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Couples and Money: Do You Have Joint or Separate Finances?

in Family, Money Basics, People & Products, Videos

Today, I want to revisit a common (but always interesting) discussion around couples and money:

Should a long-term couple (married or not) have combined or separate finances?

I say “revisit” because I brought up this topic over a year and a half ago on this very blog. It was in my early days of blogging and this post was actually the first time I received hate email (and hate comments).

Admittedly my title, “Married with Separate Finances: I just don’t get it”, and early tone was a little forward. And if you didn’t make it past the first two paragraphs, I can see why some of that hate mail came in.

However, many people did make it past the first few paragraphs and carried on the conversation into the comments. A year and a half later the post continues to get a few comments every week or so.

What I didn’t fully realize at the time of writing this post (that I do know now) is how insanely passionate of a topic this is for people. It combines relationships, love, trust, and money. Try as we might to make it black and white, it involves very real and often raw emotions.

How Courtney and I Manage Our Finances…

As you might guess from the original post title, Courtney and I have joint finances. That hasn’t changed over the past year and a half.

We have one personal checking account. We have one business checking account. That’s it.

At no point in our engagement or marriage did we ever consider NOT having combined financial lives. In other words, we’ve never tested or experienced marriage with separate finances.

I only tell you this so you know where I come from. :-)

I also have met many, many financially thriving and intelligent people with long-term, great marriages. J.D. Roth, a friend and mentor, who runs one the largest financial blogs on the internet – has talked about how he and his wife have separate finances many times.

The more I talk to people I respect on this issue, the more examples I have of people making separate finances work. Still, Courtney and I won’t be switching anytime soon as we still love our combined financial life.

3 Core Reasons We Love Combined Finances…

I discuss more than three reasons in the original article on this topic, however I want to reiterate three of our core ones. And this time I’ll spin things around in a more positive direction.  :-)

We love joint finances because:

Core #1:  It encourages us to communicate, to understand each other, and to exist happily together.

In our young marriage, finances and money has been a strength.  God knows we’ve had our share of weaknesses, but the skills we’ve learned in working together to have a joint, harmonious financial life have helped support other areas.

It’s not always easy, but we’ve learn to communicate, control selfish impulses, and allow each other financial individualism inside of combined finances. I honestly believe our marriage is stronger as a result of our combined financial life.

Core #2:  Income – no matter where it comes from – is “ours”.

This is another huge one for us. When Milligan was born, I sold a property management company I had worked my butt off to build. For the two years after that, Courtney made the “majority” of our income. She taught early on while I stayed home. In New Zealand, she taught once again, so that we could sustain our lifestyle abroad. And now, the tables are turning quickly. But that’s o.k. – we embrace that either one of us can “provide” and are willing to invest in what we think is best for us.

I feel like having separate financial lives, incomes, split bills, responsibilities, and financial goals would make us… roommates – not spouses. I realize that’s likely a huge over simplification, but it wouldn’t feel right to me.

Part of what makes a shared life with Courtney great is our common visions and goals. Sure they move, shift, and radically change from time to time – but that’s life. Like it or not, finances play a huge role in enabling or squashing those visions.

Core #3:  Simplified, straight-forward financial life.

This will come as no shock to long-time readers, but I’m a big, big fan of simplified finances.  Shelving emotions completely for a moment – joint finances is just less complicated.

Could we make our finances work with one joint account, two separate accounts, and our own credit cards, retirements, and savings strategies?  Probably. But that just seems – well, complicated. I fully understand it’s not possible for everyone, but Courtney and I really love having very few, simple accounts. It’s another major benefit of combining finances for us.

Again, I’m just one person. Our system works great for us, but I also want to share the perspective of others below.

An Interview with Corey Allen of SimpleMarriage.net

[If you cannot view the video, click here to watch in your browser.]

In the video above, Corey and I discuss:

  • How Corey and his wife handle their finances.
  • The pros and cons of joint and separate finances.
  • Leveraging money for “the bigger picture”.
  • Not taking everything in marriage so personal.
  • And Corey’s new eBook “Buck Naked Marriage“.

As promised (and frequently requested) I’ve attached the full and very long transcription below:

Hey everyone, it’s Baker from Man Vs. Debt. And I am joined here today by Corey Allen of SimpleMarriage.net. Corey, thanks for joining us.

Hey, glad to be here.

Good. Well, I wanted to get you on and talk a little bit about personal finance and marriage. And this is always just a very juicy topic. I did a post about a year and a half ago called, “Married with separate finances? I just don’t get it” and that was, at the time, one of my most commented posts. And really opened my eyes to how big of an issue joint or separate finances, and the whole concept of sharing a life or sharing a financial life, is to people. So my first question for you is, how do you and your wife handle your finances? Because that’s always the most interesting for people.

