Ask Amanda: What happens to being wined and dined once you share a bank account?
How can an engaged couple maintain some mystery after they share a joint bank account?
My boyfriend and I are getting married this summer, and since we moved in together a few months ago we've started merging our finances. While I'm glad that we're working together to meet goals like saving for a down payment and paying off student loans, I suddenly feel differently about the way he spends money. I used to love it when he would take me out to a fancy dinner when it was "his" money, but now I feel like "our" money shouldn't be used for things like that. And yet I really miss being treated. Is that crazy? What happens to being wined and dined once you share a bank account?
We have very different feelings about money that is yours, mine or ours, so it doesn’t surprise me that the fancy dinners you enjoyed when they were on him don't have the same flavor when you're picking up the check. Maybe you wouldn't choose to spend your own money on expensive meals, or maybe the part you liked most was the feeling of being treated. Either way, there's something going on here that is bigger than the restaurant bill.
Your relationship is transitioning from courtship to commitment. You're setting goals for your life together that require different financial choices and that you work as a team. But being teammates doesn't mean you're done romancing each other, so what options does the committed couple have?
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One pot: All ours
You mentioned that you and your fiance are merging finances, which I am going to guess means combining most elements of your daily financial life, opening a joint checking account, and maintaining a joint budget. It all goes into and comes out of the same pot, so to speak. The One Pot method is great for simplicity in tracking joint goals and managing shared expenses. It does require you to communicate more and agree how much you will both allocate for personal spending. There's less room for surprise romance with this method, but for many couples that is the point. If you and your intended plan to go with One Pot, then "treat" spending needs to shift from something one gives to another into something to enjoy together. You discuss how much you want to allocate and what sort of activities are enjoyed by both. Fancy restaurants may stay on this list, or perhaps the two of you make a different choice when deciding how to spend joint dollars. If you find yourself missing that particular aspect of being taken out, maybe there's a way for him to plan and execute something special that highlights his thoughtfulness and attention, but doesn’t cost much money.
Two pots: Yours and mine
The Two Pots arrangement means keeping most financial matters separate. Among the couples I've worked with who use this system, shared expenses are either split down the middle or one person covers some bills and the other partner takes the others. You still need to coordinate around larger and long-term goals such as contributions to the down payment fund, retirement, and children's education, but otherwise there are no joint accounts or joint budgets. This method is high on privacy and autonomy, low on day-to-day financial communicating. There's nothing wrong with this arrangement as long as you negotiate certain boundaries, like not keeping secret credit card debt or opening new accounts without the other's knowledge. The Two Pots method preserves the most mystery, and would allow your husband to wine and dine you exactly as before, after joint financial commitments were met.
Three pots: Yours, mine, and ours
There is a system that keeps some of the best of elements of both the One Pot and Two Pot methods. If you go with Three Pots, then you have a shared account where all money is deposited, and from which all of your shared expenses and savings goals are paid. Then you have two individual accounts into which you transfer a set amount each month. With Three Pots, you are each free to exercise your own choices over "your money" without having to justify how much highlights cost or hear about how his latest collectible is sure to go up in value. And it still allows that privacy which would allow one of you to treat the other out of your "mine" account.
I hope that you and your husband-to-be will think about and discuss why each option might be a better or worse fit for the two of you. There is no one right way for committed couples to organize their money. In fact, the most important part of this isn't the decision you make, it's the process of discussing your feelings, even the ones you worry are crazy. I promise there is a way to make your money fit your goals, values and personalities, not the other way around. Good luck.