Vicki Robin

The dilemma of shared finances

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2009 at 5:09 AM

If you have a “house-mate” it really doesn’t matter if you sleep in the same room or different ones, if you’re spouses, partners or friends, if you share every little secret or just the kitchen, living room, dining room and bathroom. You still have to decide how to decide what gets bought and with whose money.

Which would be my situation. I’ve lived in the past in one totally blended financial relationship, in one partially blended one (separate incomes/bank accounts but shared expenses) and in the bliss of having no one to blame – or praise – but myself for financial choices.  Now I co-own a house with a friend as noted in previous post. We are sorting out expenses – what’s just mine, what’s all hers and what’s shared.  Since we are both in our 60’s and not likely to change in any fundamental ways, we just have to create agreements that allow each of us to be ourselves. Without bankrupting or browbeating the other.

I’ve joked many times when couples ask me how to deal with their finances that the divine sets up a perfect spiritual training for us… getting married to someone who is your polar opposite. A spendthrift will marry a tightwad and from the friction comes a lot of light, and hopefully grace and growth.

Ahh, and now, the joke’s on me.  When money was flowing out of the shared pot faster than my nerves could bear I drew a line: If I don’t have a say (beyond a certain baseline amount), I don’t have to pay.

I think anyone who blends finances with others encounters this same dilemma. One of them spends more liberally than the other. Or buys new when the other buys used. Or considers different spending categories as necessities. Or accounts to the penny vs never balancing the check book. These aren’t problems. They are just “the situation.” They become problems when:

1. You assume the other agrees with you without verifying that they do.

2. You assume your way is the right way.

3. You don’t communicate any of this and…

4. If challenged, you sulk, retaliate, instruct, resent, acquiesce (but not really), pound the table, withdraw, disdain, make fun of (grr especially in front of others) or any other maneuver that avoids a real and honest give and take.

If you aren’t bouncing checks or maxed on all your credit cards or heading into old age with no savings, your money problems may be these kinds of communication problems.

Here’s  what my house mate and I are doing – after much conversation to clarify assumptions. We have a common kitty for agreed upon common expenses and for the rest, we’re each on our own for better or worse. If you already have fully blended finances, one strategy is to agree on an “allowance” you each get and the other has no say over how it’s spent. And you communicate at least monthly about finances, fully disclosing your cash flow and position. In a prior household where we were each doing the YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE program, we’d do our monthly accounting and have a “family meeting” to share our data, help each other out, settle accounts and maintain our peace and sanity around money.

How do you handle finances with the people you live with? What smooths the process? What impossible dilemmas would you like to solve – or handle differently?

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  1. My big shared money challenge currently is trying to get my 16 year old to understand there’s a limited budget for her needs and when her wants exceed the budget, it really is time to consider getting work. I’m really struggling to get her to accept that we can’t stop for a smoothie or a bite to eat every time we’re out and nor does she need an item of souvenir clothing for every event she attends … arrgh!

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