The Magic Bullet To Combining Finances Successfully


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

I knew the minute I finished the sentence that someone would comment on it, and I was right.  In my post last week describing an afternoon at a food and wine event I mentioned that I bought two bottles of BBQ sauce, but not before checking in with my wife first.

I wanted my wife’s approval before buying $12 of BBQ sauce.

I didn’t expect her to disapprove of the purchase.  As the commenter articulated, it was simply an act of respect.  We are a quad income family (we each have two sources of income), but we choose to combine our finances completely.  We throw all our money into a common pot, pay our bills, and then decide together what to do with what is left over.  Before the beginning of each weekend we discuss how much to allocate for discretionary spending, as well as a general outline as to on what that money will be spent.

From that point, things are purposefully a bit mushy.  We had an amount of money that we had marked to be spent at the event, but we obviously could not foresee what we might find to purchase.  Since the money allocated for the event was for both of us, it only made sense to me to ensure she was OK with me spending some of it.

In turn, she showed me the same respect.

As we walked through the event, we constantly had to put our glass down (each attendee is given a keepsake glass) if we wanted to read a pamphlet or do something else with our hands.   When she saw a vendor selling necklaces that would hold our wine glasses to free up our hands, she expressed her desire to purchase one for each of us.

What if we don’t agree with the purchase?

This is where those relationship skills come in really handy.  She could not care less about BBQ sauces or talking to a competition BBQ team.  But she knows BBQ is one of my favorite hobbies so she supported something that is important to me.  I’m perfectly capable of holding a wine glass, and we don’t attend these events very often so I would have never purchased a wine glass holding necklace.  But, I know that these kinds of events are something Vonnie would like to attend more often, so she saw the necklace as an investment of convenience for the future. The wine glass necklaces are more than just a trinket to wear around the neck; their purchase is a statement of support and desire to attend more of these events with her.

Granted, these are small purchases that would not have a big impact on our overall finances.  But showing this level of respect towards each other with small purchase gives us practice for when the stakes are higher.

Responsibility must also come from the person wanting to make the purchase as well.  Let’s say that I instead insisted upon purchasing an entire case of BBQ sauce for a (made up) cost of $72.  Now we’re talking about a larger number that would have virtually consumed the entire $75 fund we had allocated for the event.  This request, which would essentially eliminate the possibility of my wife purchasing anything that she found interesting at the event, would show zero respect towards our budget as well as my wife.

Vonnie and I choose to fully combine our finances.   We are successful by showing mutual respect in both requesting to spend our money, and in approving of the other doing the spending.  A request to purchase something is more than just a question; it is a statement of respect for use of a common resource.  Approvals of a purchase is more than just a nod of the head, it is a statement of support for something important to the other partner.  This mutual respect keeps us constantly thinking about the wants and needs each other, and putting them first in our minds.

Sounds to me like a recipe for success in finances, and marriage.

Do you and your significant other have your finances combined?  Do you show your partner respect with your spending?

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38 Responses to “The Magic Bullet To Combining Finances Successfully”

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  1. How do you deal with gift expenses if everything is 100% combined?

    • Travis says:

      Great question, Stefanie – if it’s a known gifting event (birthday, anniversary, or Christmas), we allocate together an amount to spend. Then it’s taken out on cash and off we go. As for spontaneous gifts – which as per this post I really want to do every now and then to add “zing” to our relationship:

      We still haven’t figured that one out yet. I’d hate to go the “as for forgiveness instead of permission” sort of route. Maybe we’ll go down the path that I’ve read others do and have us allocate an amount each week or month that is “fun” money for each of us to do with as we please.

      But the net is, that is a work in progress. Thanks for asking!

  2. Great post Travis. My wife and I handle our incomes the same way. We completely combined. I work F/T and my wife works P/T. I bring in 85% of our overall income. We treat it as our money and communicate about all purchases. Things like gas or food are not discussed on a daily basis, but are covered under our general monthly budget. This was not always true for us, before getting our financial act together we did not communicate often, since we have seen a big improvement in our finances and relationship. Keep up the great work.

    • Travis says:

      Brian, our stories are so similar (as we’ve both mentioned before)! We don’t talk about gas or food on a daily basis either – we have weekly budgeted amounts for those. As with you and your wife, even that is an improvement over where we came from before we entered our DMP.

