More thoughts on the adult allowance

Here’s a post from yetanotherpfblog that inspired this one.

Long-time readers of the blog may be aware that DH has a weekly allowance, and I don’t.  DH keeps track of this allowance himself.  I *think* it is currently set at $40/week and an additional $400 for Christmas and another $400 for his birthday (I think it got bumped up the last time he got a raise).  So… if my math is right, that’s $2,880 in discretionary spending each year that he does that we don’t talk about.  It covers everything he wants to buy that he doesn’t want to talk over first except things he buys at the grocery store and meals out with at least one other family member.  It does not cover clothing, and it wouldn’t cover the gym or medical stuff if he had it… but we talk about those things first.  (So coffee out by himself comes out of his allowance, but if he takes one of the kids with him to get a hot chocolate it doesn’t.)  Usually things like subscriptions to audible or blue bottle would also come out of it (but not Tea Runners because the herbal quarter of each delivery is mine).  He also uses it for most of his hobbies, fancy food things he doesn’t buy at the grocery store, presents for me, and the occasional paying for a mistake kind of thing to make me happy (ex. parking tickets).

The most recent change was me getting tired of him buying awful Starbucks beans from the grocery store (so they don’t count against his allowance) and telling him to put a blue bottle subscription on the family budget because gosh darn it we are rich and we do not need to be drinking burned coffee.  (He is fine with more robust coffee than I am.)   The bad beans are because he’s been saving up– he’s trying to decide between a 3D printer and an RC plane.  I am hoping for the printer because we already have at least two mostly unused RC flying objects in the house (3 if you count the one the kids have that can’t be controlled).  But it’s his money, so he gets to decide.

He likes his allowance because it lets him manage his own budget without affecting the general budget and I like it because there’s a predictable amount going out.

One thing we do sometimes is the cost of a low-end or average thing will come out of the joint account but if DH wants a really nice version the difference will come out of his allowance.  So if he wants an office chair, we’ll pick an amount that a reasonable office chair would cost (say $500), and if he wants a fancy $1K chair, the additional $500 would come out of his allowance.  We tend to do this with things like monitors or the one video projector replacement we’ve done.

I don’t have an allowance– I do all the money stuff so I don’t need to spend a predictable amount for me to do planning since it’s my spending and don’t have the need to spend all the money vs none of the money that DH has and I don’t get enjoyment out of the shopping process like he does. Generally this means we talk about every penny I spend that’s not on grocery/utilities/etc., although since we’ve gotten rich I’ve started making lots of $25 donations without telling DH about it right away.  I just don’t buy things frequently (my MIL is so generous with the kids that we rarely have to buy more than socks, underwear, and the occasional orchestra outfit).  I buy clothing in one fell swoop once every two years on a full day shopping trip and shoes every few years. The things we talk about are things we should talk about like what kind of stove to get or whether to replace the projector or what summer camp to send our kids to or to drive vs fly. Also I tend to put smaller things on my amazon wishlist throughout the year and people buy them for me at Christmas.

When we were younger and poorer we discussed more individual purchases, but these days we can afford to buy whatever can be bought at the grocery store out of the joint account. When I buy something I mention I’m going to do it and he says ok.  It’s not so much permission as discussion and informing. Money is a tool to provide happiness, and we want to balance what it can do in terms of present vs future consumption.

It really hasn’t been a big deal to discuss our spending beyond DH’s allowance, at least not once we instated the allowance.  Back when we couldn’t afford all our wants I’d have looked at our cash flow and emergency savings and I would have been able to say if it was going to put too much pressure on the joint account or if we could handle it.  There were some startup costs when we were first figuring things out and we were getting on the same page but it got easier.

How do you (and, if applicable, your partner) deal with discretionary spending?

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20 Responses to “More thoughts on the adult allowance”

  1. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    Thanks for the link!

    I think my husband and I have gotten better at checking in with each other on spending, even in the last few months. We still have the same basic structure as before (his/hers/ours), but feel a little freer in just putting date night on joint spending or whatever else it might be that benefits us both.

  2. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    A little surprised to say that we’re at the point where we don’t have an allowance for each other anymore and that we both mainly buy what we need or want without any discussion but that’s because we aren’t looking for big ticket items. My big ticket item was some clothes last year and I don’t typically buy much in the way of cheaper things regularly for myself. It’s usually household stuff: emergency supplies, stuff for our cars or refilling consumables. He bought a CD for himself last month that I didn’t know about until the charge showed up on the credit card. For the most part, we still have a few things to change, I do all the money stuff and I have a good enough handle on it that $11 purchases aren’t an issue.

    I’m spending a lot more brainpower on making bigger things happen like lessons for JB and a big trip this year.

  3. donebyforty Says:

    Like Revanche, we don’t have an actual allowance for either of us. We talk about what we plan to spend each month in advance, but reality doesn’t always line up with that. We generally talk through most purchases together anyway but if someone goes out for happy hour or coffee or whatever, we just reconcile it in the budget after the fact. Sometimes we go over and we have to carry forward a negative figure into next month’s budget.

  4. Ewan Says:

    Oh, how this has changed.

