Married Finances: Two Years In

Our finances are in a lot less of an emotional state at this time this year than last year, which is lovely. Talking regularly about money is so, so key to where we are with it.

From the outside, if you look at our cash flow, it now looks like we’ve philosophically combined money. But we haven’t. And it isn’t a black and white combined or not like so many people make it out to be.

My husband says there’s enough money to go around that it’s not worthwhile for either of us to stress about money so he’s happy to share <3

We still firmly believe that the person earning the money is the one earning the money and it isn’t by default shared with the other person. My husband, for example, has had a really kick-ass income year in 2018. He has been choosing to use that income to cover expenses for both of us in our current lifestyle and also to put towards our joint savings goals. I don’t, however, see it as half my income or that I’ve had a part in him earning this income. So many women (even educated, high-earning ones I am friends with) actively see their husband’s income as theirs because they’re married, which is not me. We have talked too about how once we are FI, then maybe he should keep some more of his income to himself, but he’s also said that by then, we will have been together for long enough that it won’t matter.

We do both now own the condo! Well, we signed documents saying we did months ago. We haven’t actually seen the new deed recorded with the county yet though. (It must have gone through because we have been getting so much new mortgage junk mail.) That means too, that we’re sharing the appreciation of the condo, which is a huge part of why my husband is sharing all of his income: 2017’s condo increase was about 25% of our net worth increase versus savings being 35%. This year, we’re forecasting the condo increase to be about 30% of our net worth increase and then savings about 45%.

We both feel really weird about the current financial arrangement. As you can see with the condo appreciation though, it doesn’t feel like there is a better option without shutting me out of the condo. The current setup feels more advantageous to me, but at the same time, there are many benefits my husband has from our financial situation:

  1. I bought this condo six years ago. Yes, he bought into it at full value as of the date we got married rather than my purchase price, but he didn’t pay me any interest.
  2. The condo appreciation over the last six years alone is responsible for a substantial portion of our current net worth. Had I not bought it when I did, we would have had to cover much of that portion with savings instead to buy it now.
  3. I paid off about 55% of the original mortgage before he started paying the mortgage last year. That means that our huge interest years are behind us on this mortgage. Even if we take 10 years to pay it off and the rate resets the worst it can each year, it’ll cost us at most $25,000 in interest over its remaining lifetime. If we had paid 3% interest for 30 years, that would have cost $150,000 in interest. But, we’ve already paid $25,000 in interest and will pay at most $50,000 total over at most 15 years.
  4. He lived here for two years rent free while we were dating, which saved him about $50,000 in rent.
  5. I saved for my retirement pretty aggressively in my twenties. To balance that out, we agreed that all of our retirement account funds are our own. Ideally, no one should touch those until our 60s anyway and I have about enough to cover current expenses at 60 already. Even if I never worked again, it would take him over 10 years to catch up to my retirement savings balance when we got married.
  6. The tax savings of my not working (versus my husband filing a Single tax return) at the moment covers 2/3 of “my” portion of the household budget and accounts for about 5-10% of our forecasted net worth increase this year, which brings the savings portion of the net worth increase down to basically exactly the condo increase.
  7. Lastly, my financial planning has had a large influence on my husband’s as well. This is evidenced by the fact that we have the same US vs international stock allocations and use the same index funds in our accounts.

We understand now how people say that it becomes difficult to measure how much each spouse financially contributed and why many don’t do it.

Even though it’s weird in the short-term, we also both recognize that in ten years, we likely won’t care much about these differences, but also, we have the same long-term goals:

  1. Be mortgage free by age 40. (end of 2027)
  1. Have enough saved for both of us to fully retire by age 40. (again, end of 2027)
  2. To be tax-efficient where possible.
  3. To increase our charitable donation strategy over time. (Currently at 2% of gross income!)
  4. To be able to financially support parents as needed without impacting our own goals. (We expect all of our parents to hopefully retire in the next ten years.)
  • Another exciting development this year is that we opened a joint Vanguard taxable account! It’s small compared to our separate ones. To symbolize what we each did more of when we were single, I am first on our primary residence and my husband is first on our joint taxable account.
  • YNAB has been a huge, positive change for us. We are both super respectful of what the other spends money on, which seems to be the hardest part about combining finances for many couples. We still like having the personal budget category groups though as it gives us each a bit more autonomy and even though we spend similar amounts, we spend them in different patterns, e.g. my husband spent more than half of his YTD personal spending in one of the months, whereas mine is more consistent month to month. This system has given us both similar levels of visibility into the overall spending and into how we allocate the money. We would both prefer to save more money each month, but we’re also accepting of it with our current financial situation and the level of non-salary income.


    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?

    Married Finances: Budgeting 2018 with YNAB

    I talked previously about how something had to give after our expensive 2016 and 2017 years. My husband has never budgeted, but I used to have complicated budgeting spreadsheets. Trying to mesh those two strategies resulted in us not really staying on top of our spending as life changed over the last year, so at the end of December, we set up YNAB.

    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 spouse and I have similar money values (living below our means, saving for retirement, index funds, high-interest debt is bad, etc.), but we have very different personalities. For us, I am very detail-oriented, worry about money, and check in on it regularly while he is very easy going, likes automatic payments and checks in on things on a less specific pattern. His form of budgeting has always been to carefully consider purchases and then buy things he values and plans to get good use out of. That means that we respect each other’s purchasing choices fairly well, which is good, considering how different our money personalities are!

