A few weeks prior to our February wedding, my husband and I sat in the office of our pastor. “Last week,” Cor, our officiating pastor said, “was all fun and games, but today we get serious.” He laughed, but it was no joke.
During our pre-marital counseling, Cor brought up a topic that Rob and I never discussed. “Will you guys be integrating your finances? If so, what does that mean to share your finances?”
We had vaguely discussed things like how much we earned, what our debt was, our assets and more. We sort of thought about things like how the mortgage would get paid. But we never specifically discussed integrating our finances. Of course, financial opposites that we are, we had opposite reactions.
Rob (the wealthier of the two of us) was eager to integrate financially. He completely trusted me, and concerns about financial inequality were far from his mind. I, on the other hand, worried about it. Would he have more economic sway in our decisions because he brought more money to the table? Would I still be able to spend my salary as I wanted to?
I trusted Rob, but I also liked the feeling of financial independence.
If we left our conversation where it ended that day, we likely would have landed on Beth Tallman’s conclusion that we should have a joint account while maintaining exclusive authority over our personal bank accounts. There's more than one way to share your finances, after all.
However, we talked about the topic more. Some were simple questions. Say, under an “integrated” set up, will I be able to buy the things that I wanted with ‘my' money?
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This sounds incredibly selfish. But I think it’s a valid concern that all couples should discuss prior to marriage. I worried that my husband would begrudge my habit of purchasing running shoes or after-work beers with my friends. I worried that he might grow bitter with me because he's so much more frugal than me.
Rob’s concern had little to do with our daily spending habits. Instead, he looked to our long-term ability to make decisions together. Would I be willing to financially support him through school? Would he be able to financially support our family if I took a few years off work to focus on kids? What if we wanted to go on a vacation, or we wanted to give to a charity that we are passionate about?
Both Rob and I agreed that in marriage, “we” decisions needed to trump “I” decisions. So we decided to integrate our finances. We came to believe that our life and our finances should be one, and that it would be impossible to share equally in our decision making if we didn’t share our finances equally.
Interestingly, for us, equality has never meant contributing equally to our bank account. Instead, for us, equality means making financial and life decisions together. When you decide to share your finances, you're saying something to your spouse that's much bigger than just a statement on money.
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However, integrating our finances hasn’t always been unicorns and rainbows. When we first experienced a tight budget (after Rob returned to school and we had our first son), I got angry anytime Rob spent money on anything. Windshield wipers? How dare he waste our money on that! Later on, we argued about paying down our mortgage versus taking a trip to see our parents.
Integrated finances mean that two people — not one — get a say in how the money is to be used.
I have a say in Rob getting a rain gear. On the flip side, he gets to say what he wants about my choice of running shoes. Sometimes it can get tiring to have a discussion every time we go over budget by a few dollars. But the payoff for us has been tremendous.
We are putting two heads together to figure out each puzzle in our budget. It’s like having someone to check your facts twice over. As we continue on this path of integration and solving problems together, we are less at risk of falling prey to the financial tension that ruins the happiness of millions of couples.