Hiccups on the way to combining finances

It happened fast. We barely talked about it, but all of a sudden, about a week after we got engaged — and before we were really ready — my fiancé and I had combined our finances.

I can pinpoint the impetus: Southwest Airlines was offering a promotion where if you got both the Plus and the Premier credit card and spent x dollars on one, y dollars on the other, you got a Companion Pass through the end of 2015. “We fly Southwest a lot anyway,” we reasoned. “And we'll hit the minimums soon since this wedding we're planning isn't going to be cheap. We might as well get one of us a $5 ticket every time we fly somewhere together.”

So we applied for credit cards in both our names and started spending money on wedding-related things. The photographer wanted a deposit, but would she take payment in full seven months before the event? Of course she would! So too would the portable bathroom people and the half dozen other vendors required to turn a party into a wedding. Just like that, we'd hit those spending goals.

Combining checking accounts was easier than I expected. I prepared a full speech about how we should use my credit union instead of his “evil” bank, but my fiancé didn't need a speech. He simply moved most of his money into my account, we put his name on it, and it was smooth sailing.

Until I went shopping with my sister a few weeks later.

I hadn't purchased makeup in at least a year, and I was running low on supplies. We were at Sephora, and I had a few items in my little shopping basket. I calculated the cost: It was over $100. I started to panic. Blood rushed to my cheeks, my palms started sweating, and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I couldn't spend “his” money on makeup. That would be irresponsible!

See, up to this point, every time we swiped those cards, we were buying things together. Wedding stuff? Groceries? Dog food? Clearly distinguishable as combined spending. But this? This was something just for me.

Now, it wasn't a frivolous purchase (or at least, not entirely), and it was absolutely something I would have bought without a second thought before we had joined financial forces. And the reason combining finances was smooth sailing from the beginning is because he knew my money philosophy inside and out, because he read Frugal Portland from start to finish, reading about my path into — and eventually out of — debt.

So I texted him. “I'm at Sephora with my sister. I want to buy makeup, but I'm feeling guilty.”

Immediately he texted back. “You don't need my permission to buy makeup any more than I need your permission to buy a pizza tonight.”

I started to relax, then he wrote again. “We'll run into issues like this and talk through them. We're doing it together. I love you.”

I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and bought the makeup. My sister noted that I looked completely different after the text: more relaxed, more confident, happier. And I was.

That was a few months ago, and we've had our share of hiccups since then, but I'm glad we already have combined finances. I no longer see it as my money or his money. It's our money. We have shared money goals — like saving half our income — and we're on the same page. Saving half is something we do at the beginning of the month, and we keep the rest in our checking account. We still have the same credit cards, so there are no secrets.

It's funny, actually. That one conversation — where I was so upset, worried, and nervous — was the only time either one of us asked for permission to spend. My sister and I were shopping online for her bridesmaid dress (would you believe it, the dog ate her original one?) and I asked if he had the credit card number memorized. He did, and rattled it back to me. “What did I just agree to?” he asked jokingly, after the transaction was complete.

The moral of this story is to pick a mate who shares your vision for financial goals. They don't have to align 100 percent, but you ought to be able to talk openly about money with the person you're spending the rest of your life with.

And try to save half your income.

More about...Budgeting

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