I was wondering what to write this week, but I could not think of a topic for love or money. Then it hit me– love and money! With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I thought I could cover how we handle money in our relationship.
Mr. Mechanic and I met on vacation 10 years ago. Resolutely practical, we figured that we would never see each other again. We only knew each other for a week, we were both going off to college (did I mention that we met in high school?!), and we lived over a thousand miles apart. Basically, a relationship would be impossible. However, love proved us unromantics wrong, so now I’m sitting across from Mr. Mechanic in a coffee shop reflecting on how far we have come.
Mr. Mechanic and I are not married. However, although we haven’t yet made vows to be together for richer or for poorer, we live as if we have. We have an equal partnership built on compromise, commitment, and respect for individual values.
The Mechanics’ Money Approach
We split communal things like rent, household goods, groceries, and fuel, but if Mr. Mechanic stops to get a red Thai curry from a food cart on his way home, it comes out of his own account. Likewise, if I want to go to a Harry Potter trivia night with some friends, it comes out of my pocket.
For a long time, we would sit down every 6 months to go through all our shared expenses, count them up, and split the bill. Mr. Mechanic would sit down and efficiently tabulate every purchase, assign it to a person, and count up a total while I grudgingly pulled up bank statement after bank statement, irked by the inconvenience.
Finally, we got a credit card specifically for shared purchases, and now settling up is much simpler.
The Four Facets of Money Management
I’m interested to see how spending might change in the future because there are a lot of ways to handle money as a couple. Some pool it all into a single account, some have a mix of shared and individual, and others keep their finances separate into marriage. There is no right or wrong way, just whatever works for you.
However, there are four facets of money management that drive the success of couples managing their money together:
- Common goals
- Open communication
- Matching expectations
- Sharing strengths
This is how we feel about our approach to handling money as a couple so far:
- We are both content with what we have. We agree that we could downsize from 1000 sq ft. because we don’t need more space. Similarly, we don’t need any new gadgets, gizmos, or games. Mr. Mechanic plans to never part with his five-year-old phone, and I hope my MacBook from 2012 lasts forever.
- We highly value work-life balance and spending quality time together.This can be difficult to navigate as high-achievers taking on the technology and medical sectors. In the short-term, we are careful to intentionally set aside time for each other and have both chosen professions that will provide better work-life balance in the long-term.
- Traveling is a priority for both of us, and we hope to one day live abroad with our nomadic professions (software engineer and radiologist). We have both lived in Spain and are considering returning there in the next ten years.
We try to develop daily transparency. We talk about what we are going to buy, ranging from a box of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups to a new laptop. It is not so much about having an allowance or asking for permission, but it allows a space for discussion.
Broader transparency is also key. We know each other’s financial situation and goals. Mr. Mechanic is obviously aware of my interest in achieving financial independence, and I know how important it is for him to be an impactful doctor (and the debt it takes to get there). We navigate our journey together by taking our shared and separate goals into account.
We are both deliberate decision makers. It took me six months to buy the car that I wanted, and he waited two years before buying the Switch gaming console. We are lucky that we are similar in this way because it allows us to match our expectations for our purchases.
One example is to match our expectations around gift-giving. We check in with each other. Sometimes we say no gifts for Valentine’s Day, other times one person might appreciate a gift as a little language of love. Once during the summer (far away from any holiday or birthday), we decided to do an impromptu gift exchange. Mr. Mechanic got me a collector’s item I had been hankering after and I got him an Appa stuffed animal to brighten up his room.
We also have similar ideas about what constitutes a date. One time we bought canvases and some wine and did our own ‘Sip and DIY Paint’ night. Another day we might make homemade pizzas and then go for a walk to our local dog park. We bother less with chocolates on Valentine’s Day and more on creative and memorable ways to spend quality time with each other.
Luckily, we often match our expectations. Sometimes we even end up matching in more ways than one!
I can guess how Mr. Mechanic is going to spend his money the same way I can guess what he will wear on a Saturday. He knows that my decisions might come in different shades, but our overall spending decisions look very similar.
I have noticed that a lot of successful couples talk about how they split money duties according to their strengths. One partner might be better at the hands-on saving like cutting coupons, finding local deals, and finding frugal recipes, whereas another might take on the bigger picture and set up the investment portfolio and allocations.
While I think this is a viable way to share responsibilities, it can be a crutch. It is easy to never learn the skills your partner seems to do much better. Some spouses may never learn to cook, and some partners don’t know how to access their own bank accounts.
Instead of completely offloading the responsibility to each other, we share the how behind our individual skills. We teach each other so we can each improve our weak spots. Even though it takes extra effort, it means that we become more capable as individuals.
I am the portfolio crafter in our relationship, but since we have different finances, I teach Mr. Mechanic how to set it up for himself. Mr. Mechanic is the meticulous record-keeper, but he shows me how he constructs his excel sheets.
The more independent we can be with our own finances, the more in control we feel when we start pooling our resources together.
We might not have joint accounts, but we have joint goals and visions for the future. Money can be a source of friction, but with some work, it can also smooth your way to living the way you want as a couple. Though our finances are separate, our four facets of money management are the same. By recognizing common goals, speaking about money often, matching expectations, and sharing our strengths, we hope to continue to manage our money to facilitate mutual growth.