The Money Date

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

Economically, things are looking bad. The Post has put the unraveling of the stock markets on the front page nearly every day this week, George Bush is huddling with congressional leaders on a stimulus package, and the Federal Reserve just made the biggest one-day cut in short-term interest rates since "I Just Called to Say I Love You" was the number one song in America.

So it's probably a good time to start talking about finances. Or -- since you probably don't want to take any financial advice from me -- it's time to start talking about talking about finances. After all, money is the number two reason for divorce, and it's not hard to imagine why: it's easy for the embarrassment of financial troubles to lead to a breakdown in communications, which sets a whole relationship into a downward spiral.

I was speaking to a colleague of mine over the weekend, and introduced me to the idea of the "money date." The concept is straightforward: one of them cooks a nice dinner, the other runs to the computer to download the most recent bank statements and budget. Then, over a relaxed dinner and a bottle of wine, they go line-by-line through the past month and the month to come.

It's not old-fashioned romance, but my colleague credits the "money date" as a part of the reason her relationship has been as smooth as it is, surviving school, numerous moves and job changes. She claims the honesty keeps bigger problems from emerging, but money is still a white-knuckle subject for me. The advent of online banking means that there's complete transparency in our family's financial life, but every month, there are at least a few purchases that I regret. I'm sure having all that out in the open is best for the marriage, but it ain't always fun.

While I am enamored by my coworker's linguini-and-merlot approach to family finance, I'm curious how the rest of you make sure that you and your partner are on the same page?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  January 24, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Conflicts
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Comments

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That's a great idea! You have to be honest about $. Hiding expenditures will only lead to lying and secrets.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | January 24, 2008 7:24 AM

Sounds to me like you should skip the food, buy two bottles and drink them before looking at the money!


Just image if you prepare your favorite dinner and have a huge "discussion" about finances. You may never be able to eat liver and onions again!

Posted by: Fred | January 24, 2008 8:00 AM

"money is still a white-knuckle subject for me."

Why? Did you discuss money before getting married?

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 24, 2008 8:04 AM

Talking about money with my spouse comes naturally...probably why I have chosen banking, accounting, and auditing as my lines of work. How do we communicate? I handle the finances, but not without his complete knowledge. I keep a spreadsheet that includes all of our checking account and credit card histories, amortization tables of all our loans, a detailed recorded of our savings, a detailed listing of our bills, and our projected salaries... I know, I'm a little over the top. My husband (whose financial mindset and line of work could not possibly be any different than mine) reviews everything twice a month. There are no questions about money, b/c the answers are always present. We both know how much money we can spend freely without first discussing and what is out of the question. There are no arguments or surprises. It has worked well for us.

Posted by: audtee | January 24, 2008 8:08 AM

We've been open and honest about money since the dating turned serious. You have to be, or the marriage isn't going to work.

The "money date" sounds fun, but I'd worry about that bottle of wine unless you've got a good tolerance for alcohol. Half a bottle of good wine can make me agree to things I'd normally not agree to. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 24, 2008 8:12 AM

I suppose that is one advantage to being a little on the broke side. There is no money to spend and therefore no money to argue over.

We have yet to argue over money. Each of us has a small allowance that we can spend on whatever we please. Our joint money has to be decided on but after you pay the mortgage, household bills, medical bills, child support , etc.... there is nothing left over in which to decide what to spend it on.

The only money that we have spent in the year we have been married is on a new bed.

I can only hope that one day we will have enough money to argue over.

Posted by: Billie_R | January 24, 2008 8:13 AM

Today's Fiscally Fit column in the WSJ (I'd link but it's subscription only) had another interesting idea -- the author and her husband use the his, hers and ours approach to managing money AND have a set dollar threshold that requires consultation with the other party before a purchase is made. The author feels it helps her keeping spending in check.

Posted by: tntkate | January 24, 2008 8:19 AM

Personally, when people quote the stats that say: people get divorced because of money, I always think: I doubt it very much.

The reality is, in my opinion, that people hide things they buy, aren't honest, don't communicate, have totally different goals, etc. Those reasons would be there with or without money, so those things could lead to a divorce.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 8:29 AM

We talk about money all the time, actually. we have a plan and we stick to it, most of the time. My husband is a little more conservative with money than I am, so we work well together discussing what we need to do.

Part of the problem is he has an MBA, and I work with budgets/etc. The reality is we both understand financial stuff really well, so we talk about it a bit. It works for us.

I end up doing more of the day to day bill paying, and he ends up with the larger goals and to figure out how to make them happen.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 8:38 AM

My husband and I had a hard time dealing with and talking about money and with 2 mortgages, school tuition and feeding a family of 7- there wasn't much room in our budget for mistakes. We set up an account on Yodlee.com where we can see and access all our our checking, savings, credit and investment accounts on one page. Then we each opened up a seperate checking account for ourselves and kept our existing account as the "Bills account". We each have a set direct deposit for our spending money and whatever other monthly expenses (like gas for the cars) we have. That is all we get and so we have to spend wisely, but we also aren't breathing down each other's necks over every purchase. The household bills come out of the main account so we know they are always covered. We now have a visible end date for ALL of our debt and we don't fight about money. We are also more relaxed and so the communication about our finances is more open and less hostile.

Posted by: michelewilson | January 24, 2008 8:53 AM

My wife and I are too poor to afford a divorce, so when we run out of cash, usually 3 to 5 days before payday, we are forced to live off love!

DandyLion here to remind everybody that having little money in the bank isn't so bad... Sex is Free!

Posted by: DandyLion | January 24, 2008 8:54 AM

DandyLion, you crack me up as usual. :-)

We have yet to figure out a good system for talking things through -- we keep trying different stuff, but with only moderate success. The thing that has worked best is to automate as much as we can so we don't HAVE to work through things too much. So, for ex., we set up a yours/mine/ours system so we each get a little "play" money automatically transferred to our accounts ever month, which we can spend on whatever we feel like. We've set up automatic bill pay where we can, and I have calendar reminders to pay other bills like Visas (which, come to think of it, is today).

The thing that we don't do enough of is long-term planning and tracking the budget. That's very hit or miss, based on whether one of us is in the mood to take it on. Which means oops, it took us two years to get around to re-establishing an automatic investment when we moved and changed bank accounts. Or sometimes, we both re-do the same thing without realizing -- two days ago, my husband he called me into the study to show me how he'd just developed a whole budget, in great detail; he didn't even remember that I had just done the same thing a few months ago.

His latest deal is a spreadsheet (the perils of being married to an engineer). He has anticipated salaries, expenses, savings, etc. all set up year by year for the next 40 years. It's great in theory -- I think it's pretty smart to plan on a new car in year X, new electronic gizmos (computer/TV/etc) every Y years, college in Z, and see how those affect the planned retirement date (the day after the boy graduates from college!). But then again, we've had any number of good-sounding systems in the past -- and discovered, time and again, that none of 'em work if you don't USE them. So I like the idea of a date night to sit down and compare reality with the spreadsheet and talk about any changes we may need to make.

Posted by: laura33 | January 24, 2008 9:29 AM

We set up spreadsheets and folders for taxes - in January. So by the time the year is over, we have all the data and information we need at our fingertips.

We're less organized on bases for stocks/mutual funds, which is a huge pain in the neck when we sell them. *sigh*.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 9:41 AM

We have 2 joint accounts (checking, and money market). We generally use a US$200 cutoff before getting joint approval for purchases. Big goals are discussed as opportunities arise.

