We Had Our Wedding: Does Our Money Have to Get Married, Too?

Lady M Mille Crepes Cake

*Today I have a guest post from my now husband! I’m embarrassingly behind on wedding thank-you notes, so he was happy to step in and write about how we handle our finances together, since our situation is a little unique. Whether you’re newly married or just thinking about the next step with your significant other, I hope this provides some entertaining insight on the age-old question: to merge or not to merge finances?*

As you’ve probably read, Luxe and I tied the knot earlier this summer! Everything went splendidly, mostly no thanks to me since my only responsibilities were to a) show up b) remember to bring my vows and c) not sweat all over everyone. Luxe, on the other hand spent the run-up to the wedding in full-on Ed Harris Apollo 13 planning mode:

As a result, the ceremony was choreographed perfectly, the flowers were exquisite, and the cake…oh man, the cake. Let’s just stop right there for a second. I’d never had a slice of Lady M Mille Crêpes cake before our wedding day. I swear I heard literal angels singing when I took my first bite. Of course, now I want it every day. Don’t we deserve all the things we want? Damn right! Except for the one very tiny problem that it costs…EIGHT. DOLLARS. PER. SLICE.

Oh.

As you’ll recall, pre-Luxe me would have happily indulged this self-destructive and obscenely expensive cake habit and ended up fat, broke and in personal finance rehab. But now that I’ve earned AT LEAST an associate’s degree in frugality I can manage to restrain myself. Not only that, Luxe and I, now married, are a legal financial entity. I can’t just run around spending hundreds on my raging cake addiction without ramifications for us both, right?

Yeah, we’re officially a team now, and whatever money decision I make affects her, too. Luxe and I have talked about our joint approach to money ever since she moved in with me early last year. We came up with a plan that seemed fair and have been comfortable with it ever since. But now that we are legally hitched, don’t we need to elevate our game? Better still, aren’t we SUPPOSED to merge our finances now that we are married? I can’t pinpoint the reason, but merging felt like a requirement, a mandatory step once we got married, and yet both of us have found ourselves asking, “But why?

The Five Whys

Jeff Bezos is famous for employing a technique called the “five whys” to root out the essence of a question or problem. Let’s assume the richest man in the world knows a thing or two about problem-solving and try it out here:

Now that we’re married I think we need to fully merge our finances.
Why is that?
Because, well…it feels like we’re supposed to.
OK, why is that?
I guess it’s neater and more efficient to have everything in one place.
But why?
Uhhh, because it represents our unity as a couple to have our money together.
But why?

You can see where this is going. Four Whys in and no compelling argument is materializing in favor of a couple’s money merger. The Five Whys was originally developed by Toyota management as a framework to understand that behind every technical question is a human question. In this case, merging money is simply a technical concern, right? The heart of the matter here is the human question: now that we are married, how best to organize our money in service of our lifestyles and goals?

I think for any couple, a healthy money arrangement needs to meet three criteria. It has to be transparent, it needs to represent shared goals, and it needs to be fair. If you do all of these things, the question of where your money sits is beside the point. As you’ll see outlined below, I think Luxe and I satisfy all three criteria. For now we keep our money separate because overall we have a system that works and we haven’t found an advantage to combining our money.

The Three Pillars of Marital Money Bliss

Transparency

You should know all of each other’s assets and liabilities, and also be able to see each other’s spending. Mint is perfect for this. Even though Luxe and I maintain all of our checking and savings accounts separately, they are all linked to a Mint account we both access. That way she can see the results all of my Lady M visits and also my occasional ATM fee or *gasp* credit card late fee.

Late fee Gchat

There is a special (and richly deserved) doghouse for me when I get hit with a credit card late fee, from which I can only emerge after I’ve groveled with the credit card company to reverse the fee and also demonstrated that I’ve devised a system to keep it from happening ever again. Coming home with green tea mochi can also help expedite this process. As for Luxe, it frustrates me to no end that there is ZERO cause for any outrage on my part about her Mint activity. A $27 charge at Sephora? How worked up can I possibly get over that, especially when there’s a 90% chance she’ll end up returning it anyway?