    Our previous systems all involved a bunch of manual reconciling into spreadsheets by me. Mint didn’t work for us because we didn’t want to associate say all of each of our Chase credit cards – we just wanted to partially share credit cards. PC was better in that it let us pick which specific accounts to associate from our Chase logins (as an example), but I didn’t like that you had to wait until transactions posted for them to appear in the app. Neither of these tools were very good with the various special assessments our condo association has been doing or the fact that no month is really normal for us, so I was left with a lot of spreadsheets and manual tracking. Last year, I had a spreadsheet that I used to manually track against our budget for the year, but there was no system for when we eventually started going vastly over the budget, other than every time the checking account balance could no longer pay the credit cards at the end of the month, we put in a few thousand more dollars. The good thing that came out of our method of budgeting last year though was that my husband learned that I’m not going to stop buying groceries just because we used up the grocery “budget”, so he was cool with us trying YNAB. Needless to say, our cash flow needed some improvement.

    We have now used it for two full months and it really feels like the best tool we’ve tried so far! It marries all of the features we had liked about the previous systems and (for us) minimizes the cons of each of them.

    iPhone app

    We both have the app on our phones and iPads, which is a huge improvement of visibility versus my husband not wanting to damage my spreadsheets.

    It has manual entry with the phone app, which even has geo-tagging for where you were when you logged the transaction. That means that both of us enter the transactions on the go at the time of purchase now and subsequent times you go back to a place, the entry is usually even easier since it populates the category and account info based on what you used on your last transaction at that merchant. This beats our previous system of me collecting all of the receipts and spending an hour or more manually entering them every weekend. It also beats Mint/PC not knowing about checks we wrote (we write about 25 per year) or getting the wrong amount at the gas station or being full of pending transactions that never post. New con of this: receipts now pile up in my wallet for months since I never check on them.

    I like how the app has an “inbox” of tasks you should do, which covers approving scheduled transactions, approving imported transactions that it matched to ones you had manually entered, and categorizing transactions that you did not enter.

    The app lets you pin categories to the top of the budget screen. I pinned most of the food categories so that I can easily see them since those are the main categories I spend on while out.

    Cash flow

    We learned that a lot of our cash flow this year is in the first half of the year. Hopefully with YNAB, we’ll feel less of a cash flow crunch at the beginning of 2019 since we will use our low spending months at the end of the year to set aside for the expensive things at the beginning of the next year. Why is more stuff due at the beginning of the year? Car insurance comes due in January and July, but we hadn’t been setting aside money to pay for the January car insurance, so we had to pay the full amount in January. Property taxes are paid in April and October, but we only started setting aside the money in January. Utilities are more expensive in the winter months. Condo and umbrella insurance is due in July. This year, we only planned on trips in March and July, aka they will be mostly paid for in the first half of the year. Our theater subscription renews in May. Our condo association did a small special assessment that is due in June.

    I like that it’s really flexible and forces you to cover your spending you didn’t plan for, before rolling over to the next month. That’s a key piece that was missing from our previous system. It does roll over positive category balances to future months, which is great. It wants you to “roll with the punches” as you overspend, but so far, we have determined we would rather keep a $1,000 buffer in the checking account and then deal with the overspending at the end of the month unless there was something big since that way, we can both sit down together more easily to look at it instead of just one of us dealing with it throughout the month.

    YNAB has significantly reduced my stress about where the money is coming from to pay the bills because now I know that we will be ready to pay the county the over $2,000 for property taxes next month and all of the credit card balances are covered by the checking account because it’s all accounted for in YNAB. I do really hope it is a long time before we have a $10,000 credit card payment again like we did two months in 2016 and one month in 2017, but if we do, it’ll be accounted for with far less stress.

    To me, a budget is less about being restrictive in how you spend your money and more about managing cash flow. Our end of month checking account balance in 2017 averaged $5,659.12 and now it’s almost $20,000. No wonder I am a lot less stressed about paying the property taxes this year!

    Import and automation

    Even though YNAB suggests you manually enter your transactions, the online version which we are using automatically imports transactions from the banks you connect to it, which means that it if you forgot to enter a transaction, it brings it in for you. It also means that it automatically clears our manually entered transactions when it finds them through the bank, which is awesome. That used to take me so much time logging into each bank to check on the transactions!

    Scheduled transactions, even recurring ones, are awesome. My manual system didn’t have recurring transactions, though it did have scheduled transactions. I also like that YNAB makes you “approve” a scheduled transaction when its day comes, reminding you that you are still paying for this thing. We don’t have a ton of recurring transactions, but it is useful.

    Budget categories (and groups!)

    We both love that you can name category groups and categories however you want. Mint, for example, doesn’t let you make new category groups, just categories and you can’t make new categories from the app. PC doesn’t have category groups, just categories. I really like to be able to see all housing items together, for example. We each have our own category group for personal spending and then we get to make our own categories in there as we prefer.

