Couples and Money: Should Each Partner Have a Little “My” Money?

Ever heard that expression, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine?” When it comes to couples and money there is often some truth to that statement. Often, one partner is a spender, the other a saver. One partner takes the lead as the money manager, and the other couldn’t care less about managing money.

Couples Have to Respect Each Partner’s Money Boundaries

So how do partners that do manage their money well, and actually enjoy creating budgets and watching the household dollars, get the other partner on board with their financial plan? Often, it is by allocating a small sum of “my” money with which the partner is free to spend whatever their heart desires, with the understanding when it’s gone, it’s gone, until the next paycheck.

This is actually a pretty good idea for both partners. When my wife and I were still our snowball debt reduction plan, we often set aside an amount of money, maybe $50 or so, that each of us could spend from a paycheck without answering questions, justifying the purchase, or planning for it in advance.

The only rule was that the money could not be spent on household bills – groceries, utilities, debt repayment, etc. (unless of course we were in bad shape that particular month and just had to spend it on the household). The money was to be spent on something each of us enjoyed.

We often pooled our money to buy something for the house, or to enjoy the occasional dinner and a movie. Other times my wife bought a couple new books, and I would spend mine on some frugal camping gear, or maybe a new tool I had been eying.

We both enjoyed having a little “my” money, and as our finances have improved, we have increased the amounts a bit, too. Of course, we are quite content and often struggle to find ways to spend the money.

We did recently relax the rules a bit (we did set the rules, after all), and can now opt to add our money to savings (or to my personal favorite, the pay off the mortgage early monthly payment) if there is nothing we are interested in buying.

A Word About Stay Home Spouses

The plan outlined above works particularly well for stay home spouses with no income of their own. My wife has been home with our kids for over ten years, and for most of that time we were living on one income.

My wife and I make joint decisions on just about everything we buy, but one day my wife explained that she would like more freedom to buy things without prior discussion. I was actually relieved because I shared the same feelings.

For example, my wife felt silly asking to spend $50 around my birthday to pick me up a present, and a little something from the kids. I reassured her that I didn’t think of my income as my income, rather it was our income. But I could understand how it made her feel.

When we started setting aside an amount of “my” money every paycheck, it made gift-giving much easier because we could both simply save and spend a bit of our own “fun money” on each other.

Even though I brought up our scenario of one spouse staying home, I see other examples where couples and money don’t mix well. Often times both partners are spendthrifts, and rather than facing their financial problems, they both stick their heads in the sand and ignore them until they are forced to pay attention.

Other couples I’ve been around in the past are both so tight with their spending that they seem to challenge each other to see who can spend the least amount of money, and make each other miserable in the process.

Face it; we are going to occasionally give in and buy something we want. After all, life is to be enjoyed. The key is to find a balance that works for you and your partner. Enjoying success as a couple is often about compromise. And allowing each other the freedom to spend a bit of money each month on things they enjoy is a worthy compromise in your family financial plan.

http://couplemoney.com/

Comments

  1. We have done this our entire marriage. We never pooled money for things like the house- but we both spend it on small household items when we see fit.
    I can point to my husband’s wood working tools as most of his allowance, and I take trips to see the children with mine. It adds up fast if you leave it alone. In the early days it was clothing, lunches out or things for work. We also had “children”, “home repair”(the plumber loved to be paid in cash) and “gifts” (including Christmas) that collected from the paycheck.
    We rarely fight about money- and I think this system is why. We both have taken time from work at different times- but my husband has always made significantly more than me. Still- this system makes it all our money in my mind.

  2. We’ve adjusted our financial system to have some no nag spending money. I don’t either one of us are spendthrifts, but we each enjoy having a little stash of cash for fun.

