How Budgeting Improved My Relationship

The first time my now-husband, then-boyfriend ever tried to talk to me about our finances, I reacted the way any mature adult would — I put my fingers in my ears, yelled, “I can’t hear you!” and ran out of the house.

That is not hyperbole. I actually did that.

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Money has never been something I’ve been very good at dealing with. I spent my life overspending, paying overdraft fees, maxing out credit cards, and falling behind on my bills. I preferred to live in the moment and not think about the future. Things seemed more manageable that way.

While this way of living was sort of acceptable for me as a single person, it suddenly became a very big problem when I became one half of a couple. Now, when I blew all my money and didn’t have the cash for rent, it wasn’t just me I was screwing over — it became my partner’s problem too.

"Having my partner, this man I loved and wanted to build a future with, find out the truth about how I was living was one of the most shameful things I could think of."  

My financial illiteracy was one of my biggest sources of shame and the secret I kept closest to the vest. I knew — well, I assumed — that functional, responsible adults didn’t have these issues, that they could pay their bills and not spend superfluously on things they didn’t need. I was embarrassed that I wasn’t in control of my finances, that my account was always in the red, and that I was constantly asking my parents to bail me out. I felt like a child.

Having my partner, this man I loved and wanted to build a future with, find out the truth about how I was living was one of the most shameful things I could think of. We moved in together and set a budget for rent, utilities, and groceries, splitting them all down the middle, but avoided a real, harsh look at our finances. I told myself that now, with the motivation of being accountable to someone else, I’d be able to manage my money.

But just one month into our cohabitation, I couldn’t hold up my end of the deal. I had spent my money on takeout food, new clothes, and drinks at bars, leaving me without enough funds for our utilities bills. I told him it had been an honest mistake, and that I was still getting used to the new budget. That was fine the first month — but after the second and third, the pattern was obvious.

My partner never got mad at me. Instead, he tried to sit down with me and talk about it. He asked where I was struggling and how he could help. I didn’t know how to explain the anxiety and panic that built up in me every time I thought about managing my money. That’s when I completely shut down and the aforementioned temper tantrum took place.

His patience wore thin after a while. He was rightfully frustrated when my overspending meant we struggled to pay our bills. He scrutinized every purchase I made, wondering why I was spending on things he deemed frivolous or indulgent.

Eventually, our fights over money almost brought us to a breaking point. Something had to change, and that something was me. So I agreed to do what I’d never been able to do — sit down and really, truly look at our finances. And I agreed to do it on a weekly basis.

The first step was for us to create a joint account that was strictly for bills. We each kept our own personal accounts, but set up automatic transfers when we got paid, which took out the money we needed for expenses and put it straight into our joint account. This way it would be easier not to spend the money we needed for bills. It also kept my husband from worrying about my personal spending, because he knew our bills were covered.

By going over our money on a weekly basis, we can see where we’re spending, where we can save, and how close we are to meeting our longer-term goals. He tells me that he likes doing this with me because our relationship feels more like a partnership, and knowing that we’re trying for the same goal makes us stronger as a couple.

He’s right. We are stronger than we’ve ever been, in large part because of our budgeting and money management. Even during months when our finances are tight, I don’t worry about money the way I used to. Because we’re being transparent — and holding each other accountable — we’ve achieved a level of intimacy we never had before. As a team, we know we’ll be able to weather whatever financial storm may come our way because we’re prepared and facing it head on, together.

"Because we’re being transparent — and holding each other accountable — we’ve achieved a level of intimacy we never had before."  

There’s been another benefit to all this transparency. I like going over our expenses together on Sunday night so much that often I’m the one to suggest we do it. I swell with pride when I realize I’ve stuck to my budget and get excited when I find new ways to cut costs. My husband finds that “sexy as hell,” he tells me. And I find him sexy as hell after we’re done with our weekly budgeting. In fact, it’s at those times that I find it hard to keep my hands off him.

Working toward our financial goals makes me feel close to him in a way I never could have imagined, and the intimacy that comes with having shared finances adds to our physical intimacy, as well. I feel connected to him in every way, and it makes me want to feel physically connected, too. On the nights we go over our budget, we end up curling up on the couch and sinking into each other. He massages my feet, we kiss, and sometimes we even have sex — which is quite a feat with a toddler at home.

My husband likes to say that no one is good with money or bad with money — that it’s just something you practice and eventually get better at. I’m finally starting to believe him. Sitting down together each week is an act of love and respect. I know that it’s important to him, and he’s important to me. And it’s a constant reminder of just how far we’ve come.

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