Till Debt Do Us Part

I don’t remember where I read it, but I know I’ve seen some statistic that disagreements over money are what most commonly end marriages.

Image from Active Rain

I’m going to try really, really hard not to let that happen to us. If I may toot my own horn for a moment (toot toot!), I’m pretty good with money. I’m not a financial guru or anything. But I don’t have any debt. I pay my bills on time. I try to save money where I can.

Mr. Whale on the other hand”¦He does”¦fine. He’s not a spend-a-holic. But he’ll tell you flat out that he hates money. He wishes it didn’t exist. (As an economist, I try to explain to him how it does make our lives easier, but”¦nevermind. It’s not important for this.) In any case, he spends what he needs to. But after going back to undergraduate once and now being a graduate student, sometimes even just buying what you need means going into debt.

And because Mr. Whale has some debt, I’m trying to get used to the fact that I, too, will soon have debt. I don’t have to assume any part of his debt, of course. We could keep our finances separate, and he could deal with it on his own. But after more than a year of living together and keeping separate finances the entire time, I can tell you that unless you’ve got a ton of money, keeping things separate is tough enough on its own. We evenly split the groceries, the rent, and the utilities. And when we go out to eat, we just take turns on who pays. But it’s a hassle. Every month I have to get all the receipts, add them up, figure out who owes what, then we settle up via paying more or less rent. And what if we have a fancy meal that costs a little more than usual? Should we still just trade off on who pays for that meal? Ugh. It’s a mess.

So on one hand, I’m looking forward to combining finances (we’re going to have one joint account and then we’ll each have a small separate account where we put a small percentage of our paychecks). And it’s easy to say that we’ll make our future financial decisions together with our combined funds. But the tricky question is, “Do we each share in the responsibility of our past financial decisions?”

There is definitely no right answer to this question. Every couple is different. For every person that says I should not help him pay off his debt, there will be another who says I should. But I think there is a right answer for us. And we’ve decided to pay off the debt together.

Neither Mr. Whale nor I am perfect, and neither of us can change our past. But we’ve decided to move forward together. Part of getting married is accepting that it’s through good and bad. So I’ll accept that being a team means handling our finances together, even when it sucks. And honestly, if this is the price I have to pay to marrying Mr. Whale, then I think he’s worth it.

How are you handling your money as a married couple? Are any other couples coming together with dramatically different financial backgrounds? How are you dealing with it?


Mrs. Blue Whale

College Park, MD
Wedding Date:
May 2013
Goodies For Our Guests
Wedding Dress Decisions
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  1. Member
    almostmrsj 3604 posts, Sugar bee @ 2:06 pm

    I think your approach is very mature. MrJ and I are lucky to not have any debt save the house he bought before we were married. I joke that I told him not to buy it (I hate the kitchen), but I’m happy to pay the mortgage since it’s our home now.
    Our approach to money management is very similar except he is a little more extreme. :) I save so that I can spend. He saves just to save, I swear, he loathes spending money. He insists that I take some great pleasure in swiping my Amex, and while that is not true, I do like to reward myself for my hard work with a little something now and then. We solved our disagreements by setting aside a little money every month for us each to do whatever we want – he can squirrel it away and I can get a new purse or shoes.

  2. Member
    jny1179 3496 posts, Sugar bee @ 2:08 pm

    We’re going through the same thing right now and I have more debt than my FI. He’s all about getting it paid off and wants the money to be “our” money and not be “you pay this, I pay that”. We’ve done well so far living together with splitting the bills and now I’ll be taking over since while he’s good with money, he’s not good at putting it on paper and getting the largest bang for his buck. We just plan to talk it all out and make sure it works for both of us going forward. For example, today I found an amazing deal on a digital camera but I couldn’t justify spending almost $300 when we’re trying to save for the wedding, pay off cc debt, and figure out how to budget for a baby sometime soon. So I asked him what he thought and he reminded me that I already have a camera that I hardly ever use. I knew he was going to say that, but I just had to hear it haha. Anyway, yeah money can be tough, but keeping the line of communications open is key!

  3. Member
    brooklyn55 743 posts, Busy bee @ 2:22 pm

    I like your approach and it is what my FI and I plan on doing after the wedding as well. We have never lived together so we have never really split things because there has not been anything to split. I pay my expenses , he pays his. I guess the only thing is dinner/movies/other entertainment. Usually my FI pays but that is because I have not been working the past 6 months (before then, we split it some but he has always probably paid more than I).

