Is your spouse really “disinterested” in the finances?

Or is that actually an example of personality differences? Just because your spouse doesn’t want to spend endless hours going over spreadsheets, charts, and forecasting, doesn’t mean that they are disinterested in the finances. Or at least that’s the case in our household, where we both had money management systems in place when we got married. I could also imagine that one spouse being intimidated by the other spouse’s financial knowledge could resemble “disinterest”, but I don’t want to speak to that since that wasn’t our situation.

As I said in a previous post: one of the lessons I’ve learned so far about married finances is that the tools and systems that worked for each of you single are not necessarily the same tools and systems you should use when you are working together as a couple. It’s important to take into account both spouses’ preferences when you’re figuring things out.

My husband’s system when he was single was pretty simple. He had Mint connected to all of his accounts and looked in on it every few months. He maxed out his 401(k) throughout the year and had a portion of his paycheck direct deposited to Vanguard directly. He contributed the full (Backdoor) Roth IRA contribution at some point in the year when he felt his cash position had some room to spare. He carefully researched purchases before selecting items. A month or two after his bonus(es) would hit his checking account, he would rebalance his taxable Vanguard account. He would occasionally check in on things and exclaim about exciting milestones! and round numbers!

Does that sound like someone who doesn’t care about his finances? No, not at all.

My systems, in contrast, were pretty complicated. I started tracking my money before Mint started in spreadsheets, and then in software custom built by myself. I would excitedly download my pay stubs every pay day, as soon as I got the email notification a day or two in advance and update my tax spreadsheet with the exact numbers to the penny. (An ex-boyfriend was worried I lived paycheck to paycheck because I was SO excited about pay day!) When I got a raise, I would re-calculate what % I needed to contribute to my 401(k) to max it out with my last paycheck of the year and I would adjust it. I checked in on my 401(k) transactions every month, to make sure they happened as planned. There were months where I would adjust my 401(k) contribution allocations every month, which was completely overkill. I was never a fan of splitting my direct deposit, preferring to split it myself exactly on pay day so I could allocate the updated balance of my savings accounts to that month. I budgeted down to the penny every month for years, checking in on my spending daily for years until I slowly reduced it to weekly, biweekly, and then mostly monthly. I allocated my bonus(es) within a day of them appearing in my accounts, preferring to allocate manually rather than set up automatic savings or investing other than my 401(k).

My level of caring about my finances constitutes a hobby. I like to compare it to exercising. How much time do you need to spend exercising to be reasonably healthy? Anything past that becomes a hobby. If you average 20,000 steps a day and go to the gym daily, exercising is more in line with being a hobby for you than being strictly necessary to be reasonably healthy.

Compromise in any relationship is important! No spouse should dominate the decisions and both spouses preferences and dispositions are important. I was always slightly jealous of unmarried couples who split expenses by both partners regularly updating a spreadsheet! That is not us. I am the spreadsheeter and my husband is not.

Our first attempts at tracking our spending together resulted in me doing my exact single systems for our joint spending and for my own personal spending, which turned out to be a lot of work. I was spending far more time than ever doing the manual work of entering receipts weekly (one hour) and reconciling and pulling into a spreadsheet once a month (at least an hour). It turns out that two people can make a large number of transactions – not a day goes by without us making at least one transaction. We’ve averaged 160 transactions per month (which counts a transfer as two transactions) through April of this year in YNAB, which works out to 40 transactions a week – no wonder it was taking me an hour just to enter them! That was a huge time commitment for very little value. YNAB is far more helpful at accomplishing the parts I do value with less time commitment than our previous system was.

My husband’s employer switched from paying him monthly to biweekly recently, which caused me to suggest that we allocate new money more often in YNAB. My husband said that our current system of allocating new money on the morning of the 1st of every month seems to be working, so we should keep with that. Since we can fund the whole month on the 1st, that seems like a reasonable compromise to me (more frequent fidgeting is fun, but not strictly necessary), though it certainly is difficult to watch the “To Be Budgeted” stay really full for a couple weeks now since all of the May income actually came in around mid-month. I am patiently waiting until the 1st because I would rather allocate the money together than do it by myself now without my husband’s buy-in. In my parents’ relationship, for example, one of them does all the budgeting with no buy-in from the other spouse, which results in the other spouse just spending freely and “blowing the budget” every month, to the frustration of the budgeting spouse. That’s not how we want our relationship to work.

