How We Handle Our Financially Mixed Marriage

Mr. Steward and I have differing views on finances. I’m not talking monumentally different views. Mr. Steward is not maxing out credit cards while I eat beans and tearfully balance our checkbook. We agree on the big stuff: debt is bad, we want a secure life for our family, and we want to retire someday. Nonetheless, Mr. Steward is a spender, while I am a saver.

There are a lot of rewards to be had when two people both get really intense about saving, as some of my favorite heavy-hitting blogs like Frugalwoods or Mr. Money Mustache show. Our marriage is not that marriage, though, as I suspect many (most?) people’s marriages are not. Case in point:


Good chat. So, how do we deal with our money differences? Do we hash it all out in polite conversation every month until we come to consensus? Ha! No. Have we completely separated our finances so that we each control our own earnings? Nay! I argue, friends, that there is a middle way, and that way is the spending money account.

What’s a Spending Money Account?

The concept is pretty simple. We earmark a certain amount of money per month for each of us that we can spend on whatever we want. (We do this in Mint, because that’s where we do all of our budgeting.) Anything we don’t spend rolls over into the next month. That means I don’t criticize Mr. Steward when he spends all of his money on a huge stack of movies, DVDs, and books every month, and he doesn’t say a word about the amount of money I spend going to events with my bestie, paying library fines, or adding to my Roth IRA. It’s ours to do with as we wish.

Our spending money covers any money spent on hobbies or events. Basically, any discretionary purchase that isn’t from the grocery store, for our child, for a date night, or for work clothing has to come from this budget line.

Assuming there is enough wiggle-room in the budget, I could see this working for any couple that disagrees on how much to spend versus save. In my biased opinion, it is the perfect compromise. Whatever amount you were arguing about saving versus spending is essentially halved, then you can each do as you like with your portion.

A word of caution: I can tell you from experience that the halved part is essential here in order to avoid resentment. There is no argument you can make to not halve the discretionary money without denigrating your partner. It’s a one-way ticket to resentment town, regardless of whether you “make more,” or are “more responsible,” or any number of things that will tumble from your mouth to try to justify your reasoning, but will only hurt your partner. So, please, just don’t do it.

You Can Still Learn From Each Other

I expected separate spending money accounts to hamper our ability to learn money lessons from each other. Fortunately, it has been the opposite. Having a hard-and-fast budget for his hobbies has made Mr. Steward more open to trying frugal tricks to get what he wants. He shops at deep-discount bookstores, has found legal ways to get free music online, and generally seems more willing to wait for certain movies to come to Netflix. I’m still working on getting him to better utilize the library. He also routinely sells items he no longer wants or needs to raise funds for other entertainment he wants.

I have also learned from Mr. Steward. Having guilt-free discretionary money has made it easier for me to not err on the side of cheap rather than frugal. For instance, when a friend offered me a fabulous deal on the laptop I am currently typing on, I knew that I could take buy it without a worry, because the money was there and mine to do with as I wished.

Are any of you married to someone with different ideas of money? How do you overcome your differences?

10 Replies to “How We Handle Our Financially Mixed Marriage”

  1. happytortoise

    We do exactly this and have done from the point we lived together. Some people respond that money should all be joint when you’re married, and if it works for them without arguments or resentment that’s awesome, but for us, knowing we each have £x to spend as we wish works perfectly.

    • Ms. Steward

      To me, this is exactly the solution to keep money joint if you’re not of similar spending ways. Otherwise, I feel like the solution is either to fight about it all the time or to end up totally separating out cash.

  2. youmeanme

    So glad this works for you! We each have separate accounts and have our paycheque deposited into our own account. From there we pay whichever bills/expenses we’re responsible for. He pays for the majority of our necessities and I do all our luxury expenses and savings. Anything leftover then belongs to us.
    Neither of us has ever felt taken advantage of but I think this is because our values and goals align well.
    Like you guys, we have different spending habits. I’m the one likely to attempt different savings strategies and he joins me. We have learnt a great deal from each other. He’s more conservative with his spending and I’m less likely to be consumed with guilt if I treat myself.

    • Ms. Steward

      A question for my own curiosity: How did you decide what bills belong to whom and also feel that the division was fair? I feel like it would bother me both ways–splitting them down the middle would bug me because I make less, but making it proportional to income feels very complicated. How did you all overcome that, or was it not even a “thing” for you all?

      • youmeanme

        I wouldn’t recommend our way as we just sort of did it. When we got married, we decided to split the rent but then I think it was based on who had money for what. He was able to cover all the basics so it was decided I would cover everything else. We both wanted to feel like we were covering important things.

        I doubt our system is truly fair but neither of us are feeling pinched so it works for us. We also buy each other stuff based on who has left over money. I’ll buy dinners out or he will. I’ll buy him clothes if he doesn’t have overflow or he’ll get me stuff.

        Once I’m better I’ll probably put some thought into it and do a proper post. This really began as we didn’t want to have joint accounts because we didn’t’ want to feel like we had to ask permission or justify spending. We also bank with separate institutions and neither wanted to mover :).

        Even though it’s ‘my money’ or ‘his money’ we still discuss big purchases such as my singing lessons or his computer. We are totally justified, I suppose, in spending our money however we chose but we communicate with each other. So neither of us feels, “Must be nice that you can treat yourself!”

        Sorry, super long response!

  3. Ernie

    My wife and I also have slightly different views of money, but we make it work. We also do the thing where we each get some spending money to do whatever with. I don’t put much in mine, and I try to put a little extra in hers. I also give her all the profit from our annual garage sale. It’s kinda my way of saying “Thanks for putting up with my frugality all year long.” 🙂

    • Ms. Steward

      That’s such a generous approach! Do you otherwise generally handle the money?

      I have to say, I have not been that generous; I’m the one who needs less, but I still demand it be equal on principle. Mostly because I can then shove it into my retirement accounts/give it to charity. 😛

      • Ernie

        Yeah, I handle all our money. I love it, and I think I’m getting quite good at it. Plus, I’m recognizing that my attitude towards money is kinda extreme so I need to let my wife balance us out.

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