    Grad school: not going to the county fair because we didn’t have* the $4. My playing bridge (entry cost I think ~$5) once without advance discussion was a BIG deal that still gets brought up.

    Now: hey, we appear to be adults without expensive vices**. How do we relax that feeling that we’re still in grad school? :-/

    [* not literally. We had no debt and savings, even then. But for cashflow per month, yeah, no $4 available. I was a lot thinner…]
    [**except that the level of wine we are willing to drink has crept up rather…]

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Don’t worry, lifestyle inflation will gradually creep up along with your net worth. At least, it has for us.

      • gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

        Lifestyle inflation doesn’t always happen. I don’t buy much more than I did as a grad student 40 years ago. I donate more, and I go to theater more often, but that’s about it. I probably eat out less often (only once a week now), but at somewhat more upscale places—though one of my favorite places is Betty’s Noodles in the bus station, which is definitely a student-budget place.

        We do have to replace the futon-frame sofa in the living room. It failed after about 35 years, and I fixed it in December, but the fix did not hold and I’m not willing to try fixing it again. Most of the furniture in the house was bought about the same time the house was (so 1987–90), though some is older. Many of the book cases are newer, because they WILL keep overflowing.

        My wife and each have our own accounts (checking, savings, and credit cards), plus we have a joint account. Our current rule is that 25% of gross pay goes into the joint account, which gets spent on household items and anything we do together or with our son. The rest (after taxes) we keep for ourselves. Because I own the house, I pay all the taxes and home-owners insurance out of my account (though my wife would be fine with it coming out of the joint account). I tend to do charitable contributions out of my account also (at least the large ones).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        You say lifestyle inflation doesn’t happen but then you give examples of how it has. Lifestyle inflation doesn’t have to mean keeping up with the Kardashian’s. It can just mean settling into a spending level that doesn’t leave you wanting or worried about money.

      • gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

        I guess I’m confused about what you mean by lifestyle inflation then. I assumed that it meant spending more on “lifestyle” things like food, services, furniture, clothing, … , with the increase happening faster than than the consumer price index. I’m certainly spending less overall than 30 years ago (no more mortgage), but the amount I spend on “lifestyle” items is also probably less (once ordinary inflation is taken into account) than 30 years ago.

        I already have all the furniture, clothing, appliances, and most other “things” that make up a lifestyle that I need, so I only buy to replace stuff that has failed and is no longer worth repairing—that is much less purchasing than when I was straight out of grad school. Entertainment expenses have not grown faster than inflation (or not by much, I don’t have records to check). Travel expenses are down. Book expenses are down (having long ago run out of places to put more books, I’m purchasing fewer). Restaurant prices have gone up, but I eat out less often, so eating out costs about the same in constant dollars.

        My charitable contributions have begun to increase, but I’m going to have to make a concerted effort to figure out where to donate responsibly, so that will be a gradual change. (The news about the Southern Poverty Law Center is particularly troubling.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Most grad students don’t own houses. Most grad students can’t put a kid through college.
        Most grad students can’t support a spouse who only works part time.
        Many grad students don’t eat high quality food.
        Many grad students worry a lot about money and pay attention to every dollar.

        Look, I get that you want to talk about how little you need to live on (and by implication, how easy should be for everyone else), but your lifestyle is inflated compared to what most grad students do.

        Not to mention that you have to be an extremely rich person to buy a house in Santa Cruz these days and prop 13 has made your property taxes much much lower than what someone today could afford. My husband and I, no matter how much we cut expenses, could not buy your house and guarantee that we wouldn’t lose it to foreclosure. You lucked out. If we bought that house it would be an extreme kind of lifestyle inflation.

        I feel like we keep having this conversation, in which I say something, then you say that *you* aren’t like that because you do not recognize any of your privileges (which is often unhelpful– how is you bragging about how little you spend helping Ewan, who is still carrying grad school money stress that he doesn’t need to have?), then we say, hey, you have these privileges, then you apologize… and a couple months later we have the exact same conversation.

        YES, you have a good life. YES you don’t consume as much as you could. YES you don’t pollute as much as you could and you exercise more than most people. YES your wife hasn’t had to work much. YES your wife takes care of most of the stuff at home. YES you don’t spend that much money. BUT if you weren’t living in a bikeable town with perfect weather in a house that you bought before prop 13 (not to mention married to someone who doesn’t mind doing the bulk of housework), it would not be as easy to do all of these things.

        And yes, you are not living like a graduate student and you do not have the money stress that people just starting out have. You have savings. You have nice housing. This is lifestyle inflation. It’s just that the state of California is paying for a lot of that on your behalf in the form of reduced property taxes. Probably a lot more than Ewan here would dream of spending for housing at this point in his life.

      • gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

        Sorry, I missed the context. I thought you were talking about lifestyle inflation from first job to 10 or 20 years later, not from grad school to first job. I agree that I could not afford to buy a house as a grad student, but I could (in upstate New York) a few months into my first job.

        Grad students do have it rougher now than I had it 40 years ago—the fellowships and research stipends have not kept up with the cost of living. Back then, it was possible to end grad school with savings from the stipends, rather than with debt—now that would be much more difficult.