    I like how for each budget category, you can set a separate goal. This is great because we made a budget category for each specific thing. So for example, in our “Housing” budget category group, we have the mortgage, condo fees, cell phones, and internet with monthly funding goals. The property taxes have a target balance date goal, so right now we are setting aside 1/8 of the bill each month; in May, we will set aside 1/12 of the bill; in November, we will estimate an increase for the 2019 year. For the utilities, we budgeted for the estimated winter bills and then in May, we will start setting aside an average for the year. For the condo insurance, we are setting aside 1/7 of the bill until July and then after that, we will set aside 1/12 each month. This sounds somewhat complicated describing it, but YNAB makes it really simple and I don’t have to do the constant different fidgeting with formulas that I did before. Plus, now I can see all of these things in the app! This all is especially awesome because I find that no month is really “normal”. I also like that all of these balances just build up until we actually need them and don’t require much effort to work towards.

    If you have goals set up for your budget categories or scheduled transactions, then when you’re budgeting for the next month, you can select a number of budget categories and use the “Quick budget” functionality to cover those amounts, which makes having many small categories really easy to budget for.

    My husband thought I was silly to suggest budgeting for driver’s licenses, trusted traveler programs, passports, etc. until we added up how much we should set aside for those and it added up to about $20/month for both of us combined, which surprised him.

    Credit cards and accounts

    I really like how it handles credit cards. It seems to confuse people on the subreddit, but it makes SO MUCH sense to me and is really how I handle them in my head. For much of 2017, I manually paid all of the credit cards on the 1st of every month to help me feel comfortable with the balance in the checking account, which was an annoying time sink. Now, I’m happy to let them go on auto pay again and not worry about it. (Though I did pay one in full recently when we got the statement and the card hadn’t had any activity in most of a month and its under $5 balance was annoying me.) The side effect of this is that our checking account now has a ridiculous amount of money in it (almost $20,000), but it is all accounted for, so I’m happy with that. Basically, they say that if you had $100 allocated for Groceries and you spent $50 on Groceries on a credit card, then they move the $50 allocation from Groceries to that credit card.

    I like how easy it is to manually create an account for something, like the gift card balances on each of our Amazon accounts.

    I like that YNAB mostly shows you the “working balance” for an account, so for example, your checking account with all of your uncleared checks already subtracted from it. PC wasn’t very good at that, which would bug me when *I* knew I had spent money, but the app I was using didn’t know about it yet!


    The slightly weird thing to me is that they want you to assign jobs to all of your dollars that YNAB knows about, including to any savings accounts. We haven’t had a lot of extra monthly cash flow lately with only one income, but we do have a target category balance goal for our primary savings account to get up to three months expenses in our joint savings account. I also have a budget category for “Vanguard taxable” that we will soon assign some dollars to.




    I like the online spending reports. They are generally sufficient for my interests. You can see a pie chart or a stacked bar chart of your spending for any date period you specify and if you pick the stacked bar chart, it gives you one for each month. You can also exclude categories from it. (I’ve excluded the mortgage payment, for example.) You can also get a pie chart or stacked bar chart for a category group too. The phone and iPad apps have “Age of Money” and “Net Worth” reports, which I care less about than the spending report, since I really prefer to only check on “Net Worth” on the last day of the month.


    The time cost feels way lower than our previous system. 30-60 seconds to enter a transaction at the source, especially with 3D Touch to get into the transaction screen of the app. I spend a couple minutes most mornings checking the “inbox” of transactions to approve and leaving my husband to categorize his. Now that we have things mostly set up, our end of February “budgeting meeting” took about 30 minutes to consider our February over spending and set up a budget for March. I try really hard to not tinker with the system other than that meeting. Every couple weeks or so, I log onto each bank and make sure that the balance on each account is the same as what YNAB knows about (which it usually is) and click “reconcile”.


    We both like that they are actively working on the software, which is not something that we have the time for with my homegrown software.

    As always, this post is not sponsored – this is simply my review of how we’ve been using this system.

    My Accidental Sabbatical of 5+ months

    When I last talked about what I was doing with my life, I was working on my Master’s degree, right? And I was going to finish soon.

    Well. In the fall, I came down with a non-life-threatening health issue that took about four months to root cause.

    We broke $10,000 in raw health care spending before insurance kicked in, for the entire plan year. (Of which, we paid about $1,500 out of pocket since we have good health insurance.) I keep track of my raw health care spending and this was by far the most expensive year I’ve seen yet. The previously most expensive year was $6,000, another about $4,000 and the others averaged $1,500.

    I start with it took four months to root cause because it still isn’t fully solved. I’m working on that and I assume that will take another several months and some more health care spending, of course in a new plan year.


    Bridget talked about financial black swans a while back. I would say that mostly until late 2016, I had experienced very few negative black swans. In the last two years, I’ve seen two: losing my job and this health issue. Both of those combined have had a huge impact on my finances – I haven’t seen a paycheck in over a year, a loss of about $200,000 in gross income over this time period. There have also been some positives: my husband got a huge promotion to the point that our household income has hardly missed my income and our net worth has grown tremendously since we married. It has, however, created a financial dependency between the two of us that wasn’t there before we got married and we would be further ahead if we had had my income as well, though we are still in a great financial position now.

    How did we protect ourselves against these negative financial black swans?

    Thanks to huge positive financial black swans like us both having careers in high-paying fields, my parents funding my college education, and H paying off his student loans quickly after graduation (his student loan balance at graduation was eerily similar to the hypothetical one I calculated in that linked post!), we had a great start in our twenties. Before we got married, we each lived off of about half of our net salary incomes and saved all of our bonus income after taxes. We each maxed out our 401(k)s and Backdoor Roth IRAs. One of us aggressively paid down the mortgage (her) and one of us aggressively invested in a Vanguard taxable account (him). We each had strong cash reserves.

