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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New Year’s Resolution Reminder!

Today seems like a great day to automate your bill payments!

This task will take approximately 30 minutes.

Less time than an episode of New Girl. You can even do it while you watch an episode of New Girl.

It will save you massive amounts of time, stress, stamps, late fees- and it may help improve your credit score.

Pay your set expenses through your bank, pay your variable expenses (electric bill, water bill…) through your utility company website.

While you’re at it, automate a transfer into your savings account so you can start saving up for your emergency fund and for that vacation to Europe (you can save for both at the same time, it’s totally cool).

You are officially 1/4 of the way through revolutionizing your budget! Good job you responsible adult, you!

Confession Time

It’s time for me to be honest.

Do I seem like I have my act together? Do I seem like the most organized and fiscally savvy gal you have ever encountered? Oh do go on.

Here is reality: I am 28 years old. Until three months ago I kept all of my important papers in a bin. This bin:

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So embarrassing

I don’t have a desk, so I just threw everything important into this bin. Checks, thank you notecards, my passport, medical documents, my lease, broken pencils, my social security card, an old alarm clock, a gazillion paperclips, important mail, pay stubs, used up highlighters, tax information, wrapping paper. It was all in there.

To give myself a little credit: I never lost an important document, so at least I was consistent about tossing crap in there.

However. As I’m sure you understand, the situation is not sustainable. Firstly (if you recall), I move a lot. Lugging this bin of unsorted paperwork around with me is not a good use of my energy.

Secondly, the bin goes under my bed. It is annoying to go searching under the bed every time a piece of mail comes in.

Third, I had multiple panic-filled moments when I had to spend time rummaging through there praying I had actually followed my system. Lots of stress and anxiety and self-scolding for not being a more organized person.

I needed at least an intermediate step…so I did this:

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Only slightly better….

What you are looking at is a beautiful plate with an octopus on it (see the tentacles peeping out of the bottom left?) that my aunt gave me. It became my mail receptacle. And by mail receptacle I mean place to put towers of mail until they get too tall and they fall over and I have to shove them in the bin under the bed.

You can see why this system is not great. I can’t even see my pretty plate.

Finally, at the age of 28 and 2 months old, I finally decided to keep my paperwork like a grownup.

I invested in an ugly file folder crate and some hideous army green hanging folders. Now when my mail stack gets too high, I file the important paperwork. I don’t even keep those little empty mailback envelopes they give you! I get rid of them right away! The files and box weren’t cheap, they don’t look nice, and it is definitely not my favorite part of being an adult.

However…. after being an adult for over a decade now, having this file box does make me FEEL more like an adult. And I no longer freak out about where my social security card is (what is that thing for, anyway?)

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The ugly bin. I am such a responsible adult.

So you see- I am not a naturally organized person. I don’t have a label maker. (I don’t want a label maker because then I would feel guilty for not putting things away in the places I had chosen for them) The reason I have organized my finances the way I have (with automatic bill pay and instant budget making) is because if I didn’t have it automated, my bills and important paperwork would end up in the under-the-bed-lack-of-filing-system and I would have no clue about my money at all.

You will also notice that I didn’t come up with this new organization system overnight. I had a few failed experiments including:

  • A pink binder that did not have enough space in it and I also couldn’t find the hole punch
  • Multiple shoe boxes that I moved around with me
  • A lovely green storage container that got crushed during a move 😦

The point is- sometimes you are going to try to set up a system, and it won’t work. You might need to set up a system one piece at a time (the mail plate was a genius step for me to avoid making my roommates crazy with my old bills stacked on the hall table…) But if you keep trying different systems (and in my case, if I had just bought some stupid file folders) then one day you will find a system that works for you.

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