Our Money, Our Presents.
July 9, 2006 3:58 PM   Subscribe

I am a little confused regarding the shared economics of a long term serious relationship; specifically, how it relates to gift giving.

My girlfriend and I both work. Both of our pay cheques go into a combined bank account. There is no disctinction in our relationship such as "my money" or "your money"; instead, there is simply "our money."

I am a bit confused as to how this will work in regards to giving presents. For example, if I buy her a birthday present using "our money", am I not effectively making her buy her own present?

And when I propose to her (as I plan to later this year), when I buy the ring, will she not effectively be buying her own engagement ring?

Please help me understand how this is not the case, if infact it isn't the case.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It is the case, but I don't think it's uncommon. Most married couples do the same thing. In families in which only one parent works, the other is effectively buying presents with the other's money.

Still, it's a pretty weird dynamic.
posted by danb at 4:04 PM on July 9, 2006

Sorry, that third sentence was phrased poorly. You know what I mean.
posted by danb at 4:04 PM on July 9, 2006

Some couples set aside a group gift fund and then buy thigns from that. Some keep a little of the money seperate for incidentals and gifts. Plus it's nice to feel like you have your own money that you can blow on a video game if you want and you don't have to worry that your partner will think it's silly. Some decide on big purchases and buy them together.

As far as the ring goes...well, I don't want jewelry (diamonds are bad, blah-blah) so instead I've asked for the start of a down payment on a house. If our finances are combined by that point then it would only make since to purchase that together.
posted by nadawi at 4:07 PM on July 9, 2006

If you spend "our money" to buy a gift, and then make up for it by spending less of "our money" than normal on things you would normally purchase for yourself ... then in effect, you would be making a personal sacrifice for the other. "Hmm ... I had planned for months to buy that new set of golf clubs ... and she had approved that purchase because she knows I like to play golf ... but I know she'd really like the diamond earrings more than I like to play golf."

But really ... this is why, after seven years of marriage, we still have separate bank accounts. She has her money to spend, I have mine, and we agree to pay into a shared account only for shared expenses.
posted by frogan at 4:07 PM on July 9, 2006

Would it bother you less if you were officially married?

Growing up my father worked and my mother stayed at home. I don't think a birthday gift for my father was considered any less of a gift because the funds came out of a joint checking account.

If you propose, I don't think that your girlfriend is going to start debating the fact that the funds came out of your joint account.

Besides, how do you that she won't propose first? :)
posted by bim at 4:16 PM on July 9, 2006

I am married, and my husband and I have a joint account. His money is my money, and vice-versa.

I stay home full-time with my kids, and my husband is the family money manager. I joke with him that I am on the dole.

Usually my husband and I discuss what we would like to do for special occasions and birthdays. If I decide I would like a trip to the spa on my birthday, we use "our" money. When his birthday rolls around, and we go to a baseball game and a movie, again, we are using our money. I think that is how a lot of couples do it when they share a bank account.

If there is a time that I want to surprise my husband with a gift, I just save some of my mad money. There aren't too many surprises though. Most often we just talk about what we want, or buy it ourselves.
posted by LoriFLA at 4:22 PM on July 9, 2006

My husband and I each have our own checking accounts/saving accounts/investments, and we only have a shared account for our mutual purchases/shared living expenses, in which we each put the same percentage of our paychecks. We started doing that when we moved in together, and continued doing it when we got hitched - because it works great for us. I HIGHLY recommend keeping some of your own money seperate - especially if you're not married (yet). It is easier to avoid the inevitable money arguments this way.
posted by delladlux at 4:24 PM on July 9, 2006

Remember that gift giving is much more about what you choose than the actual fact of giving the money. Sure, your money is shared, but your thoughts aren't.

See also: why gift vouchers are stupid.
posted by reklaw at 4:28 PM on July 9, 2006

My parents have completely joint accounts, out of which they budget money for car payments, food, medical expenses, savings, etc. They also budget out an "allowance" for each of them. So technically, presents come out of the joint fund, but they also signify a sacrifice of money that could have been spent on themselves.
posted by muddgirl at 4:35 PM on July 9, 2006

Ditto what frogan and delladlux said...my husband and I each have our own accounts, and we transfer funds into a house account for mortgage, utilities, and household expenses. We started this system before we were married, when we first moved in together, and it's worked without any problems for seven years. For small things, it really doesn't matter - either one of us will pay for dinner or a movie or whatever. But I buy birthday/Christmas gifts for him from my own personal account.
posted by candyland at 4:35 PM on July 9, 2006

Isn't this roughly the same situation you were in when you bought presents for your parents when you were a kid?
posted by ChasFile at 4:38 PM on July 9, 2006

All of my married friends do what frogan and delladlux (and candyland) said. Separate accounts for the most part, and one mutual account for mortgage payments, etc. Most companies that offer direct deposit will split your direct deposit into up to three accounts.

