Dealing with money as a couple

Most people have a complicated relationship with money. Now, add one more person into the mix and... boom, enjoy the show. Money within couples tend to exacerbate many trends and behaviors. I'm building a life with Mathilde for more than 18 years -we've met when we were 17 years old- so we spent our fair amount of time dealing with the topic, taming it, ultimately mastering it according to who we are, what and how we want to build our family.

Unknown, ‘View of the Bank's printing room in 1854 as featured in the Illustrated London News’, Britannia Quarterly, 1980, Bank of England Archive: PW1/31

We always knew -mostly through our friends- that many couples were dealing with the subject differently. We viewed it as a spectrum. On one extreme, there'd be no couple at all regarding 'money management', it'd be like 2 entirely separate people dealing with their own money and that's all. On the other extreme, there'd be the opposite: no individual anymore but only one entity, the couple. The latter appeared so simple, beautiful and straight-forward to us, we thought it was the most popular. We recently realised we couldn't be so far from the truth.

We've talked to women who have no idea how much their significant other is earning exactly. We've talked to men who's charging their significant other a rent because she's living in his flat, inherited through the family. Of course we've also heard countless horror stories of couples that kinda shared everything -financially speaking- and then broke up and it's been a never ending shitshow going forward. So I guess people use boundaries and guardrails to prevent such a situation in the future. We can add into this equation all our personal challenges re: money, depending on how and where we grew up.

For Mathilde and I, everything happened gradually. First -and probably the most impactful- we met at 17 while still student. Which means, we didn't have much money, few needs and depended heavily on our families. My own story with money was a bit more complicated. I've been raised by a single hard-working nurse -alongside my first brother- so money was always a topic. On the other side my mum enrolled us in one of the most prestigious private school of the city. I was only surrounded by wealthier people so I felt truly poor. That's why I started working when I was 14 so I could buy more stuff and follow my friends on holidays. A few of my passions were much more diverse -skateboarding and boxing- and helped me cope with what relative wealth is all about. My grand-parents helped shape my relationship to money then. They were immigrants descendants who came to France with nothing but ended up making a great life for themselves.

So back to Mathilde, I was just happy to pay a restaurant here or there, or buy her fancy stuff -Hermès scarf she's still wearing these days for instance. She's done the same to me. I remember back then we never 'counted' between each other. As the years passed we talked so much about money: the one we have, the one we spend, the one we aspire to earn and the one we'd like to spend. I didn't realise it but we were fully experiencing the coevolutionary loop -shaping each other.

Once we started earning more money, spending more, traveling around the world by ourselves, our shared muscles were perfectly trained. As Morgan points out in his few thoughts on spending money:

There are two ways to use money. One is as a tool to live a better life. The other is as a yardstick of status to measure yourself against others. Many people aspire for the former but get caught up chasing the latter.

Fast forward to today -as a family of four- and there is no individual when talking about money. It's only our money. Who brought what is just irrelevant. We share a spreadsheet where there is everything detailed by categories; like a whole shared account. When I want to buy a new book, of course I just buy it. Mathilde does the same. If I want to buy a new fancy pair of boxing gloves, or a new console, I first talk about it and measure this against our shared budget. It's not to ask permission -and I never felt this way to be honest- rather than using the conversation -and Mathilde herself- as my best counterpart to weigh my so-called 'want'. At the end, everything feels like a common, thoughtful decision.

For this reason I enjoyed Morgan and Gretchen discussion below. I agree with many things they mentioned across both parts. I appreciate their level of transparency on the topic. It also feels we never fought about money with Mathilde. And now that we are parents ourselves, we do reflect on our own childhoods to understand how we want to talk and deal with money with our kids.