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I've been married for a couple of years now, and we've been playing pretty loose with our finances (we keep separate accounts and like to pay more or less equally for our common expenses). Lately, we've been feeling the need to know where our money is going and keep better track of who pays what at home.

So I wanted to try a software tool that was not a pain to use and that answered two questions:

1) Where is my money going (and hers)? Every tool seems to support multiple accounts and categories, so that should be ok; 2) How much do I currently "owe" my wife, or vice-versa? This seems to be where most of the softwares break down and start being a pain. I tried iCompta, which has nice support for "participants" in a transaction, with percentages for each one, but it kind of breaks when I assign both categories and participants, so I'm back to the beginning.

There is probably a way with current software to model this, but I just can't seem to get it right in my head. Here's a scenario that I think explains what I want:

Say I pay $200 for utilities in a month. My wife paid our rent, say $500. I want to put both these transactions in a "housing" category, so I know we have paid $700 for housing on that month. I also want the software to tell me that I "owe" my wife $150, because she paid $300 more than I did this month. Then, if I buy a $50 gift for a common friend, the software would say I owe her $125 and add $50 to the "gifts" category, and so on.

That's it! I know I could probably hack up something in excel, but then I'd miss the easiness of seeing graphs of how I spend my money, budgets, planning, and these things that most personal finance software products have.

Oh, I live in Brazil, so no mint.com for me, unfortunately.

EDIT: YEARS later, we finally worked out a way that's being perfect for us, lately: We both started using YNAB (youneedabudget.com) and whenever we buy something that's supposed to be 'shared', we flag it with a color. Every month or so we consolidate our shared expenses and update our budget categories. It's been working wonderfully.

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    Folks, lets focus on the crux of the question and not opinions of their situation. The idea of a married couple maintaining separate finances is not as odd as you may believe. – George Marian Mar 23 '11 at 0:40
  • @George Marian Heheh, thanks, man, I was starting to believe I was crazy! – malvim Mar 23 '11 at 0:53
  • I agree with George. So many cultures in the world and the US doesn't have the strongest marriages. So who are we to judge? But I am kind curious how would it would work if one parent stays home with kids? Do you charge for that time? – Vitalik Mar 23 '11 at 1:32
  • @Vitalik: Well, that is a whole other beast entirely, I think. We just do that because, like I said, our yearly earnings are on the same ballkpark, and spending the other's money is one less thing to think about. We also try to balance household chores, and that works fine too. Actually, I guess most couples here do share an account, just like in the US. We don't, though, and we feel it works this way. :) – malvim Mar 23 '11 at 3:11
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    +1 This is a clear, well written question, and it also has good applicability to a roommate situation as well. – bstpierre Mar 23 '11 at 14:14
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JoeTaxpayer's answer mentions using a third "house" account. In my comment on his answer, I mentioned that you could simply use a bookkeeping account to track this instead of the overhead of an extra real bank account. Here's the detail of what I think will work for you.

If you use a tool like gnucash (probably also possible in quicken, or if you use paper tracking, etc), create an account called "Shared Expenses". Create two sub accounts under that called "his" and "hers". (I'm assuming you'll have your other accounts tracked in the software as well.) I haven't fully tested this approach, so you may have to tweak it a little bit to get exactly what you want.

When she pays the rent, record two transactions:

  1. Debit her checking account, credit Shared Expenses:hers.
  2. Debit Shared Expenses, credit Expense:Rent.

When you pay the electric bill, record two transactions:

  1. Debit your checking account, credit Shared Expenses:his.
  2. Debit Shared Expenses, credit Expense:Utilities:Electric.

Then you can see at a glance whether the balances on "his" and "hers" match.

  • Hey, thanks for your help! I thought about this answer, and it makes perfect sense. I will probably just use a double-entry accounting software (like GnuCash or Ledger) and model my accounts this way. I'll try it out here and accept your answer. Thanks! I just feel, though, that if the shared expense situation was different (say, five people on a trip), this model would not be enough, I don't know. I could pay for dinner for everyone, and one of my friends pay me back by buying something for me when I'm out of cash... Seems like there is a general solution that I'm just can't figure out! :) – malvim Mar 29 '11 at 2:51
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    Using ledger (command-line accounting tool) to manage expenses now, and using exactly this arrangement of a shared account with sub-accounts for both of us. It's seems to work well, thanks a lot for your input! – malvim Apr 4 '11 at 19:40
  • I dont know why I cant find much on the internet about this.The problem I see with this is that sometimes expenses are not equal. What if rent is 500 and she pays only 200? ( I know couples whether this is the case). I am newbie, what I did is have reimbursements/receivables and liabilities. So if rent is 500 and I pay it, I debit my checking account , credit Exprenses:Rent. Then I debit liabilities:her 200 and credit reimbursements:her 200. If she pays for supermarket I debit her checking and credit expenses:sm. Then I credit half the ammount to liabilities:her and debit reimbusments:her . – GorillaApe Mar 24 '17 at 7:56
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Why not start a third account, the "house" account? However you decide to fund it, equally or in proportion to income, you both chip in, and the payments for all joint expenses come from there. Rent, utilities, food, phone, cable.

