Welcome to Money Slackers, a regular discussion among Policygenius staffers about money. We held the following conversation in a Slack chatroom. It's been lightly edited.
Myles Ma [Managing Editor]: HELLO, EVERYONE. Welcome back to Money Slackers. This month we are talking about couples and money in honor of Valentine's Day. We did a survey late last year on how couples handle money with one another. Just a quick poll: Who shares money/accounts/info with their partner?
Patrick Hanzel [Certified Financial Planner and Senior Associate, Advanced Planning]: We do.
Holden Lee [Head of Business Intelligence]: I do. I do.
Anna Swartz [Staff Writer]: I do sort of! My wife and I share money and our salary info and spending, but we don't have a shared bank account.
Hanna Horvath [Staff Reporter]: I do not. But I am also the sole unmarried person here (I think).
Blayne Smith [Senior Acquisition Manager]: We share. Some accounts are still separate, not for any reason really other than we never really saw a need to merge them.
Patrick: We don't have a shared bank account at this point. But we do share a joint credit card for joint purchases.
Myles Ma: Anna, as a newlywed (congrats congrats), when did you start sharing accounts and what led you to start?
Anna: Thank you, Myles! So we don't share a bank account, but we do share money as in we just treat our spending as though it's coming from the same pool.
Patrick: The "what’s yours is mine" approach?
Holden: How does that work?
Anna: I pay electric every month and she pays internet and gas. Other than that we just both pay for things and don't keep too close an eye on the "fairness" of things unless it's a big purchase. We also split rent every month.
Holden: How big is “big”? The logistics of having non-merged accounts is what led us to merge just about everything.
Anna: Well, we just went on our honeymoon, and she paid for all our hotels, and at the end I Venmo'd her some money because she had spent a lot more than me. I think we'll merge at some point but we just haven't yet.
Jeanine Skowronski [Editorial Director]: We also merge everything. Because it was too complicated not to.
Holden: The payments, the journal entries, the reconciliation and final tallies of everything was just too complicated to manage.
Blayne: We're more similar to Anna (and Emily and I have been married over five years). Don't stress the tracking. "What's mine is yours" as Patrick said. I figure the lawyers can sort it out down the road ;)
Anna: Haha, way to be optimistic, Blayne.
Myles: For the parents, Holden and Blayne (congrats on recently becoming a double daddy), how do you split child care expenses?
Holden: Split? The question doesn't make sense.
Myles: How do you manage them then?
Holden: We make joint decisions on what child care and education are, and then we pay from our joint account.
Blayne: In my case it makes more sense since we have separate checking accounts, but again we don't stress the tracking. Emily generally pays the day care bill from her account but the dependent care flexible spending account is mine so I pay at least $5,000 of the day care bills from that each year. (This is all probably giving Holden an ulcer.)
Anna: Holden is very pro-merge.
Holden: Yes, I am very pro-merge. However, this is the result of various transitions. We had separate accounts but found it was too hard to manage, so we merged them.
Anna: Blayne, since you and I don't share checking accounts with our spouses, are there any things you buy that you wouldn't want her to know about?
Blayne: No. No expenses are hidden as far as I know. Gifts, I guess.
Myles: WHAT ABOUT YOU, ANNA?
Anna: I spend an obscene amount of money on iced coffee every summer and I’m glad my wife can't see the actual numbers.
Myles: True that. No one can know my coffee spend.
Anna: Gotta have my java.
Blayne: We share a Starbucks account. I'm usually the one who funds it though.
Anna: ^ That's commitment.
Myles: ^ True partnership.
Holden: Given the focus on transparency, there have been tense moments when revealing certain expenditures, to be sure, but then things are out in the open and you can adjust accordingly.
Jeanine: Teddy and I have joint finances, but I manage them, so he doesn't know about my coffee runs either.
Anna: Hanna, how long have you and your boyfriend been together?
Hanna: Six months!
Anna: So what stage are you in re: shared meals? Do you split or alternate paying?
Patrick: I feel like alternating paying can get tricky.