Shared Goals and Priorities

Logically speaking, if we got married in the first place it would follow that our short and long term goals are aligned. I have this very clear vision of a woodsy clapboard cottage by the lake, with a screened-in porch from which I sit with my early morning coffee and watch mist rise from the still water. Luxe, not AT ALL a morning person, would probably skip the early coffee with me. Small differences aside, we both feel strongly about owning our living space someday, retiring fairly early, and living sparely, but comfortably enough to travel, a priority we both share.

Fairness

Arguably the most important (and complicated) of the three, which is why I saved it for last. Having a fair economic arrangement is a cornerstone of a good marriage, regardless of whether your finances are merged. For us, this means a sense of equality about what we each contribute and consume. A few things to understand about us:

  1. I make more money than Luxe—far from “crazy money” (I wish!) but enough so that it needs to be taken into account when we talk about expenses and savings.
  2. I have a son from my previous marriage who lives with us half the time. I have a separate custodial savings account for him (in his name), but again, it’s still in our Mint account so we can both see it.
  3. Our consumption habits are WILDLY different. Luxe can survive on almost nothing. Give her a handful of quinoa and a couple of those little fish cake squares and she’s pretty much set for the week. As for MY consumption habits…let’s just say my spirit animal is the raccoon rummaging through your garbage at night. Not only do I eat A TON more, I also generate approximately 7,000% more laundry. My stacks of t-shirts, pants, underwear, etc. waiting to be put away look like Stonehenge compared to her two tank tops and a dainty pair of socks. Additionally, I have the body heat of a small nuclear reactor and require full-blast air conditioning basically from April through October. So yeah, on top of having the carbon footprint of a brontosaurus I also make poor Luxe have a mild coronary every time she looks at our energy bill.

If I make more and consume more, it is fair that I am responsible for a proportional share of our expenses. You’ll notice how none of this has anything to do with whether we merge our money or not. Given that we are transparent, share goals, and have a fair money arrangement, IT SIMPLY DOESN’T MATTER.

Separate Finances Logistics

OK, since you’ve all come this far now you get to read the sexy part. That’s right, here are our domestic finance LOGISTICS! I wanted to give a rough outline of how we do money so you can see the three pillars of shared money harmony (Transparency, Alignment, Fairness) in practice at Chateau de Luxe:

1. We agreed on a budget and how much each person would save. Then we created a shared Mint account and plugged in all the individual accounts and amounts for each budget category. Luxe and I sat down together to change my 401k selections and increase my contribution to what we agreed upon. This established a mutual understanding of day-to-day spending and monthly saving targets.

2. We don’t use a joint account for shared household expenses. This would only add yet another account for us to keep tabs on. All of our accounts are individually held.

3. We prorate our rent payments: since I make more and my son is with us half the time it seems fair that I contribute more.

4. I handle the majority of food and utility expenses, with Luxe often buying grocery store gift cards to meet credit card spends. This works for us since, as noted, I am the big consumer and it’s a great way to help subsidize our travel with points.

5. We don’t “take turns” paying for restaurant meals. Whoever feels like paying, pays. We also use Venmo to settle up little things here and there, like if Luxe uses my Amazon account (and card) to buy something specifically for herself.

6. We focus on our strengths. Luxe is the bigger saver by far, saving around half of her income when she was single, although she needs to recalculate her savings rate now that we’re shacked up and her budget is different. She also contributes more to travel expenses, although this is mostly handled through a system that, to me, is so absurdly complex that basically I just go along and trust that I’m not getting ripped off. Also, the nine billion hours she spends researching a trip has material value.

7. We both use credit cards and track e v e r y t h i n g in Mint, except when I misbehave and *GASP* use cash. No secret accounts or anything.