Posted by: chemguy1157 | January 24, 2008 10:06 AM

I suppose that is one advantage to being a little on the broke side. There is no money to spend and therefore no money to argue over.

We have yet to argue over money. Each of us has a small allowance that we can spend on whatever we please. Our joint money has to be decided on but after you pay the mortgage, household bills, medical bills, child support , etc.... there is nothing left over in which to decide what to spend it on.

The only money that we have spent in the year we have been married is on a new bed.

I can only hope that one day we will have enough money to argue over.

Posted by: Billie_R | January 24, 2008 08:13 AM

If each of you has a small allowance that you can spend on whatever you please, you agree that there is not a more pressing need, e.g., new tires, paying an overdue medical bill, or paying off a high-interest card, that should be addressed. Most arguments about money are not whether to establish a trust fund for Muffy or buy a new car for Steward. They are about whether both parents can live with the quality of care for their toddler at Childcare Facility X or whether they should trade in their current vehicle for a more fuel efficient vehicle in order to move their toddler to better, but more expensive, Childcare Facility Y. In other words, the real money struggles are when you don't have enough to meet our obligations or care for your children as you desire. There are no real winners in those arguments.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 24, 2008 10:14 AM

Having a money date to discuss how to pay for a big purchase, where to put savings, making budget changes, etc. is a good thing.

Making a money date be the only way you disucss your family money is wrong.

Have software such as Quicken or Money, enter everything, categorize everything, and give yourselves a personal budget. That way, if you regret a purchase, it affects only your personal budget, not that of the family.

The key is openness and honesty at all times. If you can't do that, you're doomed to failure, both financially and maritally.

Posted by: Post43 | January 24, 2008 10:18 AM

I don't understand why anyone would hide purchases from their spouse. It's asinine and childish.

Our finances are simple; my wife is kind enough to write the checks for the bills (my handwriting is nigh illegible). She does so shortly after payday for all the bills due that week. A few minutes after that, she says "Well, we have no money again." I say, "Yep." or "Sounds right." and we move on with our loving relationship.

I also don't understand people with separate accounts. Trust issues much? ...But that's a whole other subject and I shouldn't digress.

Please forgive the u/n, it's a very old log-on.

-J

Posted by: CSEKF_KaiserSoze | January 24, 2008 10:34 AM

Oh, and we both basically spend on what we spend on, and if it's a big purchase (like the wii my DH just bought) we discuss it. We basically spend on food and stuff for the kids and every once in a while each of us go shopping for clothes (shopping for clothes for kids, more often).

I personally don't like the 'allowance' thing. I know it works for some, but to me it's more of splitting your money, and I personally don't like that idea.

To us, all the money is OUR money. When I was a SAHM, when I'm working, whatever. One day maybe I'll be the sole supporter, who knows.

I have a friend who has a bank account with 'her' money - she says it's for 'just in case.' It seems to me it's more like actually planning for the divorce before you're even married. I mean, i'd rather not go thru divorce, but if i had to, i'd rather trust that everything's going to work out rather than plan every day for what might eventually go wrong.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 10:35 AM

CSEKF: get web bill pay. NO MORE CHECKS. Well, a few, but SO many fewer!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 10:37 AM

Totally agree with atlmom on the "it's all OUR money" part. DW and I agreed before we were married that that's how we'd handle it, no matter which of us was working. Paychecks are direct-deposited into the main credit union account, then transferred where needed. We do each take some money out of each paycheck that doesn't get accounted for - whether one of us goes out to lunch, or stops and buys milk, or buys new clothes, or goes out for a drink. But it's all OURs.

Disagree with atlmom on the web bill pay, though. We do have some bills paid automatically every month, and pay others on-line. But we find the act of writing checks enforces discipline. It makes the money "real" - it causes us to think "wait a minute, I'm spending something I had to work hard to get - is this REALLY necessary?" So we do it the old fashioned way, for now.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 24, 2008 10:52 AM

Hear hear, MN! This is the part that got me: "We have yet to argue over money. Each of us has a small allowance that we can spend on whatever we please. Our joint money has to be decided on but after you pay the mortgage, household bills, medical bills, child support , etc.... there is nothing left over in which to decide what to spend it on."

I know a couple that also fits that profile. They have a good salary, but since they live in the DC 'burbs and have kids in daycare, they don't have much left after paying the bills. And yet, the husband is a toy boy, and tends to go out and buy whatever stuff catches his eye -- usually without talking it over with the wife, and sometimes after agreeing with her not to buy it. Not surprisingly, they fight over money a fair bit.

Whether you have a little or a lot only comes into play when you have so little you can't even pay the basics -- that's a whole different level of stress. Once you get above that level, it's about how the two of you work together in managing however much you have. If you treat each other with dignity and respect, agree on a plan, and live within that plan, you will be fine, even with a little. If you are selfish and immature, then no amount of extra income will "solve" your money problems; you'll just find bigger toys to blow it on.

Don't sell yourself short. What makes you successful is that you and your partner have similar values and are living according to those values -- not the fact that you just don't have any "extra" to blow.

Posted by: laura33 | January 24, 2008 11:00 AM

armybrat: i hear you. We don't have a lot automatically paid (the mortgage may be the only one) we get a few bills via the billpay, and then i schedule the rest (the day before they're do - so maybe i'll get a few extra cents of interest...).

But definitely, you spend money differently if you have cash vs. a credit card, so i guess you'd also do the same if you write out checks vs. scheduling them. But to me the money is so ephemeral these days (it gets into the account, it goes out), there's little 'touching' of it anyway.

Of course. it's whatever works for you best! This works for us, since i can access the accounts from anywhere, look at what's going on and adjust stuff (I'm way too crazy about it)i.e., putting more or less into savings one month vs. another.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 11:02 AM

laura: hear, hear. It's interesting to me when people talk about marriage, and they say things like: but I *love* him/her. Then they talk about how incompatible they are (how they have differing views on money, where to live, whatever).

If one person spends every penny they have and then some, and another doesn't spend on anything (or whatever), then no matter how much they 'love' each other, it probably wouldn't work. Part of a marriage is working stuff out and learning to deal with the differences, but when you have incompatible views on things like money (or how many kids to have, or whether to send them to private school or not, or whatever), then maybe it's not the right person to marry....

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 11:05 AM

On the "all ours" vs. the "allowance" bit: we got a ton of crap about my SIL for having any separate money, about how we must not be dedicated to the marriage, etc. But here's the deal. My husband and I have different views of what it is appropriate to spend $20 or $50 on. He likes to buy things like $100 sunglasses; I think the $12.99 Walgreens version is just fine and would rather put the remaining $87 in the bank.

When we got married, our first 6 months or so had a bunch of stupid little snipes like this -- not full-blown fights, but me getting frustrated he was "wasting" money, and him getting frustrated that he could was making $70K/yr and yet the wife was giving him a hard time about a pair of freaking sunglasses. Basically, we both had different money needs. For him, treating himself to nice things occasionally made him feel successful. For me, it was all about having enough money in the bank to feel secure (going back to yesterday's "never want to be poor again" discussion).

We had to find a solution that met both our needs. So we decided that we'd each get an "allowance" of sorts each month. He got to buy his stupid stuff, and I had to shut up about it, because it was his money. On the other hand, I got to stick my money directly in the bank, so I got the comfort of knowing that we had extra savings to fall back on, just in case. It may sound stupid, but that one change eliminated at least 95% of our money snipes.

