We stopped fighting over money when we started emailing

October 15 | Guest post by Sarah

Nothing can throw a relationship into the doldrums like a nice, long, unsexy talk about money. For over a decade, my now-husband and I have passionately debated Who Overdrew the Checking Account for Real, Is Saving for a Child's College Our First Priority Right Now?, and Why Granola Bars Should Be a Joint Expense But Beer Shouldn't Be. These types of conversations are the necessary evil of living together, but the arguing was getting just plain evil.

When we expanded our family, these conversations also became impossible. Have you ever tried to discuss an APR on a home equity loan when a small chimpanzee-like being is pretending to be a flying robot kitty? Ever tried to breastfeed a sleep-deprived infant while making your case for a summer road trip budget that includes a completely awesome but totally expensive Eurovan camper? Right, so you know. Financial conversations can ambush a couple at any time and derail both sanity and intimacy.

One day, after slogging through a slew of boring budget work emails, I had an epiphany…

Email is for boring money stuff. Email is, like, budgeting's natural habitat. Emotionless, email had trained me to be professional, mature and responsive on anything money-related. Asynchronous, it also gave me time to reflect on the content, the emailer's purpose, and the best way to achieve my own goals. I knew my husband had been trained similarly from his email-obsessed job. And yet, we could not put these skills into practice at home.

Some couples might have decided to raise the bar and cultivate budget-discussion skills in the face-to-face arena. Us? We decided to lower it. We outsourced all our financial conversations to email and have never looked back. It's been four glorious years. And it was surprisingly easy to do because we kept it really simple.

Basically, any time someone would launch into something money-related out of either legitimate concern or just out of habit, the other person would catch it and say "Oh hey, cool… just email me?"

It was so liberating.

And our emails took off! They were hot and heavy at first as we scrambled to pull together some of the big pieces that had fallen apart — switching our accounts from the Big Bad Bank to the Friendly Community One, what kind of contributions we each needed to give and in what proportions, how we would pay our bills over the summer when I don't receive a paycheck as a teacher. And there were plenty of quickies too — notification that someone had a big payment due, transferring money, discussion of a holiday gift-giving budget. But not once did we get snarky or confused or upset. Email saved us from that.

There were some side benefits we didn't even anticipate. We had a complete record of all of our conversations. We could hyperlink to our shared budget spreadsheet. Hell, we'd felt inspired to create a shared budget spreadsheet! We had transparency. We had accountability. Though there were a few slip-ups, we were rocking as the CFOs of our tiny little financial unit.

More importantly, we had our precious family and couple time back. We were now free to crack open our beers (or unwrap our granola bars, paid for from the joint account, of course), and watch uninterrupted as our daughter became a flying robot kitty. She was magnificent.

  1. Wow, what an awesome idea! I think we could get more organized with a written account of stuff too, rather than trying to remember what asinine financial idea we had during pillow talk three weeks ago.

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  2. yes!! my partner and i have also been doing this for years, through both email and text message. it has done wonders to ease the transition from not living together to living together to owning a home together. i think that it has really allowed us to overcome any power imbalance in our financial management. i am the one who usually researches things, proposes changes/solutions and does the leg work on managing finances. without a written account, there was a power imbalance (partner feeling like i was doing things without consulting her, me feeling like she was criticizing my decisions while not contributing her own time/thoughts). email has done wonders!!! six years on it is still working!

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  3. I love this! Husband and I do this too, as well as make Google Doc checklists as we tackle huge home projects (like moving). Another added bonus is we take care of this type of stuff while we're multi-tasking at work and our business heads are on. So home time is truly home time. Hurray! Great article.

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  4. Although I didn't realize it was a thing until I read this article, my partner and I do this too. And it's awesome.

    We're building on the benefits of compartmentalizing money stuff with our approach to his startup business. I was getting antsy as his primary investor and it was bleeding over into my feelings about him in general. Today is our first "investor meeting" where we pretend we don't share a life and I get to ask the tough questions – and then table the discussion until our next meeting. Maybe we'll continue by email after that. Wish us luck!

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  5. I did something similar when it came to talking about marriage and last names. I was getting super emotional and the discussion was getting nowhere fast. So one night when I couldn't sleep, I wrote a letter, left it on his keyboard where he'd see it in the morning, and said to write back. Worked much better. Email sounds even better though.

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  6. This is the best. idea. ever.

    Must implement immediately!

