My husband and I don’t fight often, but like most couples, we’ve fought about money. I was taught to avoid debt at all costs. When we got together, he had debt, and I didn’t think he was making an aggressive enough effort to pay it down. After many hard conversations, we’ve compromised: He puts more money toward the debt, but not everything, and I accept that sometimes he’s gotta buy yet another pair of Nikes to feel excited about life. 

We’re both cash-strapped creative people, and we haven’t combined our money since getting married. Instead, we have a joint account that we occasionally contribute to (especially when we make money doing something comedic together), and we keep that as a rainy day fund, and also a honeymoon fund… assuming we ever get to travel again. 

Though I couldn’t imagine managing our money jointly at this point, I was curious about how other couples handle money and deal with cash problems, so I interviewed four couples.

After speaking to other couples, it seems my husband and I have common problems: One partner might come into the relationship with debt while the other has none; one person comes from a household that was open about money, and as a result has very set ideas about how to handle it, while the other doesn’t really think about it; and everyone has some growing pains putting their finances together, and talking about it. 

1-Jeremy Hammond and Mo Farrell in Queens, NY.

WHAT FINANCIAL CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED COMBINING FINANCES? 

JEREMY: Mo had student debt, I didn’t. Mo has a much higher wage than I do, and had much more savings coming into this [marriage]. 

HOW DID YOU SOLVE THESE DISCREPANCIES IN EARNINGS, DEBT AND SAVINGS? 

JEREMY: So it was kind of a trade off, I took on a lot of new debt responsibilities when we got married, but our combined savings is now our family savings. At the beginning it was hard to figure out what money should go where, and whether we should combine everything or just some parts of our finances. There was also a lot of anxiety around whether we needed to clear purchases with each other, what level of purchase is okay to do without approval, etc. This year my computer started to break down, and I wanted to invest in a new one, but I definitely dealt with the broken one for longer than I would have, because I wasn’t sure how I would justify the purchase to Mo. 

I think the biggest problem-solver was just time and comfort with the idea [of combining your financial lives]. It’s not really something you have much prep for before you do it, so there’s some growing pains, but those are pretty quickly solved by the immense financial strength you have as a two-income-no-child household. Combining finances has meant we’re able to save money like we never have before, and having two peoples’ brain power devoted to it has really helped to see the bigger picture of our financial lives. When you’re alone, you just see the paycheck come in and do what you’re going to do with it. Having your partner involved means each weekend when one of us gets paid we can spend a minute and talk about what would be the smart thing to do with it. 

HAS COMBINING FINANCES CHANGED YOUR ATTITUDE ABOUT MONEY? 

JEREMY: I’m definitely way more focused on saving than I was—the future is really hard to visualize sometimes when you’re in your own head, but when there’s somebody with you who you’re committed to for life it’s a lot easier to picture in a more tangible way. I was raised in a house where we absolutely never talked about money. My parents both grew up poor and never wanted their kids to feel the way they did about their family’s financial situation, so they hid it from us. Combining finances really forced the issue for me, and got me talking and thinking about money in a way I never had before. 

2-Katie and Lew Morgante in Wilmington, N.C.

WHAT FINANCIAL CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED COMBINING FINANCES? 

LEW: I think the biggest challenge for us was making sure we were on the same page about goals. We both like to go out to restaurants, enjoy traveling and vacations. Those were easy ones to figure out. Getting on the same page for saving, retirement and consumer debt was another thing. 

I was someone who paid a bill as soon as it came in no matter the due date so it would be out of the way. This sometimes put me in a situation where I would have little to no money available until the next paycheck. I would always pay into my retirement, savings and was not willing to dip into those during those times. 

We also have an Alexa and sometimes it rats us out. When a package is on the way it will alert us, so we have both been caught buying something because Alexa will tell us the item will be delivered today. We laugh about it and now know we can’t get away with hiding things from each other!

HOW DID YOU SOLVE THESE PROBLEMS? 

LEW: She (Katie) was able to help me figure out a plan so that I could split the bill payments up by due date, to pay what was due during the first half of the month and the second half, so I wouldn’t deplete all my money at once. It has made it so much easier and reduced my financial stress and anxiety. 

When it comes to retirement savings, I was always the big saver for this because I learned young from my mother how it can pay off to front load your retirement savings as much as possible. She [Katie] did not have a retirement plan at all and it was hard to convince her that the money she put in would not impact her take home pay in a negative way and that she was missing out on free match money her company offered. We compromised and she put in 1% to start. She just started a new job and she was excited to start her [401(k) retirement plan] with them, and at the full match of 4%!

