Making our world go round
I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately, especially after reading the recent Slate series on how couples share money. I actually filled out their survey last fall, so we’re included amongst their descriptive statistics for the Sometime Sharers – couples who maintain separate as well as shared bank accounts.
The sometime sharing arrangement has always seemed like the perfect compromise for us. As much as we share everything else, we both have a fairly deeply-held instinct to maintain control over our own money. I think everyone does to a degree. I imagine for many of us, it is the one piece of ourselves we are most reluctant to fully share with our partners, even long after we’ve shared bodily fluids and closet space.
John and I both guard our money because we attach a lot of pride to being able to support ourselves. My highly independent mom instilled in me the importance of financial independence, even within marriage. I think because of this I will always require some autonomy in my day-to-day spending decisions. Definitely for maintaining some independence, but also for guarding my sanity; quite simply put, I am governed by guilt and would go crazy if I had to consider John’s perspective on each and every frivolous purchase I make. I can just picture it now: John coming home and finding me frolicking around in the newest addition to my jacket collection, saying ‘looks cute’ but before the words are even fully formed on his lips, getting covered in toxic defensive sludge because I thought his baby toe was looking a little judgmental (apparently he’s not wearing shoes at this point). So due to my obvious insanity, we probably won’t be moving to a completely shared system anytime soon.
However, I’m realizing that the mine and his first mentality with money is not really ideal when you’re planning a life together. A life that you pay for together. Between our various shared and independent savings and checking accounts, it’s a bit unclear where we stand financially at any point in time. As a result, we don’t always know how best to plan for our goals or what we should or shouldn’t be spending. And if I’m totally honest, I also feel a bit uneasy only seeing half the picture. Yes, along with being guilt driven I’m also a control freak. Total treat to live with, I know. To put it more kindly, I would like to know that we are doing the best we can with our joint resources.
I’ve come to believe that the answer is a subtle, but psychologically important, shift in how we pool our money: share first. As in put our paycheques into a shared account, and then split off a specific amount for our own spending rather than the other way around. It won’t change how we spend, or really much of anything, but it’s a monumental shift in my head. It means that our family unit comes first. We can jointly decide how best to save for our goals. And it might actually help our money-earning pride in the long run: if one of us was to face a drop in income (say, for maternity leave, just as an example, NOT HAVING BABIES YET!), there would be no self-esteem crushing transfers of money to highlight the inequity – all money would automatically be our money. Or if one of us was to face greater health care costs, it would be a family matter without second thought. And so forth.
Despite all this confidence, when I contacted the compensation department to change where my cheque is deposited I was still seized by that old instinct to guard. My paycheque going somewhere other than my account? But it’s mine! Mine mine mine! To be honest, that feeling is still there, but instead of fighting it I’m just watching it dangle there, holding on for dear life, fighting a losing battle. I’m dismantling the last bit of guardedness I have dragged along with me through all these years of our relationship – it’s ok to be a little ambivalent, because this matters.
How do you share money and do you think it influences your relationship? Did it change/do you think it will change once married?