  3. This brings up something I always wonder about – when I talk to people who say all their money is combined, no personal money allowance (as it were) at all, how DO they handle gift situations for each other? Maybe having everything shared is why they try to hide personal purchases from each other and fight over what she thinks are dumb purchases for his hobby and equally expensive purchases for hers, but when I bring up the idea of having even a little “me money” to do as one pleases with, I’ve been informed that having *any* individual money or accounts and not combining every cent we earn means I “don’t have my priorities straight.” However, as we’re both working, no kids, no non-mortgage debt, and contribute proportionally to household bills and savings goals, I’m really not that concerned about the priorities allegation.

  4. I also stay home with the kids, and the blog is my only income. (Thank God we don’t count on that for anything!)

    Both my husband and I are frugal and do not spend, so we are very, very lucky. So, we don’t have any ‘separate’ money. It is just a pool of money, and we spend on what we have to. Since spending on frivolities is minimal in the first place, we don’t feel the need to track is super closely. We mostly just spend on needs anyway. It helps that I have a metal allergy and am also allergic to most scents. No extra spending on jewelry or candles for me.

  5. We have been together 29 years and unfortunately still have problems discussing money. It is something we are actively working on and I had to make this point with my husband just the other day. We have used Dave Ramsey’s system before, and I would love to go back to the envelopes. We have been using cash only, other than for bills, but I have to ask for money, although he does offer it many times as well. I just would like to have a little to budget out and spend as I would like. I think he was able to understand my thinking.
    We have just recently had a major shift financially again. I worked for the past 2 years and we made WAY more money than we ever had and got used to spending WAY even more than we did before, lol! I had to leave that job, for health reasons, so we are back to one income, which we can live on, but it must be managed carefully. So the readjustment period is diffiuclt.

    I think it is important that we each have our own little bit, whether it is $5 or $50, that we can spend without justifying to our partner. Great article!
    Bernice
    http://bernicewood.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/how-to-get-lucky/

  6. My husband and I have done this for a years now. I’m an at home mom and it works well for me. Even during tight financial times we continued to have that money every week, we just reduced the amount of it.

  7. I think you’re right, the key is balance and respect. There is no one right way that will work for every couple, the only rule is that open, honest, respectful communication is a must.

    Totally agree that it’s important for stay at home spouses to feel like that it’s just as much their money as the working spouses and to be an equal partner in making decisions.

  8. I must be missing something here. Both partners contribute to the household whether working outside the home or not. Why would they not have some “me money”?

    Having to ask for money to buy a gift or something needed sounds too much like “asking mommy or daddy”. Where is the equality in that? Just saying.

  9. Every pay period, we transfer most of our check to the Joint account. I handle it on line and just ask Jane what she needs left in her account as there are some things she handles from her checking.
    Last year, she had to discuss one purchase with me, a piece of art that was to be a gift for me, but so expensive, there was no way to hide the purchase. Aside from that, I think we have a good process in place.

  10. We could easily turn into that couple who compete to see who can spend less. We’ve lived frugally so long by choice that when either one of us actually sees something nonessential that we want, the other almost stares at them in disbelief. You want to buy what? Really there’s nothing we really need to spend on. We have a lovely home, two vehicles bought used with cash, and we haven’t had cable in over 20yrs. On the other hand we take a major trip every other year with the kids and plan to retire early. Most of the time we have absuloutely no interest in acquiring things. They just aren’t interesting to us. We love to travel and sock away massive amounts in our retirement accounts. Those two buckets are our two priorities and most of the time we stay on track.

    Many years ago we tried having a set amount we could each spend every week or month. At first I found myself looking forward to getting my fun money and deciding what to spend it on. In the process it turned into feeling like I’d been preapproved to waste $20/week or whatever it was. I was way less selective about the spending done with those dollars. Eventually the novelty wore off and most weeks I didn’t spend it. Then I stopped carrying it around in my wallet. I figured if I ever thought of some treat I’d like I’d worry about it then. At this point I can’t remember the last time I bought something for myself. I just couldn’t care less about having more stuff. I’m more interested in decluttering my house and some days am frankly embarassed at the amount of stuff we’ve accumulated.

  11. It is great that you and your wife can manage your finances this way. A lot of couples are do not discuss their finances with each other. Awesome job to both you and your wife.

