On Combining Finances (And Debt)
I love this piece by Nona Willis-Aronowitz, called Til Debt Do Us Part:
When I graduated from a private liberal arts school in 2006, I thought I had gotten away scot-free. Thanks to savvy parents and a generous grandma, I graduated without any student-loan debt. But then I fell in love with Aaron, who had taken out $30,000 in loans to finance his film degree. When we got married in 2009, his monthly $250 bill became mine, too. So instead of squirreling away to buy a home, we’ve spent our first years of marriage chipping away at his debt. It doesn’t change how I feel about him, but it does add an extra layer of stress. His $30,000 ball and chain feels like it will be around forever.
It hits close to home for me this week, as Dustin and I are finalizing our FAMILY BUDGET. Or okay, I am sending him manic, nesting-fueled emails about it while he’s at work. We still haven’t combined our finances or opened up a joint account, which is something we’ve meant to do for over a year now. Why not add that to the To-Do This Week Before There Is a Baby list, right?
– deep clean the whole house
– write that novel I always swore I’d write before I had a kid?
– sterilize bottles
– open a joint account
Anyway our plan has always been to do the thing where we put your income in a shared account, which we’d use to pay bills and rent and buy groceries, and then transfer a biweekly “allowance” to each of our own personal checking accounts that we can use for whatever we want. Going out to eat, drinks with friends, clothes, gifts, books, savings for bigger purchases, etc. I sent the email over to Dustin for his approval — err, feedback. He reminded me that he signed us up for wind energy, so our electric bill was not actually $40, more like $75 a month (hidden expenses of shacking up with a leftist, though that’s probably its own post), and that his student loan payment was not $150, it was more like $200.
“But shouldn’t that come from my ‘fun money’?” he gchatted me. [By the way, if anyone has a better term for it than ‘fun money’ or ‘allowance’ I’d love to hear it.]
I pictured me out to dinner with friends, laughing over sushi, while he was at home logging into SallieMae. My answer was something like, Hell no! This is why we’re doing this in the first place! His debt, after all, is a fixed expense, and one I want us to get better at paying down each month. The idea of paying for it with money that is partly mine really doesn’t bother me at all, although part, if not all, of that is likely due to the fact that 1. we can afford it, and 2. I had student debt in the same amount that I was able to pay off in full thanks to a lucky stock break. Maybe paying his debt off monthly, little by little like a normal person, assuages my windfall guilt?
When we got engaged, he gave me an antique ring on the top of a mountain on a hike in Vermont, and I paid off his credit card. Both gestures felt equally romantic. Though I did ask him, a few weeks later, if he had charged the ring to his credit card. He said no, and laughed. No I did not buy myself an engagement ring.
Not that it would really bother me. To me, and I know it’s a personal thing and everyone feels differently, but to me, his debt feels like my debt (not that it’s lost on me that if we ever split up, he will have to finish paying it off). My money, to me, is “our money.” Dustin, being on the other side of things, is much more hesitant, but we’re getting there. Slotting that student loan payment right into our budget makes me feel safe and teamed up and above all very lucky that we can, for now, afford to pay it without wincing too much. That liberal-ass Oberlin education is part of what made him the man I love, after all, even if it is partly to blame for our 75 dollar electric bill.
Photo via wikimedia commons