8. We respect each other’s independence. Luxe gets a high off of watching her own money grow in her own accounts. Sometimes she even falls asleep with the Mint app open on her phone. If we combined accounts it would be a lot harder to track each person’s financial progress.

9. We trust each other’s spending habits. Neither of us asks “permission” to spend money unless it’s something big, say >$200. No need for “allowances.”

That’s how we roll, at least right now. Things can change of course. We could have a child, invest in real estate, one of us could suddenly need to care for an aging parent, or we could encounter any number of scenarios that forces us to reassess this. We are debt free (with the exception of a 401K loan I am repaying), giving us flexibility in planning. So for now we’ll leave our money where it is. Merging it simply because it feels like “we’re supposed to” will never be a compelling reason. Our accounts may be separate, but we both consider it all “our money,” united, working for us!

Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to go dig up enough loose quarters to go sneak a piece of that Lady M cake.

PS. If you’re interested in seeing how I survived living with a “saver”, check out my other guest post.

How do other couples out there approach shared money? Have you merged? Do you have a system? Do any of you have a “special doghouse” for your partner’s financial blunders?

Image: The Luxe Strategist

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  • Adventure Rich

    We have the same! We kept our previous checking accounts but linked into one login via Mint for full transparency. It works great and we have since shifted to using each checking (aka- each paycheck) for different expenses/goals. I like the 5 Why framework for this application 🙂

    • Teddy Luxband

      Your approach of using each account for different goals sounds great! And Mint really does do wonders for us. I like seeing the the green lines indicating I still have some budget room in any given month. It was also really encouraging for me when I started using it on my own to see the progress I was making as I began reversing my bad habits! Anyway, thank you for reading!

  • Interesting approach; definitely not what we’re doing, but like you said “I think for any couple, a healthy money arrangement needs to meet three criteria. It has to be transparent, it needs to represent shared goals, and it needs to be fair.” If you’ve found that – and you have – who cares if it’s not what I’d do. Your circumstances are way different anyway! 🙂

    Congrats on the marriage! As long as you keep those criteria in mind you guys should be set!!

    • Teddy Luxband

      Hi Dave! Yes, I think every couple is unique in some way, but I do think, like you say, that the criteria are pretty universal. Thanks for reading and for your well-wishes on the wedding!

  • Emily Nance Jividen

    Congratulations on your marriage. I’d have to say that over the decade that my husband and I have been married, our finances have evolved a lot. Although we communicated well, we kept separate accounts and credit cards over several years. Now, we still keep separate investment accounts but everything else has merged.

    So don’t be surprised if your approach changes over time. As long as you keep your 3 principles guiding you, you should be fine.

    • Teddy Luxband

      Thanks, for your well-wishes, Emily! And yes, I am sure things will change over time. Basically I was trying to work through my thinking on what made sense for us at this point. Nice to hear what works for other people since no two couples are alike!

  • “Sometimes she even falls asleep with the Mint app open on her phone.”

    ROFL oh I know how that goes!

    This is a totally different approach to how me and my hubby does it. We do everything together now (he does more, I sit and watch) and we check in with each other if an expense comes up that’s more than $5. We don’t spent much so it doesn’t happen often.

    It’s always super interesting to read how another couple does it. How would this change if you guys have children or have a house?

    • Teddy Luxband

      uhhhhhhh, wow Lily you put me on the spot, LOL. Can I get back to you in six months? I’m not sure how things would change except that there will definitely be a lot of pre-planning involved. And re: “falling asleep with the Mint app…” I am keeping a file of these kinds of juicy details in case I ever get to write a special “Behind the Scenes” post! Anyway, thank you for reading. — T-Lux

  • It’s so fascinating to see how other people organize their money! For us, not merging comes down to a simpler (but harder to solve predicament). I really like my bank, and Mr.TA really likes his credit union (gotta love that bleeding heart). We might merge savings in the future for our tiny house (it would just be easier to have that money in one place). But, other than that, not merging hasn’t been an issue for us!