    Despite having six figure combined expenses in both 2016 and 2017, we continued to max out all available retirement accounts, take on no credit card debt, and watch our net worth steadily increase, which to both of us, feels like an incredible privilege that we not only survived the Very Expensive Fall of 2016 that saw multiple months with credit card bills over $10,000, but our finances continued to thrive during that time. It is thanks to our high incomes and previously more frugal behavior that we were able to swing such large increases in expenses simply with grumbles, reduced savings each month, and no debt. With those large expenses in our rear view mirror and solid health insurance, we are both on the same page that we hope to not spend six figures in one year again for a long time.

    The catch with each of us having similar salaries before when we each lived off of about half of our net salary incomes was that we found ourselves spending all or more than the salary income after maxing out H’s 401(k) coming in for a while. We poured over our spending from 2017 and we tried to find areas in which we could cut, before H finally suggested that we reduce our budgets for personal spending since reducing retirement savings at our tax bracket was a silly idea. So far, it seems to be progressing. We successfully budgeted $5 less than the paychecks in January, $500 more than them in February and we are on track to be under by closer to $1,000 in March. It’s nowhere near his previous 50% savings rate, but any breathing room is a welcome change from 2017, when I used savings to cover my half of the wedding and expenses for the first 2/3 of the year.

    We’re okay with running things somewhat close to the wire monthly for several reasons. That wire involves maximizing his 401(k) which is a decent chunk each month. H is at a point in his career where his salary is not the majority of his income and our plan involves saving all of his non-salary income. Withdrawing 4% from our investments would already cover all of our non-mortgage housing, food, transportation, and toiletries expenses, aka most of our needs. We also do still assume that I will return to earning an income when I fully resolve this health issue.

    So, yes, this is a setback financially, but we set ourselves up well for it and are grateful that this is simply an opportunity cost financially rather than a financially devastating situation for our household.

    Money isn’t the hard part of this.

    For those long-time readers, you know how staunchly independent I am. This has been an emotional blow to that, despite my husband being pretty easy going about it all. It is so bizarre to go from earning half the household income, to over the course of several years, earning nothing and the household income still being the same. In a way, this experience has shown me that I could find fulfillment when I choose to step away from my career some day. There are so many things I don’t miss about the rat race.

    Months where all I could convince myself to do was read books, watch Netflix, read the Internet, and go to medical appointments were not the best. Thankfully, I’m past that point now, which has substantially improved the situation emotionally. I’m slowly starting to climb back out of the withdrawal corner I had fallen into.

    Everyone wants to label your status to quickly understand what you’re up to. At first, I struggled with how to answer when people asked me where I am working these days. Thanks to some advice on Twitter, I’ve concluded that I will tell people I’m on a health-related sabbatical at the moment and no, I don’t know when I’m going back to work yet. That seems to worry my in-laws since they don’t know how much H makes, but my family seem to assume we are fine and just worry about my health.

    People tend to assume that I am currently wholly dependent on H in order to eat. It’s somewhat nice to be able to hide behind that offline, though I tire of it. I want to burst out that we’re not fully dependent on his income, that this is a team effort. Yes, he’s the one with the income now, but I did so much before. I bought this condo and paid off over half the mortgage. I own over half of our investment portfolio, the portfolio which helps our frugal hearts be okay with our current spending level compared to H’s monthly net salary income. Without my efforts, we would be in a substantially different place today. In some ways, though, his current income and our efforts with it mean that we are in a vastly different financial situation than we were years ago when I made all of those good decisions while single. We can save more now without me working than I ever could single. I keep quiet though and retort all of that after we’ve left the social situation, to get it out.

    Our $23,000 Big Wedding Reception

    I thought a lot about how/when to write this post. Mainly, I had a hard time writing it without including any of our lovely photos. Beyond the fact that showing pictures would require attribution to our photographer, we agreed that sharing pictures unless I would Facebook friend a reader would go against our anonymity preferences. On the other hand, when I read wedding recap posts that are mostly pictures, this post is what I actually would have preferred to read! We didn’t have an incredibly frugal wedding reception, however, I feel like people who do have this kind of wedding don’t talk about or acknowledge the costs and to me, the first step in financial awareness is understanding where your money went.

    We eloped last fall. While we hadn’t strongly intended to get married, we also planned to have a “big” party (by big, I mean more than parents and a small handful of close friends) when we did get married. Eloping is the perfect option for many people and I really don’t want to rail on that. Our elopement was an incredible, joyous day that we wouldn’t change for the world, despite it not being what our original plan was.

    Pretty quickly after we eloped, we started planning our big wedding. We knew that if we didn’t do it this year, we would never do it. Our initial “budget” was that it would be great if we could have a 100 person party in the city with delicious food and drink for $10,000 to $15,000. A generous wedding gift from one set of parents would have paid for a significant portion of that sum. I laugh at that figure now, but it was not a terrible starting point.

    A Practical Wedding, the blog, the book, and the planner, were all very helpful in us figuring things out. We built our budget consciously by choosing whether a line item was important to us or not and if not, eliminating it. That really helped us ignore items that we didn’t care about.