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  7. In general, my husband and I used to do a lot of our "tough" conversations via email—it was just hard to argue face to face sometimes, because in "real life" it's easy to get derailed and off subject (or bring up old crap that doesn't matter), and in real life, it takes him about TEN minutes to respond to a single sentence I've said, and then I shoot something off and sit for ten more minutes. We've mostly graduated to arguing face to face like normal human beings, but once in a while, NOT being in front of one another makes it a LOT easier for cooler heads to prevail. It's also easier to see that you're being a giant, super see-you-next-tuesday when what you are going to say is actually written out—so sometimes you kind of realize you're wrong and can save some face. We're mostly adults with our conversations now, but for finance and travel arrangements or anything like, "boring", email is totally the way to go, and is easier to organize than a conversation that both of you are going to half forget or half misinterpret.

    9 agree
    • As someone who is engaged to someone who might as well be a professional derailer, yes to this! I felt like a could have written this comment. Even though he does get off topic in emails, I can read it quicker that way. It has helped a TON. It feels weird to have such big conversations via email but yeah…it's been SO helpful for us!

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  8. This sounds wonderful. Always seems that one of us wants to talk money when the other is busy or just wants to veg out. Now, we can have our side of the conversation whenever, not worrying about if the other person can hear us when the Packers are playing…

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  9. Any good templates or sources for online budgeting. Don't want to recreate the wheel!

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    • I find mint.com to be pretty helpful and user-friendly.

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      • You can also put together a joint view with out having joint accounts. My ex and I created a mint account we both had access to that pulled in ALL of our accounts. It made it really useful to see where I thought I was saving on groceries we were in fact just eating out more (and he was picking up the tab).

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    • One day I will get around to writing a full blog entry about why Mint.com is the best thing on the internet

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  10. We do this too! Often we send spreadsheets back and forth when figuring out mortgage payments, etc.

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  11. Love this idea, but our folly comes when we try to calculate out our joint contributions. Does Anyone know of budget apps? My husband and I are trying to do some hard core budgeting for a house…

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    • Have you tried Mint.com? I'm not sure how it will work with your situation but it's good if you use your debit/credit card a lot as it tracks it all and sends you monthly reminders on goals and such.

      1 agrees
    • This is simple, but we just figured out a time frame and a reasonable amount of money we needed to save, then had it automatically deducted from our checking and placed in an ING account. That way you never see the money. Or think about it.

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    • YNAB. We were both able to keep up with our accounts and our joint account.

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  12. (I was sold when I read that you call your daughter a "flying robot kitty")
    Actually the fact that it is recorded is probably the best part about this to me. The idea of doing the budget on a Google doc makes it both accessible, recorded, and the kind of emotionless needed to deal with money. Good job!

    1 agrees
  13. We totally do this, though we mostly use a task management website called Trello (I know there are others, and we tried a few, but this was the one that stuck). I can create tasks and assign them to my spouse, or we can create checklists for more complicated tasks and pass them back and forth as we finish different parts (e.g. we're planning a party, so I send out invitations and then assign to him to make shopping list for food and stuff, and he sends the task back to me to go to the store on my way home from work). We've used it a lot to make financial decisions and research major purchases (like different options for our hallway carpet.

    Does anyone else feel like "Offbeat Home" is tending a bit towards "Offbeat Relationship"? Actually useful discussions of the ins and outs of having a life with another person. (Or persons!) I kind of love it.

    5 agree
    • If you look at the homepage, currently there are eight articles posted, only one of which is relationship oriented. However, it seems like the more meaty articles tend to be relationship oriented. I find myself breezing over the "buy this!" or "make that!" articles and concentrating on the ones that elicit more of a discussion, like this one.

      3 agree
    • I love this idea! I feel like Offbeat Home is the natural resting place for couples such as my husband and I who have already passed the Offbeat Bride stage but are not quite into the Offbeat Mama stage. We're so focused on building our home and having adventures and solving money issues… it's why I love OBH the mostest. :) It's definitely my Offbeat Relationships type site.

      2 agree
  14. I love this! For the longest time (about 5-6 years) I've been managing our budget, but because my husband and I have the same employer, we go over it together every paycheque over our office communicator during a break. It's super useful.

    Now, to even things out a little, my husband has taken over actually moving the money around and managing the spreadsheet. We still do the communicator conversation, but it's really important to us that we both can do all the things around managing our lives. However, we find that having one of us sort of "lead" on something is really useful. For example, he manages our food because he likes to cook and I don't. So he does mealplanning etc. Up till recently, I looked after budgeting. I still look after our joint calendar for appointments, I am also in charge of paperwork and filing. Communicating about all of these things via e-mail is perfect and really helps to get the boring stuff out of the way.

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  15. Some people say that a dishwasher is a marriage saver; for us there are two things that keep us from drafting our divorce papers – our synced google calendar and the cleaning ladies.

    0 agree

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