    As far as debt, we both have what I consider to be significant amount of school debt. Besides that, we have none as we were lucky to get nice cars from our parents and we do not plan to buy a car or home until we have squared away our student loans. Both of us were also lucky that our parents paid over 1/2 of our college tuition but because we are both in school getting our masters (which our parents did not pay for) we owe a combined 53,000 in college debt (29,000 for me: 24,000 for him). Since we both have debt, neither can say anything to the other (and we both realize our education is worth the debt we owe). Right now we are not in the position to tackle away at it because I am not working (my loans are also deferred until December) and we are planning a wedding but once I graduate in May and we are both working our number 1 priority is to get this debt paid off in 3 years. We agree as far as money goes and I think that makes it less stressful. We agree we are not comfortable purchasing a home until at least 50% of the loans are paid back and we look to save money every way we can.

  4. Guest Icon Guest
    Lone Star, Guest @ 2:47 pm

    I’m super confused about people who think, after marriage, that he should pay his debt separately. Your money is his money, and his money is your money (especially if you live in a community property state), and so even if he paid for his debt with “his money”, that’s still your money too.

    When my husband and I got married, his debt became “our debt” and we paid it off that much faster. It felt great, and now be bought a house, and truly have “our debt.” Don’t listen to people who think you should keep it separate. That’s crazy.

  5. Member
    ilikeballet 277 posts, Helper bee @ 3:04 pm

    @Lone Star: I don’t think you can say what’s right for all couples. Everyone is different. If a couple decides to only split the living expenses and then keep all else separate, then that is their decision. It doesn’t make it wrong just because you think it’s wrong.

  6. Member
    hma812 368 posts, Helper bee @ 3:16 pm

    All of the debt we have was racked up together. We combined our finances about 6 years ago and it has been much easier for both of us. Everything gets split 50/50.

  7. Member
    cav2014 273 posts, Helper bee @ 3:25 pm

    FI and I could not be more differently situated in terms of finances. I will graduate law school next year with six figures of debt, whereas 2 years ago, FI was able to graduate college debt-free and get a hefty graduation gift from his parents on top of that. It has definitely caused us to view money differently, but luckily, he considers my debt to be his as well and wants to do whatever it takes to pay it off quickly. His rationale was that I’d just end up paying tons of interest on it anyway, what with the extra 10 years it would take for me alone to pay it off, so that would bring our total household income down.

  8. Member
    lovelyduckie 756 posts, Busy bee @ 3:33 pm

    I think keeping some money separate is fine, I have more student loans than him and I have a lot of pride in my career and my ability to pay it off (eventually). Unless it truly makes a lot more financial sense for him to help out at some point, I’d rather just continue to chip away at them on my own.

    Plus I like to keep my special treats to myself. If I splurge on an item for myself that he may just not understand (or vice versa). I think just having that type of thing be your own business and not have to worry about explaining the cost to your significant other is a good thing. As long as you both continue to contribute the agreed upon amount to maintaining a household. Obviously don’t buy designer bags behind his bag and claim you have no money for your share of the mortgage.

    We currently own a home together, I set up my paychecks so a portion of my paycheck goes towards our shared bank account. We have a shared credit card, mortgage, etc… All those bills are paid out of that account. I like this method because I don’t need to calculate and “pay up” afterward. It’s already taken into account that we’ll have certain bills to pay and that X amount will remain as savings. And the rest of the pay check goes into MY account, which I then use to pay off my student loans and credit card bill for that month.

  9. Member
    Anesya 53 posts, Worker bee @ 4:05 pm

    I don’t know if my Mister and I will ever have completely joint accounts. We created a budget for ourselves, and then decided who should be responsible for what. Since I now pay all the house bills the Mister just gives me his “share” every month. This is just a flat dollar amount for house expenses which is about 35% of the total expense. I financially take care of the rest. To make it fair, he is responsible for groceries, other food expenses and our car insurance and we alternate gas expenses since we carpool. We try and not nit pick about the small things as we know if we go out for an expensive meal and the Mister pays it will be evened out in the winter when the house bills are more. It all pretty much is equal in the end.

  10. Member
    LanaDeLuna 44 posts, Newbee @ 4:11 pm

    Oh this money situation…..its a big issue for us too. When I moved in with him, I lost my job and was very sick. He took care of me, paid huge amount for medicine and all. So of course I didn’t pay anything I mean rent/utilities/groceries wise, since I didnt have any job. Then I got a job, and pretty soon we were paying rent/utilities/groceries 50/50. And when we would go out sometimes he would pay, sometimes me. of course he was paying more-like 70% of the time. but it cause I just can wrap my head around that we would do absolutely everything 50/50. Cause in my head its like we not a couple where man spoiled his girl, but like 2 buddies or something.
    And now we moved to a new city, cause he got a job here, and I still didnt find a decent full-time job and whatever I make…well, its ridiculous. And we have money problem again. He is upset I am not helping out and on top of that tells me I never did. And he wants us to have mutual ban account after we get married. My situation is a mess….. :) I dont like it, but like somebody here said-it is the price I am willing to pay for marrying him he totally worth it:)

  11. Member
    LanaDeLuna 44 posts, Newbee @ 4:18 pm

    @Anesya: I like that. I dont think I ever want completely joint bank accounts, but he would never give me his “share”. We had a situation once, when he was supposed to give his “share”…he said he will, and he did……but then he cancelled that check, like he said by accident….but he never gave a new check to me again….

