We also like to see movies at the theater, even though we have a fairly extensive cable package. So we put aside 3 percent of our budget for entertainment, which also includes my book habit (yes, I still buy the paper kind, and we share them). We decided that his DVD purchases would be part of the joint account, too, since I enjoy watching those special features on Zodiac as much as he does. Cable, Internet, and utilities make up 4 percent of our budget.
We're lucky to have no debt, so our final shared expense is savings. Currently we've decided to set aside 8 percent of our salaries each month to put into a joint savings account, in addition to the portion of our pretax salaries that we're putting in our respective 401(k)s. This is lower than most of the recommendations I've seen in my reading on this subject: The most common advice is to save between 10 and 20 percent of your after-tax salaries. Many commenters advocate an even more cautious savings plan—reader Jason Wetzel recommends living on one person's salary and banking the rest—but that doesn't seem feasible for us right now.
That said, this savings plan is just an opening gambit—Mike and I are leaving a lot of leeway in our shared budget on purpose, erring on the side of overestimating our joint expenses so that we won't be overdrawing the shared account. As I noted in a previous piece, overly restrictive budgets are as impossible to adhere to as overly restrictive diets. Whatever we have left over each month, we'll put into our savings account as well.
That leaves 14 percent for each of us to put in our individual accounts and spend as we please. Clothing is still considered an individual expense. I'll also pay for lunch and dinner out with my friends from my own account. Still, this is a nice chunk of money, and I hope that I will not spend all of it each month. Already, I'm finding myself cutting down on unnecessary expenses. For instance, my friends were all cooing about this amazing sample sale with marked-down Isabel Marant and bargains on my beloved Rachel Comey. Normally I would have scurried on over to Fort Greene to check it out, but this time I stayed away—I don't really need any new clothes right now, and putting a down payment on a house feels like a tangible thing to save for instead. By avoiding the clothing bonanza, I am following commenter Ingber's sage counsel: "Find something that really motivates you to curb your spending."
Full disclosure: Neither Mike nor I loved working out this budget, even though we agreed on most things without much fuss. I've resigned myself to the fact that talking about money is never going to be sunshine and lollipops for us. However, I felt a great sense of relief once we had drawn some actionable conclusions. Even though we didn't follow the advice of every reader (which would have been impossible), I am confident that we made the right decisions for ourselves, for now. In this way we are listening to the advice of reader Melissa, who says, "Swim against the stream and follow your gut."
There was lots of great advice from readers that didn't necessarily apply to Mike and me, so I wanted to give you a chance to vote on what you think is the best piece of financial wisdom for newly married couples. Check out the poll below and vote! I'll write up the results next week.