It's not about trust, or commitment, or some philosophical ideal. It was about finding a compromise that met both of our needs.

Posted by: laura33 | January 24, 2008 11:18 AM

Finances:

This is something i have LOTS of perspective on. Here's some highlights:

1. NO income is high enough if the people are financially irresponsible. My BIL made $300K for several years without saving a dime. Millionaires file for bankruptcy all the time.

2. The reason money is the primary thing people fight about is twofold: first, numbers don't lie. There's no way to tweak them so they look good. They either are good or bad, no pretending. Second, people come from very different money backgrounds and have very different assumptions of what's normal. My DH's family always discussed money openly and healthily and he started buying stocks when he was 7 or 8. My parents NEVER talked about money unless they were in the middle of a big screaming fight. Even thinking about money made me anxious, so I was really irresponsible. It took a LONG time, and i'm still not totally there yet in comfort or knowledge, but over the last five years I've learned alot about money from DH. It's been incredibly empowering, but it was really scary at first.

3. You should both sit down together at least once a month to review your spending and income and identify ways to improve your savings. We track everything through Microsoft Money, which is tremendously helpful.

4. they did a fascinating study of millionaires recently and showed that the vast majority of them drive cheap cars, have simple houses and limit their spending. Cutting expenses allows you to build wealth. The earlier you do it, the wealthier you'll be.

5. Saving can only be done by the family, not by one individual. I've found two things to be most helpful for us: 1. we have a plan for what we're going to do with our money, which personally motivates us. When we were saving for our 6-month backpacking trip, we never went out, never saw movies, whatever, because we knew the more we saved the longer our trip could be. It's about finding goals that people find motivating. If you want your kids to go to college (without massive loans, which they'll be able to get no problem), you need to stop buying crap. Period. And 2. you have to give yourselves "fun money", so you don't feel deprived all the time. My DH and I get $60 cash each week, each, and that's our fun money. I might go to happy hour or a pedicure or whatever, but I don't have to feel guilty about it because it's budgeted in. You'd be astounded how much more than $60 a week my friends spend. We don't, because we either have cash in our wallets or not. A weekly allowance has been very helpful for us.

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 24, 2008 11:28 AM

"Our joint money has to be decided on but after you pay the mortgage, household bills, medical bills, child support , etc.... there is nothing left over in which to decide what to spend it on"

How do people handle child support obligations & child support income?

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 24, 2008 11:33 AM

Laura: that's why I said, personally. I know that different people have different needs - so different couples have different needs.

I just know a couple who sits and calculates things to the penny, how it's his/hers, etc, and I look at them and shake my head - only giving opinions when asked. It just seems crazy (like her idea that since she's home with the kids, he has to 'pay' her for that, and that's the money to spend on the kids - and how *he* has to have enough insurance on *him* so she would never have to work again, but there's no insurance on *her* cause he's 'paying' her as if the kids are in day care, so he could 'afford' for her to not be there (which really translates to: well, *I* want to be sure *I'm* taken care of, but if *I* dies, who cares? why take money from our funds for that?) - it really doesn't sound like you guys do this...).

So that's my go to for thinking about 'his' and 'hers.' But I do know that some couples want to have each of them have their 'own' money, so each of them could do their own 'stupid' things with them (for instance, maybe your husband's craziness is sunglasses, but yours was $3 lattes every day - then eventually it would even out, but he might think you should be able to get a free cup of coffee at work). For *us* that doesn't work much, but I do completely understand it working for others.

What I don't understand is when reading michele singletary or whoever, and the question is something like: my husband puts in some money to the checking account and I do too, cause we both work, but my husband thinks we should put in equal amounts, but i make less, so then i wouldn't have any money left over, what should we do? I mean, REALLY. Does the husband then say: well, ya know, *I* can afford a vacation, but *you* can't - see you in a week!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 11:37 AM

We have yours, mine, and ours accounts and we also have mad money. Mad money is like an allowance amount. It is money you can blow any way you like and the other person can't say a word. You can also save your mad money if you wish. We draw a budget out each year and make adjustments if something comes up. We alot a certain amount of money for recurring bills, house fund (savings), retirement, college savings, personal savings, and mad money. After all the disciplined savings and bills are paid each month, that does not leave an awful lot of mad money for each person. But it is enough to buy the sunglasses that Laura was talking about and a few fun things each month. If something unexpected comes up, we readjust. We decided should we pay it out of our savings fund, daily costs, or dip into our own personal savings. If either partner needs money, we ask the other partner for some money. We share the bills and the pay checks and investment info completely. As long as each person has a little fun money and doesn't make judgements on how they spend their fun money, I don't see the problem. It was hard for my husband to adjust in the beginning. We both had been single for a long time. But we found out that neither partner judges the other and we are always there to help one another. I agree with altmom, it is the secrecy, lying and whatever that breaks up marriages. Money is just the thing they lie about.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 24, 2008 11:38 AM

What I don't understand is when reading michele singletary or whoever, and the question is something like: my husband puts in some money to the checking account and I do too, cause we both work, but my husband thinks we should put in equal amounts, but i make less, so then i wouldn't have any money left over, what should we do? I mean, REALLY. Does the husband then say: well, ya know, *I* can afford a vacation, but *you* can't - see you in a week!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 11:37 AM

If I was married to someone like that, I would be looking for a good divorce attorney. Or better yet, we wouldn't be married in the first place.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 24, 2008 11:39 AM

"I don't understand why anyone would hide purchases from their spouse. It's asinine and childish."

Well, when the wife finds out much money the hubby is spending on the girlfriend, it has a tendency to cause more problems than necessary!

Posted by: GutlessCoward | January 24, 2008 11:41 AM

Re: chittychittybangbang

"Did you discuss money before getting married?" [In reference to money being a white knuckle subject.]

Well, we didn't have a mortgage or have to pay for childcare for twins (surprise!) at the time. It's a lot easier to think about these things in concept than dealing with the reality.

Our financial life has one twist I haven't read yet--my wife is a freelancer. So, there is always what's in the bank, what is expected, and what we expect to owe Uncle Sam. Shortly after getting married, I set up a spreadsheet so we could keep track of assignments, billing status, and when paid (to handle quarterly tax payments). One source of tension for us is that I tend to react to how much she has earned (including billed) and she reacts to how much has been paid. She'll take on additional work, which stresses us both at times. We work through it. As Kate Bush once sang, "They thought it would be so hard, but it wasn't. It wasn't easy though..."

This year, we set up a budget for the first time. It was a challenge before as we were renovating and dealing with child care expenses for the first time. We made progress, but not enough. Beyond fixed expenses, there are three weekly allowances: mine, hers and the household (food and essentials). I'm quite fond of good wine and tend to spend a big chunk of my budget at the local shop (I share).

Beyond that, we set up a plan for the excess money: long term savings, major household expenses (still not done with the rehab of the house), and "big fun". Vacations, electronics, and such. With a conservative projection of this year's income, we hope to start building a nest egg. [The first egg was a downpayment on a house.] The budget has eased stress. We're clear on our goals and there's no guilt attached to a little splurge (as long as it's within one's budget).

