Money and Relationships: My Squeeze and Me

As my loyal readers will know, I moved in with my main squeeze two months ago. It has been just lovely, but it did bring up some new areas of discussion. We are not just roommates, but we are also not married and do not have legal rights to each other’s property. We aren’t ready for joint accounts yet, but we do have a lot of joint expenses. The bills at his/our place are a little higher than what I was paying before, but it is also a much better location and has a number of perks (like I get to live with my dreamy boyfriend).

Figuring out how we wanted to handle money together is not always easy, but we have had some good compromises and hopefully have figured out a system. It has been pretty pain free. (Ok, let’s be honest…it has been pain free for me because I love personal finance, but D does not love talking about money with me and I can see him squirming every time in bring up the subject with my excessive enthusiasm.)

So to give him a break from squirmily discussing our money, I will tell you all about the system we came up with:

-We set up a private googledocs spreadsheet (a la Lionel and Wilhemina) to track all of our mutual expenses. We put the receipts in a clip on the fridge and/or check our credit card statements, and fill in the spreadsheet each month. Whoever ends up having paid less writes a check to the other and then we start a fresh page of the spreadsheet.

-D is responsible for paying rent and utilities on time, because he lived here first so he already has the accounts set up in his name. We enter it in the spreadsheet and it goes into the overall expenses for the month.

-We pay the bills according to our take home pay. D makes a bit more than I do (but I negotiated my salary very successfully, I’m sure I’ll catch up soon!) so he pays a little more of the bills each month than I do.

We had a big discussion about whether we should divide the bills based on our take home pay or our pre-tax salary (aka, the number they tell you you are making when you get the job, not the amount you get on your actual paycheck). I contribute to my retirement accounts and my flexible spending healthcare account before I get my paycheck, but D is one of the lucky few who will get a pension when he retires, so he doesn’t contribute to a retirement account or a healthcare account.

I thought that I should be contributing based on our pre-tax amounts, because only I am benefiting from my healthcare account but (depending on our future together) either we both will benefit from my retirement savings, or just I will. D wanted to split bills based on our take home pay because he wanted to make sure I had enough to live on without feeling pinched.

It might seem a little ridiculous to be worried about this type of question because it doesn’t actually come down to very much money, but it it is important in our relationship that no one feels they are taken advantage of. This means that neither of us feels like we are paying more than we should, and neither of us feels like we always take out the trash.

Because we don’t know for sure where our futures will end up, it is hard to make decisions that deal with long term financial planning (like will D benefit from my retirement savings in 35 years? Hard to say.) It is difficult to be exactly fair with planning finances now, so we are doing the best we can and making sure we talk about it and we both agree.

-We have also started talking about long term savings goals together. We discussed the amount we are each putting aside (in separate savings accounts) for our savings goals, and we are in agreement on our savings priorities.

-I recently read that you should divide up tasks based on who is better at what in a relationship. In our case, that means I do most of the household shopping because I am a coupon rock star ($38 for $106 worth of home goods today, what what). He is an AMAZING planner, and he is great at taking advantage of Groupon deals and planning sweet dates and activities.

 

Our joint financial planning has just started, but I suspect it won’t be difficult to keep openly compromising. We created a system together, and if it doesn’t work, we will scrap it and create another system together. What is really important is communication, common goals, and that we care about each other more than we care about money. (Vomiting yet? Sorry not sorry!)

 

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Paying for a wedding

Not in love? Not engaged? Not even dating right now? Living on a desert island with no hope of meeting someone you want to marry?

This post is for you.

The average age that women marry is 27, the average age that men marry is 29. The median cost of a wedding is $18k. (The average cost is $28k, but the VERY expensive weddings out there skew the numbers for the rest of us).

The number two reason for divorce is trouble with finances.

If you start your marriage off with $18k of debt, you are starting your marriage off on rocky ground.

Now, I am not a wedding planning expert. I have never been engaged and I have never planned a wedding (but I do watch a lot of Bridezillas, guilty pleasure). From what I understand, weddings very quickly escalate to being out-of-control expensive, even if you are still keeping things simple and aren’t a bridezilla. So while there are some things you can do to save money, I am not the person to lecture future married people on how to do it. (Except for my sister’s wedding we bought 12 vases from Goodwill for $4 total for centerpieces! Goodwill is an amazing place to buy vases. That is my only trick. And also if you are a bridesmaid, you should look at this website to see if you can buy/sell your bridesmaid dress, because really….you won’t wear it again and someone else can.)

There are a few ways to pay for a wedding:

1. Her parents pay

2. His parents pay

3. Marry rich and your squeeze pays (word of warning: my mom always says it is cheaper (in many ways) to borrow money than to marry for it)

4. Win the lottery

5. Start your married life off with lots of debt

6. Plan for it

I hope you know me well enough that I am going to encourage strategy 6.

Strategies 1,2 and 3 are all things that may reasonably happen….but as a full-fledged adult, it isn’t smart to expect your parents to foot the bill, and I have already shared my mom’s wisdom about marrying rich.

So as an independent, financially savvy adult, you must PLAN for how to pay for your wedding!

Now, this may be less than appealing. Why would you start saving for your wedding when you are still in the OKCupid-induced “I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, cry or run” phase of your dating life? Because you are smart. And you know $18k doesn’t grow on trees. And one day you want to have a wedding with an open bar. 80% of people get married by the age of 40, so statistically speaking, you will probably be one of those people. (No pressure, I’m just reporting facts here).

