Yours, Mine, and Ours Money

Like many little girls, I dreamed about getting married. There’s a classic home video of me playing “wedding” with my grandparents when was about four – getting all gussied up in my dress up clothes, wearing about 10 of my grandmother’s necklaces, and walking down the aisle to meet my prince charming (who, in this case, was my grandmother). Most of what I learned about marriage came from Disney movies and rom-coms … and, in my eyes, that meant sharing everything.

But what grown-up me has found is that in marriage it’s important that you remain your own person, with your own interests and your own support system. Sharing everything is not only boring, it’s unhealthy. When it comes to money, that means you each bring different money stories, money habits, and — let’s be honest — ways you like to treat yourself. You will not always share the same goals, and that’s ok. Having your own money within your joint financial life gives you flexibility, independence, and the opportunity to make those goals a reality away from your partner’s influence. I like to call this financial system having yours, mine, and ours funds.

How you make this happen looks different for every couple. Some people prefer to make most of their money decisions separately and have a smaller shared fund for their joint expenses. Others prefer to keep most of their money shared and have separate smaller funds for each person. There is no right or wrong way to do this; I’ve known happy couples on either side of this decision. What’s most important is that you and your partner find a balance that works for both of you.

What I wish I would have learned from my education of Disney and rom-coms was that every single marriage operates differently. When you join your life with another person, you choose your own adventure — forging your own path, setting boundaries, and crafting a meaningful life together. That’s especially true when it comes to money.

Thinking about forming yours, mine, and ours funds? Here are a few steps to get there:

1.     Decide on your approach: As I mentioned, some couples prefer to keep most of their money separate; others would rather keep most of their money shared. Personally, my husband and I prefer the latter approach — we share our bills, student loan payments, and major saving goals. Almost all of our money is pooled together, with only a small amount kept separate. Regardless of what you and your partner choose, keep in mind this isn’t a decision that just one of you can make. You need to agree on an approach that feels ok to both of you.

Tip: If you opt to keep more of your money apart, it’s important that you establish how your shared expenses will be handled. Many of the couples I know who handle their money in this way don’t contribute equally to their shared pot of money. That’s likely because one person in the relationship makes significantly more than the other, so instead of splitting the bills 50/50, they do it by percentage (or even specific bills) so the lower-paid earner isn’t over taxed.

2.     Allocate the money: How much will you put toward these separate and shared funds, and where will you keep it? When my husband and I started his separate fund, we began with just $20/month and grew it from there. We also added money that he received for his birthday and Christmas as well as a portion of his bonus. We keep our separate funds in individual savings accounts at our bank, so it’s easy to transfer the money back and forth.

Tip: Not sure where you’ll find money to allocate on such a tight budget? A friend of mine had a fund like this that she funded with money from her side hustle. She called it her “don’t ask, don’t tell money.” Her husband didn’t know how much money she made from this or how it was spent — it never even showed up on their budget spreadsheet. Think of creative ways you might be able to bring in some extra income and stash it away in this fund.

3.     Agree on the rules: Before you go off on your merry way with your separate funds, it’s important to establish the rules. What constitutes a shared expense vs. a separate expense? Will the money in the separate funds be tracked as part of the budget or not? Does the other person in the couple have any say over how the money in the separate fund is spent?

Tip: As I mentioned, our separate funds are fairly small. We’ve agreed that the money in our separate funds should only be used on purchases that are in no way shared and are not already allocated in the budget. What this ends up shaking out to is a handful of expenses a year. We set aside money in these funds every month, so the money continues to grow. Sometimes, we pay for half of a purchase with our shared fund and let the individual fund cover the rest.

4.     Put a check-in date on the calendar: Whenever you are making a large money change like this, it’s important to find a date on the calendar a month or two away to see how things are working for both of you. Ask: Do we need to tweak the rules a bit? Is there still enough money in our shared pool to cover our shared expenses? Do we want to take a different approach entirely?

Tip: If one of you is a bit unsure about this new approach, this is a great way to pilot it. Don’t be afraid to experiment for a month or two. I often find that the “money person” in the relationship is the one who is most opposed to creating a new system. Likely, they set up the system the way they want and change makes them nervous. If you hear your partner asking for an approach like this, take a deep breath and give it a try. If it’s not working and you need to change back to your old system, hopefully you and your partner will have gained a better understanding of why you each do things a certain way.

Do you take a shared or separate approach to your money? I’d love to hear what you and your partner are doing, and what you’d like to try! Leave a comment below.

P.S. - This week I’m doing something a little different for my FB Live. I’m doing a Q&A session! Send me all of your questions related to marriage and money. Comment below or Contact me to get your question on the list. You can also submit your question live. Join me at 8pm Central on Thursday on my Facebook page to get your answer.