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | January 24, 2008 11:43 AM

newslinks: well said. My DH grew up 'wealthier' than we did, so he had different ideas about money. So I try to see things his way, and I think he tries to see things my way, and we have learned to live together :)

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 11:45 AM

Armybrat, we get most bills paid out automatically. But what we do when we get money deposited in our accts from pay checks is we automatically deduct the amount for each recurring bill. So we see it as a line item. Then we only spend what we see in our checking account statement book. Not what the bank tells us we still have. It has worked well for us. So we get pay check deposit. We subtract-mortgage, electricity, water, day care etc... Then the rest is ours to spend on regular expenses that are not prediticable like food, clothing, etc...

Posted by: foamgnome | January 24, 2008 11:45 AM

"but i make less, ..."

That means you should do the dishes and laundry. That should make it fair.

Posted by: GutlessCoward | January 24, 2008 11:45 AM

See, since I look at 'day to day' I actually have more idea about what's going on - so I actually do 'hide' money - i.e., I put money into savings all along the way (where my DH can LOOK at those accounts, every day if he wants) - so when I say: let's go on vacation: he always asks: can we afford to? Cause while he knows the big picture, he doesn't know if we've saved for it or how much is in savings or whatever.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 11:58 AM

atlmom, yep, I'm with you on those kinds of questions -- it's kind of like, if you have to even ask, there's something much bigger wrong. And didn't mean to sound annoyed at your earlier comment -- was just trying to provide one explanation (my annoyance lies elsewhere, i.e., with SIL who believes that $200/mo. somehow makes me less "committed" to my marriage than she is to hers. Grr).

Interestingly, I get it from both sides: my mother grew up in an era when women didn't have any money of their own, and ended up on food stamps for a while after my dad left and she went back to school. So to her, having her own income, along with bank accounts and credit cards in her own name, was a point of pride and empowerment. When she got married again, they kept everything separate (32 yrs so far, so they must be doing something right!). So she couldn't understand why my husband and I WOULDN'T keep everything separate! :-)

Posted by: laura33 | January 24, 2008 11:59 AM

We were both Economics majors so our household money set-up is unduly complicated!

We have a household budget and each contribute our income-adjusted amount to it. If expenses change then we re-visit that and re-adjust.

Otherwise we each have our own monies. We sometimes buy things together that aren't in the household budget and then we settle up.

One of us has a small business, so those funds are managed by the owner. That pushed us to have an organized household plan. It also pushed us to moving our utilities onto the 12 equal payments plan. When you're self-employed then it's good to have a steady budget so you can plan how to smooth over ups and downs in incomes. The 12-pay utility plans keep winter/summer bills from causing us grief.

We also chose HMO insurance that has small co-pays and almost no other out-of-pocket expenses. That way when the premium is paid there will not be much more in the way of unexpected health bills.

Posted by: RedBird27 | January 24, 2008 12:02 PM

We do yours, mine & ours, and it has worked so far for us. Because I saw first-hand what happened after my father passed away when I was in high school and my parents had completely combined finances (a total disaster that would take too long to explain here), I feel a need to have at least some financial independence. My husband and I make pretty equal salaries so it's not a huge issue. Plus we have given each other the information to access all of our accounts online, so I can always see what he's up to and vice versa. :-)

Posted by: plawrimore1 | January 24, 2008 12:11 PM

Laura: and really, when my mom got her own credit card, when she was married - there was a reason. She didn't have a job or anything, she did it so that when they were to get divorced, she'd have her own credit rating. She put me on the card - we were co-owners on the account - so I'd have MY OWN credit rating when I got out of college (my sisters were already on their own by that point).

It was very difficult putting DH on all my accounts - just psychologically, even tho he put me on his, in a second/

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 12:17 PM

atlmom -- Your comment about adding DH makes me laugh, because after 12 yrs of marriage, my husband and I got our first combined credit card! We both had our own when we married, so "yeah, we should get a combined card" got stuck on that "someday" list that we just never got around to. But he just got a new offer for an AmEx with a nice rebate, so he signed up, and I am now an "authorized user" (since they don't do joint). It felt really weird to open up the disclosures and see "if you fail to pay the amounts owed, we will seek payment from the account holder." So in other words, I could run up the bill, and they'd come after him for it. Fiscal irresponsibility, with someone else footing the bill? Sweet!! :-)

Posted by: laura33 | January 24, 2008 12:25 PM

"I also don't understand people with separate accounts. Trust issues much? ..."

In the case of myself and my DH, it has nothing to do with trust. We are both extremely independent and wanted to keep our own checking accounts. We also got married older (late thirties), and were used to having our own accounts and paying bills.

So that is what we still do. The bills are divided up by income, and I pay the bills I am responsible for and he pays the ones he's responsible for.

As for the trust, we both have the other's name on our accounts, so technically they are "joint" accounts. If anything were to happen to either of us, the other could use either account with no problems. And both accounts are available online, so everything is transparent. We just choose to each have our own.

Posted by: cjbriggs | January 24, 2008 12:27 PM

You want to know even funnier, DH and I don't have a joint cc. We never saw the need for it. We each have our own and we purchase what we want. If we purchase something for the household, we just settle up at the time of the bill.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 24, 2008 12:28 PM

Separate checking for us, was just that we entered the marriage that way. We had bills set up to pay from different accounts. It seemed more like a hassle to cancel them and start everything all over again. But we have each other's name on each account, so in case of death or something else, the other person can get to the other persons account. With people marrying in their 20s-30s-40s+, I would find it hard to believe they would not have come into the marriage with separate accounts. Also, you can't blame anyone else if you forget to deduct a charge. BIL and SIL are always forgetting to write in the deductions and over drafting their accounts.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 24, 2008 12:31 PM

I guess i just see division of labor as one of the primary perks of marriage. so I relish the fact that my DH takes primary control of our finances and I take primary control of other things. We each get to play to our strengths, which are different.

Now, of course, I have full access to everything and know how to fully use our Money account, so nothing's being hidden. And we definitely officially sit down at least once a month to look at the money together. And I kept the credit card I had when we got married in my name only, so my credit isn't exclusively tied to his. But both our names are on the mortgage and all the asset accounts...

But why should both of you be stuck paying bills separately, when one of you could handle it more efficiently while the other handled another important household task? I guess I just crave logic and efficiency...

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 24, 2008 12:32 PM

MN,

You are right. We don't have pressing credit card debt (ok we are a little behind this month due to some unexpected unemployment) and can afford all of the basic needs. And sadly, although we technically get an allowance we often put our allowance back into the joint account to cover our bills *sigh* so our small allowance is a pittance.

That doesn't mean we don't have some wants like new windows or replacing the carpet. But life is very depressing indeed if you don't have money to get new clothes or shoes(we use our allowance for that) or even go out for an inexpensive dinner with your friends. Unless you are struggling so badly that can't put food on your table, I think a bit of spending money is necessary to prevent you from going crazy even if you have to forgo replacing your carpet for a little longer.

Chitty.... this child support thing is a little new for me. Originally, we kept with what he was sending and I had no problems with that. These are his children and he has a responsibility to them. Then their circumstances changed and we agreed to give more money. We based the increase on what I thought was a reasonable percentage of his income although in reality it is not a lot of money. He didn't disagree so that is the amount that we give. I have to admit that it is a good chunk of his income (right now it is actually more than 1/2 because his income went down after we agreed to the new amount) but what can you do? He doesn't make a lot of money so half of not a lot is not a lot of child support. It also means he doesn't contribute a lot to our household but again... what do you do? He has responsibilities that he needs to meet and it would be crass of me to deny the children adequate living conditions.

This money is considered part of our joint expenses and we pay it as such. I have no idea what other couples do because I don't know of any other couple that pays child support - at least not well enough to ask them.