Here is a hypothetical timeline:

Age 23: Go on date with man who tells you he used to have pet rabbits but he accidentally drowned them.* Swear off of dating forever.

Age 25: Meet man who makes you laugh.

Age 25.5: Begin to suspect that the man who makes you laugh might be the man you want to make you laugh forever.

Age 26: Get engaged.

Age 27: Get married. Have open bar at wedding.

So when should you have started saving for this awesome wedding? Well, it depends on the other factors in your life. If you are having trouble making rent, you need to focus on taking care of the basics. If you are taking care of paying your bills, paying off debt, building an emergency fund and saving for retirement and you still have some disposable income- you can add saving for your wedding into your budget.

If you recall from my amazing post about Billy and Lilly, they saved as though they were still saving for their emergency funds. This is actually the most painless way to save for a wedding- after you have your emergency fund set up, keep saving at that rate until you have set up a wedding fund. You won’t even miss the cashola, because you weren’t used to spending it anyway!

If you feel like one day you are going to get married it is wise to start planning for that financially. You might want to save on your own, if you aren’t sure about who exactly you are going to want to marry (this is very smart but it is not very smart to mention your wedding savings plan on a first date…I would keep it under wraps, if I were you!) or you might want to start saving as a couple. (If you save as a couple you can each save $9k and take some of the pressure off!) One benefit of a long engagement is that you can use the time to adjust your spending for a year or two to save up for your wedding.

The point is- you can take some steps now (regardless of your dating status) to give yourself a financial leg up in the happy marriage department. Starting married life without wedding debt is a wonderful gift to give to your partner and to your future self.

 

 

 

*True story. Them=plural rabbits. I ran away in the middle of the date.

Relationships and Money, Couple 3: Billy and Lilly

Subjects:

Billy, 28 and Lilly, 25. Billy and Lilly are newlyweds who married last May. They rent a house, share one car and have a good looking cat.

photo-2
Meow!

Billy makes about twice what Lilly makes. Billy and Lilly have a few financial goals that they are working towards. They want to buy a house. In a few years they want to have kids. They want to have enough so that one of them can stay home with the kids. To meet these goals, they live off of Billy’s salary and save Lilly’s.

Billy and Lilly have all of their finances in joint accounts. They put everything in Mint so that they can stick to their joint budget. Billy is responsible for paying the bills (and by “paying the bills” I mean licking stamps and addressing envelopes (or setting up automatic payments), not being the sole breadwinner). Both Billy and Lilly have the passwords and access to all of their accounts.

They have a generous “Newlywed fund” that they set aside for themselves each month for date nights, vacations, new furniture- basically anything that they will both be involved in that is outside of their normal budget. They also have separate personal budgets (which totals about 1/3 of the newlywed fund for each) that they can spend on whatever they want- clothes, movies, books, games. They don’t have separate accounts for these funds, but they have the money factored into their budgets in Mint and they just tag the purchases appropriately.

They both had savings (emergency funds) all set up before they got engaged, so when they got engaged they reverted back to their old ways of aggressively saving. They were able to save enough to maintain their emergency funds and also save enough for a lovely wedding. Because of that (and with some family help) they were able to get married debt-free (which is a feat!)

The only problem they have encountered is that it is very difficult to buy surprise gifts for each other because there is total transparency in their financial system. In Lilly’s words: “Our method of keeping gifts secret is to say ‘Hey, don’t look at the Amazon order history for a few days.’ ”

Billy’s and Lilly’s system works for them because they are both savers and have agreed to the same financial and life goals. They were able to start off their marriage debt free, which laid the groundwork for a solid financial future. Now if only they could stop spoiling the cat…

Relationships and Money, Couple 2: Lionel and Wilhemina

Subjects: Lionel (31) and Wilhemina (29)

Lionel is in graduate school and Wilhemina is working as a short term contractor. Lionel is living off of loans and Wilhemina is living off of her salary (which is variable depending on whether or not she can get a contract extension, but it is generally renewed every three-six months). They are not married but have lived together for almost three years.

Lionel and Wilhemina have separate finances. They track their joint expenses in a google spreadsheet, with a column for what Lionel owes Wilhemina, a column for what Wilhemina owes Lionel, what the difference is and who owes whom. This way, they only have to pay each other back when the expenses get unbalanced. Lionel is responsible for paying rent so Wilhemina usually owes him each month. This works for them because Lionel has more flexible expenses because his student loans are disbursed in two large chunks each year.

If they go out to eat and intend to split the meal, one of them can just pay for it and the amount owed goes into the spreadsheet. This way they don’t have to worry about cash or writing checks to each other all the time. They have an easy online money transfer system set up so they actually never write each other checks at all.

When they first moved in together, they tried to keep track of groceries and other household expenses on the spreadsheet. They discovered that the expenses usually came out about even each month, so they decided to just take turns grocery shopping and not worry about tracking household costs.

The exception is if one of them has a big grocery trip (stocking up on booze, trip to Costco)- then it will go in the spreadsheet.

If they are having a date night and one person is treating the other, that does not go into the spreadsheet. They can always spot each other cash without worrying about one person being taken advantage of. Neither person feels like they always pay- they already have an easy system set up so that it is very easy to split the bill. This system has been working for them for a few years.

This system works for Lionel and Wilhemina because they have similarly tight budgets, similar spending habits, they don’t worry about counting every penny, they can each spend their own money on what they choose, and neither partner is taking advantage of the other.

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