  • Thanks for your response! We did consider it, and it seems it would be easy enough... Problem is, there's this new bank account, with taxes, and overdraft fees if we forget to put money in it, and all the overhead that comes with another bank account. I just feel that there should be an easier way, is all. Thanks, though. – malvim Mar 23 '11 at 3:08
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    @malvim - It doesn't need to be a "real" account. It can simply be a bookkeeping account. I'll elaborate in a separate answer. – bstpierre Mar 23 '11 at 14:04
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    This is how we've done it for 18 years. The joint has no extra fees, and since it writes limited number of checks, it always balances. For me, it's second nature, not a pain. – JoeTaxpayer Mar 23 '11 at 21:15
  • Thanks, @JoeTaxpayer. I don't think it'll be easy for me to open a simple account with no fees, but I do think that, if I could, that would be a nice solution. – malvim Mar 29 '11 at 2:54
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Being new does not allow me yet to vote on your question, but what a good question it is. We share our opinion in separating finances in our very well going mariage. Currently I have found a sort of okay solution in two websites. These are http://www.yunoo.nl and http://www.moneytrackin.com/. You can actually tag spendings with multiple tags. I don't like the idea that the data is on a remote server, but since I have not found a proper local software solution, I just naively trust their promise that your data is save. Then again our financial situation is not that special.

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Websites like neobudget dot com or mint dot com can help you see where your money is going, especially if you use mostly checks, debit cards, or credit cards for your purchases. They are less useful if you use cash often.

  • Oh: just saw your note about mint. Not sure if neobudget has similar restrictions – David Oneill Mar 23 '11 at 1:40
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I'd say its time to merge finances!

  • Hehehe, yeah, you're not the first to tell us that. Still, we like to keep our money separate, and merge all the other aspects of our lives. ;) – malvim Mar 23 '11 at 0:18
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    I forget where I read/saw this, but someone had pointed out that most of the friction in his marriage had disappeared when they separated their finances. – George Marian Mar 23 '11 at 0:34
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    @George: agreed. I don't want to have to care whether my spouse spends $x on a "frivolous" expense that I don't consider justified, if I am free to do the same. Likewise, what if one spouse earns significantly more than the other (and works harder to justify it)? – Ether Mar 23 '11 at 3:28
  • @ether: That's exactly the way we think (both of us, fortunately!). Married couples will always have to discuss about buying the more expensive stuff: Should we buy a new car? Another table or some other furniture?. We just don't want to have to care if I'm buying a new videogame, or if she's buying another dress or pair of shoes. – malvim Mar 23 '11 at 20:10
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    My wife and I still have separate accounts, more out of habit than anything else. Just about all of our household expenses (mortgage, utilities, taxes) are paid out of a joint account. – duffbeer703 Mar 24 '11 at 0:41
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Call me old fashioned, but that sounds less like a marriage and more like a business partnership. Maybe there are business tools that would be useful.

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    Well, I won't call you old fashioned, but that answer did come off as a bit rude. I hope that's not the way you meant it. But yeah, you're right about the "partnership" part, just not "business". We both work, our yearly income is about the same, and none of us wants to burden the other one with expenses. About the business software: They're usually much too complex, as businesses have a lot more to care about than us. – malvim Mar 23 '11 at 0:17
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    It does sound like a business, so you probably would want some kind of software for businesses and enter your wife as a customer and then invoice her and record the payments. Quickbooks online simple start is the first that comes to mind, but it's not free. I don't think Mint would work for you anyway – Vitalik Mar 23 '11 at 1:30
  • Yes malvim, it was not meant to be rude at all. Just an observation (thanks for benefit of the doubt). Granted, business tools would certainly have a lot more complexity. – Andy Wiesendanger Mar 23 '11 at 13:35
  • Thanks, @andy-wiesendanger and @vitalik for your input and clarification. I think I do agree that this has some aspects of a business relationship, but as mentioned in another comment, this has applicability to a roomate- or boyfriend-girlfriend- situation. We just happen to be married as well. ;) – malvim Mar 23 '11 at 20:06

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