Posted by: Billie_R | January 24, 2008 12:36 PM

Someone above mentioned that food isn't a predictable expense. I somewhat disagree. We plan our weekly menu Sundary morning. This cut our grocery bill by $50-$60 a week, as we are not over buying and/or impluse buying anymore. It's been great -- you end up with fresher food and lower bills. It also helps you better anticipate what the grocery bill is going to be.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | January 24, 2008 12:38 PM

NoVAHockey, there has been a lot of recent price inflation in food. So it would be difficult to judge a monthly amount. I think food shopping is one area we could do better with but since we have always had the money to purchase food, we don't worry about it. I have a rough idea of how much food costs for us per month. But lately, I noticed a lot of price increases.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 24, 2008 12:44 PM


"Personally, when people quote the stats that say: people get divorced because of money, I always think: I doubt it very much."

I must live in a different universe than most of you because I know plenty of people whose marriages are either hanging by a thread or have ended largely because of money issues. My former marriage included. Like someone above said--"enough money" is a relative concept and everyone has a different comfort zone. As for rationale that you can't argue about money if you don't have it--what about the thousands (millions?) of couples who have $10,000, $25,000 or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt? Apparently not everyone in this country got the memo that you can't spend more than you have; if that were the case I guess credit card companies would be out of luck. And what about the people who have plenty or more than plenty of money but who disagree on how to spend or save it? Not every couple is able to sit down and look at money as just money--maybe hard to believe if you're a numbers person but the reality remains that money is actually a major source of strife between couples.

Re: child support--I don't pay it but I do receive it from my former husband. I've just recently remarried and am still trying to figure out how to handle that money. I feel a little weird counting it as income and putting it into our joint account because that money is specifically earmarked for the kids. I think what I'm going to end up doing is setting up college savings accounts and just put the money in there; that way there's no question that it's going solely to the kids.

And if I were married to someone who had to pay child support to a former spouse I'm not sure how I'd feel if that money were coming out of a joint account that included my salary.

Also, lol about wives finding out how much money their husbands are spending on their girlfriends--probably meant in jest but totally true!

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 24, 2008 12:47 PM

gotta agree with noVAHockey here. Pretty much everything is budgetable--food, clothing, travel, car repairs, gifts, etc.

It's just a question of tracking how much you've spent on them over the last few years total, then taking the average of the years, dividing by 12, and you have a standard monthly amount (if you prefer, you can do things quarterly or yearly or whatever). Money automatically tracks ALL of our spending, through our checking or credit card accounts, and we categorize everything (which takes very little time to set up), then pull reports that show us these things. Our budget report shows us whether we're on track, ahead, or behind on spending. (we like it best when we're behind on spending, of course! that means we're saving more!)

VERY few things are unbudgetable.

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 24, 2008 12:50 PM

right, foamgnome - i can't believe how much a gallon of milk is!

Well, if you have separate credit cards, then you necessarily have to have separate checking accounts! I see our credit statement on line at least every few days, so I know what's going out, so I can 'budget' accordingly, put less or more into savings/mortgage payment that month, depending on expenses.

Sometimes things just come up - we need something for the house, or the car has expenses, or whatever. It's always something.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 12:50 PM

I haven't noticed that -- we tend to buy the same things and our weekly bills are about the same each week. I think the trick is to avoid simply walking the aisle and randomly picking stuff. gotta run!

Posted by: NoVAHockey | January 24, 2008 12:54 PM

"I mean, REALLY. Does the husband then say: well, ya know, *I* can afford a vacation, but *you* can't - see you in a week!"

Does that count my friend's husband--he works, she has a very part-time low-paying job--saying to her "The Christmas presents I buy for the kids are from me; if you want to get them something you have to pay for it out of your money."?

In which case, yes, some husbands (or wives) REALLY do say things like that.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 24, 2008 12:56 PM

maggie: all I meant was: there's something ELSE going on - you have different values, i.e., one of you thinks that it's OK to spend thousands that you can't afford, the other doesn't. THAT'S a value - has nothing to do with money, per se.
It's the hiding of things, or the squirelling away, or the not discussing, none of that has to do with money - it has to do with each person's values and if they're different, and they don't want to deal with it - then neither of those issues has to do with money - it has to do with THEM and it wouldn't go away.

as for child support - hey, I don't have to deal with that, but when you marry them, you marry all of them. I keep going back to the same thing: would you say to your spouse: sorry, honey, you had too many expenses this year, I'm going to Mexico without you - have fun working while I'm on vacation...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 12:56 PM

I mean, REALLY. Does the husband then say: well, ya know, *I* can afford a vacation, but *you* can't - see you in a week!"

Does that count my friend's husband--he works, she has a very part-time low-paying job--saying to her "The Christmas presents I buy for the kids are from me; if you want to get them something you have to pay for it out of your money."?

In which case, yes, some husbands (or wives) REALLY do say things like that.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 24, 2008 12:56 PM

I tell you an even worse story. My FIL used to make his wife pay for the minor children's christmas presents from "her" money but then wanted them to write love mom and dad on the card. What a cheapskate!

Posted by: foamgnome | January 24, 2008 1:00 PM

I have had heard that it isn't money or debt that breaks up the marriage. It is feeling differently about money that causes the conflict. So a couple, where both people are very happy being in debt do not fight about the 25K they owe on cc. While people who feel differently about money might fight about a $70 pair of sunglasses. I think early on in marriages, people get into more conflict about money. But hopefully, they learn to come to agreement about money or the marriages are a problem.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 24, 2008 1:05 PM

"I also don't understand people with separate accounts. Trust issues much?"

You betcha! I've lived through the kind of damage a bipolar spouse in a spending mania can do (this ultimately led to his proper diagnosis). I was able to save the family bacon--but after that--separate accounts. I'm not going through THAT again.

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 24, 2008 1:07 PM

"Well, if you have separate credit cards, then you necessarily have to have separate checking accounts!" ??? Sorry, atlmom, not following -- we have separate credit cards, but pay them all out of the same joint bank account.

Posted by: laura33 | January 24, 2008 1:10 PM

"Well, if you have separate credit cards, then you necessarily have to have separate checking accounts!"

No you don't. It's not some sort of requirement on the part of the credit companies, or something. Before we got the separate checking accounts, we had separate credit cards. They were paid for out of the joint account then.

Now they aren't.

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 24, 2008 1:13 PM

We have yours, mine and ours accounts and it's got nothing to do with a lack of trust. It's more about having a little bit of money to call our own and it flows both ways.

Our paychecks go into the joint account which pays for all household / kid expenses. Then we pay a set monthly allowance to ourselves to use how we see fit. We pay the allowance right after we pay off the joint credit card (the last big bill of the month) and if we can't pay the whole thing the allowance gets scrapped in favor of staying out of debt.

We are free to spend our money however we want so if one of us really wants a big ticket item that the other one thinks is a waste we have the option to save up our allowance until we can buy it. On the other hand it definitely feels more special when one of us buys a gift or takes the other out to dinner and pays from our own account rather than the joint account.

Posted by: foxn | January 24, 2008 1:19 PM

Re: child support--I don't pay it but I do receive it from my former husband. I've just recently remarried and am still trying to figure out how to handle that money. I feel a little weird counting it as income and putting it into our joint account because that money is specifically earmarked for the kids. I think what I'm going to end up doing is setting up college savings accounts and just put the money in there; that way there's no question that it's going solely to the kids.