  3. This is how my wife and I handle our finances. We combined everything right before we got married and haven’t looked back. We don’t have a set limit in terms of what we can spend before getting approval, but we ask, out of respect as you put it, before making virtually any purchase. I know it might seem silly to some, but it works for us and the last thing either one of us wants to do is spend money that the other wasn’t wanting spent.

    • Travis says:

      We share the same perspective John – “the last thing either one of us wants is to do is spend money that the other wasn’t wanting spent.” Not that there isn’t the occasional trip to the salon that the receipt seems to have a larger number than we agreed upon, or the grocery bill a little higher because someone decided to smoke a brisket…..not to name any names of course. We aren’t perfect, but we really try to keep those sort of things to a minimum.

  4. I think its great you both show so much respect for each other like that.I’m not in a relationship, but this would be hugely important to me if I was. I think having some discretionary income allocated to each person without the other person needing to know is also a great idea though. As long as it’s a reasonable amount and of course that amount will differ with each couple.

    • Travis says:

      I think we’re heading in that direction eventually Tonya….but there will always be a pool of money that is “ours” that we will need to continue to treat with mutual respect. I don’t see that the individual amounts need to be that big. I know my parents do it – my dad spends it on beer at his favorite watering hole. My mom tends to save it for things like new kitchen tile or things around the house. 🙂 Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. I recently wrote an essay about why spouses should combine their finances for the Wall Street Journal (it runs on the 17th! if anyone wants to see it). We have always had combined finances for too many reasons to list. In my opinion, couples who keep their money separate have something funny going on. It might be that one is a saver and the other is a spender, or they don’t want to argue about petty purchases. However, it almost always means that they cannot agree on how their family funds should be spent which is almost always a sign of big trouble to come.

    • Travis says:

      SO COOL! Can’t wait to read your article in the WSJ, Holly – SO EXCITED for you! I can’t comment on how it works with couples that handle their finances separately, although I’d love to get their perspective and how they split the bills, save for retirement, etc. Maybe one of the comments will shed some light?

  6. E.M. says:

    My boyfriend and I have separate finances for now, since we’re not engaged, but we always check in with each other. Neither of us are spenders, and this enables us to get the others opinion on a purchase. Maybe we’re being silly, or maybe it’s a great idea. We both want to get our student loans paid off, and having that similar goal means we both have the same mindset toward spending money. Considering our student loans are kind of holding us back from other major life events, it’s about respect as well, since any big purchase can set us back.

    • Travis says:

      I would think it’s within the realm of reason given where you are at with your relationship that you haven’t combined finances yet. Although hearing that you’re discussing your financial goals together certainly seems like you are recognizing that it may be a possibility one day?? In any case, it’s up to each individual couple to determine if and when they should combine their finances. Not that you suggested this, but the post isn’t really about whether people should or should not combine their finances, but more about if a couple does combine, the underlying foundation that may help them be successful.

  7. JMK says:

    The idea of maintaining two spreadsheets so everything could be tracked separately gives me a migrane. It’s so much easier to maximize the efficient use of the total families resources if it’s all in one bucket. I just know I’d be less likely to make the weekly extra morgage payment or retirement savings contribution with the excess funds if I had to calculate that excess twice and make two transfers. Having all the “extra” accumulate in one place just makes everything that much easier.
    I have to agree that I’d wonder about motivation and commitment if someone wanted to keep there finances separate, or more specifically “private”. What’s up with that? What is it you don’t want me to see? I don’t care that you treated yourself to a coffee, but if you are spending wildly on other nonessentials after we’d agreed to put $X into our retirement accounts for example, then I would care. That’s going to impact our combined futures. Can you imagine discovering a decade or two later that your partner hasn’t been saving according to the plan you both agreed to? Wow, to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. As for gifts, when there is a surprise gift to be bought, that is the one time we take out cash so the credit card transaction isn’t immediately visible to the person updating the spreadsheet from credit card online account. Having said that we generally don’t buy each other surprise gifts. There is absulutely nothing I need or want and any nonessential stuff is completely counter productive to our early retirement plans. I always roll my eyes at commercials that show someone surprising their spouse with a giant TV or a car. I’d flip if a major purchase was made without a discussion.

    • scarr says:

      My husband and I don’t have surprise gifts either. We don’t exchange gifts during holidays or birthdays – we prefer to do things together that we both enjoy like concerts or going out for a meal on our anniversary.