We both came into the relationship with some credit card debt, and when we looked at our wedding plans this was an eye opener that we needed a plan to consolidate and eliminate these debts. We at first focused on them individually taking care of what we could before the wedding. I consolidated a bunch of credit cards that were carrying a balance and interest into a few 0% balance transfers and tried to pay down as much as possible. She got a loan to pay off a bunch and have one bill. We both got our debts down. After the wedding we looked at it all again to see where we were at and decided that together we could help each other rather than dividing and conquering. We moved some of her credit cards to some of my open credit cards with 0% balance transfers.  I have been making spreadsheets to keep track of the balances, promotions and the end of 0% promotions making sure we pay off or move them before we start getting [charged for] interest. We use just one credit card for monthly expenses and pay it off in full each month. It’s a cash back card so we end up with high hundreds of dollars in cash back a year that we use to pay down our debts. We sit down at least every quarter and update where we are. 

I think the biggest key is just being open and honest. No judgment, we just know what our goal is and how we will try and get there.

Since I will not spend money on myself, and I love new gadgets, I have found ways to get them without spending money. I signed up for Microsoft Rewards account and it allows you to get points for searching and using the Microsoft Bing Browser and App. I turn those rewards points into gift cards, like 5,250 points is equal to a $5 Amazon gift card, or other gift cards. When I want something, I make a goal and get searching, or even find games or surveys on my phone that pay out in gift cards. I have gotten some great gadgets and did not spend a dime, so I feel like I get my cake and eat it, too!  

HAS COMBINING FINANCES CHANGED YOUR ATTITUDE ABOUT MONEY?:

LEW: Yes, I am now much more focused on having not only an emergency savings but an account with enough to cover a few months of living expenses if needed. It is slow going but staying focused on the goal is key. I am much more of a penny pincher now I don’t spend on myself much. She has definitely seen the light on where we could be if we stay disciplined with our spending and look at our future.  

3-Liz Barrett and Doug Forand in New York, New York

WHAT FINANCIAL CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED COMBINING FINANCES. AND HOW HAVE YOU SOLVED THEM? 

LIZ: We have been married 21 years and we always combined finances. It never made sense for us not to do it. I know couples who don’t, but it always seemed more complicated. I’m on top of things, and Doug never wants to open the mail. I have never made more money than Doug. As a feminist, that fact always make me feel odd, but he reminds me we are a team. 

It’s a give and take. I went to law school after we were married, and he supported us. When he started his own business, I supported us, because I had a steady job with health insurance.

At this point, Doug has a better credit score than me. That drives me nuts some days, but he always says it’s because of me.

HAS COMBINING FINANCES CHANGED YOUR ATTITUDE ABOUT MONEY? 

LIZ: You have to try to look at it as you are a team. I think if you combine finances it almost brings you closer together. You are both contributing to your future. Even though I don’t make the money, I know Doug trusts me [handling our finances] and appreciates me. That is one tip, if your partner handles the finances, it’s work. All that person really wants is to be appreciated.

DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER TIPS FOR COUPLES WHERE ONE PARTNER HANDLES THE MONEY?: 

LIZ: Doug really trusts me, and really has no interest in knowing about the details of our finances. However, I always tell him that if I die, to go to a specific place in our apartment where he will find information about our bills so that the lights don’t go out. 

4-Katie and Gideon Hambright, married in Iowa, currently in Queens, NY

WHAT FINANCIAL CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED COMBINING FINANCES. AND HOW HAVE YOU SOLVED THEM? 

KATIE: We kept everything separate [during] our engagement for 2 years. Once we were married, we combined everything. During our engagement, we split everything 50/50 (bills, rent). 

Before combining our money Gideon was very frugal (in a good way). Since moving to NY, we have become a one income household (I am a nurse while Gideon is a comedian and stay at home parent). I now seem to be the one monitoring our finances daily. 

WHERE HAVE YOU DECIDED TO PUT YOUR MONEY NOW THAT YOU HAVE A  ONE-INCOME HOUSEHOLD AND A CHILD? 

KATIE: We have been able to pay off Gideon’s student loans, while I still have one outstanding student loan. We have also decided that we want to look into buying a house. I feel now, more than ever, that I need to start putting more money into our savings and Roth IRA. We just now started saving money for our child’s education. In the last year it feels like money has been a huge thing on my mind. 

ANY OTHER TIPS OR NOTES FOR COUPLES COMBINING FINANCES? 
KATIE: It does take some getting used to see your combined account as “our money” instead of “my money.” 

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