Independent to Married: How We Combined Finances

Written by Alanna Mitchell

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

There I was, divorced and happy, a single parent secure in my little house in Toronto.

And then I fell in love. With Jim, another divorced single parent who had his own little house a few blocks away. When we decided to marry, I argued strenuously that we should sell one of our places (his!) and move into the other (mine!) together. I said we could make do — and we'd have it paid off a lot sooner.

Our First Big Financial Decision as a Couple

Jim disagreed. He made an impassioned case for selling both houses and buying something together. He said he'd seen relationships fail when one partner tried to elbow into the other's living space. Plus, he said he couldn't envision trying to negotiate room for his beloved heirlooms on my carefully curated mantlepiece.

He had a point. We sold our two semi-detached homes, paid off some debts with the proceeds (including to my mother, who had lent me money after my divorce), and bought a five-bedroom, gum-wood-panelled detached house on Toronto's subway line. We christened it "The Manse," because it so strongly resembles the church-owned homes that Jim, a preacher's son, had grown up in.

Did We Make the Right Choice?

We still have a mortgage, nearly 15 years later. And while we might have been mortgage-free by now if we had moved into one of the little houses, I'm sure the strategy of buying something together has been the smarter play.

The larger house simply gave us room to breathe. At times, as many as four of our five kids have lived here with us. Plus, both Jim and I need offices at home. Had we kept a small house, we would have been paying office rent all these years instead of building equity in our own place.

Getting on the Same Page Financially

But there were other financial hurdles. It didn't take me long to realize that Jim and I have radically different ways of handling money. He prided himself on a strict monthly budget of income and expenses. I work freelance and can never be sure of income. We made several attempts at spreadsheets and adding up receipts every day, but nothing quite worked.

Finally, about four years ago, we settled on an odd but hugely successful compromise. Now, I patrol the household bills, paying them the day they arrive from our joint chequing account. I also track my income. It means I have my finger on the pulse of what's coming in and going out, adjusting as I can.

Then he puts aside $200 a month in a separate savings account that only he can access.

We decided on the amount because it felt like enough to add up to a worthy sum over the year but not so much that we noticed it leaving the joint account. He saves it up to spend on things that give him joy and a sense of control: long-term goals, trips, or surprise gifts. For our anniversary, he took me to the local bicycle shop and told me to take my pick — his treat.

The lesson for us is that combining our finances means giving up a little control, nurturing trust and, to my surprise, having fun with our money.

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