For us, the best money system is one that both spouses contribute to, not just one spouse.

I still have fun with spreadsheets! I occasionally do budget forecasting, but I never save it unless we were doing the budgeting together. I update the net worth spreadsheet on the 1st of the month, rather than throughout the month like I used to. This means a lot less time spent on spreadsheets and a lot more time spent reading books and exercising. Every month, I show my husband the month’s updated spreadsheets and charts and ask him what his favorite of the charts is. In February, the chart he thought the coolest was the one that showed we had lost tens of thousands of dollars of our investments in the stock market.

I spent the time researching mortgage rates and presented all of the options. We made the final decision on which new mortgage to pick together, but I did all of the research. There are plenty of other times that my husband does more research than I do, e.g. the hours he spent researching which new camera lens to buy recently and the hours he’s spent researching a barbecue that he still hasn’t decided between the final two options after many hours of research over the last six months because he just isn’t sure it’s worth spending $X more for a specific feature. To me, it’s perfectly reasonable for one spouse to do more of the research, but both spouses should be on board with which funds to actually allocate their investments in or which mortgage type to choose in the end.

Readers, how do you compromise with your spouse on your money management systems?

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19 thoughts on “Is your spouse really “disinterested” in the finances?

  1. I think in our case, he really is not very interested. And that is probably partly because he saw that it was already taken care of.

    My husband was decent with money when we met, but didn’t really have a system. As a grad student, he didn’t have a lot of excess money or access to a 401k, so he mostly just spent minimal money and accumulated some savings, mostly in his checking account. We bought our first car in cash primarily with his savings – I never would have had $20k+ unallocated in a non-investment account at that stage in my life.

    It has evolved such that we still mostly use my system, although I’ve simplified it over time. He is very interested in the net worth updates each month, but not all that much else. He is happy that I’m so interested in it though!

    • When we first started dating, my husband’s system looked more like yours. He spent less than he made and the excess accumulated in his checking account until he had more than enough to pay off his student loans ($20-30k – he doesn’t remember how much they were exactly anymore lol) and then he did that, which he did sometime not long before we started dating. I definitely influenced his systems, but because we weren’t married and the money was fully legally his, I felt stronger about explaining ideas to him before leaving him to pick something and implement.

      By the time we got married, he had enough money to have developed his own systems. I am really glad for that because I feel it makes us more equal partners and helps me not have all of the “burden” of managing the finances. I do wonder if we had gotten married say, right after he paid off his student loans, if I would be doing even more of the managing than I am now.

  2. I’m like your husband which makes me the money person in our relationship. As you probably know, my DH has his own allowance that he takes painstaking care of, and we consult on big money issues by which I mean, I consult him.

    • I find it fascinating that you are the money person when you would describe yourself more like my husband in this sense! I really like having our own budget category groups in YNAB. My husband is surprised when I don’t know he spent money on something. I think he assumes I check up on his spending more than I do!

  3. K and I definitely have different approaches to personal finance (and of the two of us, I’m definitely more of a spreadsheet maker and more predisposed to tracking things closely). That definitely doesn’t mean he cares less – his finances are extremely well-maintained (just not tracked as frequently as is my wont), and he’s definitely much better at saving than me. He’s also the one who would be more likely to do research on big purchases like electronics and/or (someday) a car.

    It’s hard to imagine how we’d approach things if/when we combined finances (we’re a few years off from that, as I’m not sure we’d do it immediately, even upon marriage), though it definitely wouldn’t be realistic for me to still track every transaction from us both manually in old YNAB/a spreadsheet, essentially, the way that I’ve been doing. I don’t think I have particularly strong feelings about how we should approach it either, as long as it’s a system that works for both of us.

    • It took us a year and a half after we got married to actually combine! It took a lot of discussions too and how we did it was really dependent on where we were in our lives at the time. If my “sabbatical” hadn’t taken longer than planned, then we might have taken many more years before we combined. We are using new YNAB which has actually worked far better I think since it gives us both a similar amount of agency to Mint in that we both have the app on our phones. It’s so hard adjusting systems to mesh with a partner!

