When Joint Finances and Emotions Collide

by TTMK on February 13, 2012 · 11 comments

It's Mine!

The topic of joint finances is one that’s a common one when it comes to money and relationships. Some strongly believe in the practice, some don’t, and others might fall somewhere in between on the issue.  When two people have a different interpretation of what truly constitutes joint finances, it can be an emotional point of discussion.

A friend of mine was telling me about a situation he was having where he and his wife were disagreeing about the need for a kitchen remodel.  She really wants a brand new kitchen for their house, while he doesn’t think it’s necessary and would rather keep that sum of money for savings.  They generally tend to be on the same page with most things, but this issue has been a little bit different. Keep in mind that they have joint finances.

Now, by nature, he tends to be a saver who really doesn’t want to spend much money. He would rather save so that they could be financially free someday, and is quite passionate about it. She, on the other hand, is also financially responsible overall but is more likely to break down and spend on things if she gets the urge to do so. If there items she really wants, she won’t hesitate to buy them, even if they’re expensive wants and not needs. But for the most part, she’s responsible. Just not as driven to save and invest as he is.

So, while generally aligned on things in the big picture, their somewhat different views on savings and wants versus needs came into play with the kitchen remodel. There is one extra factor, however, that complicates things:  she has independently earmarked part of her earnings for this remodel.

They both work, and do quite well for themselves. She has earned a nice bonus and has exercisable stock options, and wants to spend these earnings of hers on the kitchen remodel.  The rationale: she earned the money, so she has the right to spend it on something she really, really wants.

Now, he isn’t too thrilled about this.  As mentioned above, he doesn’t see this as a need. Furthermore, he thinks that joint finances should truly be joint. In other words, they both are partners with equal say in what goes on with their finances.

Again, they get along great and haven’t had any issues that I know of in terms of major purchasing decisions.  It’s just that in this specific case, she wants something badly. She thinks that she’s worked hard to earn it, and as a working mother helps bring in a good salary otherwise, so she feels that she should be able to get this remodel done. Realistically, even if they spend this money, it won’t impact their financial situation in the big picture. They’re fine. He just thinks it’s a total waste, and wants equal input.

I asked him what would happen if he said that he tried to do something similar. In other words, claim that some of his earnings are earmarked for something he wants, while saying that since he earned it he has the right to get something he really desires individually. He just laughed and said he couldn’t imagine trying that and wouldn’t do that. It probably wouldn’t go over well, since he’s the husband and not a working mother.

What do I think? Well, I think that there needs to be balance in two ways. One, they need to decide how “joint” they truly want their finances. Two, whatever they do, they need to be consistent and apply rules equally to purchasing decisions, regardless of whether it’s the husband’s earnings or wife’s earnings.  Maybe they can compromise and agree to a modest kitchen update, or delay it for a few years?

What Do You Think?

Whose position do you identify with more: the guy who doesn’t want to spend, or his wife who feels that as a working mother she should have the right to earmark hard earned money for something she really wants?

What suggestions would you have for them to come up with a direction that both would be happy with?


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Invest It Wisely February 13, 2012 at 10:00 am

The way I see it, is that the guy’s decision not to spend is a spending decision in the same way as the wife’s decision to want to spend it on a kitchen remodel. He’s right, it should be joint, and he already made the decision that he prefers to save, and as you said she is not irresponsible, either. If he denies her the remodel, then it doesn’t seem like it truly is joint anymore; it seems more like he expects to call all the shots and just expects her to follow along.


TTMK February 13, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Invest it Wisely – now, what if she insists on calling the shots since the earnings came from her work? Does that change things? I do agree that both should be involved in the decision, not him unilateraly, or her.


Invest It Wisely February 13, 2012 at 9:13 pm

They will both have to come to a mutual understanding so that both are involved in the decision, I agree. And, I also think some partners should have a bit of freedom — if he has the freedom to save, she should have the freedom to spend, so long as she is still being responsible and they are both continuing to build a future and nest egg together. I don’t know the whole story, so it’s tough to say. All I can say is that it’s gotta be balanced so that they call the shots, together. 🙂


TTMK February 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Invest It Wisely – sounds like a balanced approach. Both want to feel good about decisions that are made.


Kris @ Everyday Tips February 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm

It all depends. How much do they have saved? In other words, will the guy refuse to ever spend on renovation, regardless of how much money they have put away? Assuming she does the cooking and such, I think she should have more say. I don’t care about who works and who earns the more or whatever. They are a couple and the money is all community property anyway.

Our neighbor thinks remodeling is dumb and he still has bright yellow linoleum from 1983. I guess part of this equation also depends on how out of date the kitchen actually is. Remember, you get a lot of your money back on a kitchen remodel, so it isn’t a horrible investment.


TTMK February 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Kris –
I think the kitchen is at least 20 years old. It seems like it could use updating, but also seems more than functional. Depends on priorities I suppose.

In this case, from what I can tell, they might do equal amounts of cooking – or something close, anyway. He might even do more.


Aloysa @ My Broken Coin February 13, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Interesting. I think they both need to decide why or why not that new kitchen is needed. Maybe they should find a compromise that would satisfy both of them. One person cannot just make a decision and say “that’s how it is going to be.” Marriage doesn’t work that way. It should be about mutual decisions and mutual goals.


TTMK February 13, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Aloysa – I do think that things should be about mutual decisions and goals, allowing for some individual autonomy too. That said, unilateral decision making can’t be an established part of any such relationship. Maybe on a rare issue here or there, but not as a practice for sure.


Evan @ Smartwealth February 13, 2012 at 7:44 pm

It took some time for my wife and I to digest the joint finances, but we make approximately the same and our bills are the same too so it made sense, we have a “fun money” account where we can do whatever we want with that.


TTMK February 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Evan – seems like a good system, having room for individual freedom too. In this case, the remodel probably falls way beyond the fun money level 🙂 Though it would be nice to have that kind of money at one’s disposal.


Dennis The Menace February 23, 2012 at 11:58 am

I believe that its a very bad idea for couples to have joint accounts. I know that a lot of guys will most likely take a lot of heat if they hold the same position on this one that I do’ but thats just the way I feel about it.


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