How to onboard your partner on a common budget and on the financial independence dream | Step 4 — The great leap

Last updated: October 07, 2019

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In the previous article in the series, I explained how YNAB had changed our financial life. So much that we were able to buy our apartment a year earlier than expected. And that our net worth has increased from CHF 50'000 to CHF 380'000+ in 5 years.

As a reminder, at that time, we had a YNAB “joint account” budget for all household expenses, and one budget per person for our personal expenses.

The disadvantage of this system for me was that it didn’t sufficiently align us with the objective of financial independence. I didn’t see myself (let alone today) retiring at age 40 while Ms. MP would work 10 more years. Because solo holidays can be fun once, but all the time for 10 years? No thanks!

A couple = a common vision = a single common account = a single common budget

I still remember when I explained to a colleague that we were pretty well set regarding accounting, with a joint account for common expenses, and the rest managed separately for the feeling of autonomy and freedom that it brings.

As I was earning a little more, I admit that I was also afraid of losing control of my finances by being “aggrieved” because I would no longer see who was spending whose money.

I was wrong. My fear was wrong.

My colleague replied that they had put everything together at the level of money, accounts and budgets. It allowed them to discuss their common objectives, and it also greatly simplified monitoring their finances rather than everyone counting their own little pennies, not to mention the endless transfers to the joint account and other joys of having 23 bank accounts…

By writing these lines, I realize that it was this discussion that triggered our move to the next level regarding our couple budget.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought that this path to financial independence should be something that we share deeply, knowing that we would live it together.

A family hike this summer in the Jura mountains. With a view on the Mont Blanc, please!

A family hike this summer in the Jura mountains. With a view on the Mont Blanc, please!

I became more and more convinced that we did have to follow the path shown by my colleague, by having a single common vision, a single unique common account, and above all a single common YNAB budget.

It scared me because I knew it would inevitably lead to discussions, friction, and other fun stuff of any project handled by more than one person.

But in the end, it was the only way if I wanted to fully share this dream of financial independence with Mrs. MP.

I understood my fears well. And I thought that once I talked to Ms. MP about the idea, the hard part would be done and then it would just be about setting it up and discussing the how.

Except that Mrs. MP put both feet on the wall when I told her about having everything in common!

And that, I hadn’t seen it coming at all.

So, what to do?

Giving up and remaining alone with my goal of financial independence? No way, that would be not knowing me well :D

The famous PowerPoint!

I took this challenge as a professional project and started to put my arguments on paper. And I made slides! Yes, slides, a Keynote, a PowerPoint, you read it well.

Rather than explaining them to you, it’s better to actually show them to you!

MP slides to convince Mrs MP to use one single budget for our couple

MP slides to convince Mrs MP to use one single budget for our couple

Click on the above image or on this link to download the entire presentation

Mrs. MP’s first reaction? A categorical “No”.

Her main reason was the lack of autonomy and freedom.

With my logical mindset, I dug a little deeper using the “5 Whys” methode in order to understand the real cause of her refusal.

We finally arrived at the source, with two concrete fears, discovered after four exchanges of emails the day after my “presentation”:

  1. The restriction of having to ask me every time to be able to offer gifts to people when she wanted to
  2. The fact that I would see the amount of money of the gifts she would offer me

This method of finding the real source of a problem is very effective because I thought of everything but that! Like because she would feel controlled, scared, or that the “Freedom” budget was too limited. None of that!

As for being able to offer gifts, I suggested that she could have a specific YNAB category for planned and unexpected gifts, and that an amount would be budgeted each month.

The second, more critical point concerned her fear that I would see my gifts in advance, as well as their amounts.

Here is what I said to Mrs. MP: “For me frankly it’s the last thing that matters to me, whether you put CHF 10 or CHF 300 I don’t care. If it is the surprise side that worries you, I promise to play along and not look in detail at the beneficiary of the transaction. Another solution is to keep your Cumulus MasterCard and use it only for this type of purchase. That way, it solves the problem that I could see on the credit card bill. 1

We rediscussed about it again that evening, and I suggested the following:

“We try for three months, and if it’s horrible for you, we go back to the way it was before. I commit to it.”

Two years later, when she came home from work one night, she said to me: “I don’t understand, my colleagues are all thinking about how they’re going to pay for their Christmas presents and they’re probably going to have to use all of their thirteenth salary… while we have zero headache because all the money is there and planned and I know exactly what we have for each of our relatives.”

As you will have understood, we never went back!

The key to a common budget that works

In this journey, what was key for Mrs. MP to agree to have a single common budget for our couple was that I focused on her problems first, rather than bringing in and forcing the YNAB solution.

No more financial worries at the end of the month? Know exactly what she can spend on birthday and Christmas gifts? Maintain flexibility with a “Freedom” budget for her own purchases?

To all these questions, her answer was a big “Yes”! YNAB being only the tool to make these things happen.

And there is also another important element that has helped her a lot to get past it: that I commit myself to go back after 3 months of testing. So we didn’t close our personal accounts right away. Even if I would have been reluctant, I would have really done it. But I knew how much it would change her life, so I was pretty confident.

An important transparency note

Being the geek of numbers at home, the advantage of this system is that Mrs. MP is not obliged to use YNAB entirely. Even not at all in fact. So I’m the one who’s responsible for entering all the information.

This is often one of the concerns that readers report to me: “How do I get my partner to use YNAB as well?

My answer: “Put everything in common and you won’t have any more problems with forgotten transactions or abandoned budget!”

It is clear that this strategy has helped us a lot to keep going over the long term until today.

As a reminder, our bank setup:

Next step

After having passed this great milestone, the hardest part still had to be done. And it consisted of two main problems: uno, that Mrs. MP accepts the idea that it was mathematically possible to take such an early retirement. And secondly, that she join me on this boat to sail together towards this common goal.

We’ll talk about it in the next chapter!

A little survey in the meantime: you are rather 1/ separate accounts and budgets, 2/ a common account and budget, but with each one its own other account and budget, or 3/ like us, all in common?
And above all, explain us why! (in the comments section below)

  1. In the end, to date, Mrs. MP has never used her personal Cumulus MasterCard because I avoid asking her questions if there are unknown transactions in Revolut a few days/week before my birthday or Christmas. ↩︎

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