how to talk about money with your spouse

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according to an article published by psychology today, arguing about money breaks up more marriages than anything else. the article talks about everyone having a “money personality” and how we need to “develop a mutual recognition and respect for the other’s dissimilar personality.” it mainly talks about how people are either spenders or savers. i don’t think it’s that clear cut but i do think it’s vitally important to recognize and try to understand where your partner is coming from and why.

How to Talk About Money with Your

during the first few years of our relationship, ravery and i maintained separate bank accounts. it was really important to me to maintain my own financial freedom and i saw that as having my very own bank account. this worked fine, ravery was respectful of this and it worked for the time being. that was until he got a job that took him away from portland for months and i was in grad school not making any money. we had been engaged for about 1 year at this point (we had a 2.5 year engagement). the below picture is of *our* engagement rings over multnomah falls in oregon. i hope you can see the heart shaped water below the water fall because some people have challenged me on this.

rings over multnomah falls

without hesitation, we skipped to the bank (skipping burns more calories) and he put me on his account so i could pay rent, the bills, eat food and even get 2 lattes a week (we are always on a budget)! he set the precedence that he trusted me with the money he was earning and then said, “yes, i may be bringing it in right now but it is our money.” i’d love to be able to say i instantly gave him equal access to my bank accounts but it took a litttttle bit more time. after he got back from his tour  (where he worked for a mobile marketing campaign with NIKE and drove this badboy around) -we sat down to talk about finances.

blogs for wives NIKE

whether you are sharing all of your accounts, have 1 joint account or keep things completely separate, these were helpful things we did to be able to talk about money and what it would look like for our relationship:

1) sit down and talk about your first interactions with money and how it was talked about growing up

we sat down (i saved one of my lattes allotment for this conversation) and discussed how our relationship with money had started. i remember getting a small allowance and my parents giving me envelops entitled “savings, church, spending” so i would divide up the amount among them. this gave me a great foundation of realizing i should not be spending everything that comes in but rather distributing over things that are important. ravery also received an allowance and his parents were very good about if he wanted a car, then he would have to pay for it himself. if he wanted spending money, he would have to earn it. if he wanted to go to an out-of state college, he would have to pay for the out-of-state costs.

his parents were also very vocal about how much money they made, what things cost them and their investments. my parents didn’t really talk about money openly, it was seen as more of a private matter. this was important to note the difference because ravery is a lot more willing to speak very openly about finances, has been known to ask others point blank about how much their things costs while i am much more reserved about it and feel uncomfortable when he does such things.

wife blog lattes

favorite coffee place back in portland!

2) identify core values and see how this relates to money

this took some time for us but was well worth it once we came to an understanding of how we wanted to divide up our money.    we decided giving back was the most important to both of us.
we always wanted to be giving to organizations, causes and good things without just using whatever might be left over in our account. we decided to give 10% of our income to “good causes” and keep that in a separate account. traveling is also very important to us so we put 10% into our travel account for visiting family and friends, taking at least 1 international trip a year and other fun things related to exploring the world. our last important value we identified was saving for our future so we put about 25% into a savings account and use a small portion of that to try our hand at investments. the rest of our money ends up in the “everyday account” for bills, groceries, fun, clothing, etc.

chelsea avery and ryan avery in sphinx

3) create and then stick to a budget

i can’t tell you how annoying it was to track all of or expenses for a month but i can tell you how helpful it was to see where our money was being spent. from this, we were able to categorize what we were spending, ways we could cut back on spending (like my coffee habit thanks to grad school and living above a starbucks) and how much money we needed for just basic living without any of the fun things. after that base number, we could see how much was left for eating out, getting a new jacket or going to a concert. i know that is very helpful in doing this for you if you use debit/credit cards a lot.

we printed out our monthly budget and posted it in the kitchen so we could write down and then reference how much we had to spend on what. after your senses are hightened from a few weeks/months of doing this (and going through a slight caffeine withdrawal) it becomes second nature and you actually end up with a lot less stress over money, your relationship and saving up some money to not only eat out but get dessert afterwards too!

warm cookie

4) talk about a mutual agreement when it comes to spending on bigger ticket items

after dividing up our money on the first of the month between our “values accounts” we both agreed that whatever was left in the everyday account could be spent how we saw fit as long as the purchase was less than $100 since what we truly value has been covered. this solved a lot of our problems when i would come home with a new puzzle, more crafty things (i could/do spend hours in craft stores) or would buy my lattes. i also felt less annoyed when i saw him buying more ties (shout out to Tie Society for putting a stop to this tie addiction) and socks. if we did want to purchase something that costs more than $100, then we would put it out on the table and talk about if we could afford it and the use we would get out of it.

5) take a break from talking about money and go have fun together

it can be very exhausting to talk about finances and money, particularly if you have very different feelings towards spending and saving or even if you don’t. it’s really important to take breathers when needed and just to have some fine. cribbage is usually our go to game (it’s not just for grandparents people, c’mon!). sometimes we even get dealt matching hands and that’s how i know we are soulmates even more.

wife blog cribbage

we used this system for about 4 years so far and it is still working even after starting our own business. this formula carried us through when ravery was working and i was in graduate school, when he got laid off and i was the only source of income, then when i got laid off and he was the only income and then eventually when we both had incomes from our non-profits. my point: we did this for multiple years on not a lot of income and were still able to get the things we needed, many of the things we wanted and still go to happy hour.

wife lesson: take the time to set up the system that works for you about money so both of you can feel confident about how your money is spent.

