How Does a New Couple Start Having Regular Money Talks?
March 26, 2013 2:05 PM   Subscribe

My main squeeze is moving in! Our finances are starting to be a little more comingled and I'm looking for the best, healthiest way to start having a regular "money check-in" as part of our new life together. He is on board with this. How do we structure the conversation? Is there a sample agenda? Do we make it a date night? Help, please.

My beau and I are both responsible about money, and there are no red flags between us on this, but we do have some differences — I make significantly more money than he does, and have substantial savings which he does not. He has a small amount of very manageable debt. We have decided to split our shared expenses on an income-based ratio as Suze Orman recommends.

I am a better long-term planner and has told me he wants me to handle all the big money issues and teach him how to be better at savings, investing, taxes and money management. He is very respectful about all of this and wants to be on the same page so we both feel good about shared expenses and future plans. We both agree that a regular money conversation would be a great thing for us. Once a month, perhaps, where we check in on things. After dating people who were financial disasters, I'm really looking forward to having this part of our lives together, focused, and as a team.

But how?

Do you do this? If so, what do you discuss? What do you review? Is there a checklist or agenda you follow? How do you make it fun and pleasant and not a grind? How do you deal with touchy subjects (we don't have any, yet)? Do you reward yourselves afterwards? I would love to have some kind of template to start with so I'm not just winging it.
posted by amoeba to Work & Money (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Well, what are your respective systems? Spreadsheets? Files for receipts? Online billing for everything? Auto-payments?

Sit down together and demonstrate to each other how you both do money. You may have nearly identical systems, or wildly different approaches, but it's good to know.

If you have already decided who pays for what, then pick a date 1-2x a month when the bills are due or about to be due, and check in. Is everything ok with the payments, has anything come up, etc.

It wouldn't be a bad idea to share a Google spreadsheet or some equivalent; a tab for you, one for him, or two separate workbooks with a tab for each month. Just sit down with him in front of the computer: "OK, honey, I've paid x, y, and z and have w left over. How's it going with you?" And then if an unexpected/joint expense comes up that doesn't automatically fall into either person's realm, get together and come up with a way to pay it.

We have a shared income system, but here's what we do; 2x a month I do bills on a shared spreadsheet, which lists all the monthly expenses (water, electric etc) and has lots of notes as well (how much balance on the credit cards, what the available is on each, how much on the car loan, etc.). Workbook for each year, tab for each 2 week period.

I go through and do the bills/math, double check it, then call him in and say, ok, here's what I got; do you know of anything that's a problem/I don't know about? And maybe he was planning on getting some car repairs or dental work done, so I need to go put that in. Or maybe he just got a check that he hasn't deposited, so I can put that in. Etc.

Then I pay the bills and go to bed.

Any system works, so long as both of you respect it.
posted by emjaybee at 2:19 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hooray for being responsible about finances! When my husband and I moved in together we did this, too, scheduled check-ins for money talk. Mostly it was casual - oh hey, we haven't talked dollars in a while. Where are we on saving for that vacation? BTW did you pay the bills that are in your name yet? Because they are due this Thursday. Oh, hey, thanks for the reminder. It certainly doesn't have to be A Big Deal, but maybe when you're paying rent (or some other expense due the same time every month) you can have a quick convo about it. It could also lead to a longer talk, but you don't have to go through every budget line item every time.

On preview: emjaybee has it. Start by talking about what you each do separately now, figure out how you'll do it together.

FWIW, We've since gone to the 100% sharing 'our money is our money' style, use YNAB to keep track of expenditures and "do the budget" meaning update YNAB more or less every Sunday night. It is very low stress, and takes about 20 minutes a week.
posted by hungrybruno at 2:26 PM on March 26, 2013

It really is fine to wing it, because you're going to need to grow it over time in a way that suits you. Schedule a monthly meeting with an agenda like:

- Expense/savings review
- Work/career check-in
- Monthly meal planning
- Monthly calendar review

For the first two months, maybe plan to make no real money decisions, just review your bills and throw around some goals and talk about how you're going to track and budget. Maybe bring your wish lists for financial goals. Take a few months to work those out and research solutions (maybe each of you take on separate research projects and report back).

Work/career check-in is where you talk about how work is going and what you think is on the horizon.

Monthly meal planning does what it says. For a lot of people this will be part of the calendar review - making note of what nights only one will be in for dinner, or you guys have to eat fast, etc.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:11 PM on March 26, 2013

When we first started mixing our finances we started off just tracking cash flow, with the income being the amounts we had both agreed to contribute and the expenses being only those that were joint expenses. We used a pretty simple spreadsheet, and ran through our statements once a month when they came in. It took very little time - maybe half an hour each, tops. We'd sit together when the data was in and review it to make sure there was nothing out of whack, but this was usually a 10 minute deal.

