Are you about to get married? Or preparing to move in together with your loved one? Or are you about to merge you finances? Or just started dating? Here’s 10 tips on how to manage money as a couple.
1) First changes come as soon as you start dating
Okay, so while dating, you’re not quite a “couple” yet, but even so – this will be very different from managing money as a single, non-dating person.
I was single for 3 years before I met my soon-to-be husband. In those three years, I constantly worked on my money skills, and greatly improved my finances in the process. I obsessed about optimizing my budget and saving as much as possible. And I got really good at it.
When I was a non-dating single, I didn’t have very many expenses. I didn’t travel. I didn’t go out much. Even when I did, I chose the cheapest thing on the menu.
But when I started dating my now-fiancee, I felt things change.
When we were dating, we both had a lot of travel expenses since we lived in different towns. Because of that, we had limited time together, and we wanted to make the most of it. We’d want to visit a park out of town. Shoot some balls at a pool table. Go to a Christmas party – and after-party – together. Have dinner out. Even when we’ just sit for a cup of coffee, I’d spend more than my usual (which was one drink of whatever’s cheapest on the menu). If it was just a friend I was out with, I could have done with just one cup of coffee. But he and I had such a great time together, we always wanted to stay “a little longer” and so we’d have two or three drinks instead of one. Then we’d want to eat somewhere. Then something else.
It was no more just about me and my favourite place or my choice of the cheapest meal. It was no more just about me and what I wanted and me being contempt with a free walk in the park. We did a lot of free things, but that wasn’t enough for us anymore. I was totally on board with that, too!
They say When the heart fills, the head empties. I agree. While I kept my money *generally* under control, I would have done waaaay better as a single non-dating gal.
2) And moving in together will change things even more
So if you think dating changes were huge, just wait till you move in together!
Once you share a place, you’re going to discover a whole universe of things about your partner. And you’d better be ready to accept even more changes to your single-person routine.
When my man and I moved in together, I had a lot of adjusting to do. For example, soap. The kind of soap he had in the bathroom wasn’t expensive, but it also wasn’t the dirt-cheap brand I was buying for myself. I thought he was overspending on soap. This was sort of compensated by his buying cheap soda drinks. But did this make me happy? No, because I would have never bought cheap soda – that stuff has the most amateur taste ever, and is also full of stuff that’s not good for your body.
At the store, he likes to add tomatoes and a jar of mustard to the cart. Those items are not luxuries, but they aren’t really necessities, either; and the tomatoes are before-season so they don’t really taste good. Actually, they don’t taste like tomatoes at all. This is balanced out by the fact that he buys cheap toilet paper, but I don’t like cheap toilet paper.
Eventually we found middle ground: I let the cheap soap go, he let the cheap soda go. We kept buying overpriced, out-of-season tomatoes, but now we also buy good toilet paper. So we basically upgraded from the cheap stuff to the not-so-cheap stuff. We compensate by buying fewer sodas, and when we go out for coffee we don’t always sit at a café – we alternate between having a waitress and sitting on a park bench right next to that café.
3) Talk about what you want and about what he wants – as separate people
So you’ve made it through the initial adjustments and you’re now in your third month of living together. Congrats! But you should know that it’s just now that the real money talk starts.
Relationship experts will tell you to discuss important stuff – like marriage, kids, and money – early on. But what does “early on” mean? When is that – your third date? Your fourth? Before you sleep together?
Money is one shy topic. And it’s awkward to talk about money on your third date (although that’s exactly what I did with my man, but not at other thirds dates I had). On a third date, you are still basically meeting a stranger, and you have no idea if he will turn into something serious. Then why should you want to talk about money?
You wouldn’t. But let me tell you what happens if you DO start talking money on your third date, since that’s what I did on my third date with my soon-to-be husband. It was much like confessing your love to someone who had absolutely no idea how you felt about them and never saw it coming:
Two, I was terrified! What if he didn’t feel the same way? What if, by springing this on him, I had his initial shock working agains me? And what if, by rushing things, I had killed something beautiful before it even had a chance?
Three, MY FEARS CAME TRUE. He didn’t feel the same way, at least not completely. I freaked him out. He found it odd that I had brought up money so early on, and kind of robbed the evening of its romance. But he decided that since I’ve brought the matter up anyway, we should talk about it because apparently it was important enough for me to make such a bold move on a third date.