My parents, on the other hand, have completely mutual accounts, but separate credit cards paid from that account. When my mom was a stay-at-home mom she set up a spending limit on one of the credit cards that was her "allowance" (probably sounds more misogynistic than it really was). When they were both working, she and my father had equal "allowances", and now that they're both retired, they still have the same amount.

To answer your engagement ring concern, perhaps you want to set aside some money now...some of the money you would have otherwise spent on something for yourself (an expensive lunch or a baseball game or whatever). That way, it won't feel so much like she's buying her own ring. At the same time, though, the ring isn't about who bought it - it's about what it means to you.
posted by MeetMegan at 4:47 PM on July 9, 2006

I just ask her what she wants....
posted by normy at 4:50 PM on July 9, 2006

I can't imagine dealing with separate banking accounts as a married couple, life is too complicated to deal with that.

But back to your question: the thing is that your presents as a married couple should show some thoughtfulness and creativity more than just your ability to spend money. Things that show that you are paying attention and care about what the other person is interested in. For instance, I offhandedly complained that a CD that I wanted to buy was out of print (Nick Lowe's Pure Pop for Now People) and then didn't even remember that I'd mentioned it. But my wife remembered and found a copy on ebay and bid on it and won it for me and give it to me for Father's day. She probably only spent $20-$30 dollars but I was really touched that she did that for me.

Also, you probably should establish some monetary ground rules for gifts so that you both buy each other presents in the same range. That way you won't be embarrassed by giving a much crappier gift than the one you receive and neither of you will get mad because the other spent way too much money for a present.
posted by octothorpe at 5:07 PM on July 9, 2006

With my wife and I, we only have joint accounts (but we have one for bills/paments and one for "spending money") and presents are more about the thought than the cost/source of funds (we are generally pretty frugal with gifts though). Our biggest problem is with online banking, it is impossible to hide what stores/merchants we use the debit card at, so we always take out cash from an ATM to purchase gifts!
posted by Rock Steady at 5:10 PM on July 9, 2006

Best answer: Ditto what octothorpe and others have said. You can still be thoughtful and surprise her, even if it's shared money.

My husband bought me a little used Gameboy and a Tetris cartridge to go with it today at a flea market. He knows that I used to love that game when I was a teenager. I was so surprised!
posted by LoriFLA at 5:23 PM on July 9, 2006

Yes, it is coming out of y'all's money.

I agree with reklaw, you are giving a gift, and not only that, a VERY SPECIFIC ceremonial gift - something to reflect and express how you feel and think about another person. Commiting to marriage is different than living with a girlfriend and buying an engagement ring different from suprising your spouse with a gift of his/hers See-Doos or some expensive toy.

Generally, even an affordable ring is gonna hit her like a ton of bricks and mean more to her than you can even imagine - there is a good chance that it might be a long time before she even imagines that money traded hands at some point to make the proposal happen.

You will soon figure some way for both parties to feel some freedom with the shared funds.
I would say that once you are married, EVERYTHING is coming out of y'all's money no matter what sort of way people rationalize it so they feel comfortable - save for those with a prenup perhaps. All these strategies will dissappear fast when something actually important happens to a relationship - health issues, divorce, children, aging parents - then you'll either work as one, or specifically not.

Good luck on the proposal!
posted by asparagus_berlin at 5:41 PM on July 9, 2006

"I can't imagine dealing with separate banking accounts as a married couple, life is too complicated to deal with that."

posted by asparagus_berlin at 5:45 PM on July 9, 2006

There's lots of good advice here. I'll just chime in about the separate bank accounts. My wife and I find it easier to have separate bank accounts. That way, we're not constantly asking each other to balance the checkbook, or whether we'll bounce a $x00 check to the auto mechanic because the other has written a $y00 check to the credit card.

Conceptually, our approach is the same as Second Account's. Neither of us has his or her money, it's all "our money," just each of us manages a separate chunk of it. We check base every now and then, and we have an automatic savings plan that transfers money to our savings and emergency fund. And all our accounts are joint; if I can't find "my" checkbook when the heating oil is delivered, I'll use "hers." We've made it like that for 15+ years so far, in grad school when we were barely scraping by, and a decade later when we both have good jobs. It helps that we have similar notions of what it's reasonable to spend.
posted by brianogilvie at 5:55 PM on July 9, 2006

Since we're all offering this up here, our system is to have one joint account into which the majority of our paychecks go, and then we each have a separate account for "spending money."