And if I were married to someone who had to pay child support to a former spouse I'm not sure how I'd feel if that money were coming out of a joint account that included my salary.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 24, 2008 12:47 PM

Maggie, don't you see the contradiction here? If you put all the child support money into college accounts, that means your new husband is footing the bill for the kids' living expenses. (Perhaps you have separate accounts? But utilities, groceries, etc are generally seen as shared expenses, and they're hugely impacted by the kids.) Yet you say if you new husband had to pay child support, you wouldn't want it to come from your joint household account.

You can have it either way, I'm just pointing out the inherent gap in logic here.

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 24, 2008 1:28 PM

On the other hand it definitely feels more special when one of us buys a gift or takes the other out to dinner and pays from our own account rather than the joint account.

Posted by: foxn | January 24, 2008 01:19 PM

More like a date?

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 24, 2008 1:30 PM

but, if i couldn't look and see what the charges were during the month, then I wouldn't know how much is needed to pay the cc, and I would go crazy (me, personally). I don't enjoy the cc bill being a surprise. :)

and, maryland mother: thanks for putting it in perspective. I've tried to temper my thoughts/feelings and also have the normal: doesn't apply to all, I'm not trying to judge, wherein - we don't know anyone else's situation so we can't judge them.

Again, my criteria is the idea of doing stuff with the family - or giving gifts - having them be from everyone, etc. blahblahblah...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 1:32 PM

I am not in a child support situation but I honestly don't see why it is wrong to use child support to pay for things like the kids clothing, food, utilities, and even mortgage. If you were married, you would be using some of your money to pay for those things. Kids benefit from having a home with utilities, clothing and food. I think that is different then taking the child support check and buying yourself clothing, a vacation, or fancy jewelry. But every day expenses that the kids benefit from should be allowed. In fact, I bet if you asked the courts, they would agree.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 24, 2008 1:33 PM

Newslinks --I hadn't thought of it that way but you're definitely right. I guess my rationale was that I didn't want to feel like if my husband and I were out on a date or buying something for the house that it was being partially funded by my ex, but you can't really look at it that way.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 24, 2008 1:41 PM

every state is different, but in florida, for example:
http://dor.myflorida.com/dor/childsupport/pdf/poz8.pdf

there's a Basic Need amount, PLUS 75% of child care costs (if applicable), PLUS Insurance costs.

child support is intended to meet month-to-month living expenses of the child.

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 24, 2008 1:42 PM

For us our combined financial goals are very much tied into the goals of what we want to achieve for ourselves, each other and our daughter. If we want to have or provide certain experiences, without the stress of going into debt, then we have to prioritize our expenditures & have mutual realizable financial goals. So, my question is this...is there any such thing as a date that ISN'T a money date? Don't get me wrong, I am in no way obsessed with money, and our lifestyle is quite moderate, but when DH & I "date" we tend to talk about old times, where we have been, where we are now & where we are going, goals & dreams etc. Money is always a part of that.

Also, planning the meals & buying for those meals once a week is not only a money saver, but also a time saver & has made it possible for me to have a home-cooked meal on the table most nights of the week in time for my toddler to eat.

Also, I tend towards more of the plan out every expense & projected salaries monthly for the next 40 years. My husband is better at focusing on short-term goals. I have come to accept, over time, dragging my heels, that for us, setting up specific goals with short intervals keeps us motivated & on target more than long term projections.

Posted by: girouxpi | January 24, 2008 1:43 PM

re: life being partially funded by the ex...

There's no debate that your finances would be in significantly worse shape if he were a deadbeat dad who refused to pay anything. Why is it hard to admit that you're better off financially because of child support?

So long as you're using the child support money to better your kids' lives (which might include buying a larger house with a larger yard or whatever), instead of using it on lavish things for yourself only, I think the courts have been pretty clear about this. If you feel the ex pays too much, you can ask the courts for a smaller sum (though this happens pretty rarely!)

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 24, 2008 1:46 PM

but, if i couldn't look and see what the charges were during the month, then I wouldn't know how much is needed to pay the cc, and I would go crazy (me, personally). I don't enjoy the cc bill being a surprise. :)
Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 01:32 PM

I honestly forget a lot of the time that most people don't use Money to instantaneously track all their accounts. Our Money account "talks to" all our other accounts, so at any given hour of the day we know exactly what's been charged to the credit card, which checks have cleared, etc. No bills are ever a surprise to us (well, the utilities sometimes!) (Lots of other people set up the 12-month standard utilities cost, but in our case that involved fees that seemed stupid. So our utilities vary somewhat each month/quarter.)

But for us, having different credit cards and accounts doesn't matter at all--we both know where we stand in all cases by glancing at Money.

If you're as into tracking these things as you say, you'll LOVE Money. :)

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 24, 2008 1:51 PM

"The concept is straightforward: one of them cooks a nice dinner, the other runs to the computer to download the most recent bank statements and budget. Then, over a relaxed dinner and a bottle of wine, they go line-by-line through the past month and the month to come. "

Assuming that each knows how to and is willing to (1) cook a nice dinner and (2) download stuff from the computer!

Who pays for the wine?

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 24, 2008 1:54 PM

Somewhat off-topic, but inspired by the ways that some people handle money: last Fall DW and I went up to Boston to attend a 100th birthday celebration for a cousin of my father. Over 100 people were there; big party and lots of fun.

We got to talking with the niece of the birthday girl, who had organized the party and invited us. (I guess the organizer would be my second cousin; the birthday girl is my first cousin once removed.) At any rate, the birthday girl was the oldest of 12, and never married. She's lived in what used to be her parents' house all her life. About 10 years ago, she lived with three other siblings - one other who had never married, and two whose spouses had died.

The four of them worked out their finances to the nickel. They had "household accounts" and "personal accounts". They shared the cost of food, but personal items like shampoo, deodorant, etc. had to come out of personal accounts.

So when somebody went to the store, he or she got whatever was on the shopping list. Then they settled up. The food items were totalled up and were paid out of the household account. Each person paid for personal items out of a personal account.

Fast forward 10 years, to the present. The birthday girl is the only one of the four still living. She's in the house now with two nieces and their families. But she still has her household account and personal account, and whoever does the shopping for her had better get it right! When you buy her food, it comes out of her household account. When you buy her shampoo, it comes out of her personal account. When she asks you to buy gum that she can give as gifts to grand-nieces who do work around the house for her, that comes out of a gift account! And you'd darned well better be able to account to the penny for each item and each account, or she'll make you figure out the mistake and fix it.

To make it more complex, the personal account, household account, and gift accounts are all in separate banks, because the birthday girl is old enough to remember the Great Depression and bank failures, and she's darned if she's going to lose all of her money at once!

She's quite the lady; it was a lot of fun spending the day with her and the rest of the relatives.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 24, 2008 1:55 PM

We just keep a standard amount of $$ in our account that is enough to cover all of our bills and budgets for an entire month. However, we have the luxery of spending much less than we make and neither of us is a big spender.

DH and I do also withdraw all of our spending money as cash each week and ditch the cards. When you're out of $$, you're out.

We hate managing details with finances, so in general we just find the system with the least overhead.

Posted by: ethele | January 24, 2008 1:59 PM

Not to pick on Maggie, but atlmom wrote: "as for child support - hey, I don't have to deal with that, but when you marry them, you marry all of them."