    • Teddy Luxband

      Oh man, I can’t wait to see the tiny house! I have this semi-fantasy of a houseboat but I’m not 100% sure Luxe would ever be “on board” with that plan. Thanks for reading and for sharing your story, too. good luck!

  • TheLadyintheBlack

    Awwww. I think Mr. Luxe should chime in more often. What a sweetie. And funny. Good catch, Luxe! This topic just popped up in The Lady’s Room today and many were of the “in it together” camp. I, however, fall a bit on the side of “do what works for you both.” Thanks for sharing the intricacies of your finances. Damn. Now I want cake.

    • Teddy Luxband

      The cake. I could seriously write another 2,000 words on just the cake! Anyway, Luxe controls the editorial reins around here so we’ll see when she lets me out to romp again. Is ‘The Lady’s Room’ a blog or, like, literally the ladies room? If it’s the former I will check it out. Thanks for reading!! — T-Lux

      • TheLadyintheBlack

        The Lady’s Room is a series on my blog. TheLadyintheBlack.com

  • Mrs. Farmhouse Finance

    Great stuff! We have some joint accounts (checking, savings, credit card), and some separate accounts, and have been pretty happy with the arrangement. When we were making vastly different incomes we would contribute a percentage of our pay to our joint checking. As long as your arrangement works for you, there’s no reason to combine finances just because you’re married now. Congratulations!!

    • Teddy Luxband

      Thank you, Mrs. FF! Yes, that’s what feels right at the moment. Just required some thinking (and about 2,000 words, lol) to figure out for sure. Thanks for reading and for the well-wishes.

  • Teddy Luxband

    Ying — Yes, 300 hours sounds about right here, too. Sometimes I think Luxe will reach the allowable limit for maximum browser tabs open at one time. It’s like watching an air traffic controller at work! Anyway, thank you for reading and for sharing your own story, too. Good luck saving! — T-Lux

  • I Dream of Fire

    We do mostly separate accounts for all our daily stuff. We do have some shared accounts for long-term savings for joint goals. But we mostly run everything off our own accounts/cards and settle up as needed. However, the one thing I would highly suggest you do is make both of you joint owners on your separate accounts. That way if there’s some major issue where one of you is incapacitated or otherwise unable to access an account, the other can get to it with minimal hassle. And, of course, make sure your will or estate documents specify that any accounts opened individually are to be treated as community property throughout your marriage.

    • Teddy Luxband

      All great suggestions! We will definitely make each other joint account owners. And yes, settling up as you go is pretty straightforward. We’re very heavy Venmo users. Anyway, thanks for reading!

  • Great way to go about your accounts. As long as you two are currently comfortable having separate accounts and have constant communication about your finances then its all squared.
    My wife and I have a joint checking and saving accounts. The checking is for bills and rent and savings for is down payment for house that we are currently searching for. We also have separate accounts as well from before we got married. I put about less than 5% of my paycheck in this account where i use it on my IRA contributions and my ‘fun’ spending like the buy in for both my fantasy football leagues this month. My wife uses her separate account as a ‘fun spending’ too for going out to eat with co-workers/friends.

    • Teddy Luxband

      Gotta have some fun spending! And your fantasy league reminds me of the shameful fact that basically the only reason I keep cable around is so I can watch NFL games. I just don’t see a viable alternative option for that. If you know one then please share! Anyway thank you for reading and commenting here.

  • This is tremendous. I really appreciate each person’s perspective here as my wife and I are currently a one income household until she finishes school in two years. Certainly tests our spending and savings discipline often, but we are focused on the long-term goals.

    We have always talked about how the accounts would work, but since it is a one way transfer – my account to her’s – for living expenses, there isn’t much to think about.

    Thank you all for laying the ground work. I am sharing with my wife immediately.

