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!

Savings

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.

Reports

 

 

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.

Time

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”.

Misc.

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.

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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 sisters, 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 sister 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.

Gulp.

 

 

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.

Goals

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.

Condo

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.

Taxes

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.

2017 Joint Spending Plan

I’ll go into more detail in later posts about how and why exactly my husband and I plan to keep parts of our finances separate, including how we’re handling the condo. For now, let’s look at what our joint spending plan looks like for 2017. We spent about an hour one weekend in mid-December looking at the categories we counted as shared expenses in 2016 and estimating what we would spending 2017 on those categories.

Note that this plan does not cover our personal spending – that is separately tracked for both of us. We’re following a his/hers/ours formula to our assets and spending, based on what we drew out in our postnuptial agreement. My husband plans to follow his non-budgeting formula which works out great for him and I plan to use Cait Flanders’ Mindful Budgeting Planner to track my personal spending in 2017.

Spending Plan

2017-joint-spending-plan

Housing ($16,293.07)

  • $9,559.88 HOA monthly and special assessments (known amounts), property taxes (I estimated based on the assessed value of the condo and the 2016 tax amount)
  • $2,230 Maintenance – this is the average amount I’ve spent annually since buying the condo. If it doesn’t all get spent, it’ll roll forward as float to cover future maintenance or condo assessments. My husband tried to say that we don’t need to budget for condo maintenance each year because everything this year was a one-off expense. I showed him my data for 2012-2016 that showed that 2016 was exactly in line with average and he agreed to put this in.
  • $925.91 Electricity – This is the 2016 spending plus the expected per kWh increase for 2017. Our usage has stayed relatively flat or decreasing over the years and the utility company keeps increasing the cost per kWh each year… I’m not really sure how to budget for heating since I’m home more than I used to be and the heaters are on more instead of being off all day, so I guess we’ll see how this goes!
  • $17.88 VoIP line
  • $2,750 House cleaning – $110 biweekly, assuming 25 visits
  • $809.40 Internet

An astute reader might notice that there is no mortgage payment listed here, which costs about $12,000/year. Did we pay off the mortgage or is it a separate expense? And whose separate expense is it? I’ll answer those questions in a future post.

Food ($8,980)

We generally toss household toiletries like paper towels and toothpaste into here for simplicity.

  • $450/month Groceries – our average spending in 2016
  • $255/month Restaurants – one nice dinner out and 3 takeouts
  • $520/year Costco – we make one trip quarterly

Taxes (unknown)

That glorious marriage tax penalty will hit us for the 2016 tax year. We won’t know exactly how much it’ll be until I’ve collected all of our tax forms and can do our taxes in our beloved TurboTax. I have an estimate though that it will be somewhere between our travel budget for the year ($5,000) and our food budget for the year ($8,980). On the other hand, with our income projections for 2017, I expect getting married to save us a larger sum than our penalty in 2016 and that will be a joint bonus. Thanks to my husband’s income increasing by 33% over his 2015 income, we don’t expect to get hit with any underpayment penalties.

Travel ($5,000)

This covers (for both of us) one trip for a friend’s milestone birthday, a Christmas trip, a relative’s milestone birthday trip, and one weekend getaway. Some of this might get paid for with credit card points, but we still count it as spending and then the credit card points as income, resulting in $0 coming out of our checking account.

Entertainment ($1,512.16)

  • $1,000 theatre tickets and such
  • $10.95/month Adobe Lightroom
  • $10.95/month Netflix
  • $16.41/month Spotify Family, shared with two other family members
  • $4.37/month Pandora

Transportation ($1,570)

  • $25/month: there’s usually reason to take a few Ubers a month
  • $30/month: one gas tank fill-up per month
  • $500: the January car insurance payment will be my separate expense. We plan on paying for it as a family expense in July, though that’s still uncertain at this moment. This is related to the fact that it’s my car and I’m the primary driver of it.
  • $210: annual car registration
  • $200: car maintenance is usually pretty low

Gifts ($880)

We’ll donate out of our Donor Advised Fund balance throughout 2017. We also estimated four wedding presents for a total of $880. We’re still sorting out what we’re doing about combining Christmas present spending as one of us likes to be far more generous than the other person.

Wedding (unknown)

We’re throwing a wedding reception in 2017 at a local restaurant for our friends and family who couldn’t make it to the wedding. Our estimate at the moment is that this will cost somewhere around $10,000-$15,000. It’s really hard to know how much it’ll cost until we know how many people are coming since the largest cost is the reception venue and that is based on consumption, which depends on how many people come. We are really excited to share this joy with our friends and family! We’ve received some wedding gifts already, totaling about $8,500 so far, which will cover most of this cost, which is why I’m not expecting this to be a huge part of our budget in 2017. Any costs of this which can’t be covered with cash wedding gifts will be taken out of our separate accounts in a 50/50 ratio.

Miscellaneous ($1,764.77)

Since we decided to round up the amount we deposit per month to the nearest thousand dollars, I added that extra amount as a Miscellaneous category to cover stuff we haven’t thought of, like when we decide we need a new alarm clock or a new kitchen tool.

Implementation

This plan adds up to $34,235.23 total for 2017 or an average of $2,942.30 per month. We rounded that up to $3,000 and will each deposit $1,500 per month to the joint checking account to cover these costs.