  12. Member
    petempich 77 posts, Worker bee @ 5:17 pm

    My husband and I have three accounts between us. Each has our own at a credit union with $100/wk going into it. The rest of our pay checks is put into the joint account for savings, paying bills, and charity donations. All major purchases have to be agreed upon.

  13. mspony Member
    mspony 9265 posts, Buzzing Beekeeper @ 5:42 pm

    We have a joint account, sometimes it’s hard since I’ve been used to having my ‘own’ money to spend however I want, but it’s probably good for me too because I actually consider whether it’s best for our family first. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it forces us to deal with and discuss our money when issues arise.

  14. Member
    araneidae 867 posts, Busy bee @ 7:26 pm

    @Lone Star: I agree, we never really required any lengthy discussions about it, it just seemed natural to us that our finances would be shared after getting married. After all, we bought a house together! The mortgage is in both our names, therefore money is a shared responsibility. I can’t even imagine how confusing it would be to try to keep finances separate while owning a house together! He pays the mortgage, I pay bills and groceries and large household purchases, and put money into savings. When you are married you live your life as a team, and to me that includes finances.

    I wouldn’t put as much importance on each of your financial pasts so much as your financial future together. My husband had money for our downpayment and I did not have much to contribute – but I think (hope) that he thinks it’s more important that I share his views on saving and making money and living below our means.

  15. Member
    araneidae 867 posts, Busy bee @ 7:31 pm

    @lovelyduckie: it would almost definitely make more sense to your joint financial situation for him to help you pay it off faster, depending on how much interest you are accumulating by having the debt. Might be worth looking into how much money you are losing to interest by paying it off slowly!

  16. Member
    mrshunnibear88 4 posts, Wannabee @ 8:22 pm

    I had a long talk with my Fiance about money. I’m working on my debt and he has Zero debt, I didn’t want to ruin his almost perfect credit score. My fiance was very supportive and understood my feelings. We are working together to improve our financial standing because we want to buy a house and start our family. We have a long road but we are good and ready LOL

  17. Member
    plotboxe 34 posts, Newbee @ 10:10 pm

    Thank friends share and suggestions!!!

  18. Member
    MrBroccoli 47 posts, Newbee @ 6:25 am

    The only separate accounts my wife and I have are retirement accounts.

    Her student loans are paid from our joint bank account because I want those loans paid off as swiftly as possible. If you’re married you have to look at debt as joint debt. Doing otherwise means paying interest needlessly.

    We talk about our money and use Personal Capital to have oversight over all expenditures, and we discuss purchases over $50 before making them. And we NEVER let a credit card gather interest.

    We have a budget and monthly savings goals. We save so we can be financially independent and live on investment income when we’re older and sick of working.

    We are a team. And instead of fighting over money, this brings us closer together.

  19. bluewhale Member
    bluewhale 638 posts, Busy bee @ 6:39 am

    @jny1179: I agree! Communicating about it is so important.

    @lovelyduckie: That’s exactly what we plan on doing. I want him to be able to buy a new expensive guitar without me knowing how much it costs :) And if I want to go shopping with my friends, I can use my own money to do it. I think keeping a little separate will be good for us.

    @Anesya: That’s sort of like what we do now. But it’s such a hassle for us. I’m amazed that it doesn’t drive you crazy :)

    @Mrs. Pony: That’s an interesting side effect I hadn’t thought of. Having joint accounts might make me reconsider some purchases…

  20. Member
    cosmo_gmr 488 posts, Helper bee @ 7:28 am

    I’ve been married for a couple of years and so far we were like you did, we kept things separate and took turns paying for dinners, movies, clubbing and stuff and as you say, it’s a hassle.
    Luckily we don’t have any past debts, all the debt we have now, we acquired together (mortage, extra loan for a new floor for the house and to remodel the garage).

    But now, we are going to have a joint account and keep a percentage of our checks for ourselves. We think is the way to go.

  21. mslemur Member
    mslemur 616 posts, Busy bee @ 7:44 am

    This is really similar to me and Mr. Lemur. I’m coming out of grad school debt free (my parents have helped me and I got a really good grad assistantship) but Mr. Lemur has some debt from undergrad. It’s not awful—about equivalent to a semester at a public university—but it is there.

    We’re planning on combining finances into one account after we get married though. Most likely what will happen is we’ll live off one salary and put the other salary towards paying off debt, and in the future saving for a house, etc. This definitely isn’t what works for everyone though!