Hanna: He doesn't work a 9-to-5 job so he gets random influxes of cash so typically we split but sometimes he pays. It really just depends on the meal, the occasion etc.
Patrick: I think that's why we got one joint credit card.
Myles: Can you guys think of an example of a big purchase you had to make with your partner? How did you handle it?
Jeanine: OMG, our roof. Does our roof count?
Myles: Yes, your roof counts.
Jeanine: We brought our house in 2017 and had to completely replace the roof in 2018. We paid from our joint checking account, but Teddy took the lead on finding the best price and contractor, even though I'm the money manager.
Anna: When we were planning our wedding, we had a whole spreadsheet to track who was paying for what. But our parents were also helping us pay for it, so there were a lot of people involved.
Hanna: We planned a trip to London and put the flights on one card and the Airbnb on the other.
Patrick: A new mattress, which we split evenly. Was it a Pg article recently that mentioned most couples don't discuss finances until AFTER they get married?
Hanna: That was my article. :) But yeah, oftentimes they don’t. Which is typically bad.
Patrick: I found that astounding.
Holden: So... my wife and I had to discuss finances BEFORE marriage because we bought a property together prior to our marriage. Talk about a BIG purchase.
Jeanine: SAME. We bought a house before our wedding. And then a roof after our wedding.
Holden: I think the crux of the decision (merge vs. no merge) is how you perceive money in the first place.
Myles: Preach Holden.
Holden: Do you see money as OURS or HIS/HERS/THEIRS?
Blayne: Holden, would you think we don't think of it as OURS since we have separate accounts? Because I can see that, but for my personality I actually think of it as OURS since we don't sweat the accounting.
Holden: Right. So in effect, you have joint accounts. You just haven't merged them.
Anna: Yeah, I think of our money as "OURS."
Blayne: For instance, for some reason if Emily had a low balance and needed $5,000 or something I would just write the check. Not a common issue but I wouldn't think of it as losing $5,000.
Holden: Write a check!? Not a bank-to-bank transfer?
Anna: Blayne .... I have a low balance and need $5,000.
Patrick: We don't have to go into any specifics obviously, but do you guys ration anything based on who makes more or less money?
Anna: Not really, but if the difference was more drastic I think the person who made more would just take on more of the spending.
Holden: Not really either… but again, if you see the money as “OUR” money, then we're both contributing to the pot in our own way.
Blayne: I think we each watch and stay aware of our balances. And if for some reason Emily gets below her comfort zone, I might pay day care from my account for a couple payments. Things like that.
Myles: I make more, and Mary's income is irregular, so we treat it as a "bonus" not to be depended on for budgeting purposes.
Holden: In a way, I take the traditional Japanese household financial model... husband makes the money, gives the money to wife for management, and she handles the finances except in reverse, since my wife makes more than I do.
Anna: So ... she makes the money and you manage it?
Holden: I also make “the money” ;) And yes, I manage it. :)
Patrick: Haha, my SO makes more than I do also. We have discussed her paying more in rent, but that hasn't happened yet. We still split it all evenly for now.
Holden: I guess i'm skipping over the several years of “working through it” with finances.
Anna: Say more.
Holden: There was a time when we would do accounting at the individual level, budget based on proportionality of our income, and have different accounts. But the maintenance was too hard, and eventually we came to trust each other on what we spend money on, and anything above a threshold we would discuss in advance. The BIGGEST issue was when dealing with financial dealings with parents/relatives.
Myles: ^Family and money is a whole 'nother can of worms.
Holden: That's when traditions and culture clash with reality... because then it's not HIS/HERS/THEIRS but THEIRS/OURs. Long story short, we went through a lot of 'tough love' in managing familial financial matters.
Myles: Patrick as a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER, is there a gospel truth on how couples should handle money? When should they start having these convos?
Patrick: It's hard to say because every couple is different and some people shy away from the discussion of finances. But I do think it should definitely be discussed so there isn't a shock at some point.
Myles: How often do you talk about money with your partner? Is it a daily thing? Every transaction?
