The evolution of managing shared spending in a dating relationship

I started working on this post after my husband and I had been dating for about a year. I’m publishing it now as a snapshot of how our financial management evolved during our dating relationship. I’ll have plenty more to say about how we will manage money going forward in our marriage, don’t worry!

Friends and Early Dating

My husband and I have been friends since college. We occasionally went out for food together prior to beginning to date and we just split the bill by what food we ordered. That’s what most friends do, right? When we were first casually dating, we continued to do the same. I remember one occasion when we were trying to figure out how to split the bill, he put his card down, and poof the server took off with it! I turned out to have some cash and gave him some for my share. Since that instance, we’ve always made sure to figure out what we’re doing before either of us put our cards down on the bill. I still remember the first time we went out for dinner after we had The Relationship Talk and we looked at the bill and went “What do we do?”, realizing that maybe there was a new process to this paying for eating out madness. He also asked me how much I was going to tip, which I found quite amusing at the time. (He later explained that he didn’t want to tip vastly different amounts on similar bills.) Until we moved in together, we had several approaches:

  1. If the amounts were way off, sometimes the person who ordered more $ of food pays the whole bill
  2. Sometimes one person randomly pays for both of us
  3. If we split all the food or ordered within $1 of the same amount of food, we split the bill 50/50
  4. If the amounts we each ordered are off by less than the amount we would tip, then we adjust the amount with the tip

For any costs in cash, usually whoever has the most convenient denomination of cash pays.

For expenses that we couldn’t split at the source, we set up our checking accounts so we could transfer money to each other without seeing the other’s balances after we’d been dating for about six months, which made random things so easy to split. It did drive me a bit nuts with the number of transfers going back and forth, but it was a great system. (Square Cash made this pretty easy when I moved my money to a different bank.)

Travel

In 2014, we took a few trips and they were relatively easy to share the costs:

  1. In March, we went on a trip to an all-inclusive resort. Pretty much everything was paid for upfront, so one of us paid with a credit card and the other transferred half the cost. Super easy. If you’re ever traveling with friends, these are great trips to take! One of us took out some $ from an ATM to have some spending cash and the other transferred them half of that. We ended up spending none of it though so we both had enough cash to last us several months of normal cash spending.
  2. In June, we went on a trip to another city, a short-ish flight away. One person booked the flights on a credit card, the other booked and paid upfront for the hotel, and the person who paid less for those two transferred the other the difference. We did one activity that one person paid for in advance and the other transferred them half. Once we were there, we followed our normal pattern for splitting costs.
  3. In July, we went on a driving weekend away. One person booked the hotel and activities and the other paid them back once we had the final amounts. My husband filled up the gas tank. We followed our normal restaurant pattern.

As of early 2015, our trip to New Zealand was our biggest shared cost so far, the first one being our shared checking account for groceries. At home, we split every expense except groceries at the source. This sounds tedious to everyone else, but it works for us. When we go out to eat, we either pay for what we ordered or we split the bill evenly if our separate amounts are within a dollar of each other’s. We agreed as we were booking this trip on about how much it would cost, how long we wanted to go for, where we wanted to go, and the type of trip that we wanted to have: hotels not hostels, renting a car instead of tour buses, not a big group experience. We also decided to put most of the expenses on one credit card (and agreed to use a recent card that my husband got) and then deal with things when we got back. We both had separate credit cards that we used for non-shared expenses. This system worked out pretty well!

Living Together

It took us a few months of living together before we found a good routine with our financial management systems. The system I described in that post isn’t exactly what we ended up doing over the last two years. We did, however, stick to our plan of splitting the outgoing shared expenses other than the mortgage payment 50/50. Our incomes when he moved in were pretty similar and so that seemed like a fair system. Our incomes eventually diverged quite a bit, but we’ve still kept to the 50/50 system as we don’t want to create a financial dependence on the other person’s income.

We determined who would pay what with the question “If we were renting, would the landlord or the renter pay for X?” In order to keep my condo equity safe and clearly separate, I paid for everything related to the condo. I paid the mortgage payments, monthly HOA dues and special assessments, property taxes, and any maintenance or improvements. He paid for most everything else: groceries, travel, restaurants, utilities, new towels, etc.

To keep things simple, all of the shared expenses that he paid for were put on one credit card and I have an Authorized User card on the account. We also set up a financial aggregator account with it so that I could see the data without him sharing the online banking password. Every few months, I would enter my part of the data and his part of the data into a spreadsheet and make sure that things were relatively even since we weren’t splitting at the source.

When we did a living room furniture remodel this year, we agreed to split every item purchased at the source so that we fully owned all of the items together. I ended up getting a couple of credit cards (including the Chase Sapphire Reserve!) for credit card bonus points with the large purchases and then he paid me back for his half of the furniture pieces.

After we got married, we moved to a slightly different system (which I will talk more about next year), though I continued to pay for everything related to the condo until the postnuptial agreement was signed. I am so excited to retire the haphazardly updated spreadsheet of shared spending!! I’m really glad I kept that spreadsheet though as it made creating our 2017 joint budget much, much easier.

Happy holidays, everyone! This is my last post for 2016.

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