  12. I think it’s a good idea to each have your own money then joint money. Joint money is for joint things (household bills) and your own money is for your personal spending. It’s harder to justify this for one income couples though. My boyfriend and I are considering possibly living off one income and banking the other. Is this idea feasible? And if so, how do we still maintain the joint money / individual money type plan?

  13. I’ve always wondered how married couples can buy holiday / birthday presents without the other one knowing. Thanks for the insight!

  14. I think that having some his and her money is one of the most important things couples can do to keep the financial peace. We do this for clothing. Other couples we know do this for other things like lunches with friends or hobbies. Some people think this requires separate checking accounts, but it doesn’t. It just requires separate budget line items. Each person is responsible for staying within their budgeted amount. They don’t have to ask for permission before spending the money.

  15. Funny, when we started on our debt snowball we both felt a bit restricted and came up with the “monthly allowance” for my husband and I to each use for something fun. He usually gets beer and I enjoy stopping at the coffee shack on my way to work…its the little things like that that makes life enjoyable!

  16. With us, over the years it has become shifting balance.

    When we first started out, we didn’t have much money, and a mortgage, so we didn’t spend practically anything (we even skipped a few vacations).

    But now our spending has increased because we are in a much better financial position.

    We kind of were similar to you and your wife in that my wife use to get a certain lump-sum amount based on the tax return. Since she was an accountant, she was able to make it work the entire year without asking for more money.

    Now we have progressed to the point that she doesn’t do that, and just buys and pays from the checking account. But since she’s frugal and an accountant, she still does a great job of keeping spending in check.

  17. It gets so tedious to NOT have a minimal amount that we can comfortably spend without the partner’s by-in, that we moved towards a looser model quickly. It just works best for us because it more practical, is within boundaries, is less restrictive, and keeps the surprises (as you mentioned in the post).

  18. I am awarding you a “Man Card” for telling your stay at home wife that the money you make working is OUR income! A lot of people see it as their money, and they support their spouse. Anyway, thank you for being sane and rational. And if you do lose the “Man Card” lose it well, like on a Miata. :)

  19. After thirty one years of marriage, which has included us beings DINKS, me being a SAHM for a bit, then DH and alternately supporting our family of four while the other went back to school, to being BACK to being DINKS, I think I can speak to what has worked for us!

    Our money has always gone into one joint account, since the first paycheck after the wedding. Didn’t matter who “earned” the check, it was OURS. We also use what we call an “allowance”, where we get $$$$ that does not have to be accounted for. This amount has ranged from $5 a week (all four of us were squeaking by on $18K a year!) to fifty dollars a week, but the rules are the same. Use it however you wish, no permission or negotiation needed. Additionally, we set a spending limit (which has varied over the years) BEYOND which we needed a conference before getting. So, for us, a pedicure or DVD comes out of “allowance”, a new set of lights for $37 is probably OK to just buy, but anything above $75 needs a discussion prior to purchase. This system has served us well over the years…only the limits and allowances have varied by income.

    It was especially nice when I was a SAHM to NOT feel like I needed to ask before spending the money my DH was earning…it was always ours, and I had my pocket money…even if it was $25 a MONTH in some of our leaner years!

  20. I’m with Pattie, RN on this. The Honeybee and I have never had “his” “hers” or “my” money. Everything has always gone into one account – “our” account – and we are personally responsible for making sure that we do not make purchases on our own that would be detrimental to the household finances and budget with “our” money.

    It’s worked great for almost 15 years! :-)

    Best,

    Len
    Len Penzo dot Com

  21. I take care of paying the bills, balancing the budget, etc., and I am really the only one who spends on the kids or on DH and myself for clothes, etc. DH and I just use common sense when purchasing and usually bargain hunt. We don’t give each other gifts since we usually just buy it ourselves as long as it’s in our budget (and have saved up for it!). We would surely need to discuss spending limits if we were overspenders but happily, we are not.

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