1) do you share bank accounts with your significant other?
2) what’s been a recent source of conflict for you around money?
3) what other tips would you add around talking about or spending money?
4) if you live in houston or have been here…i’m looking for a good happy hour here!


  1. Paula Howley

    July 9, 2013 at 11:14 am

    FANTASTIC POST Chelsea. You and Ryan are unfortunately SO different from most young (and not young) couples out there. You guys do things the right way. You WORK at your relationship. You value each other’s time and energy. I’m so happy for you. I hope this blog spreads the word.
    1. Lloyd and I do share bank accounts. We didn’t start talking about money for a while. I’m a little more reserved about it though and I wish I could be more like Ravery.
    2. The MOTORCYCLE. Which is always needing parts and repairs and new patches for the leather jacket.
    3. This guy is awesome. He is retired at 37- no he didn’t make a million bucks but he knows common sense. I’ve learned a lot so far and saved hundreds every month.

    • chelsea

      July 10, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      thanks paula! we are trying to do things the “right way” or at least the way that is positive, smart and worth it 🙂 i’m glad you can see that we work at our relationship because we really do, as i know you and your hubby do too 🙂 oh i bet…ravery contemplates getting a motorcycle from time to time and since my dad has know i know the expense and i’m sure he would want new patches too! i just spent 30 minutes looking through mr. money mustache’s blog-that’s for sharing because it’s super interesting and we could incorporate even more things! thanks paula and hope you are having a great day!

  2. Claire Bickel

    July 9, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Love this! I was raised by a real estate broker and a banker so financial lessons were big in our house. I’m not currently in a relationship but I am lucky enough to have parents who modeled financial discussions and involved me as I got older. They also invested in my pursuit to own a home, so we have very candid conversations about how we spend money on that project to this day.

    3. My mom had a long conversation with me about credit when I turned 18. We not only talked about how to keep it, but also how to earn it. Thanks to those lessons I had built enough credit by my early twenties that I was able to qualify for a mortgage on my own. With years of diligent payments behind me, I’m very conscious of what another person’s financial history – and their current financial habits – could do to my credit score when the time comes.

    Really, really love this post Chelsea!

    • chelsea

      July 10, 2013 at 1:32 pm

      wow i bet you learned a TON of financial lessons from your parents claire-that’s amazing! i still feel like i have so much learn about owning a home, investing, retirement, etc and sometimes i get very overwhelmed! that’s great your mom talked to you a lot about credit because i know a lot of people who have some serious credit card debt. sooo very true about what another’s financial history/situation is and how it can affect you as well. SUPER important point to think about too. you’re so smart claire!

  3. Kim

    July 9, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    My ex and I never agreed on money issues. Maybe that is why we didn’t last very long. Ah well.

    My last relationship died over financial issues. He was retired and decided to work for the National Park Service as an interpretative ranger. I loved his outdoorsy attitude and his support of my speaking, but when it came time to think about marriage, he balked when I told him that my retirement accounts would be rolled out into IRAs and have my kids as beneficiaries. After all they supported me as a single parent. Then I would start a new 401k that he would be a part of – no dice. At least I knew early that part of the issue was money. Ah well. We still talk, but that is it.

    I love your advice on saving and giving. You two are so amazing and grounded. Kudos and great post!

    • chelsea

      July 10, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      thanks for being candid about how tricky money conversations can be, kim- i appreciate that. that’s too bad and he couldn’t see why your retirement accounts would be rolled into IRAs for your children (very kind of you) and then that you were willing to start a new 401k with him 🙁 good for you for turning it into a positive that finding out early that money things were an issue but that is still a bummer. you a smart woman that knows what’s best for you and your family 🙂

  4. Vivien

    July 9, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    I totally agree with Paula’s comments. You and Ryan seem to be writing (or have already written) the how-to guide to have a great and solid relationship! Also, I do kind of see the heart-shape waterfall.

    1) I don’t have a S.O. at this point in time, but when I do I would like to have that level of trust of “what’s mine is yours”, probably after sitting down and talking about all those points you’ve listed in your blog post 🙂 So I would like to share bank accounts with them.

    2) I can’t think of any recently, but in my prior relationships a “money conflict” revolved around what luxury expenses we felt were “worth it” to splurge on once in awhile. He couldn’t see why I thought a jaunt downtown to see a theatre production once in awhile was worth it, while I was hesitant when he suddenly suggested we both buy kayaks considering we had never ever gone kayaking together before.

    3) I never got an allowance, my mom did help me see how fast money could be spent (and how hard it is to earn) but having me sign up for a paper route. My parents also advised me to always keep a rainy-day fund for those unexpected expenses that come up (i.e. car suddenly needs repairs). They also advised me to ALWAYS pay off your monthly credit card balance in full, and the only debt you should ever carry in your lifetime is a mortgage.

    • chelsea

      July 10, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      thaaaaaank you vivien for “kind of seeing” the heart-shaped water and for your kind words. we have definitely learned about by trial and error and are both passionate about helping others work for a great relationship. i also reallllly appreciate you commenting even though you don’t have a current S.O. because i feel like i get a lot from your insight and comments too 🙂

      i know what you mean about trying to find that balance of the “luxury” items/events-we struggle with that sometimes too (and i have also had to talk ravery out of buying a kayak before even though we had only gone twice before. ha!). yeeeees i know what you mean about sudden car repairs and that’s great they gave you such positive advice on credit and the only debt being your house (i agree). thanks for your comment and hope you are having a great day!

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