      • Travis says:

        You cannot give your significant other a better gift than a memory made together – there’s nobody on this earth I’d rather spend time with than my wife – PRICELESS! 🙂

    • Travis says:

      I think the SAME thing when I see those commercials surprising a spouse with a giant TV or car. WHAT? You mean you got me a crushing monthly payment on a LEXUS SUV without even consulting me? Oh thanks so much honey, you’re the best! LOL

      You’ve got your eye on an early retirement goal, and you and your spouse are fully on board and in sync with at goal and how to achieve it – sounds to me like you’ve got your finances running like a well oiled machine!

      For those that don’t combine finances, maybe they would agree how they split up the bills, and how much each would contribute to retirement accounts (and periodic review of accounts to ensure that everything was on track would show this to be true) and the rest is each of their “fun” money? I’m just making up a system that I think may work. I personally wouldn’t want to do it that way, but different strokes and all that.

  8. Kathy says:

    My husband and I have joint accounts for everything except the one account I have in my name that is actually my mother’s money and is used for paying her bills and assisted living expense. Someday, when she is gone, that money will be joint with my husband as well. (If there is any left). Otherwise, only our IRAs are separate and that is required by law. Regarding how we handle gifts, at Christmas time he pulls out our second credit card and puts all my gifts on that. My gifts for him go on the regular card but when the bill comes, we each know not to look at it until after Christmas. We set spending limits for Christmas and of course the money is sitting there waiting to be used when the bills come.

    • Travis says:

      I wouldn’t really count the account for managing your mother’s finances “your” account. It’s someone else’s money that you’re just managing. Sounds like you’ve got a good system for Christmas – but for us we’ll use cash. No credit cards for us….too easy to exceed the allocated amount for people (like me) who lack that self control. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your system, Kathy!!

  9. You are a good man, Charlie Brown. I’ll bet you talk to Vonnie about more of the purchases you guys make than my wife and I do (so I’m a bit jealous).

    Bottom line: We are in this together and the purchase one makes effects both of us – whether it’s a good purchase or bad one. Of course, if she makes the purchase it automatically is considered a good one. 🙂

    • Travis says:

      “We’re in this together and the purchase one makes effects both of us” <---- YES, THIS! Not only both of us, but all FOUR of the people in my family quite frankly. One should be extra careful with spending when your actions affects an entire family. Thanks for your thoughts!

  10. NZ Muse says:

    We probably would do the same for an occasion like that, not so much for the $$$ aspect ($12 isn’t much) but just to see if they think it’s a good call. Like you say, respect.

    • Travis says:

      It’s nice to have a sounding board for whether a purchase is a good idea or not – and who better than to ask than the person you trust the most in this world? I can tell by my wife’s facial expression as to whether I’m off my rocker or not. 🙂 thanks for reading, NZ Muse!

  11. This sounds like a really healthy way of dealing with finances. It’s great that you had respect for one another’s purchases even with four sources of income. My boyfriend and I have never discussed combining finances, and I’m not sure if it would work. We have very different lifestyles and we’ve functioned well doing our own thing. We don’t question each other’s purchases or frugality. It may change in the future, but our current system seems to work well.

    • JMK says:

      If you both have so much discretionary income that you can each do everything/spend on everything that both you and your partner suggests then you’re golden and money will likely never be an issue.

      Now imagine one of you dreams of going to Australia for a month or two, and the other prefers the last minute discounted $500 vacation so they can dedicate more of their budget to eating out most nights, or fund their exotic vehicle (or pick whatever two indulgences you prefer). Now suddenly one is in the position of either going on the trip alone or not a all because the other can’t afford it, OR the dinner out person has to give up something they really enjoy so thay can go on a trip they really aren’t that interested in.

      It doesn’t even have to be big ticket items. Sometimes it’s a thousand little choices that eat away at a relationship. One of you has a daily fancy coffee habit, the other wants to get tickets to a concert. “I’d love to go but can’t afford $200 front row seats” really means, I value coffee more and am not willing to give it up so we can do more things together. When you are dating, by all means keep your finances separate. But carefully observing where and how your partner chooses to save and splurge can be very enlightening and a fair indicator of their priorities and willingness to compromise.

      • Travis says:

        JMK, I understand where you’re coming from – although I’m not sure that keeping finances separate means not talking about it. If two people were planning a trip, you’d have to talk to each other about the trip, what they were planning to do, and how much it would cost. There would have to be a certain amount of trust that the other would do the necessary things to have enough money to fund the trip – just as if you were going with a friend instead of a significant other. The key is communication and trust if finances are going to be kept separate. I guess a really good question to ask the readers (that I didn’t ask) is…..have anybody been in a situation where two people in a relationship disagreed about whether finances should be separate or combined? If both parties agree on a direction, it would be much easier than if they disagreed!