Four, I was relieved again, because now I knew where each of us stood, and we shared enough common ground to make it work.
Five – and most importantly – we both spoke in general terms. There was nothing too specific. So while this talk was definitely helpful and I’m glad I got away with it, I think pushing for specifics would have been too awkward and, well, inappropriate.
That money talk just can’t get too detailed while you’re freshly dating. You can drive around for more details when you know each other better and when you’re comfortable enough with each other to share such “intimate” stuff as money. The real money talk usually happens when your relationship is more advanced and getting more serious.
And when that time comes – the time to start talking money, – do you really dare spoil the romance of a cuddle-moment in front of the TV by bringing money up?
Well, there’s never a “good time” for that. But whenever you decide to “seize the moment,” don’t open with money right away. First, talk about what you want – not “you” as a couple, but “you” you as a separate person. Then see what your partner wants. BIG WARNING: Do not expect that you both want the same things just because you love each other. You may be a couple but you are still two different people. Also, don’t just talk about wanting “someday” stuff like travelling the world of buying a mansion. Talk about “next week” stuff like buying shoes, replacing the AC unit or a having a dinner out.
After it’s out and you know what each of you wants, you can figure out ways to make it happen. Now is when you bring money into it.
4) Talk about how each of you can get what you want
So you’ve managed the courage to talk about what you want, and also listened to your partner without scratching their eyeballs out. You two might have a chance together!
Your first and most obvious option is to work through your budget together. Get your income straight, get your expenses straight, and jointly decide what to do with whatever’s left. You could just split the leftover money equally for each of you to use as you see fit. Or maybe you could get alternate – this month you get all the excess money, and next month it’s your partner.
Another approach is to think in terms of cutting down your spending. This is not very fun, especially if you already watch your money, but optimizing your budget is always worth it (given that you each contribute equally to cutting down expenses). However, asking your partner to cut down their spending – even if you are willing to cut your own – is a hard and delicate job. That’s why it’s best not to impose it on them or demand they comply (“Don’t you get it?! We have to do this!”). Instead, tell them that you, as a family, need to cut costs, and let them come up with some ideas of their own. Remind them that you talked about what each of you wanted and that neither of you will get it on your current budget.
If you don’t like that, there’s one other way left: think how you could earn more. Maybe somebody should get a second job? Work harder towards a promotion? Or maybe even, one of you should quit their job to allow the other one to earn more?
5) Keep in mind: you two are not the same person
Sometimes people fall in the trap of thinking that once in a relationship, you should want the same things as your partner – or else it’s like you don’t love them or something.
But you two are two different people. You have some things in common, you have some goals in common, but that’s it. You are not 100% the same, and not even 50%, so don’t try to make yourself want what your partner wants.
Also, you two bring your own money history – and financial habits – to the table. We already talked about this so I won’t bore you with it again, but in case you want to refresh your memory: Relationship advice: money problems and issues
Let’s sum it up
To be honest, at first I thougth I’d give you a post with 23 little tips on how to manage money as a couple. I though I’d talk about joint and separate accounts, clipping coupons, and saving money by washing the car yourself.
But that’s just… small stuff.
Which is why I decided to focus on just 5 tips, but make them good ones.
So, let’s sum it up:
Tip #1: Managing money as a couple is definitely different than managing money as a single person. You will notice that as soon as you start dating – even before you are a “couple”.
Tip #2: Prepare for real shutters in your single-person routine after you move in together. While dating, you have limited financial decisions to make together because you only meet out for coffee or dinner. When you live together, you have to think about (and decide together on) what kind of soap, toothpaste, toilet paper and towels to buy; what kind of bread, meat, veggies, sweets, drinks and snacks to buy; what kind of cable, internet and phone contracts to get; and so on and so on and so on. It could be overwhelming at first, and the trick is to ease into it. Also: be prepared to let go of having things 100% your way.
Tip #3: Speak out about what you want. Never assume that you two want the same things just because you are in love. Also, never assume that your partner can read your mind just because they love you. Speak out about what you want, and let them speak out about what they want, too.
Tip #4: Talk about what each of you needs to do (or stop doing) so that each of you can get what you want. This is where real actions come in.
Tip #5: Always remember that you two are not the same person. You are two different people. Yes, you are in love, but you are still two different people. You will not want the same things, you will not have the same habits. And that’s perfectly okay.
And after all that money talk, I have a bonus tip for you: enjoy the feeling of loving someone else.