Hey there soon-to-be-married folks!
There’s a lesson for all couples in Sandy’s blog today on Purple Unions about merging your finances and handling your paperwork life. Check it out below or click here to read it at the source!
This is another one of those topics that’s not specific to gay weddings — it’s just good advice for every married married couple out there, and for partners who are considering formalizing their relationship. If you’re gay and “married” in a state that doesn’t actually have gay marriages, you probably have more paperwork than most couples just to keep yourselves covered so that you can both have the rights of any other straight couple in your state. If you’re gay and at least half of the couple is military, you’re going to need a whole other file cabinet to keep your important business organized in a way that is functional for BOTH of you. So let’s jump in to this topic with both feet!
Who pays the bills in your household? You or your spouse? Do you share the responsibility? And if yes, how is that working out for you? Most couples find that it’s nearly impossible for more than one person to be responsible for the monthly obligations because only one person can be absolutely sure that everything that has to get paid gets paid, and only one person can keep exact track of how much money is where. Meanwhile there are piles and piles of receipts, important documents, paperwork and policies that have to be filed and organized and maintained. Is it any wonder that financial matters cause rifts in so many relationships and marriages?My husband and I have regular fights about this topic because I get sick of being responsible for paying everything. It’s not that he doesn’t contribute financially – that’s not the point – he puts in more than me, I’m sure. It’s just that he’s sorta semi-retired (depends how many weddings we’ve got because he only works a few hours a day when there are no clients on island) and I put in an 18-hour day on a regular basis, so I think it would be nice if he would take some of the burden of household responsibility off of me. I do appreciate that he does the laundry, but the laundry doesn’t call from an 800-number when you’re too busy to deal with it.
The problem is that if I threw down and gave Bill an ultimatum, he would pay the bills. But he would pay them his way. Unfortunately, our systems don’t mesh. He believes in an old-fashioned slotted thing with dates on it so he knows what’s due when and when to write and mail checks. In my world, I pay it all online, instantly. When I get around to it. We have such an insane life that although I’m often late in taking care of our personal business, but by using auto-pay and other electronic features, I keep us out of debtor’s prison. I fear my husband’s proposed antiquated system – for God’s sake, I haven’t even ordered new checkbooks in five years cuz we use them so infrequently. As such, he wins and I’m stuck paying the bills because I’m more afraid of a paper system getting lost in the fray than I am of losing yet another hour of sleep getting things done. Call me a neurotic control freak… I’ll own it. Call my husband a lucky bastard… he’ll own it.
Do you have any idea how many marriages break up because of money problems? It’s not about gay or straight. Sometimes it’s not even about whether you actually have or don’t have money. It’s about how the money is managed (or mismanaged) and the perceptions both spouses have about how their partner makes good or bad decisions about finances. When a marriage is solid, it’s easy to be on the same page about dollars and sense (pun intended). But when life is already throwing your curveballs, it’s easy to use money as vehicle for a bigger argument.
Let’s face it, there’s always something you can come up with that your spouse probably shouldn’t have purchased at one time or another. I know that when Bill learned during a news media interview last year how much money we actually spent eight years ago on our wedding on Vieques Island and the black-tie reception back in DC a week later, he nearly flipped. He’d had no idea. Yes, he was there while I was making decisions and he did join my mom and I one the planning trip on the island, but he didn’t really seem to hear anything we were discussing. He asked once or twice if we’d be able to afford it all and I assured him it would be paid off shortly after the wedding and he was okay with that. It was seriously eight years later that it clicked and nearly set him off. By that time, I just laughed at him.
Having a plan and an overall joint philosophy about money is mission critical for a happy marriage. It’s something you can start working on before you get married so that when you make the transition, it’s not quite as harsh. But once you’re a team legally (whether by legal union or by having intermingled your lives via legal paperwork) as well as emotionally, you need to have a person who is the lead for taking care of the paperwork in the family. Paying the bills, doing the filing of the paperwork, managing health insurance paperwork, paying the other insurances (home, car, life, etc.), is a big responsibility and one that must be shared logistically and emotionally if not in actuality. Remember, once you are legally joined, if one of you tanks your credit, you’re both stuck with lousy credit for a long time. You are linked in so many ways that it’s hard to imagine. Next time you go for a car loan, your spouses’s defunct, never-paid (and rarely used), post-college gym membership may pop up to ruin your day. Don’t freak – everything is fixable. It’s just never immediate.
How can the burden be shared? One person really does need to keep the books, so to speak, or you end up bouncing checks on each other by mistake. But that doesn’t mean the other partner can’t be the filing guru – there’s a lot of paperwork in life. Once you have children it gets even worse. That stuff has to be done on a regular basis or you end up in paperwork hell. Scanning is an excellent idea but it also requires time and attention to get it all into the computer. Once a year, Bill and I usually have to suck it up and sort paperwork for two days on big tables to get it all put away in the right places. Don’t let that happen to you. It’s sorta like the “you cook, I clean” work-share philosophy. Whoever who takes on the responsibility of paying all the bills monthly should be able to rest assured that their better half is going to file them away neatly where they can be located if there’s a problem or question.
There’s no reason to let managing your finances put a damper on our married life. You just need a plan for the money and a plan for the paper and you need to stick to them. If things don’t work, look for strategies that will work for your particular lifestyle.