Lou Altman, 50, describes himself as a spender. His wife, though, is a saver, in his words, “a bit of a money monk.”
And yet the New Hampshire couple have been married for 13½ years without a single fight about money. How? Amy Pruszenski, 47, who is married to Lou, said a big part of it is that they agreed before they married that neither would try to change the other, and “we are completely opposite.” Both had been married before, and before they tied the knot they talked about what a successful union would look like.
Before they married, it never occurred to either of them that they even might merge finances. Lou owns a satellite communications business, and Amy is an optometrist. It did occur to them to get a prenuptial agreement. “It was like, ‘I adore you, but let’s do this just in case,'” recalls Lou. It is modifiable and can be adjusted to changing circumstances.
How to handle finances after marriage can be a minefield — and it’s one many couples do not discuss beforehand. Differing habits and priorities can come as a shock. Couples can and do successfully combine their finances, but no single way works for everyone. It may be worth exploring the options rather than assuming what your parents did or what a friend does is the system that will work for you.
In Lou and Amy’s case, they did not exchange credit reports or any other credit information. (Many financial advisers recommend that couples do so. You can take a look at your credit scores for free on Credit.com.) Lou and Amy also didn’t share much information about their debt. Lou knew Amy had college and graduate school debt but it was her debt, just as his credit card bills and truck loan belonged to him.
Although Lou and Amy have not had money fights, there have been discussions about how to spend on shared expenses. Their incomes are different, and Lou has children. A little more than 10 years ago, they bought a house — mainly because they needed larger quarters for Lou’s children — and expenses are not shared 50-50. Amy said she’d had “a perfect little beach apartment,” and “I kinda felt like I wouldn’t be buying [the house] if there were no kids,” she said. House expenses are paid from their single joint account, funded by both of them. They discuss things like whether the washer and dryer need to be replaced just yet, or if they should refinance. But everyday expenses are covered with funds in their joint account.
Among the advantages of keeping much of their finances separate, they say, are not having to justify financial priorities for “our” money. Amy travels to Maryland to visit her 92-year-old mother once a month, and she attends educational conferences. And Lou recently came home from a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland with a bass guitar signed by newly inducted RUSH, his favorite band. He paid $5,000 for it, but it was his money, and it did not result in Amy having any less to spend or leave them unable to pay basic bills. Amy was unfazed — or, more accurately, glad Lou was happy.
They also spend money on travel. Amy took Lou on a cruise for his birthday. And when they plan travel together, it does matter that incomes and money personalities are different. “I contribute what I can,” Amy says. Lou said he doesn’t mind paying for most of, if not an entire, trip; he says traveling with Amy is his favorite thing to do. “Since we always have an adventure, it is money well spent,’ he says.
Savings and retirement accounts are separate as well, but plans are joint. They recently made lists of places they wanted to go in the next 10 years, and matched on seven out of 10. Now, to agree on when and for how long.
And although they have separate accounts, they do not have secret accounts. “To me, it’s a respect issue,” says Amy. Nobody needs to lie or hide purchases (and many married couples have some unhealthy money secrets), Lou says, then qualifies it. “We only lie about birthday, anniversary or Christmas gifts.”
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Image courtesy Lou Altman & Amy Pruszenski