Currently, we are using two credit cards to pay for joint expenses:

  1. American Express Blue Cash Preferred ($95 annual fee, though we only paid $75 at our most recent renewal) for 6% cashback on groceries, 3% cashback on gas stations, and 1% cashback elsewhere. This one is in my husband’s name. This will earn us $239.80 per year in cash back rewards versus $169.20 with the no annual fee version of the card.
  2. Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee with a 100,000 point bonus) with 3 points per dollar spent on travel and restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere, with the ability to redeem the points at 1.5x on travel with Chase’s portal. This is our primary everything else card at the moment and has a pretty high limit. It has a $75 additional annual fee per authorized user though so this card is just in my name. With the wedding reception counting as a Restaurant in Visa’s books, this card should earn us about $630.08 in rewards in 2017 while keeping things simple.

We will keep a one month buffer in the joint checking account, so the two credit cards are on auto pay and I don’t have to make sure to pay them each month, which is a welcome change from the last few months during the transition.

If we have any future large expenses that come up during the year that our joint accounts can’t cover (like the living room remodel in 2016), then we’ll come up with a budget for the expense and transfer that amount from our separate accounts into a joint account. For example, when we found out the designer’s cost (~$3,000), we each put half of it in a joint account. We didn’t do that with the living room furniture parts since it was going to be spread out over a longer period of time, but had we been married when we decided to take on the expenditure, we would have each put half of the $12,000 budget into a joint account once we had the budget in hand.

Married Finances: Donor Advised Fund

The Why of Donor Advised Funds

I’ve always been intrigued by Donor Advised Funds. Now that we’re married, we will no longer itemize by default, so Donor Advised Funds seem a great way to itemize sometimes. By my initial calculations, we will be able to itemize $12,320 in 2016 before any further charitable donations and not counting my husband’s charitable donations thus far this year. That’s $280 short of the married standard deduction. If we take each of our separate charitable savings accounts, as well as our separate desired charitable donation rates of our expected gross incomes for this year and next and contribute that to a Donor Advised Fund, then we should be able to itemize closer to $20,000 in 2016, which is a reasonable additional tax savings.

We would then make our 2016 and 2017 donations out of the Donor Advised Fund and in 2018, group contributions to the Donor Advised Fund to cover 2018 and 2019 income. This will become even more key going forward as the mortgage interest paid gets lower and lower each year as the mortgage amortizes and we will likely lose that deduction entirely in the next few years.

It’s even better to do this this year as I expect we could drop a tax bracket in 2017 and it’s better to take more deductions when you’re in a higher tax bracket.

Another benefit is that we can take appreciated shares from our taxable accounts to contribute to the Donor Advised Fund, rather than donating to charities with cash. My taxable account is aged enough at this point that about three quarters of its shares have long-term capital gains, so I would use those shares to contribute to the Donor Advised Fund and then avoid paying capital gains taxes on the shares.

Where to open one?

Vanguard, Fidelity, Schwab all offer them, with a variety of minimums and fees.

We both have all of our non-workplace investments at Vanguard, so that seems like a great place to start. Unfortunately for us, their minimums are far higher than what we are prepared for at the moment: you need $25,000 to open a new account, each additional contribution must be at least $5,000 and each charity grant must be $500.

Currently, we both tend to donate $50-100 to charities on occasion and would prefer to be able to continue doing that for the near future.

Fidelity and Schwab, on the other hand only require a $5,000 commitment to open a new account and allow you to grant as little as $50 at a time to a charity. Schwab’s minimum additional contribution is $500. According to Bogleheads, Fidelity’s is $1,000, but I can’t find that on their website. They both have a minimum administrative fee of $100, which seems reasonable to me for the tax savings.

We both have checking accounts at Schwab because they offer unlimited international ATM fee reimbursements. Those accounts might be a good one to combine in our combining of accounts considering that we usually travel internationally together and even before we were married, we never tracked cash separately – whoever had the right denomination of cash was the one who paid and I always got to keep the coins. This worked out great for me when we would travel to countries with bills no smaller than a five. Thus, Schwab is a reasonable contender for our Donor Advised Fund.

One of us has some workplace accounts at Fidelity and I have the Fidelity Visa, so that could also be a reasonable place to open our Donor Advised Fund.

It does appear that if we changed our minds on how much we donate to charities at a time and wanted to switch over to Vanguard later, we could do so by submitting a grant proposal to our new donor advised fund at Vanguard, so we’re not long-term committed to whichever provider we choose.

I did all of this research, presented it to my husband, and he cut me off while explaining why I would pick Schwab to explain which one he would pick, which turned out to be Schwab. So it looks like we are going with Schwab!

What does it take to open one at Schwab?

You need to provide all of the normal information you do when opening an account: name, SSN, date of birth, home and mailing addresses, employment status and occupation. You provide a primary account holder and secondary account holders, which both have full and equal privileges. You can designate successors and/or beneficiaries. You indicate the investment options you prefer, which can be as simple as Schwab’s Total Market Equity Index fund or a Money Market fund if you don’t plan to keep assets in the Donor Advised Fund for too long before granting them to charities.

Your initial contribution needs to be at least $5,000. It looks like the simplest way to transfer money into the Donor Advised Fund is to have the assets already in a Schwab brokerage account, to write a cash check, or to do an ACH transfer from another bank account. You can, however, also transfer shares from another institution. Our plan is to transfer shares from our separate Vanguard taxable accounts that have long-term capital gains as Schwab Charitable can pull from two separate Vanguard accounts.

What to name it?

My vote is for either “The HerLast HisLast Charitable Fund” or “The HisLast HerLast Charitable Fund”. We are still discussing which ordering sounds better and our discussions are proving inconclusive. Someone on Twitter suggested “The FewerSyllables MoreSyllables Charitable Fund”. We’re both relatively indifferent to the names ordering.

 

Next up: follow up on these action items and get our initial contributions in before 12/31/2016…