2024-02-26 Annual Essay | A Beginner's Exploration of Household Finance

Annual Essay | A Beginner's Exploration of Family Finance#


Editor's Note:

This article is the 4th finalist article of the "2023 Annual Essay: Share Your Keywords" event. This article represents the author's personal views, and the title and formatting have been slightly adjusted by the editorial team.

"This article is participating in the 2023 Annual Essay event. My keyword for 2023 is: Balance"


For the past five years, I have maintained the habit of keeping track of my expenses. Through years of practice, I have gradually developed a logical system for managing my personal finances. However, last year (2023), my girlfriend and I got married and obtained our marriage certificate.

After getting married, it became difficult to continue managing our finances as individuals. In terms of expenses alone, there are many personal and shared categories. Moreover, questions about how to allocate and record post-marriage finances have disrupted our original personal financial logic.

Therefore, I need to rethink the logic of financial management from a family perspective and find a suitable way to keep track of our expenses.

Basic Logic: Integration and Independence#

After living together, many personal expenses have become shared expenses (such as rent, utilities, dining out, and purchasing household items), but there are still some personal expenses that remain personal (such as work meals, buying coffee, and purchasing small items). It is also preferable for certain personal expenses to remain personal (such as gifts for each other).

One well-known approach is for one person to manage all the money and give the other person an "allowance" for discretionary spending, with one person contributing all their income and the other person managing all the expenses. This method solves the problem straightforwardly, but as people become increasingly independent, it may weaken the positive feedback between labor and income for one of the individuals. After all, income becomes less significant (since it is all handed over). We also want to try a method that better suits each person's mindset.

Another approach is a model similar to "A is responsible for rent, B is responsible for meals." This was roughly how we lived before obtaining our marriage certificate. It seemed independent yet cooperative. However, after getting married, the expenses we need to consider have become more complex, including major expenses, social interactions, and short-term or long-term loans. Therefore, this approach no longer seems suitable as the dominant method.

It wasn't until I read an article by @也谈钱 on WeChat titled "My Wife Wants to Learn Piano, But I Feel It's Too Expensive" that I gained some inspiration. After discussing it with my family that evening, we decided to try it out.

The specific model is to "establish a joint account, contribute together, and be responsible for personal and shared expenses":

  1. Discuss the amount to be contributed to the joint account each month (it can be equal or unequal).
  2. Use the joint account to cover shared expenses.
  3. Use the joint account to repay personal expenses (usually credit card bills).


Illustration by @古希腊掌管爱情的神(草履虫)

The reasons for choosing this model are as follows:

  1. The establishment of a joint account gives a sense of "shared savings."
  2. By contributing a significant portion of our monthly income, each person feels a greater sense of "contribution" to the family.
  3. Each person maintains a certain amount of "cash reserve" to handle unexpected situations without feeling anxious.
  4. Both of us work hard. No one immediately hands over their entire income after receiving it. This maintains a positive relationship between income and work in our minds.
  5. Both parties have a certain degree of autonomy over their own funds, which means that we can use "our own money" to buy small or big gifts for each other. This money can come from the personal surplus after contributing to the joint account (equivalent to personal savings).
  6. Why use the joint account to pay for personal expenses? Mainly because we hope to bring personal expenses and budgets into a shared perspective, with minimal interference from each other but still subject to some "soft control" (such as setting budgets).

Practical Implementation: Debit and Savings Cards#

Based on the financial logic discussed in the previous section, we need to choose a practical mode of operation that is both convenient and distinguishes between accounts.

Currently, my family and I have set up 3 debit cards and 1 savings card, which are:

  1. A's personal debit card
  2. B's personal debit card
  3. Joint debit card for shared expenses
  4. Joint savings card for the joint account

The first two cards are self-explanatory, each person uses their own debit card for personal expenses. When it comes to shared expenses (such as dining out, grocery shopping, or taking a taxi together), we use the joint debit card. Usually, one card can only be registered under one person's name, so A can use WeChat's "family card" or Alipay's "family card" feature to allow B to use the joint debit card.

The joint savings card for the joint account serves the following purposes:

  1. Receive monthly contributions from both parties.
  2. Repay the three credit cards mentioned earlier.
  3. Pay for shared expenses that only support bank transfers (such as rent).

With this combination, we have categorized three types of spending accounts and one joint account. But why do we need to distinguish between multiple spending cards? This is related to the subsequent expense tracking logic and budget control, which will be discussed in the next section.

Family Ledger: From Detailed Records to Total Amounts#

For the past five years, I have been using MoneyWiz to track my expenses. I used to record every single transaction in detail, although many categories have been merged and simplified, so it wasn't too cumbersome to manage.

After obtaining our marriage certificate, I rethought the purpose of expense tracking.

Originally, I wanted to keep detailed records to have a real-time understanding of my asset situation and to control various expenses through tracking and budgeting. Over time, I have developed the habit of not spending recklessly. For necessary expenses (such as rent and utilities), controlling them on a daily basis doesn't make much sense since they have to be paid. For non-essential expenses (such as buying a cup of milk tea or purchasing something unnecessary), I have developed the habit of considering whether they are necessary before making a purchase. Therefore, I no longer rely on expense tracking to control my spending. Instead, expense tracking serves the purpose of understanding my current asset situation.