After a while we used that data to build a more complicated spreadsheet that had our projected income and expenses broken up into various categories and prepopulated. We'd then sum the categories from our statements and review anything out of whack. It still only takes an hour or so a week. We've slowly grown this to include our entire incomes and things like contributions to savings/investments as expenses as well as large purchases like vacations/repairs.

Because the projected expenses are populated in advance, there are no arguments about touchy subjects. If something is over what we projected, we talk about it - either it's gone up in cost, or we're spending too much on it. We also have pocket money as an expense - an agreed monthly amount we can spend on whatever we want or that can be saved for the kinds of purchases that would be otherwise touchy.

If you meant that you are literally looking for a template, shoot me a MeMail. I can share the Excel one we use once I clean some of the personal details out.
posted by IanMorr at 3:24 PM on March 26, 2013

Sounds like you're off to a great start! My husband and I are pretty similar to you guys in terms of where we started (I make more and had substantially more savings when we first met) and we, too, followed some of Suze Orman's advice. When we moved in together and before we combined our accounts, our rent was less than our previous combined rents, so he just kept paying what he had been paying for his studio and I paid the rest (which was more). We split utilities in a similar manner, and we took turns paying for meals out, groceries, etc...

We didn't start having a monthly money talk until we combined our finances (after we got married), but we basically have a spreadsheet that we update monthly that contains a list of all of our accounts (per Suze, we have his, mine, and ours accounts and we include all of them in our spreadsheet) - we break it down by checking accounts, saving accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and student loan debt. And honestly, it's kind of fun to see our money grow each month! We talk about bills when we get them and have a simple method for marking them as paid. We also talk about our debt regularly - we developed a plan for paying off the highest interest loans first, regardless of whose loans they were and are doing a great job of paying them off. But these are things that you may want to hold off on until you combine your finances.
posted by echo0720 at 4:15 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

We keep proper books at home (in our case using Quicken) where we categorize our joint spending quite thoroughly. Once a month we look at how much we spent and where the money went and discuss what, if anything, we need to change and how. These G2 conferences aren't really troublesome for us at all even though things are tight and money is an issue. Here is why:

(Disclaimer: I hope this doesn't veer too far from answering the original question since, at least in my mind, it is directly related to how our budget talks work at home)

The best decision we ever made as a couple was to NOT merge all our finances. We established joint account(s) for joint spending (groceries, household items, rent, insurance, gas for the cars, utilities, etc... basically all the basics and necessities for work and life and anything we both use together) and joint savings and figured out how much we should each put into these from every paycheck we get. I make more than my wife does so based on that the contributions are split 70/30 between me and her. When our salaries change we reevaluate the split. From each paycheck we get we immediately transfer our contributions into the joint accounts before we do anything else. The rest is none of the other's business. As long as we both contribute as agreed to our joint expenditures and savings neither of us gets to see or have an opinion on what the other does with the rest of their money. This makes for a LOT less arguing in general and easy budget negotiations for the joint stuff.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:27 PM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, we are also his/hers/ours/taxes/savings/business account split. Groceries, rent, etc comes from Ours, which we pay into on an income-based formula (same for savings, and sort of the same for taxes, into which we both pay a formula rate and my self-employed husband also saves his quarterlies). All that stuff spools out on paydays.

I'm not interested in a situation where I don't have money of my own. I can (and do, and have to, because our circumstances suck right now) pay for stuff I shouldn't have to out of Mine, but it is my decision to do so.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:49 PM on March 26, 2013

Don't do it as a date night! Check with him and if he is okay with it, agree to a monthly email exchange. That way the conversation is in writing. It is easy to forget or misunderstand someone. It is easy to only hear what you want to hear. A friendly, direct email avoids much of that.
posted by myselfasme at 6:46 PM on March 26, 2013

Best answer: Mr. 26.2 and I paid a financial planner to help us when we first put our financial lives together. Best $500(?) dollars we ever spent. It gave us a neutral party to help us sort out where we were and where we planned to go.

