On Love and Money—The Mechanics of Shared Finances

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.

coffee with heart design on top
Thank you, barista, for a design that is on-topic for this post!

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

Settling up was a chore for the first few years

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:

  1. Common goals
  2. Open communication
  3. Matching expectations
  4. Sharing strengths

This is how we feel about our approach to handling money as a couple so far:

Jazz hands for the four facets

Common Goals

  • 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.

    spanish flags in front of the sun
    Photo from my travels to southern Spain
  • 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.

Open Communication

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.

Matching Expectations

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.

Appa stuffed animal with balloons
Appa from Avatar: The Last Airbender

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.

Sharing Strengths

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.

Takeaway

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.

How do you approach money while dating? What about while married?

18 Comments

  1. Great post on love and money. I think having common goals and good communication is the key. Your story sounds very similar to my wife and me. Initially we split bills but paid for our individual expenses, then we finally got a joint credit card. Now that we’ve been married a few years and produced an offspring, our finances are getting a little bit more entangled. But the key is that we’re on the same page and we complement each other’s strengths (her frugality and my organization skills).

    1. I think it’s nice to go gradually into the entanglement. It’s great that you are on the same page in your marriage and that you have complementing strengths! I know it takes a lot for many couples to get on that same page so I’m grateful we are both frugal weirdos, it made it a bit easier. Cheers!

  2. So far I’ve been financially single my whole life and I love reading about how couples handle money since one day I’ll be having conversations about how to split finances with a significant other. Thanks for the food for thought!

    1. I feel grateful that we didn’t get married right away because being financially single has been truly amazing for my personal finance journey. I definitely feel more ownership and autonomy with my own money and decisions, so I’ll be sure to update what we do should we ever tie the knot! Thanks for reading :)!

  3. It’s awesome that you and Mr. Mechanic have many of the same goals in life! Not only are you both on the same page about frugality but you both want to live abroad? Awesome!

    1. I feel pretty lucky that I found someone who would move across the world with me! It’s definitely a goal for both of us in the next 10 years.

  4. We joined our day to day finances and credit cards about 7 years ago. It has been great, all the income comes into one account, our monthly savings are automatically moved to each of our investment accounts. Bills are all taken care of, the rest is there for either of us to use for groceries or discretionary spending. We really like that there is no discussion anymore about who ‘paid’ for what. The only growing pain was my constant tracking of the account/CC. I’d be out of town at work and be texting questions about some $40 purchase that I didn’t recognize! LOL I’ve gotten better, and most importantly we have matching goals and expectations.

    1. You should see me when I do my monthly expense reports, “Honey, what is this $10 thing for BRTO? Oh it’s that burrito I got for lunch… what about this $40 mystery? Oh, it’s the stuff I ordered from Amazon…”

      That sounds like a really efficient way to organize everything! I like the idea of different investment accounts, we might implement that if/when we combine. Thanks for the idea.

  5. I always enjoy reading about how other couples handle money. Ours is totally pooled, and has been for years but it wasn’t until the past few years that we started the communication that really makes it work. We’ve also gotten a lot better about the “sharing strengths” approach you describe. It used to be very divided, but now we talk through the how regularly. It’s been a necessity for us to truly be on the same page with financial independence.

    It sounds like you’ve got a great match AND the systems to make it work!

    1. I love that you made the effort to share your strengths with each other! It definitely helps with getting on the same page, because it aligns the smaller and bigger pictures together. I feel pretty lucky I matched with someone compatible AND that there are tools to make it easier. I’m glad you’ve managed to get the communication going to make it all work together!

  6. First, I need to say that I got chills by looking at the picture at the beginning of your post. It reminded me of that gut wrenching scene from Fried Green Tomatoes! Anyway, I love the title, Love or Money! Very creative. They say that not being aligned as far as money is one of the top reasons relationships fail tso this is a very important topic. Opposites definitely don’t attract in this context. How can a saver be at peace with a spender, right? Anyway, I think that in the absence of money woes a joint account works. And I think that turning a blind eye to the occasional treat that one’s partner bought for themselves is good too. I am almost glad to see one of those on the visa bill. I say nothing but make a mental note. That way when I want to treat myself to something that will make me happy I suffer zero guilt about it!
    Keep posting!

    1. I haven’t seen Fried Green Tomatoes but now maybe I should put it on my list!

      I think it’s possible for savers to be at peace with spenders but it definitely takes more work to get aligned than if you are with someone who matches your style. It’s definitely good to have some budget money set aside for some treats once in a while! Thanks for reading.

  7. Lot of wisdom in this…particularly around the point that there’s no one way that is right for every couple. We go with everything in a joint account that almost everything comes out from. But then we each have ‘pocket money’ accounts that are totally private that we can spend on whatever we like.

    One thing that struck me from your list of facets of money management is that those are pretty sound guidelines to everything in a relationship not just the money bit! If we have the same goals and expectations and we keep talking then none of us should go too far wrong.

    1. Very good point! These are definitely skills needed for a relationship, regardless of how the money questions shake out.

  8. The Appa is so cute! I loved that guy in Last Airbender!

    Back to the matter at hand, I was the CFO in our family, and it definitely didn’t work. My husband remained clueless about how much he was spending — even with my telling him over and over — so it led to a lot of resentment on my part. But he kept insisting that his severe ADD kept him from being able to keep track. Looking back, I should’ve insisted because, once we were separated, he was shocked at how much he’d been spending on some things (again, despite my repeatedly telling him how much it was when we were together). But oh well. Lesson learned for any future relationships. In any future ones, I think we’ll have a shared account for shared expenses but keep separate ones for most spending.

    1. I loved him too! Mr. Mechanic, it turns out, is particular towards Momo, but Appa is forever my favorite.

      It sounds like when money became your responsibility– it ALL became your responsibility, including managing your husband’s spending. That’s a lot of pressure on one person, especially if he doesn’t cooperate with you. It can be hard to share responsibilities because there are just some things you’d rather not do, but if you were alone you would have to do them! Oftentimes it improves you as an overall person (which it sounds like after separating was the hard reality for him!)

  9. I think that every couple will do things differently.
    Anecdotally, couples break up over attitudes to money – or money problems.
    Spending too much money is one problem, hiding debts or problem is another.

    Lady GFF has little interest in money which makes things all my job – a split that works most of the time but i am tighter/stingier/more frugal than her and that causes problems occasionally.

    Great post!

    1. Yes, one of the leading causes of breakups and divorces is money, so spending too much, spending too little, hiding, lying, and other money infidelities are risk factors. Hitting that sweet spot of personal differences in saving vs. spending preference can be difficult but overall a healthy move for a couple. It sounds like you and Lady GFFF are finding the way that works for you, which is ultimately the important thing!

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