Given this, the family expense tracking model we discussed focuses not on "detailed transactions" but on "monthly totals" and "remaining balances." At the end of each month, we calculate the total liabilities of each spending account and record the remaining balance for that month. We summarize various assets and liabilities, create monthly reports, and observe the trends in our family's financial situation. The specific operation will be discussed in the next section.

Two Types of Tables: Ledger and Reports#

Compared to managing personal finances, managing a small family is more similar to managing a company. A small group formed by two people has various types of assets (real estate, investments, cash accounts, provident fund accounts, accounts receivable, etc.) and a variety of liabilities (mortgages, credit card debt, consumer loans, other loans, etc.). Therefore, we will use an "Income and Expense Statement" and a "Balance Sheet" to describe our financial status. In simple terms, these are the "ledger" and "reports."

Ledger: Income and Expense Statement#

(There is no such statement in finance; it is a self-made name.)

This statement corresponds to the original "expense tracking" function. It records the cash flow of the four accounts on a monthly basis:

  1. A's credit card expenses represent A's monthly expenses.
  2. B's credit card expenses represent B's monthly expenses.
  3. Expenses on the joint credit card represent shared expenses for the month.
  4. The balance of the joint savings account represents the balance of the joint account.

The above four statements may seem redundant, but they answer the question raised in the previous section: Why set up these four accounts?

Credit card accounts have a natural characteristic of resetting on a monthly basis. The monthly liabilities of the first three accounts represent the expenses for each account that month. Budgets can be set in advance, and the execution of the budget can be roughly controlled by checking the total liabilities. The fourth account is the joint account, which allows us to understand how much surplus we have in our family and whether it can cover the expenses of the first three accounts.

From detailed tracking to recording balances, I haven't given up budget control. Instead, I have shifted from controlling categories to controlling totals. Since our finances have been combined, personal expenses and shared expenses already have a certain degree of categorization. For example, going out to eat, watching movies, buying household items, etc., have become shared expenses. Therefore, for the sake of convenience, we have chosen a relatively vague budget control method. The focus is on how much money is spent and how much is left, without delving too deep into where the money is spent.


(The above data is completely fictional and is provided for reference only.)

At the same time, recording only totals is not sufficient for effective budget control. There are often expenses that are difficult to categorize:

  1. They do not have typical daily characteristics.
  2. They occur infrequently.
  3. They are considered special expenses that require a review of the remaining balance.

These types of expenses are usually relatively isolated or of small amounts. It would be cumbersome to categorize them further. Therefore, we record monthly expense items as a combination of daily totals and various non-daily expenses. For example, the monthly entries may look like this:

  1. 2024-02: Total expenses: 5678 yuan
  2. 2024-02: Daily expenses: 3456 yuan
  3. 2024-02: Haircut: 600 yuan, Uniqlo clothes: 400 yuan, Insurance premium: 800 yuan...

Usually, we only set budgets for daily expenses, and the non-daily expenses are controlled based on a relatively rough principle. After all, a family is not a company, and sometimes budget control needs to consider the quality of life. Being too strict with time and money can also affect the overall quality of life.


(The above data is completely fictional and is provided for reference only.)

By using Excel's pivot table, we can automatically generate subtotals and totals for each category in each month. Each subcategory summary serves as a reference and review. Currently, there is no rigid budget control for these items.


(The above data is completely fictional and is provided for reference only.)

Reports: Balance Sheet#

At the end of each month, after depositing our income into the joint account, paying off the three credit cards, and making changes to our investment account balance and provident fund account balance, we record the assets and liabilities for that month.

After recording the monthly statement, we incorporate the data into a master sheet to compare the changes in assets and liabilities over time. This allows us to have a more data-driven understanding of the trends in our family's financial situation. It helps us track how much debt we have paid off, how much savings we have accumulated, and the changes in our asset-liability ratio. This serves as a useful reference for assessing our financial risk level and as a guide for making financial decisions (such as considering early loan repayment, taking on additional loans, determining loan amounts, increasing investment, etc.).


(The above data is completely fictional and is provided for reference only.)


(The above data is completely fictional and is provided for reference only.)

Maintenance Platform: Office 365#

Regarding online spreadsheets, I have tried Airtable and Notion, but I found that their tables are relatively fixed (for example, a column can only contain numbers or formulas, not both), which limits customization. Additionally, the popular table feature in Notion has a cluttered interface, making it difficult to highlight or easily read text and numbers in the table.

In the end, we returned to the basics and used Excel through Office 365 for online sharing. With some simple VLOOKUP and pivot table functions, it is currently sufficient to meet our needs. Customization is important, but it requires some polishing to make the table visually appealing and easy to read. Therefore, the paradigm of this spreadsheet is still evolving. However, functionality should meet the needs first, and Excel makes it easy to achieve that.


Life is a continuous exploration. Finding suitable ways to live at different stages is a lifelong pursuit.

In the past, I only needed to find a way that suited me to achieve internal consistency in my personal life. However, when living together, we need to build a partnership through negotiation and consideration from various aspects. Each person and each family has different personalities, conditions, and circumstances, so everyone should find a way that suits them best. This article is just an example to illustrate my personal thoughts on family finance after a change in identity in 2023.

> Follow SSPAI Official Account for a new reading experience 📰

> Discover practical and useful genuine software presented by SSPAI 🚀

Ownership of this post data is guaranteed by blockchain and smart contracts to the creator alone.