We were in the exact same situation that the OP describes when we got engaged. I wanted to be involved in choosing my ring, so it didn't really matter, and I think it was important that it was 100% totally evident that I wasn't caught up in needing a huge rock or whatever. It was good for me to be around for that - it made my husband feel like his sense of what I wanted was accurate (which it was, of course). I don't know about your relationship, but it doesn't bother me that I know what my ring cost -- being reasonable with one's finances is something that is important to me, and I wouldn't have been comfortable with something extravagant. I'm marginally weird though, so YMMV.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:32 PM on July 9, 2006

You and your girlfriend are effectively one entity financially. When you buy gifts for her out of the pooled money, she is effectively getting a larger piece of the pie, meaning she is special. Her having more means you having less. So any gift you give is a sacrifice for you, no matter whose dollar it was originally.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:21 PM on July 9, 2006 [3 favorites]

It's economically no different than ordinary gift-giving situations. If you gave your girlfriend a gift, and she turned around and gave you a gift of approximately the same value, which is what usually happens on average, it's a wash anyway. if it's all coming from the same account to begin with, it just eliminates a step.
posted by kindall at 7:31 PM on July 9, 2006

Best answer: Lots of great words here... but not exactly the obvious answer.

Which is...

"It's the thought that counts."

That phrase usually comes with a negative connotation - 'i hate that, but thanks anyhow, it's the thought that counts.'

But it's also a positive statement. Gift-giving is not about the money. If both people in a relationship actually GET that, so much the better.

[to continue the derail part of the answers, we set up new banking alongside a new mortgage and new credit cards that included separate accounts for both of us and a shared "common stuff" account... but we never really use that. brianogilvy's description could have been the result of stalking around our house.]
posted by mikel at 8:15 PM on July 9, 2006

You're overthinking things. Obviously if you're someone who wants to show off by giving highly expensive presents, that particular habit won't work.

But in the adult world, gift exchanges aren't really about one person's economic benefit, it's about getting something for someone that they wouldn't know of/think of/make an excuse for getting themselves.

I also know some couples who are like "Let's not buy each other Christmas gifts, let's put that money towards a vacation" which is cool.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:28 PM on July 9, 2006

when I propose to her (as I plan to later this year), when I buy the ring, will she not effectively be buying her own engagement ring?

I had this problem, and I just basically hid money till I had enough. At least after I'd proposed, she stopped asking what the hell I was doing with my money.

On the other hand, there was no way I could save up a huge amount that way, so the ring I bought her was very nice, I later came to understand it wasn't quite the dream engagement ring she'd had in mind.

So unless you've got lots of money, or can afford to wait a longer time, or you can be sure that for her it's the thought that counts, and the size of the diamond won't matter, this may not be the best strategy.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:57 PM on July 9, 2006

On the other hand, if the size of the diamond matters that much to them, you might want to reconsider the whole marriage thing.

Just sayin'.
posted by reklaw at 3:39 AM on July 10, 2006

I can't quite get my head around couples that keep separate accounts. It just seems silly to be married and not pool your money. I can understand living together ad infinitum and keeping separate books, but not when you actually marry. OK, got that off my chest.

But in regards to the original question. The great thing about an intimate and loving relationship is that you no longer need to impress with the "pricey gifts". You do things outside of that paradigm. It's the intent, not the cost. As was said many times previous, getting something special that means a lot is important. The cost should be in line with your budget. Don't try to impress with the price, but rather the thought that does count.
posted by qwip at 5:58 AM on July 10, 2006

I can't quite get my head around couples that keep separate accounts. It just seems silly to be married and not pool your money. I can understand living together ad infinitum and keeping separate books, but not when you actually marry.

There are pros and cons to both sides. We're in the "separate accounts" camp - we each have our own bank accounts, and we pay for "joint" purchases proportionate to our respective incomes - i.e. if we both had the same income, we would each pay 50% of the "joint" expenses.

A lot of our friends think we're crazy, but we have no arguments about money whatsoever. We each contribute a fair share to joint expenses and joint savings/investments, and anything left over in each of our accounts is available to be freely spent on whatever we wish.

As to the original question, this system makes gifts feel really special, since they're truly being paid for by each of us individually.
posted by gwenzel at 11:34 AM on July 25, 2006

« Older Help me lessen my shaving frequency.   |   NYC's all coupled-up! Help! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.