Anna: My wife and I will talk about money if one of our accounts is low, or if we're talking about a big purchase, but other than that it's like, "Don't forget to submit these receipts to the pet insurance company."
Jeanine: We talk about money when we need to. Since I manage our finances, I'll communicate when we have to cut back or bolster our savings. And since Teddy isn't the primary breadwinner, he'll generally run big purchases by me — aside from essentials like groceries or pet care supplies — before making one.
Patrick: Yeah, we only discuss finances for joint purchases really. We each have our own bank accounts and credit cards in addition to the joint one, but still talk about it all openly. We both want to get a dog, but then discussed the additional costs like getting a dog walker.
Holden: Since my wife is as analytical as I am (perhaps more so when it comes to money), she runs the numbers and verifies that the balances are in line with her expectations.
Myles: ^a two-spreadsheet household
Holden: She casually reviews some transactions to see what's up and then we discuss. Especially with huge recent expenditures on home renovations, two kids going to preschool, and various trips/vacations, we need to make sure we have enough cash flow to cover them.
Hanna: Do you guys feel like one of you is a "saver" and one is a "spender"?
Myles: Mary and I are both terrified of spending money, which is good and bad.
Jeanine: Teddy is the same way. He hates spending money. I don't mind spending, but I'm extremely debt-averse. So my habits sort of round themselves out.
Patrick: I’m a saver. She's a spender. But it works out to a happy medium. She helps me splurge on things and I help talk her out of some things.
Anna: I'm a spender and she's a saver.
Holden: Thankfully, both of us are savers and hate debt, though since business school, we've changed our perceptions of money, e.g. not all debt is bad. Never would I have thought we'd have more than $1 million in mortgages.
Myles: Do you guys ever have conflict around money? If so, how do you diffuse? I think in our case Mary just feels guilty about spending shared money, since I'm the primary breadwinner, but it’s not really a source of conflict.
Hanna: My boyfriend and I actually get in arguments about money every now and then, which is funny because we don’t share money.
Anna: What are the arguments about usually?
Hanna: I think we just have very different ways of looking at money. Like I think down the road, if we do merge finances, we would have to have many, many talks.
Anna: My wife has told me to stop spending so much money on iced coffee.
Patrick: We are pretty open about everything so that helps limit the arguments.
Myles: Yeah I'm a big advocate of radical transparency when it comes to money. Except for coffee.
Blayne: I can't remember our last money argument. I had sticker shock at the cost of day care in Manhattan but that wasn't really optional.
Holden: Pre-school + nanny > college tuition
Myles: OK, never mind not going to have a child.
Holden: Can't wait until they're in public school. Child rearing + (private) education is the primary reason why you'd move to ... New Jersey.
Jeanine: LOL. [Editor’s note: Jeanine lives in New Jersey.] Holden, you need to look up prices in New Jersey. You'll wind up moving to Florida.
Holden: Hell no.
Anna: Yeah, I think child care is expensive ... everywhere in the U.S.
Blayne: Speaking of day care, I have to leave to pick up my daughter.
Anna: Bye, Blayne!
Myles: OK, since Blayne is leaving, let's just wrap up. BIG TAKEAWAYS? Talk about money with your honey. Anything else?
Holden: Trust but verify.
Anna: Happy Valentine’s day!
Myles: Ah, yes, let's finish with everyone's Valentine's plans. I'll start: I DON'T KNOW.
Anna: We're going to see “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish with my in-laws.
Hanna: My boyfriend is planning. It's a SURPRISE. It's probably going to be going to Wendy’s.
Patrick: Nothing too crazy. Just going out to dinner. But she did get me tickets to “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” last week. So that was a big gift.
Jeanine: We're doing an escape room.
Holden: No silly expenditures on Valentine’s Day for us. Flowers die in a few days, and chocolates are bad for your health.
Hanna: OMG Holden.
Anna: Chocolate is GOOD for your health
Hanna: What about a stuffed animal???
Holden: For the kids?
Jeanine: Honestly, you guys, we should just end there: Flowers die and chocolate is bad for your health. The end.
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Image: Philip Blackowl