It also taught us that's he's a constant drip of money whereas I save for awhile then uncork a huge purchase. That has an inherent conflict because I see his constant purchases as blocking my desire for a pool or a big vacation. He can't figure out why I'm so stingy with a buck on a day-to-day basis. Once you know that you have different styles of saving/investing/spending then you can work it out. It's when you don't really get the other person that money decisions become this weird area of hostility.
posted by 26.2 at 11:57 AM on March 27, 2013

Best answer: I used to do income-proportionate expenses with my significant other. It allowed us to get comfortable thinking about how our money lives melded, but in other ways it sucked. He made a lot more than me and had lived alone, so when we moved in together-- even though he paid more than half -- he had a new partner in spending and so he felt financially better off than ever. I had been splitting bills 50-50 with a roommate, and we'd been fairly frugal about heat, electricity and shared entertainment bills; now I was paying a smaller share of the bill, but for a nicer place, with fancy cable and other higher expenses, plus I had my own personal debts to pay off. The end result was that I was perpetually cash-strapped and he was always flush with money.

We later switched to splitting free money, and that worked a lot better. I built an Excel spreadsheet, and would enter our total income and shared bill amounts each month. It would calculate how much money we had left after expenses, split that 50-50 between the two of us, and then calculated the ratio that determined how much each of us would pay toward bills. That seemed a lot more fair, because we were both on equally bound by and free from financial pressures -- were were acting as partners -- while still maintaining a certain level of financial independence that we both found important.

More recently, things have changed again. I quit my job to freelance, and my income comes in massive waves interrupted by weeks- and months-long troughs. He began working as a contractor and works for months at a time with occasional 2-6 week breaks. We have enough money, but where the money is coming from varies a lot from month to month. So we just figure it out as we go. We still have separate bank accounts, and to some degree I think we always will, but at this point I have come to feel that our financial assets and fates are fully commingled, what's mine is his and what's his is mine. We don't need a system, we are both fully aware of what's going on and we make decisions together.

I think you're on the right path. Talk to each other, try a system that makes sense, if it doesn't work try something else.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:10 PM on March 27, 2013

croutonsupafreak: "I used to do income-proportionate expenses with my significant other. It sucked. He made a lot more than me ... The end result was that I was perpetually cash-strapped and he was always flush with money."

I also make a lot more than my wife. We're solving the problem you describe above by not treating the agreed upon rules for splitting into joint and personal as iron-clad. I know she's left with considerably less spare money than me after contributing to joint so I always cover any "luxury" or "voluntary" joint expenses such as going out to eat or to see a movie without expecting her to chip in. I just do it and there's no guilt on her side. She'd do the same for me if things were reversed.

In the the end what's mine is hers and what's hers is mine also, just like you said. That said, for us going the split finances route is not about hiding and protecting our private stashes of money from each other but about avoiding unnecessary friction and conflicts and giving each of us room to breathe. For us the clarity of a simple system reduces the likelihood of conflict because we know our obligations and its simply a matter of fulfilling them. At the same time we both feel the need to have some sort of protected personal space (financial and otherwise) where the other person doesn't get to stick their nose into and/or have opinions.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:33 PM on March 27, 2013

As background: My partner and I moved in together in June and started splitting our shared expenses then. Now we're engaged and are on our first month of a mostly "our money" system. Neither of us are big spenders, but I am a budget nerd and enjoy tracking expenses, planning, etc. He just wants to be a wise steward of his resources while thinking about it as little as possible. I also make significantly more than he does and have more in savings, etc.

I (now we) budget on a monthly basis, so we have been doing a monthly money talk since we started splitting expenses. It sounds like you guys are pretty open about discussing money already, which is great! If I were you, I'd start out by just getting comfortable dealing with your shared expenses on a monthly basis, instead of jumping into the educational topics / future planning stuff right away. Start with talking about how you're going to handle the splitting of expenses (if you haven't already). I crunched the numbers every month and paid most of the bills, and my partner cut me a check, but it would be way easier to have a joint checking account that you pay into proportionally if that feels comfortable to both of you. So, the first month, you set up the logistics and plan for how much those shared expenses are going to cost and how they'll get paid. Then, all you have to do each subsequent month is (1) review whether the last month went according to plan, (2) make a plan/budget for the next month (taking (1) into account), and (3) check in with each other about how the process is working for you and how you each are feeling about things. I think (3) is really important in making it feel like a team effort when one of you is naturally more money-minded than the other. Once that is working smoothly, you can start talking about other money topics, shared goals (maybe putting money away for a vacation or something), etc.

It's also good to put your goals/plans/budget somewhere you can both access it easily - paper on fridge, excel spreadsheet in a shared Dropbox folder, or just do a followup email summarizing your monthly money chat. I've tried to make the money thing something we both own by setting up a shared budget file on both of our computers, so he can review it if he wants to. He hasn't so far, but I think it's important that he could if he wanted to.

I don't know if "fun" is the right goal for these meetings, but we both feel good that we check in regularly about our financial and life goals and are making plans together.

You also might be interested in the monthly money email that The Frugal Girl does with her husband.
posted by fussbudget at 6:06 PM on March 27, 2013

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