Adventures in Co-Parenting: Money Matters

Things that are fun to talk about: summer vacation plans, food, 90s boy bands, and funny things your kids say. Things that are not fun to talk about: money. That pretty much sums it up. No one likes talking about money whether it is how to spend it, save it, use it, abuse it, pay it down, or cough it up. It makes you feel icky in the exact same way as when you hear that someone has a case of lice. Bleh. However, discussing money issues with your co-parents is arguably one of the most important aspects of working together to raise your shared child. The problem is, sometimes these conversations are neither easy nor comfortable to have. That is why learning to communicate properly and dealing with this topic effectively is one of the most important aspects of co-parenting. Katie: At both houses we pack Jackson’s lunch, so we never think to send him in with cash. However, he does occasionally enjoy an impromptu chocolate milk from the cafeteria. So about once a month, right around dinner time, we will receive a call that sounds exactly like this: “Hello, this is the superintendent of Saratoga Springs City Schools, please listen to this very important message from your child’s school...... your child, Jackson, has a cafeteria account balance of negative fifty five cents.” When I first received the message a few years back, my heart stopped. I instantly felt like a criminal. I immediately and sheepishly sent in the payment, plus a few extra dollars. Now, five years into elementary school and a few hundred “superintendent” calls later, I’ve become desensitized to the messages. They simply provide a good laugh; we all mimic the robotic voice, and then (if I remember) send in a few dollars the next day.

The point is, until we wrote this column, JT and Julie had never heard about our favorite weekly call. When it comes to little expenses here and there, it’s simply understood that these are part of “sharing” Jackson between our two houses. We both have the same amount of them come up, and it’s just assumed that it all evens out.

There are a few other “guidelines” that we live by when it comes to the economics of co-parenting that have made our lives (and most importantly, Jackson’s) much simpler. First, we never ever tell Jackson how much the other parent owes for any purchase, whether it is a $50 book order or a $500 tae kwon do equipment purchase. Discussing the sharing of expenses is the job of the parents; the child (regardless of age) should never hear the details.  Second, money does not equal power.  Just because a certain house pays for one activity or item, does not give them something to “hold” over the other parents’ head or more decision-making power in a certain area.

We pay for things for Jackson in a way that works for us. Sometimes we split it, sometimes we take turns paying just because it’s easier, and sometimes we just figure that it will even out. The superintendent lunch money calls, however, we could probably try to even those out a bit more.  By my calculations, though, I feel that since we’ve been fielding all of the chocolate milk payments, the college tuition can be billed directly to our co-parents. That evens out, right?

Julie: My husband, JT, works in finance and recently received his MBA. He knows a lot about money and for that I foster a healthy blend of being both eternally grateful and bitterly annoyed. On one hand, I love that he is constantly thinking about our financial future and the future of our children. On the other hand, I despise talking about money…ever. Oh, and did I mention that he is a wizard with spreadsheets? He has spreadsheet-ed our wedding, pregnancies, rent payments, daycare fees, vacations, grocery bills, savings accounts, and various other expenditures. Last week he emailed me an article about some guy who paid down his exorbitant student loan debt in cash over three years and attached was a spreadsheet detailing how I could do the same. I promptly deleted it and, when he asked me about it over dinner, pretended I hadn’t gotten it.

Given my own distaste towards the subject, I was flat-out amazed when I first witnessed how Katie and JT sanely and civilly manage to figure out the finances regarding Jackson. I was ready for battles royale and name-calling and lawyered-up accusations and, knowing my darling husband’s penchant for all things Excel, a proliferation of spreadsheets when it came to figuring out the complicated finances of raising a child. To my surprise, it went more like this:

Katie: Jackson got in to his favorite summer camp again this year.  It will cost $x for the summer.

JT: OK, sounds good.  He really loved it last year.  I’ll get you a check for half tomorrow.

Cue record-scratching-screeching halt.  Huh? Could it really be that easy?! I was amazed and impressed.  The best part was how they managed to do all of this without Jackson realizing that anything was going on. Granted, we have our moments and little disagreements are bound to arise now and then because, as stated before, it’s just not all that pleasant to discuss money issues. For the most part, though, we have really made this situation work for us and as long as Jackson’s happiness and well-being is kept at the forefront of our situation, that’s what matters most.

Our Conclusion:   We try to always keep a sense of humor when it comes to parenting and co-parenting, but this is one sensitive and serious topic. Between childcare costs, extra-curricular activities, summer camps, not to mention the basic necessities like food, medicine and the latest “thing” that every kid needs to have, it can add up to quite a hefty bill. Our way of splitting everything is what works for us and our personal situation. You may have a different arrangement, but the focus and goals should be the same- the children and their needs.

Sometimes it can help to look at this part of parenting as a business partnership. It has to be, or else it won’t work. You are business partners and the only acceptable practice is raising your children so they always have everything they need, sometimes the things they want, and never have a clue about the behind-the-scenes financial transactions that go on. Whether you use a lawyer, abide to a strict payment schedule, or manage to work things out on your own, never forget the most important stakeholders of your business conglomerate – the kids.

We’ve all had our woes in the money department.  Rather than spending precious time griping over the inherent unpleasantness of talking about money it’s much better to just comb out the lice and move on.  It’s much more fun to spend time talking about something fruitful like your upcoming trip to Disney, the oh-my-God-run-there-to-try-it new restaurant that just opened, the awesomeness that is an NKOTB reunion tour, or the hilarious way in which your 2-year-old pronounces “fork.”

Julie Cox lives in Saratoga and is a high school English teacher. She loves being a mom to Jackson (10), Declan (2), and is looking forward to welcoming a new baby this fall.

Katie Nemer is a true Saratogian who is loving life as an at home mom to Jackson (10), Zoe (2) and Cocoa (their chocolate lab).

To read more Adventures in Co-Parenting, check out Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here, and Part Four right here.