    On rings: when we got married, we bought plain bands for each of us. My spouse is really happy with his still, but it was quickly clear to us that I wasn’t. I tried on some fancier rings at a jewelry store in person, before we bought an engagement ring and matching wedding ring from a reputable online jewelry store. I absolutely love them and am so glad that we splurged on them. I struggled for a while with how expensive and unnecessary they felt for a time before buying them and then for months after buying them. A year later, I love looking at them many times every day and am really glad we picked this particular set.

    We spent just shy of $23,000 on our big wedding reception weekend. The Venue & Catering portion worked out to $140 per person, which is about in line with what you would pay at this level of restaurant for appetizers, soup, salad, dinner, and drinks. If you add in the costs of our elopement, our post-nuptial agreement, my fancy rings, and our 2016 marriage tax penalty less our 2017 marriage tax bonus, we spent between $36,000 and $37,000 in the end on “getting married”. We used wedding gift money to fund our three week European honeymoon. That said, we are both really excited for a more frugal 2018.

    We spent a pretty solid month late in the fall touring wedding venues. We looked at three in person before we settled on the one we picked. We picked it for its space, food, and many of the features of their event planning. I would really recommend going the restaurant route if you can find one with a space that works really well for your goals! They only required a $500 deposit and then we were set. We sent out email save the dates soon after that.

    Eight months out, we realized we needed to nail down some more details. We picked a photographer after a quick consult with one ($480 deposit or about 30%), went to a local wedding event to look for other vendors (about $35 for both of us), booked two cake tastings ($45-50 each), and went to another cake open house.

    Seven months out, we booked our DJ (50% deposit = $1,100), had the two cake tastings, booked the cake (50% deposit of estimate = $490), and I bought my dress! I went to two stores and found this one dress I really liked. A friend directed me at a consignment store, which turned out to have that exact dress in my correct size! I paid $380 for the dress, plus taxes and a sash.

    Six months out, I had a consult with someone about doing hair and makeup and we paid a $200 deposit. I don’t typically wear much makeup or do much styling with my hair, so this felt like a splurge. It was really delightful though as we ended up paying for both of our moms, our sister(-in-law)(s), and my MOH to have their hair and makeup done at our apartment with me. The person was really great with the scheduling and even finished ahead of schedule!

    Four months out, we ordered paper invites once we had finalized the start time with the venue. We were doing mostly online invites, so we didn’t need very many. We originally search for five, but eventually ended up buying twenty, so we could give some to people as an option. VistaPrint has some great designs. For $57.82, we got several sheets of return address labels (so useful for thank you cards!), 20 invitations, 10 invitation envelopes, 10 RSVP cards and envelopes, and some envelope seals. One lesson we learned was that anyone who gets an invite wants an envelope, so we ended up buying some more envelopes later… oops! Another lesson: send paper invites to anyone 65+. Even if they can send and receive email, they don’t prefer to manage email. Your parents also like paper invites. And sometimes a sibling will too.

    Three months out, we bought a cake topper with our initials that we found on Etsy for $37.50. I really struggled at finding one that allowed for the concept of the couple having two last names – we ended up with one with just our initials on it.

    Two months out, we paid the final balance for our photographer (a bit over $1,000).

    One month out, the charges started piling in. We bought a guestbook for $69 on Etsy. We went back on forth on this a lot. I’m glad we have it in the end, but it could have easily been scrapped. I did a hair & makeup trial for $205 which really helped me to feel comfortable with how things would go on the day. The stylist wasn’t sure this was necessary since we were just doing a reception this year, but I’m so glad I did it! We bought another 10 envelopes for $5.45. We paid $7.53 for coffee while interviewing a potential photographer. I paid for the alterations on my dress which came in at almost the pre-tax cost of the dress itself at $362. We paid the balance of the wedding cake cost which turned out to be $490.

    Month of, was the most expensive month. Once we’d finalized our seating chart, we bought place cards from Minted for $115 because it seemed very worthwhile to not have to write everyone’s names and table numbers on them ourselves. We bought some stickers for the cards for $2 and some pens for the guestbook for $14. We paid the balance of the DJ cost ($1,100). We paid the full price for our new photographer of $3,325 all at once. That stung a bit to do the month of! We spent $66 copying and printing family wedding photos (we displayed parent & grandparent wedding photos, which was a surprisingly time consuming project to do the month of the wedding) and $48 buying six frames for them. We ordered appetizers ($145) for our cash bar pre-wedding drinks with out of town friends at a local bar with a separated area that we could reserve and spent $50 on our drinks that night (other people bought us drinks though). I do not recommend booking your Saturday night rehearsal dinner two weeks before your wedding. Our previous photographer refunded our last payment ($1,100). We paid $128 for one sister, my MOH, and the tips on mine and my mom’s to have all of our nails done the weekend of the wedding. We hosted a family dinner at our house one night which involved some unknown quantity of money out of the grocery budget. We spent $98 on transportation that weekend, which wasn’t the full retail cost as I got some Lyft credits from referring wedding guests. We paid the balance of the hair & makeup cost ($808) and the actual final DJ invoice ($450). My spouse got his hair cut the day of (~$45), but he paid for that out of his personal money. Lastly, we paid the balance cost to the venue of $11,300, which covered all of the food and drinks.

    Month after, we bought photo thank you cards from Minted for $124 and printed guest photos for $7. This was again worthwhile because they address the envelopes for you! We successfully mailed them all within 2.5 months of the wedding.

