning, separate accounts do come in handy sometimes, like at Christmas.
After a decision is made, the next steps
Once a decision is made, it’s always important to take action immediately. If you don’t, you may revert back to your premarital finance system.
Set up a budget
Once we made the decision to create a joint account for our shared expenses, we decided to write down a monthly budget. Creating a monthly budget as a couple can be daunting but it’s doable.
We started by taking pen to paper and writing down our monthly bills and their due dates. Then, we estimated what we would spend on groceries and our daughter every month.
To keep track of our monthly expenses and joint account debit card usage, we decided to use YNAB (You Need A Budget), which is a budget tracking app. I used YNAB in the past and it worked well for me to budget monthly.
Take action, i.e. head to the bank
Once we set up our budget, the next step for us was to head to the bank and open our accounts. We decided to go with a local credit union that has a physical branch in our neighborhood.
Setting up our accounts at a credit union was a breeze. It took approximately one hour to set up the accounts, make initial deposits, get debit cards, and order checks. The representative even set up our online accounts; it was so easy.
Once that was complete, we were ready to implement our budget. Since we created a monthly budget, it was easier for us to start using the accounts and YNAB on the first of the month.
Adjust as things change
We started our first YNAB month in August 2020. Since then, we have had to adjust our budget every single month to adjust to our needs, spending habits, and random things that come up. In YNAB lingo, you would call that ‘rolling with the punches.’
Monthly bills will always be in flux due to inflation. Last year, our budget billing for all of our utilities increased in one month. In March, our mortgage payment will increase after an escrow analysis.
So, when this happens, I go into YNAB and adjust the Goal amounts in those categories to reflect the change. Then, I have to reduce other budget categories to account for the change.
One thing I learned from the marital budgeting process is that your initial budget is more of an outline and not set in stone. As your family grows and has new interests, or as costs rise due to inflation, your expenses will change often, sometimes on a monthly basis.
Once you’re in a groove, keep adjusting and repeating from month to month.
Final thoughts on how to combine finances after marriage
Finances can be very personal and very emotional. I never thought this one decision to combine finances after marriage would be packed with so much emotion.
Although the process of making this decision was way more difficult than I expected, I’m glad we’re on the other side of it. I also learned some things about myself and about the two of us as a couple.
I know that our marital financial journey is just beginning and we have a lifetime of financial decisions to make. As I write this article, we’re about to embark on another financial milestone, filing taxes as a married couple for the first time!
So, as you’re deciding how best to combine finances after marriage, take it slow and easy. Set a timer for a discussion. If you feel you’re at an impasse, give each other a few days to mull it over and come back.
Once you make a final decision, drive to the bank to set up an account, and start implementing your budget right away. With compromise, you will succeed!