My Story: Marriage and Money

contributed by K.J.D.

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Nearly nine years into marriage with two solid incomes, no children, and no finance management, we found ourselves at the brink of insolvency, mostly in hock with credit cards. During our eight years of not arguing over money, we never actually talked about it either.

We always graciously considered all money "ours" and operated from one joint account with lots of credit card (15 of them total) usage. We also ran into unexpected high debt dental care and some costly health concerns. The combination was crippling. We were poor financial stewards and I desperately wanted to find a solution that would save our finances and preserve our marriage!

Our biggest disagreement at the outset was that while I was wanting to account for every penny, my DH wanted to just "spend less." And we agreed to disagree on this point. I was driving my DH insane collecting receipts and asking "What was this for?" He would say, "It was chewing gum, but it was 'on sale'." So I challenged why the money was spent and he would defend the purchase with the savings. Round and round we went in a tiring discussion with no end.

In my frustration, a solution came by way of a friend who suggested setting up additional banking accounts with debit cards. And we did. And now there are routine deposits that are made from our Joint Account into our "Discretionary Accounts." The deposits set a limit (budget), and we manage that money better (spend less). It saves me time because a whole bunch of petty little debits are made against the discretionary accounts instead of the joint account that the bills are managed out of. I think this cut the time I used to reconcile our joint account by half or more. We also benefit from depositing gift money, and gifts aren't spoiled anymore because the purchase showed up on a joint statement before the gift was given. It's also returned a sense of "something that belongs to me," which gets lost and sometimes lamented through years of marital bliss. The only discussion left is when there is ambivalence whether a certain type of purchase may be deemed non-discretionary and the availability of funds in our joint account that may be used to cover the purchase.

We committed to an aggressive 30-month debt reduction plan and are just over half way through it. I reference the plan in months because I can't bear the thought in "years." (We adopted John Commuta's approach.)

Additionally, I purchased personal finance software and set about the arduous task of setting it up and learning to use it. Another co-worker offered that he did "some" finance management every single day. (ugh!) I did that for a while out of necessity and learned a lot about our cash flow during that time and have since been able to back off to twice a week. I do it on Tuesday after my bank processes the weekend transactions and then Saturday when I pay bills. I use the software reports and share the progress we are making with my DH, and we celebrate our steps toward good financial stewardship and hopes for our future plans, which include a cruise that we deferred on our 10th anniversary to keep to our plan.

I think for the first time in our marriage we are living within our means and did not acquire any new debt at all, and we made very few lifestyle changes. I hope sharing this simple idea might help someone else as much as it has helped us.

I can't stress enough about how establishing "discretionary accounts" has improved our situation. It's a win-win. It sets a limit on spending and, at the same time, allows us to independently decide how we wish to spend some of our money without consulting one another about it, which ultimately avoids arguments that revolve around the roots of control, equity and fairness. I think our marriage is stronger and better off, as are our finances.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by

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