    We ordered wedding albums for each set of our parents as Christmas gifts this year and then used some wedding gift money to order one for ourselves. We can’t wait to get the one for ourselves after seeing the first parent album!


    Some non-money thoughts:

    After a lot of thought, we included non-teenage children with all invites. (Part of the logic there was that age 12 and below, it was cheaper to order them food.) It worked out to five children under five in attendance, which was fine. This worked out for our crowd. Had we been having a ceremony or had more potential children on the invite list, this could have gone very differently.

    We hired our original photographer based on word of mouth, a quick meet, and enjoying her photos. When we realized it was a bad fit, we then had consultations with three potential candidates. That really helped us to make a better decision the second time around and we are really happy with the photos that we have now! The original one elected to reimburse us for our final payment and so we decided to not write a review at all.

    It was really, really awesome to have many of our friends and family in one place at one time. Our siblings all met for the first time. I doubt that we will get that assortment of people together ever again and it was very fun.

    We both thought it was atrocious for bridesmaids to endure so much costs, which is part of why we paid for all of the women to have hair and makeup done. We each only had one wedding party type person and we didn’t require them to wear anything in particular.

    Married Finances: One Year In

    In August, I canceled my monthly auto transfer to the joint checking account and my husband changed his to cover all of our household expenses. Today, that change really kicks in. It’s real.

    We set an annual household budget for 2017 back in December. It was actually pretty easy – we took the contents of “Shared Spending 2016” and turned that into a budget with a few tweaks.

    We set up auto transfers for each of us to pay for half of it, assigned particular credit cards to be household ones, and paid for those credit cards out of the joint account.

    My husband proudly pronounced recently that Mint told him he had spent $0 on groceries, which meant he had been good all year at using the household credit cards to buy groceries. Slowly, we’re figuring out this game.

    We forgot a few things like condo insurance, umbrella insurance, toiletries, occasional parking, and the endless stamps we seem to buy, lose, and re-find. The toiletries thing came to a head when I realized that my husband bought Fancy shampoo for him out of the groceries budget, yet I was buying Fancy shampoo for myself out of my personal money. (This may have resulted in some crying, possibly.) That prompted a re-evaluation of what we had each been spending out of personal money that should have been household. We found that I had been buying a lot of needs out of personal money, like moisturizer, cleanser, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and other hair products, and allergy medicine. I had been proclaiming about how frugal I was by spending only $X on lunches on campus on odd scheduled days. Those plus all the food out my husband had bought because he ate more food than me all turned into household purchases.

    The joint account is incredible for the visibility. It means that we can both easily see how much we’re spending in various categories and how much it costs to run our household for a year. We’ve been doing so well with the budget overall that other than for wedding stuff, we haven’t had to transfer in extra money.

    We’ve also both been a bit more frugal all year, what with paying for the wedding reception ourselves.


    We ignored the elephants in the room all year: the question of what my plans were after I completed the coursework portion of my Master’s degree and the fact that my husband is earning 95% of our household income this year.

    That all came to a heat when, in the span of a few weeks, my husband received a promotion he’s been working towards for many years, I completed the coursework portion of my Master’s degree, and we realized that if we continued on the path we were on, my savings account would have a zero dollar balance at the end of the year.




    Whoever said you shouldn’t ask your partner for a pre-nuptial agreement because the discussions are hard was silly because talking about money in marriage is such vulnerable conversation and skipping it is a recipe for disaster.

    Talking about all of this has brought back memories of how controlling my parents were around distributing money. Since college, I’ve been staunchly financially independent from anyone else (except that whole somewhat needing a job thing). I’ve paid my own rent, bought my own groceries, and bought clothes as I saw fit, not as my parents saw fit. My husband is much more easy going than my parents and it’s vastly different, but these feelings still come up.


    No matter how expensive these past twelve months have been, we wouldn’t trade them for the world. The engagement couch has been a huge quality of life boost and was a far better decision than selling the condo and moving last year would have been. The elopement, the engagement ring, the fancy wedding band, and this joyful wedding reception we’ve planned have all been incredible, though I’ll have to report back on the wedding reception’s joy level later as right now, it’s in the stressful mad dash to the end.

    If we went back in time, we would re-make the same decisions again.

    We just can’t contribute to them 50/50 right now financially. Marriage isn’t 50/50 each year and this is one of those years. It’s an ebb and flow as my mom once said.

    Or as my husband said, we have too much money for either of us to worry about how we’re buying the food we’re eating that night. <3 Our new spreadsheet titled “Combined net worth” shows that as of May 31st, 2017, 4% of our investments would cover our household budget, less the travel splurges. We have more than ten years of those expenses in cash or liquid investments. We can’t yet maintain our current lifestyle or cover non-employer health insurance with our investments, but we can keep a roof over our heads, feed ourselves, and have a pretty good stable life.

    We feel really incredibly fortunate that my husband’s income is sufficient for us to live off of. It’s more than sufficient – more than half of his overall net income for the year would be saved even covering the household expenses entirely out of his paychecks.


