My husband and I have different strengths. He is creative, laid back, and infinitely patient. I am a planner, an organizer, and a worrier. And that works just fine for us.
Because I am a planner and worrier, I read many books about relationships and money prior to getting hitched. And many warned of the dangers that can come with relationships and money. Money has the ability to tear couples apart, create resentment, and imbalance.
And we are full of imbalance. I am the primary breadwinner in our home. We both work, but my husband works in a creative field that compensates quite a bit less than in my field, technology. I worried a lot about this, and the implications given the gender expectations that are still very prevalent in our society, and in all honesty, it hasn't always been easy. But there are a few tips that have helped my husband and I manage our money as a team.
1. It is always our money.
You are on a slippery slope when the person making more in the relationship starts throwing that fact in the other person's face. I will admit that in our nastiest fights (probably less than 3 in the last year) I have gone there, and I'm not proud of it. But I said it to be hurtful, not because I actually feel it. My husband on the other hand is much more quick to say "you make all the money so we can do whatever you want" during conversations about life choices. He doesn't mean this to be hurtful, but rather he feels guilty at times for not contributing the same monetary amount that I do. But even though it stems from a better place, it is also hurtful.
So, throughout our first year of marriage we came to the agreement that we wouldn't ever refer to it as anything but our money. We love each other and value what we both bring to the relationship, and we have an equal say in our future. I shouldn't throw my husband's earning in his face out of spite, and he shouldn't try to separate them out of guilt. We're always in this together.
Because of that we also keep all of our finances combined, and have equal spending money. I know some very happily married people who manage just fine with separate accounts, but this works for us.
2. Let the person with the natural tendency to do so, handle the money.
This took my husband and I a long time to settle into. Prior to our wedding I read all kinds of articles warning about the dangers of one partner handling the money solo, and I have seen first hand how this can go wrong. It is particularly scary when the other partner has no interest whatsoever in the money, and makes decisions not understanding the family's full financial picture.
So with all the good intentions in the world, we started our marriage with equal duties - I had to pay the rent, he had to pay the electricity, and so on. In his laid back style my husband would put off paying his bills until the very last day possible, and in my worrier style I would nag him about it every day until he finally did it. I was expelling much more energy trying to get him to do it than I would just doing it myself (and he wasn't all that crazy about me either).
So finally we sat down with the household chores and split them up so that I tackled all of the money matters, while he took on the laundry. Finally, things started to click. I had a clear view of what was going on with our money and didn't stress about it. And my carefree and patient husband just takes heed when the hamper starts to get too full. We're both much happier for it.
3. Talk about your money.
This is an easy one for me. I love to talk about our money (and about anything really) and any ideas I have, changes I want to make, or future aspirations I might have. My husband isn't built quite the same way, but he will happily chat with me to my heart's content on our nightly walks.
But more than the act of talking about our money, we have worked hard to cultivate a culture about how we talk about money. I've heard of couples making rules where they have to talk to each other if they are going to spend over a certain amount. We don't have any hard and fast rules, but I also know from all of our talks, which kinds of expenses I can go ahead with because I know we're on the same page (i.e. go ahead and buy that extra large shampoo that will last 3 years), and which I should really discuss with him first (i.e. I feel I need a new fancy purse for work). I also would never even dream of putting more money than our agreed upon monthly amounts into our investments, but I don't bat an eye at moving money from savings to checking when it's getting a little empty.
This amount of communication about our money is what allows us to feel secure and a level of trust with one another, even though I am the one primarily handling our money. My husband knows that I'm not making secret investments without him, or withholding that we couldn't pay our rent this month, and I know that he isn't going to buy a bunch of new fishing equipment when we really need to be saving for our first house.
4. Have your own "fun" money.
I was really against this concept when we first got married. Getting back to #1, our money was supposed to be just that, our money. And I felt like having separate allowances took us a step back. Why did we need separate money? Were we going to buy secret illicit items that other shouldn't know about? Can't we trust each other to allow our partners to purchase things that make them happy?
Well it turns out that this was the best change we ever made. Prior to having our own fun money there were a couple of things the other bought that were a bit contentious. I just didn't understand why he needed yet another $50 video game, and he didn't understand why I needed yet another pair of $80 jeans.
After a few arguments we agreed to each receive $100 each month that we could spend however we want. My husband has used his for a fishing license, video games, and fancy beer. I've used mine to buy some new clothes, and to go see some college friends. Having this little bit of freedom has not only helped us not to bicker over small things, it also helps us each to consider how much we really want a new item.
For example, I would have bought numerous cheap shirts at Target previously, but now that I have limited funds to do so I am saving up to buy higher quality items that I love. It should be noted though that we have items in our budget for necessities like work clothes, so our "fun" money is only spent on frivolous items that are just that, for fun!