    • Teddy Luxband

      Thank you, Church! I guess this is just one of the many ways things can work…the overall point being there’s no ONE right way. Thanks for reading and sharing with your wife, too! -T-Lux

  • GYM

    Great post, T Luxband is hilarious! Congratulations on the wedding, the picture of the cake looks delicious and to die for. I think as long as any couple communicates about what they prefer and what they are happy with- it will work. What works for one couple might not work for others. My sister in law and her husband don’t have any joint accounts and they have two kids, whereas my husband and I have joint accounts and separate accounts, and we’re all A-OK with each of these methodologies.

    • Teddy Luxband

      You are very kind, G.Y.M. And yeah, dessert and money somehow come up a lot together for us. Just last night we (meaning Luxe) redid our budget while we both enjoyed some Trader Joe’s key lime pie. What a revelation! Only $5 and just as good as the $18 one I used to buy from the fancy food store here in the neighborhood. Thanks for reading! -T-Lux

  • “carbon footprint of a brontosaurus”

    Hilarious! I hope he writes more often. I’ve subscribed because this is the type of post I love to read.

    The Mrs. doesn’t work. I’d much rather have her look after our two girls, 8 and 4. My money is her money. We share everything so there is 100% transparency. In fact, I’m trying to get her more involved financially but I’ll have to explain our challenges in future posts. She used to be a liberal spender but has recently gained a bit of composure thanks in part to my constant b1#ching.

    • Teddy Luxband

      Thank you, Darren! I had a lot of fun writing this post and I hope Luxe will let me back here into her ‘sandbox’ here to play again soon. I look forward to reading about your domestic money logistics when you’re ready to share. -T-Lux

  • LOL @ secret accounts 🙂 You know about that late fee thing? I’ve experienced that once or twice.

    I will say however, that I always pay the minute I get the email and clear the balance. I won’t bother with a couple bucks of interest as I am just so damn busy these days… and if I schedule a payment then forget I wrote a cheque, I’m screwed.

    • Teddy Luxband

      Hi Sherry, yeah I’d rather not think of how many late fees I’ve had…I’ve become wayyy better about it and have seen a nice increase in my credit score as a result. Thanks for reading!

  • Pia

    We have a system! I actually wrote about it on my blog, so feel free to read that if you are interested. I completely agree that just because you get married doesn’t mean your finances need to get married too. We don’t do pro rata because my husband doesn’t want to, and since I’m the higher income earner, and if he as the lower income earner wants to do 50/50 then I don’t fight that.

    In fact, that’s often how we settle inbalances. The person who is potentially being disadvantaged gets to swing the argument in whichever way they want to. Because if he wanted to us to do pro rata, then I’d think that’s fair as I am the higher income earner after all. At the end of the day, the important note is communication! If you communicate in your relationship, that’s more than half the battle won already.

    • Teddy Luxband

      Hi Pia! Where’s your blog post? I’d love to read it. And yes you are right, the easiest way to run into problems is by not communicating. It’s really quite remarkable how many life skills depend on that. Glad to hear you and your husband are pros at it. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts here. –T-Lux

  • Loved reading this! Lady M’s mille crepe cake is a life changer isn’t it??

    It seems like you both are such a good team and your personalities really complement one another. My husband’s spirit animal is also probably a raccoon or a ravenous bear so most of our $$$ goes to groceries.

    I agree that as long as you are open and honest about how you spend and how you plan to save then there’s no need to “keep tabs” or merge finances because the trust and transparency is there.

    Such an insightful post that all newlyweds should read 🙂

    • Teddy Luxband

      Thanks, Sophie! Yeah the grocery bill is an ongoing ‘hot topic’ in our house, and this being NYC it’s pretty tough. Whenever I get creative with leftovers Luxe is thrilled and maybe even forgets how much I spent on them in the first place! Anyway thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts here.

      • Hi Teddy! It’s awesome that you get creative with leftovers-I’m still trying to convince my husband to bring lunch to work. Thanks for sharing such a great post!

  • Wow, there is a freaking amazing chart in there. Holy crap that’s good.