  4. Before we got together, fiancé would frequently forget to pay bills and would ostrich when it came to money stuff. He’s never really been a big spender, but he was a very low earner for a long time so thinking about money at all would stress him out. I think he mostly relied on bank account zero, though he went into overdraft sometimes and occasionally take on a couple thousand in credit card debt. Going in the red due to an emergency, etc. was never a big issue because his parents would often take care of it.

    Over time, his money system has gotten better, especially as his pay has improved and we had Saturday meetings together where I walked him through some of the mechanics of money management. Now he does auto-contributions into his retirement account, auto-pays his bills, and just doesn’t spend that much so is able to build up a good chunk of savings. He also doesn’t get a deer in the headlights look anymore when I ask him whether we can discuss big financial decision XYZ.

    Going forward, we intend to merge finances, and that’ll be using “my” system but one we’ve walked through and he’s approved. I’m probably still going to be driving our finances for a while (checking in for his approval for the big items), but our dialogue on this stuff continues to improve and at some point I’m hoping he’ll feel enough expertise on money topics to have independent suggestions/preferences on how we do things.

    • I’m glad you have helped your fiance to improve his money systems! I feel like most people in your situation would have just forcibly taken over his finances without helping him better understand the stuff, which wouldn’t have really corrected the root of the problem.

      My husband has mostly developed his money systems while we’ve been together, so I think they’re somewhat influenced by me. I’m fascinated by you and others who have been working towards merging finances while they were dating/engaged because that so wasn’t us.

      • I think if we had more equal incomes or if we weren’t planning to have kids, we’d probably just keep our finances separate. Given those factors, though, it just seems more fair to pool everything in one bucket. And I’d rather be able to practice at least a little before we officially get hitched (even though I’ve been slow about actually finalizing combining everything).

        • We had planned on keeping things pretty separate when we first got married since our asset level was pretty different but then when I developed some health issues in the fall and didn’t go back to work when I had planned, we ended up deciding to combine going forward. It’s actually going to be even pretty shortly anyway since my husband’s income ballooned substantially the last few years. And our philosophies align reasonably well, so we are confident this way will work out long term.

  5. I would say for Mr PoP and I we are interested in different aspects of it. I thrive on managing the flows of the money, but he’s always researching different businesses and nd thinking of different business and investment ideas. We don’t do them all – and not right now – but I think our different strengths and interests will help us through different phases of our lives.

    • That’s a really beneficial way to look at it! I do find my husband helps calm me down and make things seem more accurately urgent than I prefer them to be.

  6. I would have to say that my wife is really disinterested in it. I think part of that is my fault because I used the dreaded b word and she kind of revolted. Even though I have tried to reframe it a bit she has been a bit scarred by that first incident.

    • It sounds a bit like you intimidated her with the budget word! I know I did at first with my husband, but I kept trying and eventually won him over with a not too restrictive but planning how we want to allocate our money budget.

  7. PiC is definitely in the Disinterested camp according to your parameters – he had a system but it was a pointless one that didn’t give him useful data to crunch or to do better with and he was not actively engaged in doing better with his finances, he was just happy to pay his bills and put a little something away and that was that.

    My system was complicated by necessity but I’ve taken over most of our finances, and continually work at simplifying my system more so that if he should need to take over, it wouldn’t be a hardship. Also if I ever suffer a head injury, I don’t want to have to think way too hard about it! Which is of course a thing I feel like I have to plan for. As a planner. An obsessive planner.

    • I do think that as you have more money, systems inherently do become more complicated. There’s still value in simplicity, but the minimum number of accounts can become larger over time.

      I would still say that where PiC started from is a reasonable place – no debt and putting some money away. I definitely sculpted my husband’s systems while we were dating, as he only started to have much money to do something with after we started dating. Then again, his friends also told him to max out his 401(k) and invest in index funds.

  8. Great post about joining finances and how it might look like for a couple! My husband is not disinterested and I”m not either, but we don’t have the level of spreadsheets that you have. I think people are interested in different ways. Your spreadsheets and graphs are amazing!!

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