My Wife and I Finally Stopped Fighting About Money: Here’s How We Did it

a couple posing outside
Lindsey Danis, front, and her wife Aliza pose for a photo during a trip to Laos. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Danis

Although we’d lived together for roughly three years, my wife and I kept our finances separate. It wasn’t until we got married and moved to upstate New York that we decided to merge our money.

Up until this point, we’d been responsible for our share of rent and utilities, and split grocery costs in half. We approached date nights by either splitting the bill or alternating who treated.

Maybe it wasn’t romantic, but it worked for us… at least, until we outgrew that approach. From a practical perspective, things that had once been mine, from my pampered pooch to my car, were now ours. So why should I alone cover these costs?  

We dutifully merged most of our money, pooling 75% of our earnings. We kept the remainder in personal accounts.

But merging our money didn’t teach us anything about spending it wisely.

We quickly realized we needed to talk about how we would spend and save our money — especially if we were going to stay on track with our student loan and mortgage payments.

We decided to develop a monthly budget, check in with our spending and pay the bills on semi-monthly budgeting nights.

Little did we know, this set the stage for tense discussions about our cash flow. Here’s what we fought about, and how we turned it around to work toward goals and make smarter financial decisions.

We Started Tracking Expenses

To start tracking our finances, we needed a tool. We started with the popular You Need a Budget software, but it wasn’t right for us.

Our early budget nights stretched for hours as we read YNAB tutorials, watched videos and emailed customer support help to figure out why debit card transactions were importing twice — YNAB’s solution: manually delete the duplicates.

Our budget was in the red, but we didn’t know how to fix it. We were paying $5 per month for a budgeting tool we didn’t understand and squabbling on every budgeting night while not getting to the root of our overspending.

Instead of fighting about expenses, which we could fix, we fought about the budgeting process itself. After a few months of feeling stuck and stupid, we started a fresh YNAB budget to see if starting from scratch gave us better luck.

When we still fought over budgeting, we replaced YNAB with Mint. While Mint didn’t make us perfect at budgeting, it was a more intuitive solution for us.

Now, instead of fighting over how we were spending money, we could track expenses and set goals. We weren’t getting as much information about historical trends as we did from YNAB, but we were able to draw conclusions about our spending from the data we received. For now, Mint is the right solution for our combined money decisions.

We Spent Money Mindfully

My wife’s family never talked about financial decisions openly, including the cost of college. My parents divorced when I was young, so I didn’t receive any consistent model for saving or spending money. Since no one taught us how to budget, we made our own money decisions with the limited information we inherited from our families’ approaches to financial management.

We knew how we spent our money — we could see every transaction in Mint — but we hadn’t talked about spending patterns.

Were we spending money on things that aligned with our values, needs and wants? Or we were spending on impulse?

Looking over the month’s expenses, it was easy to bicker over our spending and lose sight of the bigger picture.

We flipped our mindset from fighting about the past to changing a spending pattern we didn’t like in the future. We discussed what we wanted to spend money on — for us it’s food and travel — and what wasn’t important to us, like entertainment.

We also discussed what we could handle jointly. Expenses we cover separately include clothing and student loans — she’s in the public service loan forgiveness program, whereas I’m trying to pay off my loans as quickly as possible.

We Set Budget Goals

Through our budgeting journey, we struggled with how to stretch our dollars. Between the income inequality for LGBTQ Americans and our careers in writing and nonprofit, there wasn’t much extra to fund our dreams.

To better meet long-range goals, we took a personal finance class and met with a financial planner. By attending now, we’ll know how to secure the future we want.

Our journey toward making smarter financial decisions hasn’t been perfect or easy — for instance, we still overspend on groceries — but we’ve broken down the wall to talking about money and made major strides together.

Sure, we don’t have control over every aspect of our budget or one-time emergency costs, such as car repair, but we’ve tried to counteract these things through smarter spending on what’s in our control.

When we do overspend, we let ourselves off the hook and try to do better next month or find ways to save. By making our own yogurt, for instance, we’ve been able to cut down what was a major expense in grocery costs.  

While our goals are a long way off, we’re learning that it is possible to enjoy the journey and the money we’ve earned.

Lindsey Danis (@lindseydanis) is a writer living in the Hudson Valley who covers food, LGBT, travel, essays and commentary.