plonkee money an english-er's thoughts on personal finance

September 29, 2009

communist, capitalist or socialist joint finances

Filed under: relationship — Tags: , , — plonkee @ 12:00 pm

Over at Ask.Metafilter, there’s a question on how best to organise joint finances for a newly co-habiting couple. As always, there are basically only three options, but I particularly like the way that ohio states them:

When we were talking about this we came up with three basic financial options, which we called communist, socialist, and capitalist, for convenience.

1- Cuban option: all money except retirement and savings go into one account, from which all expenses are paid. This eliminates having to figure out who pays how much when one party earns more than the other. This is only for people who really trust each other (both financially and otherwise) and who are willing to have very little privacy. I think of this as more appropriate for people who are already married, own property together, have kids, etc.

2- French option: create one account from which all shared expenses will be paid, like rent, insurance, gas, cable, car expenses if you share a car, etc. Figure out how much needs to go into that account to cover monthly expenses, and then contribute from your respective salaries in the proportion you think is most fair. We chose this option, and we are contributing roughly in proportion to our respective salaries. If you make $60k and he makes $30k, you contribute 2/3 and he contributes 1/3. Then you keep separate accounts for everything else. We liked this option because we could have some autonomy with our money and we could buy gifts or take each other out with our separate money. At the same time, we are learning how to run a household together and we have to trust each other enough to have a shared account.

3- US option: no shared account. Put the bills in both names and you each pay whatever is fair from that. You pay electricity, he pays gas, you pay rent and he gives you half, etc. If you are early in the relationship this is likely the best choice. More like roommates than potential lifetime mates.

Although I’ve never had the fortune/misfortune to share a home with a significant other, I tend to have opinions on everything anyway. I couldn’t easily do the first option – I’m too independent, and I like a bit of financial privacy. Either of the other two could be fair game though.

I know we’ve talked about this before, but am I right that these are the only options? I think that amongst people I know there’s a fair split amongst them, what’s your experience.

September 28, 2009

when is taking on debt sensible?

Filed under: Uncategorized — plonkee @ 9:17 am

In principle, I don’t take out loans. I have a couple of credit cards, which I use sometimes and pay off  in full (although I try not to use them, because it’s not unknown for me to forget to make a payment). When I was a student, I had a £1200 overdraft which was interest free, and so I spent as long as possible paying it off – whioh is what I’m doing with my very cheap student loans. I also have had a mortgage out for the last two years. But actual personal loans, I’ve never considered.

I’m not claiming to be really financially savvy, self-restrained or aware. I just can’t think of a good reason to take out a loan. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m right. Kevin, a commentator at Get Rich Slowly said:

Furthermore, “financing” something just means you’re paying more for it than you have to. However, if that difference lets you enjoy it sooner, then the real question is, “how much would you pay to have that item/experience now, rather than later?”…

…phrasing it in the proper context like that serves to highlight the real, underlying value judgement being made, rather than simply adhering to some blanket “never finance anything” dogma.

Objectively speaking, I think this is true. Taking out a loan just means paying a premium to have the item or experience now, rather than in 6 months, or a year, or however long it would take to save up the money (or pay off the loan).

Of course, there’s always the likely possibility – if you don’t think you can save up for it, then why should you think you’ll be able to pay more for it later? Also, taking out a loan for some purchase means that you are also carrying extra risk – there’s the possibility that your income will decrease and you’ll be unable to make the loan payments.

But maybe there’s a case that sometimes it’s worth taking out a loan?

If I had an emergency that extended past the reach of my savings then I would take on debt if I could, because there is little other choice. When I am into my retirement, I shall probably consider a reverse mortgage against my house, because I don’t feel any need to pass on an inheritance.

Are there other circumstances in which it’s sensible, or at least acceptable, to take on debt? I can see how it might be more true as you get older. Everyone’s lifetime is finite, but the older you get the more important that fact becomes. It might be worth taking on debt to enjoy an experience that you might not be able to participate in fully if you left it until you had saved up.

What do you think about taking on consumer debt? Let me know in the comments.

September 24, 2009

do what works, because done is better than perfect

Filed under: philosophical — Tags: , , — plonkee @ 10:03 pm

I’m a firm believer that you need to do what works for you. Ignore ideology and what ‘should be’ the right answer – you don’t need to do what’s best, just what works and is good enough.


The other day I was talking about the food that I eat. I really don’t enjoy cooking unless it’s for other people, and I live alone. This is a fairly recent thing for me, so to start with, even though I couldn’t be bothered to cook I would buy sensible, ‘make from scratch’ food – like fresh vegetables, minced meat, chicken breasts etc. Good idea, right?

Wrong. I basically wasted all that money, because I couldn’t be bothered to cook the food and had to threw it out. Instead, I’ve moved towards putting more emphasis on preparation time when choosing food. I’m doing what works for me, even if it isn’t ideologically the best thing.

cash and cards

For a long time my spending money has been placed into a separate account and then I’ve been spending it on a card, and rarely used cash. That worked for a long time, but I started to get slack and then the card rules changed, which meant that it was too difficult to track.

Although received wisdom says that you spend more money when it’s on a card, I used to live primarily on cash, and I’ve long known that it burns a hole in my pocket and slips through my fingers. Cards are normally a better solution for me, but I need to know how much money is left to fritter in the month, without having to look it up somewhere.

I decided to take the plunge and experiment with cash only. I started a couple of months ago, and it’s going fairly well. The way that I’ve made it work is to take out all the money I’ve allowed myself for the whole month (so that I don’t need to track withdrawals), and then ration it carefully at home. I basically limit the amount of money that I have on me to the minimum possible. I’m rubbish at delayed gratification, so I avoid daily challenges on the issue by removing temptation as much as possible.

what does it all mean?

For me, doing what works means being honest about my own limitations. It means accepting that I have both strengths and weaknesses, and doing what is needed to ensure that I don’t sabotage myself and my plans. It means being auto-magical because I’m lazy, and writing everything down because I’m forgetful.

One of my favourite quotes/cliches is that ‘done is better than perfect’. Life is more pass-fail than about scoring the highest grade for the neatest work. It’s about what you learn, playing to your strengths. I try as much as I can to drop pre-conceived ideas about what ‘someone like me’ should be doing with their time and money, and try to do what I think will make me happy, and/or what will mean that I’m least likely to screw it all up.

What non-perfect tactics do you employ that work for you?

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