    • Travis says:

      If it works well for you, Addison, then go with it. Things may indeed change as you go forward and start to make plans for “forever together” (if that’s in the realm of possibility). As you look to the forever future you may need to think at least a little bit about how you will ensure that you have enough between the two of you to live in retirement. Just a thought. Appreciate your transparency in sharing how you handle your finances!

  12. We have combined finances and It works for us. We also have individual allowances to cover smaller purchases but for the most part we do the same as you.

    • Travis says:

      The more I think about it (and read about it), Raquel, I like the idea of individual allowances. Sounds like a discussion for our next budget discussion! Thanks for sharing!

  13. scarr says:

    Great post Travis!! My husband and I do pretty much the same as you and Vonnie. Since we were first married, we decided it is best to combine everything – all of our money and spending. We figure that we are a team in everything else we do, so it makes sense (to us) to combine our finances. There is no “my money” or “his money”, it is all “our money”.

    When we want to buy things that are not part of the set budget, we tell each other – like you said – as a way of respecting the other person. For instance, my husband loves video games and comics. When he wants a new issue or a new game, he tells me and we put the money aside to pay for it. My big loves are books and kitchen supplies – I try to find used items or digital books and during that search I save the money for it. I think what is important here is that you and Vonnie, like my husband and I, talk about money.

    • Travis says:

      Definitely sounds like we have similar systems, Scarr…only Vonnie’s thing is salon pampering, and mine is grill and BBQ stuff (oh and running shoes and workout clothes). Thanks for sharing, and SO AWESOME to hear from you. Love the penguin avatar. 🙂

  14. Like you, we share accounts, but we have separate discretionary accounts too. You mentioned that you and Vonnie might go the route of discretionary accounts now that your credit card debt is gone. (Still feels great to say that!) For us, it’s a good balance. We’re together on the big items – mortgage, groceries, bills, household items, car repairs . . . But we have individual discretion for personal items like clothing, gifts, shampoo, books, and sometimes take-out meals or treats. I think that each couple has to figure out the best approach – but all couples need the mutual respect that you two so obviously have if it’s going to work.

    • Travis says:

      …and if we’re going to have those smaller discretionary accounts, then we still have to agree on how much that is for each person – as well as what exactly we can use it for. YES, it DOES feel great to say we’re all done with our debt management program. I still wake up each morning smiling as it’s the first thing I think about. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by…and for leaving the comment that was the inspiration for this post. 🙂

  15. My wife and I fully combined our finances soon after getting married. We show each other respect by asking before making purchases, just like how you did in the example in this post. It definitely has worked well for us, though we do sometimes not ask for some smaller purchases. The big purchases are the ones that matter imo.

    • Travis says:

      We also have the occasional small purchase that we don’t check in with each other….for example she bought a t-shirt for $6 from her school’s PTA, and I don’t feel the need to call her to tell her I’m buying a soda at work either. Although these things could add up over the course of two weeks. I’m thinking we could use that allocation of fun money (given to each partner) for such things. OR we should have ground rules as to the max we could spend without checking in. The more in sync we are the better! Thanks for sharing, DC!

  16. Love this Travis! Like you said, it is about respect to your wife and vice versa and to the future you want together. So many couples do not communicate about money and just spend, then get upset when their bank account is empty. They end up working against each other, rather than with one another. You and Vonnie have figured out a system that works well for you and doesn’t seem at all like micromanagement or nit-picking by either partner. It sounds a lot to me like mutual love and respect. 🙂

    • Travis says:

      Coming from where we were at 4 years ago (ZERO communication) we always err on the side of “more communication is better.” This sort of thing wouldn’t work for all couples, as checking in for $12 of BBQ sauce may be thought of as (as you say) micromanaged or invading on someone’s independence. But it works for us, and keeps us constantly on the same page – something we definitely need!

  17. We handle things very similar in our household, Travis.

    Since paying off debt, we’ve reached the point where we dont even really need to tell one another if we are purchasing something under say.. $50.. But for anything more than that.. It definitely merits a discussion to make sure that it a good idea for the family.

    • Travis says:

      Being out of debt and having extra wiggle room in the budget certainly makes it less critical to tell each other about every purchase ahead of time, right Jefferson? As long as both people in the relationship are on the same page with how things should operate everything should be smooth sailing!

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