Of all the things I had to change or give up when I got married—changing my last name, moving to a different island, sharing closet space—there was only one adjustment that was really hard for me to accept: no longer having total control over my money.
In all honestly, I didn’t expect this to be a challenge. Although we didn’t live together before we got married, Thomas and I shared many financial responsibilities throughout our dating relationship. We co-managed our food expenses and even some of our bills. We had open communication about spending and saving, and shared values when it came to things like credit cards. During our engagement, we paid for our wedding together and prepared for the costs of moving just a few weeks later. After all of that, I assumed that the process of officially joining our finances would be easy. We were pretty much already sharing everything, weren’t we?
When the day came to merge our bank accounts though, I discovered that it wasn’t as easy as I thought to turn my life savings into joint property.
It was already four months into our marriage when this financial move happened. We’d had a lot of big expenses that month, and I needed to transfer money to our new joint account in time to pay all of our bills. I remember I was sitting in my car in the bank parking lot while writing a check to myself when it suddenly hit me. This check was for the full amount of my personal bank account. As soon as I made this deposit, there wouldn’t be any money left that was just mine. Everything! Even what I had earned as a single person, would now be shared with Thomas.
My financial independence was officially over, and I was terrified!
My fears of what this loss of control could mean for me were overwhelming. I was inheriting student loans and bills from Thomas that I didn’t have as a single person. It seemed like there were so many more things that could go wrong if everything was in the same account. What if we lost our jobs or ran out of cash? The worst part was, no matter how much I trusted Thomas, I knew that there was no way that he would always make the exact same choices with our finances that I would. Neither of us is perfect, and sometimes he just doesn’t think the same way that I do. It was frightening to know that there would now be this other person factoring in to my bank account for the rest of my life.
For my whole adult life, I had been focused on building a financial safety net for myself. I micromanaged my budget, and I tracked every cent of my spending; my room was always filled with receipts and budget spreadsheets. Although it was good to have strong financial skills at a young age, I had a tendency to take things way too far. I was often anxious and emotional about my finances. Managing my money occupied a great deal of my time and energy, but to me, my bank account was so much more than just a dollar amount on a computer screen. It was a metaphorical security blanket, something I could always look at to know that everything was going to be okay. I liked to know that I was fully in control of something!
Of course, this type of financial management really isn’t healthy. After five years of dating, Thomas was well aware of my faults in this department, and I knew that I couldn’t hide from them once we had joint accounts. After all, no one, not even my sweet husband, wants to share their finances with a control-freak micromanager.
That day in the bank parking lot, I went over every little mistake Thomas had ever made with money: the time he almost overdrew his account; the year he owed money on his taxes; the day he lost a $20 bill. How could I possibly share my finances with this man? I considered tearing up the check and leaving without making the transfer. Maybe I should hide the money?
It was then that I finally realized how selfish I had become. This was Thomas I was talking about for goodness sakes! The man that I loved and shared everything else with in my life! The man who had vowed to honor and support me for the rest of his life! Was I seriously considering hiding the money that we needed to pay our bills with from him? I couldn’t be like this now that I was Thomas’s wife. For both of our sakes, it was time to develop a better perspective on money—one that wasn’t rooted fear and control. So I took a deep breath, went into the bank, and deposited the check.
When Thomas and I vowed to join our lives together—for better or worse, for richer or poorer—we also vowed to permanently link our finances. As I learned the hard way, sharing financial control with a spouse isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Getting married forced me to confront some of my worst habits and attitudes in everything, including money. I had to learn to let go of control in order to be a good partner to Thomas. Even though this has been hard for me, this change has been a very good thing. While Thomas also cares a lot about managing our resources well, he won’t let money become the center of our lives.
I can’t say that we have it all figured it out perfectly, because we don’t. I certainly still have my moments of freaking-out and trying to control everything. What I discovered, though, is that the benefits of sharing finances in marriage far outweigh the difficulties. I may have given up my ability to micromanage all the time, but I now have a partner who shares in all of life’s challenges—financial and otherwise—with me. Whatever expenses and mistakes and bonuses come our way now, we work through it together. That’s one change from marriage I am definitely glad to accept.