Financial maturity and merging

Posted on December 4, 2008. Filed under: reality | Tags: |

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I’ve always done an okay job of flying by the seat of my pants when it comes to money.  I make a pretty good salary (can’t complain), have increased my income pretty steadily through my 20’s, and got through college on scholarships and tuition reimbursement.  I wouldn’t say that I was in control of my finances, though.  More than once (okay, pretty often) I paid utility bills when I received a shut-off notice.  My retirement account was funded, but I didn’t have much cash in savings.  I generally paid my credit cards off every month, but every so often they would get away from me.  And I spent entirely too much money on… well, who knows.  I just spent it, and *poof* it was gone.  I figured that as long as I could pay my bills, have some fun, and get myself out of a jam if I needed to (break a lease to move, handle car repairs, hop a flight home to New Mexico if something happened), I was fine.  For those of you who may be wondering how this worked in my first marriage, I’ll just say that he was just like me.  We flew by the seat of our pants together.  You can imagine the messes we made and cleaned up along the way.

Then I met my fiance.  At the ripe old age of 24 (and single!), he bought a house.  He was frustrated at “throwing money away on rent every month” so he looked at many, many houses before choosing the one he lived in when I met him (and he made a great choice, choosing solid “bones” over aesthetics).  He paid cash for everything, had one credit card for big purchases, and saved a significant amount of his money to undertake big renovations on his house.

Suddenly, I felt like a financial child.  Granted, I had a decent retirement account and he didn’t, but he seemed to have it together, and I didn’t.  So, last January I decided that it was time to grow up financially.  I started paying bills on schedule, every paycheck.  I withdrew cash to carry as spending money — and then had to buy a new wallet because my old one only held cards.  I made a list of everything I owed and started paying it off, bit by bit.  I can’t say that I’ve been completely successful at everything, but at least I KNOW where I’m screwing up.   I’ve also figured out that, in finances, I value freedom while he values stability.

All of this “growing up” was hugely beneficial when we moved in together — in fact, bought a house together — in April because I knew enough about my spending habits and financial situation to avoid too much defensiveness. I figured we’d sit down and come up with a new plan, but it’s actually been more of an evolution of plans.  He kept his accounts and payment cycles, I kept mine, and we divided up the bills.  I helped out with paying for renovations on the old house, we both chipped in where we could on the new one, and we decided who paid for food, gas, and pet stuff based on who had money at the time.  It was okay, but not ideal.  He’s used to spending what he has in his wallet, then being broke until he gets paid again.  I hate to run out of money, so I put off making big purchases in favor of having the freedom to grab a cup of coffee or lunch with a girlfriend whenever I want.  So, he’d spend what he had and then I’d cover until he got paid again.  Or, I’d set aside enough money for my own expenses, but because I’d spend it on joint purchases, I’d run out — and use a credit card for incidentals, which added up quickly.  Neither of us felt like we could spend any money without checking with the other, but we would anyway (me on a credit card, which I’d justify because I’d pay it off with my next paycheck; he’d spend it and then feel bad… but still spend it).

We’re trying something new now.  I pay most of our bills and do most of the saving because I do everything online and it’s easier.  He deposits enough to pay his bills and gets the rest in cash.  So, I’m spending all of my paycheck except for a small cushion on savings, debt reduction, and bills.  We’re dividing up his weekly pocket money into three categories: house improvements (1/3), household (1/3) and free money (1/6 each).  He takes the house improvement amount plus his free money because he’s the one going to Lowe’s/ Home Depot.  I take the household amount plus my free money because I do the grocery shopping/ toiletry replacement/ pet supply purchasing.  We’ll see how it goes.

I’m always interested to hear details about how people handle their finances because it’s so rarely discussed, yet it’s an important part of becoming a couple.  I will admit that my view of my financial responsibilities changed once we got engaged.  Before that, my primary responsibility was to myself and my own financial health, so while I still chipped in to help out if I needed to, I kept track of it all.  After our betrothal,* I stopped keeping track, believing that my decisions should be what’s best for our family, not necessarily myself.

Did you make changes in how you handle your finances because of your fiance or engagement?  How DO you handle your money — together, separately, or a blend?  Also, are you interested in links to articles and other resources on couples and finances?  I have a ton and I can do a follow-up post if you’re interested.

*Don’t you just love breaking out an archaic word every so often?

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    About

    I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and divorce papers) to prove it. Here I am again, pledging my life to my (new) love with eyes wide open (and heart racing) knowing full well how emotionally traumatic this can end… and doing it anyway.

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