    It took us longer than it should have to realize we would come to this point because I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about it other than my husband. I briefly said something to a few people over the last few months and all of their immediate responses were “Why don’t you just live off of your husband’s income and stop worrying about all of this?” If your knee jerk reaction is the exact opposite of what the couple would prefer to do, perhaps you should keep your opinions to yourself rather than being entirely unsupportive. The intricacies of all of this are huge and complicated with all the money mindsets, past experiences, and that we never intended to get married until we did. We’re consciously choosing what to do with our money going forward as it makes sense and feels right to us, rather than our state telling us we had to combine from the date of our marriage forward.

    Is this a path towards more combining? Is it bad if it is or isn’t? I’m confident that we will continue to consciously make the decisions and course correct as it makes sense for us going forward, however that ends up.


    Here’s to an incredible first year of marriage and I’m so glad I’ve had you by my side through all the chaos of the last year!

    Married Finances: The Agreement

    Note: I’m not a lawyer. This post describes our process of developing our nuptial agreement and not the actual legal agreement itself.

    Separate or combined bank accounts don’t make a marriage. Communication and shared values do far more than your decision to keep your money legally separate or combined.

    I’ve been startled as I’ve talked about our post-nuptial agreement to people in person by the number of people who keep their finances separate from their spouse’s and don’t have a nuptial agreement. I very firmly believe that if you don’t have a nuptial agreement, you are essentially accepting your state’s laws by getting married, no matter how you title your bank accounts. One friend keeps their finances separate from their spouse and bought a house post-marriage with their separate money, but hasn’t protected their asset at all.

    My husband and I don’t have combined finances, nor do we have a plan at the moment to ever have them.

    We do, however, have a notarized and legally binding post-nuptial agreement. It describes my pre-marriage property and liabilities, my husband’s pre-marriage property and liabilities, and our joint pre-marriage property and liabilities. It also spells out exactly what we plan to do with our money in our marriage, while also leaving us the flexibility to change our minds on some pieces later, which is great because so far, we’ve learned that the first way you come up with to run your shared finances isn’t necessarily the way that will stick.

    It took us about three and a half months after our wedding before our post-nuptial agreement was signed and executed. It wasn’t a time full of arguing – it was a time full of discussions and then trying to convey our ideas to the lawyer drafting the agreement. Some of those discussions were emotional, though those ones especially were important to have. Talking about money doesn’t stop there either – we continue to talk about it and those discussions form the base of our married money plans.


    There were three key pieces for us in drafting this agreement:

    1. We want to own our primary residence together, while protecting my separate interest in the property.
    2. We want to keep all separately titled assets to be separate and all jointly titled assets to be joint.
    3. We want to allow ourselves the flexibility to change our minds later on whether income is separate or joint by default, without having to re-draft the agreement as it did have a reasonable cost to it ($2,000).
    4. Later added: we want to be able to leave our separate estates not necessarily to each other.


    The first piece would be really easy if my husband had half of the condo value liquid at the time of the marriage AND was willing to part with it in order to buy into the condo. (We had originally planned to get married once my husband reached that point, which we estimated would have happened sometime in 2018.) That was not the case, so we needed to come up with a new creative solution. Furthermore, based on the mortgage balance and the valuation at the time we got married I owned 75% of the condo, meaning that I already owned more than I needed to of the condo. We agreed that all appreciation up until our marriage date was my separate property, which gives me a pretty decent amount of equity in the condo. My husband will buy into the condo until he owns half by paying the existing bank mortgage and paying me back for my “extra” equity.

    Having a plan to own the condo together is such a relief. We have some projects that we were procrastinating until we owned the condo together and it also helps out a lot with the (current) income differential. When we first started dating, I was making more money than my husband and I had more assets. He’s made more than me the last couple of years to the point that my income only made up one third of our household income in 2016, which is a pretty big difference, even at my also six-figure income level. I was starting to feel a bit of a pinch in continuing our 50/50 share of the shared expenses, especially considering that I was paying for all of the housing expenses for a condo where I already owned more of it than I needed to! Assigning the remainder of the small mortgage to my husband frees up just over $12,000 from my budget, which is a huge boost to my current no-income budget.

    Separate Income

    We ended up declaring all income separate to the earning party, for two reasons:

    #1: It seems like a “normal” nuptial agreement declares pre-marriage assets separate and post-marriage assets joint. We decided that wasn’t a fair option since that would keep my pre-marriage assets separate while sharing my husband’s larger post-marriage income while I’m in a phase of no income. That didn’t feel right to either of us. I wasn’t comfortable sharing my pre-marriage assets (yet).

    #2: The catch to having my husband buy into the condo instead of simply making all contributions to the condo equity post-marriage joint is that we need to keep our incomes separate in order for this to work.

    This means that all of his income is his to keep and my income is mine to keep.

    If we change our minds on this later, then we can simply deposit our incomes to joint accounts in order to make the income joint rather than its current separate form. We definitely plan to re-evaluate this plan when a big life change happens, such as having kids, selling this condo, buying a new property, retiring, or if we need to provide support to any family members. As my husband says, it’s not worth worrying about something until it happens because we don’t really know how we will feel until it does.

    1. If we choose to have kids in the future, we would most likely update our post-nuptial agreement with a new financial disclosure and then make future income from then joint.
    2. If we sold this condo, then we would distribute the proceeds according to the equity as described in our agreement to our separate accounts. We would then buy any new property in a 50/50 ratio from our separate property or share rent in a 50/50 ratio.
    3. If we retired early, we would consider whether with our then-current distribution of retirement and non-retirement accounts we could support our then-current lifestyle out of our separate accounts or whether it would be more jointly advantageous to re-adjust our agreement somehow while still maintaining its spirit.
    4. If we in the future own this condo in a 50/50 ratio, then we could make all future income from there joint.