      • Becca Says:

        Theres a recent episode of Hidden Brain called Don’t Go To Vegas that deals with the “aspirational class” . I feel like to most people, “lifestyle inflation” has a connotation of conspicuous consumerism, but *inconspicuous* consumerism, with a special emphasis on educational investment, is perhaps the most common way people now express their one upmanship of affluence. Also, I’ve been thinking a lot about the college admissions scandal and what it says about people lately.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Great points, Becca. And I am definitely a member of the aspirational class. I’m glad that some of its tenets are in harmony with saving the planet and making the world a better place. Let’s all one-up each other on saving the planet and social activism.

  5. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    My spouse hardly ever buys *anything* – literally anything, like I think last month he took two students out for lunch and got a gallon of milk and that was IT – so he doesn’t really have an allowance. Our split is I handle the material-goods purchasing and he handles investment choices, so I kind of keep a running household budget. Now that I’m working full-time though I mostly buy a thing or two I want/need each month – if they’re under $200 total. So I guess that’s my de facto allowance. Last month was a wallet to replace a shredded one, and a pair of work boots to replace a 10-year-old pair. I got the spouse a hammock for his/our birthday.

  6. Debbie M Says:

    Mostly we have our own money (so, it’s like giant allowances). I generally make less but am more frugal, and I’d rather be frugal than try to make more money, and I don’t like feeling guilty about making less money.

    Generally, he pays for eating out because he loves it so much (unless I’m really in the mood for something and take him out) and I pay for movies and ballroom dancing stuff. We each pay for half the utilities.

    We’re not married, but with this particular guy, that’s how I would like it to stay if we did get married. But we might change how we deal with housing. I own the house, so I pay for all the repairs (which often means paying for the tools for him to do the repairs) and updates. But we shared equally the old mortgage payment and now that it’s paid off, we share the property taxes and insurance.

    I like that we each have our own bank accounts and credit cards, so if something goes wrong with one, we can help each other. I also like that we each do our own investing, because we both have different investment strategies. Again, if one of us is seriously wrong, the other person can help.

    We do discuss purchases that really effect each other (like appliances or space-hogging personal purchases) and help each other brainstorm and find good deals.

    With a different person, I would probably do things differently, but now that I’ve been independent for so long (I’m 56 years old), I’d have real trouble going to one shared checking/savings account. I’d be more likely to have individual accounts plus personal accounts. But just personal accounts works for now.

  7. Katherine Says:

    My husband and I each have $25/month fun money (paychecks are direct deposited into joint checking, then the fun money is transferred automatically to separate checking accounts). We use it to pay for hobbies, mostly, and occasionally food or a movie out when we’re not together. My husband buys booze with his, because I don’t really drink much and the cost of a bottle of nice bourbon would overwhelm our grocery budget. We pay for gifts for each other out of it. For big-ticket electronics that will be primarily used by only one person, we usually split the cost 50-50 between the joint account and the individual account of the person who will use it.

    Our fun money used to be $50/month, but when we were living on one grad student stipend we reduced it and have never increased it again. The current amount seems to be enough (and for me, it helps keep my fiber, yarn, and fabric stash in check, which I appreciate). Most months, neither of us spends much if any of our fun money – we both tend to let it build up and then splurge on something.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I like your system!

      My DH had $25/month for a long long time, but since his salary doubled and we’ve gotten raises and hit all our savings targets and then some, it’s been loosening up. My DH also occasionally buys fancy alcohol with his– if it’s from the grocery store (ex. hard cider) it doesn’t count but if it is from a liquor store (ex. fancy whiskey) it does.

  8. First Gen American Says:

    We don’t discuss anything anymore except big purchases….cars, appliances, furniture and what room we want to remodel next. Our last 2 discussions were around flooring and our TV.

    We eat out less because we are sick of most of the places around us and want to be healthier.

    Honestly, I get lectured about oversaving and not having a big enough liquid slush fund. I would always put extra into the mortgage. Nowadays I am putting a lot into 529s and healthcare accounts and don’t have a lot leftover at the end of the month.

    Regarding charities I have an ask the grumpies question. Because I no longer have mortgage interest as a deduction, it actually was better for me to take the standard deduction. (My charitable contributions were no longer deductible even though it was many thousands of dollars). I am frankly worried about how this will Impact nonprofits moving forward. Grumpy thoughts?

  9. slnoonanj Says:

    My husband and I have joint accounts for most of our money, but we also have personal accounts. Our employer allows for multiple direct deposits, so we each put the bulk of our pay into the joint account, but get $75 per pay into our personal account. We have also set up a system where we split any money that we earn outside of our normal employment. So for instance, if one of us teaches an online class in the summer, 50% of the net goes into the joint account for things like vacations, and 50% goes into the personal account. My husband has bicycle and guitar hobbies which are really expensive, so his money typically goes to fund that. It’s great because then we don’t have to have discussions about whether he needs a 5th bike or a 10th guitar. My money goes to some clothing purchases, but mostly to an annual girls weekend out of town that I have with my college friends.


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