Undeterred by the “no money, no honey” ethos Singaporeans live by, you managed to reverse your “forever alone” status and are now happily coupled up. But even if you managed to succeed in satisfying the twin requirements of buying a home and paying for a fancy wedding, that doesn’t mean your money issues are over. If you’re not careful, you could end up like one of my friends, who one year into his marriage is despairing over his wife’s penchant for Chanel and trips to Tokyo. Here are some tips for keeping the love flowing and the money in the coffers.
1. Keep some money separate for discretionary spending
Opening a joint account makes a lot of sense if you’re living together and have lots of shared expenses. After all, calculating every dollar and cent owing each time you go to the supermarket is a waste of precious after-office hours. However, even if you’ve been married for eons, it’s a good idea to keep some money separate for discretionary spending. Nobody wants to have to explain every single purchase to their spouse, and we’re not even talking about those clandestine romantic dinners with a mysterious stranger. In addition, if your discretionary spending is higher than your spouse’s, taking it out of your pool of shared expenses can lead to friction. Unless you want to be at each other’s throats each time you look through your monthly expenses, agree to keep some money for yourselves to use any way you like.
2. Create a budget for all shared expenses
When you start sharing the cost of your home, utilities and groceries, you begin to realise just how different your partner’s spending habits might be. While you might be content to buy a cartful of NTUC Fairprice house brand supplies, your partner prefers three-ply toilet paper with pretty patterns and gourmet everything. When you merge your expenses, make sure you continue budgeting—with your partner this time, instead of on your own. Sit down to a serious discussion of how much to allocate each category such as food, holidays, entertainment and so on. If you fail to create a budget, prepare to get into heated discussions over just how much is too much each time you review your expenditure.
3. Define how much each person should contribute to your joint expenses
Unless you and your partner are both jobless, one of you probably earns more than the other. And things get be a little tricky when it comes to how much each of you should contribute to your joint account. Should you split things down the middle and each contribute an equal sum each month? Or should you contribute in proportion to your salary? This is a tricky question that you guys really need to work out on your own—we can’t tell you the answers to everything, okay? But whatever you do, it is important to define rules on the exact amount to be paid into the joint account each month. How strictly you want to enforce the rule is up to you—whether you want to punish shortfalls with death by beheading or close one eye is your call. But at least know how much each of you should aim to put aside.
4. Set ground rules for the spending of joint expenses
It’s a little worrying when you check the balance of your joint account, only to realise that your significant other spent three quarters of it on a treat for his drinking buddies. There is no point pooling together money for joint expenses if you have only a fuzzy idea of what constitutes a joint expense. Can you spend it on restaurant purchases if both of you are present, or just groceries? Do you pay for your entire holiday including souvenirs using the pooled money or only the flights and shared meals? Your partner might think spending $1,000 on a new iPhone counts as a “household expense”, much to your chagrin. Avoid such situations and keep your relationship intact by being clear about what the money in your joint account can and cannot be used for.
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