    Keeping our incomes separate will create for an annoying situation when we file our taxes each year, however, as the overall tax bill has to be split somehow. If we choose to make income not separate in the future, we will likely do it on a calendar year basis to help make the taxes clearer.

    One of our lawyers suggested running Married Filing Separately returns and then using the ratio of incomes from that to determine who was responsible for what ratio of the joint tax bill. We didn’t like that because it would result in the higher earner seeing the entirety of the marriage tax bonus or penalty, which didn’t feel fair when it was a joint decision to get married. At first, I tried to suggest that we should split the penalty based on the ratio of incomes until I realized that that wouldn’t work so well in the years where there could be a bonus.

    Our conclusion on taxes after hours discussing it is to treat the marriage tax bonus/penalty jointly. That means that I will have to run through two Single returns and a Married Filing Jointly return in TurboTax in order to calculate the split. That doesn’t seem so bad with our current tax situations.

    We’ve already run through our 2016 taxes and it wasn’t that much more time to do the extra tax return.

    Implementation: Hers, His, and Ours

    The “default” for accounts in a nuptial agreement seems to be that the valuation at the time of marriage is considered separate and then any new growth or contributions is considered joint. Considering that I had about $250,000 in retirement accounts at the time we got married, that seemed to take away the value of compounding from starting to save for retirement at age 19. We ended up in the end agreeing that any growth in the condo value was joint and all other asset growth on separate assets is separate.

    In practice, this looks like having hers, his, and ours accounts:

    • Hers: Roth IRA, 401(k)s, HSAs, Series I Savings Bonds, checking and savings accounts, taxable Vanguard index funds, and some portion of the condo equity
    • His: Roth IRA, 401(k), checking and savings accounts, taxable Vanguard index funds, some portion of the condo equity, and the mortgage
    • Ours: Checking and savings accounts, some portion of the condo equity, and in the future, taxable Vanguard index funds

    Each year, we’ll create a year spending plan for the year and each of us will contribute 50% of the monthly agreed upon amount to our joint checking account. We funnel all joint purchases through specific credit cards that are not used for personal expenses and vice versa. There’s no owing each other money. If we have unbudgeted expenses (i.e. how we’re paying for our wedding reception later this year), then at the end of the month, we add up how much those were and we each put half of that amount into a joint account to cover those costs.

    Our system isn’t that different from a couple who does allowances for discretionary spending except that rather than depositing everything to a joint account and transferring the discretionary spending to separate accounts, we deposit everything to separate accounts and transfer an agreed upon amount to the joint accounts. We’re both pretty open with how we spend our money and we have compared spending over the last few years that we’ve been dating. We’re both relatively frugal compared to our incomes (we both have saved over 50% of our incomes the last few years), so we aren’t doing this to avoid disagreements about money.

    We don’t want to inflate our lifestyles based on the other’s income. If we can’t contribute 50/50 to our primary residence, for example, then that property is too expensive to buy. If we were to re-buy this condo together, we could each contribute half of the 20+% down payment and we could pretty comfortably afford the carrying costs with a 15 year fixed rate mortgage.

    Both of our parents are still married, 30+ years later, and have had the one-pot approach from the beginning of their marriages. We certainly didn’t get this example from our parents on either side! Our parents, however, got married when they didn’t have much in the way of assets or incomes and I agree that it is pretty silly to have a prenup or keep things separate in that case. We didn’t screen for each other based on our financial status, though we did originally meet in undergrad, which probably was somewhat of screening for financial status, and we knew that we had similar financial values, which matters far more than if our assets were at similar levels.

    Preparation for Marriage

    I’ve talked to a few people who are healthy savers in their twenties and worry about what their prenup will look like when they do eventually get married. I worried about this plenty back before it was pretty clear to me that my husband and I would get married. I wish I’d worried about it a bit less and just concentrated on building my wealth as a single woman because that’s really all I could do.

    One of my reasons for aggressively paying down the mortgage on my condo was to pay it off before getting married so that I would own it 100% as my separate property. In hindsight, that is really against the spirit of being married and living in a place together! If my husband had significantly less income and assets than me OR we planned to rent out the condo and buy a different place together, only then would leaving the condo as my separate property make sense. While we’re both living in the condo, having it just be my separate property is binding. It leaves the questions of how to handle paying for replacing appliances, painting, buying new furniture, any remodeling, etc. that we’ve been managing for the last two years without a strong solution.

    The particulars of the nuptial agreement that we ended up settling on are really quite specific to the asset levels and locations that my husband and I both have, as well as our recent incomes and income potential. If the person with fewer assets also had very little income or if most of the wealth had been generated while the two of you were a couple, it’s much harder to see a way to come to a fair nuptial agreement at all. We ended up at the point of marriage in the case where both of us had healthy assets (in the multiple hundred thousand dollar range on both sides) that were not equal and both of us had six figure earning potential, which made a nuptial agreement a pretty reasonable plan.

    Marriage and money is such a complicated topic! How we manage our money is pretty specific to our situation and won’t necessarily apply to other couples. I really do believe that the one-pot style is the best for the vast majority of people simply because most people don’t come into marriage already as millionaires.