My wife and I celebrated 17 years of marriage recently, and like other anniversaries in life, it caused me to ponder what I've learned during those 17 years.
As someone who writes about personal finance every week, I of course thought back to the money lessons I've learned during marriage. Some, such as saving for retirement and investing in mutual funds, may just be from getting older and aren't entirely attributed to marriage.
But other money lessons I've learned were either from my wife or something we came across together as a married couple. Here are five money lessons I've learned while married:
In the months before we got married, I asked a married couple we were friends with if we should have separate or joint checking accounts. I was leaning toward separate accounts, figuring we'd split the bills and pay them together, as a couple.
But that sounded too much like having a roommate. Our friends said that having a joint account was best because once you're married, everything is shared and her money is his and vice-versa. Your money as a couple is commingled and it doesn't matter where it came from when you're paying life's expenses. Two people become one, at least where money is concerned.
We've done that as a couple. Our joint checking account is used to pay our bills, and our joint savings account is used for emergencies and other purposes.
Still, a little separation
Everyone needs their own space, however, and a separate bank account can be a good thing in a marriage.
Why? Everyone needs a little spending cash in their pocket, and a separate account to draw on from time to time for purchases you want to make. This can be because you either don't want your spouse to be aware of them, or the joint checking account only has enough money to cover the family's expenses.
We each have separate accounts with enough money in them so that if something comes up that we really want — books are my common go-to items — then we can buy them without the guilt that our grocery budget is going to take a hit or there won't be enough money in the bank to pay the mortgage this month.
Discuss the big expenses in marriage
We don't have a set dollar amount that one of us can spend without consulting the other, but an expense of a few hundred dollars is the general area where we usually discuss it together as a couple.
This happens for a few reasons, the main one being that we don't have enough of a family income to support large expenses without the other person agreeing to it ahead of time. If a big electric bill arrives and I go and spend $300 on new clothes, then we might have trouble paying that bill.
Another reason is to avoid surprises. I'm sure my wife doesn't want to see me roll up in a new Porsche that I've just bought by depleting our savings account when that money is needed to pay property taxes and other expenses. However, if I've somehow saved for that car by squirrelling away money in my separate savings account for years, then that's a possible purchase I'll do solo. Doubtful, but possible.
Spend more if it makes your spouse happy
Maybe I've watched too many House Hunters shows on HGTV, but it often seems to have couples who disagree about how much to spend on buying or fixing up a house. He's a cheapskate who wants to cut costs at every corner, and she just wants a nice kitchen that includes more than a hotplate.
I haven't been married for an incredibly long time, but 17 years of marriage and being a cheapskate myself have taught me that if spending a reasonable amount of money above and beyond the norm will get my wife what she wants, then it's money well spent.
We recently hired a contractor to redo our upstairs bathroom. I wanted quality components that wouldn't break or fall apart in a few years, so I told the contractor to always buy quality items that were around the midpoint of what was available. If he needed to, spend the extra money to get the better quality faucet or whatever.
Make your expenses count
Partly as a joke, I used to tell my wife when she went to the farmer's market or grocery store to stop and buy herself some flowers as a way to remember our marriage. I've tried to stop doing that and to instead go buy the flowers myself.
That small expense of marriage is more about the effort of remembering to get her flowers than it is the actual cost of the flowers.
Because marriage is the daily thought of someone you love, making small but thoughtful acts toward your spouse should be natural. But we all need reminders.
And it doesn't have to be anything that costs you money. It can be as simple as opening the door for them, cooking them dinner, or giving a compliment. Or it can be as easy as remembering to buy flowers.