Totally agree. This is hypothetical for me (and I hope it always will be) since my one and only wife and I just celebrated 20 years of marriage, but I would think that if I ever married another woman, and she had kids to raise, that it would be a "package deal". If I wasn't willing to take responsibility for the kids, I wouldn't marry their mother.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 24, 2008 2:00 PM

another question:
You know how everyone's supposed to have a 6-month emergency fund? How many of you keep it, and where do you keep it?

We like to keep an extra 5 grand in our checking at all times, in an excessive display of my DH's need for security and need to be absolutely certain to avoid any overdrafts. I feel like 5 grand is a bit much to meet those needs, but it is comforting in its way. (although it's WAY less than a full 6 month's of expenses!)

We keep lots in an AmeriTrade account that we can cash out at a moment's notice, and we have some ING and Citi savings accounts, too.

Thing is, obviously it's a waste not to earn interest on several thousand dollars. Interest-checking somewhat solves the problem, but generally they have lousy interest rates unless you keep a minimum of 10 grand in them, and the interest isn't worth the money we'd give up by not using it for stocks...

So we have a somewhat odd mishmash of liquid assets currently. Any tips?

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 24, 2008 2:06 PM

newslinks: for our bank account, if we ever have an overdraft, it comes off a credit card we never use that is linked to it - and if i pay the card quickly enough (see, I'm anal, checking the accounts at least once a day), then I don't get charged the 'interest' fee that they charge me (which is usually only a few cents anyway - even if it's a few days) this is less than the $25 or more a bank would charge for overdraft, and i can take it out of my 'short term' savings - which is a linked savings account for just such emergencies (a little goes in each week, and when it's needed, it comes out - balances out cash flows).

We keep a larger amount in our brokerage account, we discuss all the time how much cash on hand we *should* have, and i put money in there at least monthly, and some other checks go in there every once in a while.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 2:12 PM

newslinks1: I am not sure we have the best solution. But we have a house acct that is in a money market savings acct. We keep at least a balance of 10K in it. We automatically deposit 400/month into it. When it gets above a certain amount, we move it into something that will earn more money; like a 3 year CD or something like that. If we ever had a dire emergency and had to break a CD, we would just do that. When we get more then say 20-25K in CDs, we wait till some mature and buy some thing more long term, like mutual funds or stocks. So far that has never happened. But we do keep around 30-40K in fairly liquid money (non IRAs, retirement accts, or stock market/bond type stuff). But it took years to build up to that point. I don't think most people do that. So far, we have never had more then a car repair unexpected charges. I think that has capped at around 3K. If we were ever getting more then 3K repairs at once, we would probably just buy a new car. We have a catastrophic limit on out of pocket expenses for Health care. I think around 5K/year. So it is hard to imagine, anything but unemployment, would cause us to spend lots of our emergency money. But I am definitely open to more suggestions.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 24, 2008 2:13 PM

armybrat: i believe that's how my grandmother and her sisters lived. I can just picture her.

But what really creeps me out is when my MIL and her sisters supposedly 'host' thanksgiving (or whatever holiday) and they bring receipts and count up how many each of them have to pay for (well, your kid brought a friend, and your kid has a child, and your kid at a little bit more - and oh, your child took home more leftovers!) - I think it's insane for people to do in the first place *and* ridiculous when it's done in front of all of us (can't you do it a few days AFTER the holiday?).

Sometimes I just want to take out my checkbook and say: I'll write you a check - is it okay if i come next time?

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 2:14 PM

altmom: Wow. to the thanksgiving thing!

Posted by: foamgnome | January 24, 2008 2:16 PM

right - my friend has celiac and is allergic to many foods - so she came to passover seder one year and basically had some grape juice. Literally. And MIL's sister said something like: oh, you have to pay for soandso's friend, too.

pi**ed off my MIL.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 2:21 PM

altmom: Does your MIL ask you to chip in after the meal? I think I would rather stay home, if my in laws were like that. My DH's sisters, make you buy a lot of your own food when you come and visit them. But when they come to our house, we feed them at no cost (of course). It seems really weird to me but DH is just used to it. It burns me too because, they don't consider the time, cost and hassle to travel as your payment. It is not like any of these people are poor or anything.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 24, 2008 2:24 PM

re: thanksgiving. again, WOW!

also, do they charge the same price per head? are kids cheaper? does it depend on how much each person eats, "Oh, but he's a big eater! We should charge a little extra!"

i shall remember to say an extra prayer of thanksgiving that my family isn't like this!!! :)

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 24, 2008 2:26 PM

In my extended family, if we had to chip in for the cost of a holiday meal, there would have to be negotiations to cover pain and suffering and mental distress.

Posted by: northgs | January 24, 2008 2:26 PM

"But what really creeps me out is when my MIL and her sisters supposedly 'host' thanksgiving (or whatever holiday) and they bring receipts and count up how many each of them have to pay for (well, your kid brought a friend, and your kid has a child, and your kid at a little bit more - and oh, your child took home more leftovers!) - I think it's insane for people to do in the first place *and* ridiculous when it's done in front of all of us (can't you do it a few days AFTER the holiday?)."

Some of my in-laws are the same way. They charge their own PARENTS for attending.....

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 24, 2008 2:26 PM

Re: trust issues and separate accounts

You might say we have some, but they're between the government and me, not my wife and I. Supporting a foreign relative is considered a very bad thing with respect to a clearance. So, while my MIL has never needed help, my wife has the option and I never need to know.

It helps in other ways as well. I'm a steady earner, while my wife is a freelancer. We pay the regular monthly expenses (mortgage, utilities, etc.) out of my account and bigger one time expenditures come out of hers.

Regarding food expenses, I've found having a budget has really helped keep down expenses and waste. We cook what we buy (I had a bad habit of buying something at the store and not getting around to cooking it before it went off). We've also increased our veggie consumption as you get a lot more bang for the buck. Don't get me wrong, I'm a happy omnivore. It's just that veggies at $1-$2/pound is cheaper than meat at $4-$10/pound (more for fish).

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | January 24, 2008 2:26 PM

newslinks1, we keep about six months income (after taxes:-) in a money market account at a bank that's distinct from our main credit union accounts. That's our main "emergency cash" fund. The bank pays higher interest on money market funds than does the CU; plus we have to make a special effort to go get money out of it so it truly is an "emergency" fund. It's hard to do something on impulse.

We do have a brokerage account which can be drawn upon if needed, but I'd hate to have to sell Google stock right now to cover for some expense. I'd rather give it a chance to make up for some of the pounding it's taken lately. :-)

We belong to the credit union because overdrafts are automatically covered out of the savings account - at no charge at all - if they should ever occur. We only keep a couple of kilobucks in savings because if there's ever going to be an overdraft it will be a hundred dollars or less - most likely because somebody didn't write down a cash withdrawal in the check register!

Bear in mind that your "emergency" cash fund is supposed to be truly for emergencies, like if one of you is unemployed (due to injury or layoffs), or if you have huge unforeseen expenses (like Hurricane Katrina changes your lakeFRONT property into lakeMIDDLE property). It's not supposed to be a "because we want a vacation and don't otherwise have the cash for it" fund.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 24, 2008 2:53 PM

Newslinks -- my favorite approach was like your husband's: just keep a big slush fund in the checking account, (personally, my minimum threshold is @ $10K, and I'm happier at $15K); then I keep more in a money market for things like new car savings; and if things get real bad, we can just cash out some stocks. But now, we just finished a big remodel, so (a) we're short on non-retirement, non-401(k) cash, and (b) I'd rather devote extra cash to paying off the line of credit we took out for the remodel than just sticking it in the bank.