  22. Member
    petempich 77 posts, Worker bee @ 7:48 am

    Having 3 accounts at a credit union has worked very well for us. Mr. Petempich has a bad habit that I would never allow the joint account money spent on it. I like spending time with my friends and movies and eating out. Also I spend more on clothes, he packs his lunch. 100/week for each separate account is not very much and it gives us freedom to spend our money on what we want without asking the other.Student loans would be paid out of the joint account in early yrs. At our credit union money can be moved between accounts free but we seldom do it. We have never lied about spending money and have been married 30+yrs. Now we are older and getting inheritance and it is going in the joint account regardless of who’s family it’s from.

  23. hyena Member
    hyena 2537 posts, Sugar bee @ 9:27 am

    It took us a while, but we did combine our accounts and it’s been so much easier for us to save and budget when we’re both accountable for “our money.” I have student debt and he doesn’t, and despite me viewing it as “my” debt, he does not and is more than happy to put our money toward paying it off quickly.

  24. mstoadstool Member
    mstoadstool 2485 posts, Buzzing bee @ 9:51 am

    Our country is in a pretty bad economic situation (job wise) and I quit my job to move with Mr. T after the wedding, so now I am unemployed and he’s the one paying for everything, but I am good at handling money and end up doing better than him with his money.

  25. Member
    maricontrary 2248 posts, Buzzing bee @ 11:45 am

    Though we’re not married yet, we’ve been living together for a few years now. I have debt (student loans primarily), he does not. Once we got to the point where we realized we were in a permanent situation, we started looking at things as ‘ours’. As in our debt, our money. We’re still maintaining multiple accounts, essentially ‘his’, ‘hers’ and ‘ours’. The ‘ours’ account is for things like rent, utilities, food, etc. We’re paying down the debt as fast as possible, so we can be in a good position to buy a house soonish. Our individual accounts are for the extra things that we want. I like my $75 jeans, and he has a minor heart attack every time he sees the price tag. I grumble when he pays $60 for a video game instead of waiting for it to come down in price as a used game. This way, we can spend a little extra cash as we see fit, and not start a fight. We don’t hide what we purchase at all, but when I know the $60 for the new Call of Duty game is coming from his discretionary account instead of our neccessary funds, I don’t mind!

  26. Guest Icon Guest
    jess32, Guest @ 3:55 pm

    I’ll be close to 260,000 in debt after graduating from medical school and my FI will have around 290,000 from his medical school loans. This does not include the interest we will be paying on these loans. As medical residents we will be earning around $50,000/yr. It is going to take around 15-20 years combined for us to pay off our loans because we’re both going into family medicine (not a “high-paying” specialty), but we have both made our careers a number one priority so we’ve spoken at length on how to deal with this financially. I would recommend couples get pre-ENAGEMENT counseling with a reputable financial advisor, because everyone’s situation is different. There’s no point in getting engaged unless you’re willing to stick to a solid plan of getting out of debt.

  27. msmongoose Member
    msmongoose 264 posts, Helper bee @ 10:40 am

    Very smart post Miss BWhale–couples should definitely do what’s right for them. However, these discussions should most DEFINITELY happen before the wedding (probably before the engagement as well) to avoid post-wedding money drama.

  28. Member
    stace0616 131 posts, Blushing bee @ 11:55 am

    We’re engaged and living together, so our current situation is similar to what it’ll be after we get married. We have three checking accounts: personal ones (which each get $500/pay period) and a joint account that gets everything else. The only debt we don’t pay out of the joint account are for our credit cards. So our $500 allowance can be spent however we wish, but the joint money takes care of all bills, debts (including his student loan) groceries, dates, and we withdraw about $600/mo to our joint wedding savings account.

    My goal is that we’ll have individually paid off our credit cards by the time we get married and then we’ll each get like $200/pay period for a personal “allowance”. It works well for us–I still can use my own money to buy presents for him and not have to tell him how much getting highlights REALLY costs 😉

  29. Guest Icon Guest
    HiHoHiHo, Guest @ 4:33 am

    I completely agree that there is no one answer to this question. Every individual is different and therefore all couples are different. For me and my mister we each have our own separate accounts and a joint account that we both contribute equally to each month that the bills come out of… When we met he had no idea how to manage money and blew through his pay check like it was nothing. The joint account has been a learning experience for him and has really helped him see how budgeting his money really helps out in the long run. The separate accounts also keep us from fighting over money. If he buys something with money from his account, I have no reason to get upset because I know our bills are all taken care of and he isn’t spending money that should be going towards are joint savings. Its just so simple!

  30. bluewhale Member
    bluewhale 638 posts, Busy bee @ 1:30 pm

    @jess32: Holy Moly! I knew medical school was expensive, but wowsa!

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