We generally keep enough in the checking account or money market to cover periodic car repairs and that sort of expected blip. We are slowly building back up the money market for bigger blips (which is ok, because one tradeoff for my new kitchen was driving my current car for several more years). For the "someone loses a job" fund, right now, I figure the line of credit is an ok backup (I'd rather pay it down for sure and take some back if I need it than keep that balance high so I can save a big cash fund at 1.5%.).

Posted by: laura33 | January 24, 2008 3:10 PM

One reason I don't like the 'big chunk in checking' approach is then I never really know where I am. I.e., since there's always money coming in and going out - I don't have a great idea of exactly what savings is. Just my opinion....

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 24, 2008 4:26 PM

"In other words, the real money struggles are when you don't have enough to meet our obligations or care for your children as you desire. There are no real winners in those arguments"

I think that although this can often be true, it is not always the case. I have seen lots of situations where couples have money troubles not because they have inadequate funds to meet their needs, but rather because they have discipline about how they spend their money, and therefore spend a whole lot more than necessary on stuff they don't really need. For example, I have a friend who cannot pass up a clothing sale, and her husband complained that she would spend hundreds of dollars on suits she did not need and then he had to figure out how they were going to pay their mortgage after she had gone on a shopping spree that was totally unnecessary. Or sometimes, people are unorganized and end up paying late fees on bills, that when added up, amount to quite a bit of money that could have been spent elsewhere. Or people eat out too much, or generally spend too much on stuff that they don't need. While many people have money problems because they truly don't have enough money to take care of the things they need to pay for, many people also let themselves be seduced by our consumer, credit card driven, culture, and simply become slaves to debt because they have not learned to say no to the latest gadget, plasma tv, or whatever may be in vogue, and because they don't have the discipline to manage their money wisely. I think this causes as many money troubles as the legitimate lack of enough money to meet essential needs, and perhaps more, because this problem cannot be fixed by more money. It requires that people change their habits and their way of thinking about money.

Posted by: emily123 | January 24, 2008 5:31 PM

atlmom, you're right, that bugs me, too. But the low spot generally seems to occur at the same time every month (after end-of-month bills/before the mid-month paycheck). So when I feel like checking up, I pull up those figures over the past several months -- I figure if they're going up, I'm doing something right. :-)

But I'm all for doing whatever works for you -- everyone has their own money weirdness, and whatever you find helps manage that is by definition the "right" answer.

Posted by: laura33 | January 24, 2008 5:40 PM

About child support. I knew a woman once who received quite a bit of child support from her ex husband who was a partner at a big law firm. She also lived with and supported her boyfriend, who did not work or pay rent (since he was a student). When her oldest son went away to college (paid for by his father) and the child support stopped for him, she complained that she could not get by without it and was going to take her ex back to court to get the child support for her younger child increased in order to compensate for the fact that she no longer got child support for the older child. I suggested to her tha a better approach might be to sue her boyfriend's mother for child support instead. It just did not seem right to me that her ex was essentially paying not only to support his kids, but also his ex wife's boyfriend who contributed nothing.

Posted by: emily123 | January 24, 2008 5:48 PM

Hear, hear, Emily!

"I have seen lots of situations where couples have money troubles not because they have inadequate funds to meet their needs, but rather because they [lack] discipline about how they spend their money, and therefore spend a whole lot more than necessary on stuff they don't really need... Or sometimes, people are unorganized and end up paying late fees on bills, that when added up, amount to quite a bit of money that could have been spent elsewhere. Or people eat out too much, or generally spend too much on stuff that they don't need. While many people have money problems because they truly don't have enough money to take care of the things they need to pay for, many people also let themselves be seduced by our consumer, credit card driven, culture, and simply become slaves to debt because they have not learned to say no to the latest gadget, plasma tv, or whatever may be in vogue, and because they don't have the discipline to manage their money wisely. I think this causes as many money troubles as the legitimate lack of enough money to meet essential needs, and perhaps more, because this problem cannot be fixed by more money. It requires that people change their habits and their way of thinking about money."

Posted by: mehitabel | January 24, 2008 6:06 PM

"For example, I have a friend who cannot pass up a clothing sale, and her husband complained that she would spend hundreds of dollars on suits she did not need and then he had to figure out how they were going to pay their mortgage after she had gone on a shopping spree that was totally unnecessary."

OTOH, this anecdote makes my point. The tension in the marriage is because he can't figure out how to pay their mortgage after she goes on a spree, e.g., for whatever reason, he can't meet their obligations. To be more specific, if one partner's behavior threatens the household's ability to meet its needs, there is tension in the marital relationship and that tension will ultimately erupt or be solved. atlmom takes the position that marriages don't collapse over money disagreements unless there are other issues, e.g., dishonesty and hiding purchases. I disagree. The money issues I've seen break up marriages have not been about either partner hiding financial behaviors or purchases, but about one partner endangering the financial stability of the household either by irresponsible behaviors (not interested in getting a job when necessary) or unwillingness to address financial behaviors that need to change (paying a bill by phone and not entering the transaction in Quicken so spouse is shocked and dismayed when it clears). If separate checking accounts minimize the impact of irresponsibility in a particular household by keeping an admitted fox out of the henhouse of the household checking account, then all power to those who go that route rather than let their marriage disintegrate trying to live up to Michele Singletary's or anyone else's idealized view of how spouses SHOULD handle their finances.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 24, 2008 6:14 PM

We keep a small cushion of emergency cash in our main checking account. Everything else has a seperate ING savings account- vacations, school tuition, emergency cash, extra-curricular activities, furniture (or whatever else we are saving for) and clothing. A set amount goes into each one every month. My husband takes his spending money from the main account in cash and mine gets direct deposited into my checking along with our monthly budget amount for groceries.

Child Support: We do recieve child support for my oldest daughter and the money gets divided between groceries, the main account, clothing and her personal savings.

Yes- we are this anal about it in real life and I know it sounds ridiculous, but it works for us. The worst part was investing the time to calculate and set it all up.

Posted by: michelewilson | January 24, 2008 8:28 PM

MN: but you're proving my point:

i.e., it's not money it's irresponsible behavior, lack of maturity, whatever. You may call it 'money' problems, but it's people being lazy, or stupid, or whatever. It's just a symptom of another problem.


The money issues I've seen break up marriages have not been about either partner hiding financial behaviors or purchases, but about one partner endangering the financial stability of the household either by irresponsible behaviors (not interested in getting a job when necessary) or unwillingness to address financial behaviors that need to change (paying a bill by phone and not entering the transaction in Quicken so spouse is shocked and dismayed when it clears)

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 25, 2008 9:23 AM

I grew up in a household where there was no communication about money and each parent tried to outspend the other. No surprise that the marriage ended in divorce.

When I became an adult, one of the main priorities in my marriage was complete transparency in our personal finances.

Since I am a tax and financial advisor, I actually like managing the household budget. Every quarter or so, I sit down with my husband and go over the accounts so that he knows where we are. He trusts me but doing this is a reality check for both of us.

I also keep a list of our accounts and passwords in our safe deposit box at the bank in case anything happens to me--he'll know exactly where everything is.

Like another commenter, we also started keeping an ING Direct account for property taxes, life insurance premiums, etc. so that when these big bills come up, there's no robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is much less stressful. The deck rennovation will just have to wait.


Posted by: kristindelfau | February 4, 2008 11:38 AM

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