Sure. Well, first off, for the record, I am married to a CPA. So you know squarely where the nitpicky detail, all of that—you know whose shoulders that resides on.

And for the first part of marriage—my wife and I have been married for 17 years, and so for probably the first five or six, we had joint accounts. And it worked okay. There was lots of fights, there was lots of, “Hey, what’s this?” That kind of stuff, because I would—and usually it was my laziness that instigated it.

So then we kind of made the decision at that point, “Hey, what’s going to work best for us is separate accounts.” We both had jobs. We both were working – didn’t have any kids at the time. And so we went to separate, and we’ve been that way ever since.

For us, it works because she has learned, and had to learn, how to just let go of some things and let some frivolous spending occur. And I’ve had to learn how to take care of my own stuff and deal with it in a more upfront way. Because part of what you talk about with the idea of—it’s a loaded issue, is there’s a lot of history surrounding money and people, when it comes to their family and what money means. And I grew up with money being a secret kind of a thing. And my wife grew up with money, everything’s on the table. And so naturally you’re going to collide with that.

So I think that’s very interesting. We didn’t actually talk about this beforehand. So I had assumed that your finances were joint, and it turns out that they’re not, which makes this even makes it more interesting.

I know a lot of people, now you included, who have healthy relationships with separate finances. It’s hard for me to grasp that concept because I’ve just always been raised as a joint finance person.

However, my biggest issue with separate finances is, anytime I have my own account, even if it’s very small amounts, I feel like I’m encouraged to be dishonest. That doesn’t mean that I’m dishonest. But that means that I have avenues to begin to maybe make purchases that aren’t—that are out of line with what I know are our common goals. It’s easier for me to fall off the wagon, I guess is what I’m saying.

So many people view this having that to bounce it off your spouse as a bad thing. I actually view it as a positive thing. It’s not that I can’t spend. It’s not that we haven’t had those fights. It’s not that we haven’t made that discussion. It’s just that when I do, I know I’m going to be held accountable if it goes a little bit haywire, and vice versa. I think that’s healthy.

So my question for you is – you have separate accounts. How do you fight that? Do you ever have the urge to sort of like, “Oh, I could spend $50 on this, or $100 on this, and my wife would really never know.” Do you ever have those sort of urges to sort of hide things, and how do you fight against that, obviously?

Obviously, I have that urge because that’s deeply ingrained in me. Because I was raised by parents that—my mom would take us shopping, and it was classic. We would buy more probably than we were supposed to for back-to-school or whatever. And it was, “Don’t tell your father about this; I’ll tell him” kind of stuff. So immediately starts sending that message of, “Hey, it’s OK to lie about money.” And that’s an extremely difficult thing to overcome.

But even with separate accounts, it’s not like it’s just a free-for-all with money, because there’s—money’s a finite resource for most everybody. So when I have those urges, if you will, to go and just eat out, pick up something, it’s not like I’m hiding it necessarily.

Because if it’s something that I’m purchasing, my wife’s going to find out about it anyway. Because it’s something that I’ve brought home, it’s something I’m going to wear, it’s something I’m going to use. And so it’s bound to bring up this, “Hey, where’s that from?”

So you immediately have to deal with it anyway, when she goes to look at the credit card statement or she goes to look at the checkbook, if it’s a joint account. We have the separate accounts, but we have access to each other’s account. We’re signers on everybody’s account. I can log into the bank and see everything she’s got. She can do the same with mine and the kids’.

It’s still one of those that allows for a lot of possibility of dishonesty, but to me, if you’re dishonest with your spouse, that’s a bigger issue than just money.

Absolutely. It’s just, I don’t want to put myself in a system that points me in that direction, even if that’s not what I would normally do. And it sounds like you guys overcome this by just having layers of honesty inherent in your plan.

Like you said, you can log onto each other’s accounts, you guys are into—but I’ve heard a lot of stories, through Man vs. Debt and through some other resources, of people where it’s not that way, and where separate finances tends to have one person—where the finances are separate and one person dominates it. Where maybe both aren’t working, and one person makes the money and controls the finances and gives an allowance to a spouse. And that seems extremely unhealthy.

Again, I’m not an expert, so I’m not going to judge other people’s situation. But I see many unhealthy relationships that fall into that line. It’s just an interesting topic. There’s no even question in there. It’s just, I love talking about how other people do it, and comparing and contrasting, and just getting that issue out there. I think the more transparency we put on that, the better.

Sure, and one thing that’s important, I think, to bring up when it comes to the whole concept of money is, money—and I think Chris Guillebeau’s really good with this.

Money in and of itself is really nothing. There’s value attached to it, you know? There’s something—there’s a meaning behind it. And that’s the point of—when it comes to marriage and it comes to money, it’s not fighting over money.

Like the example of, you know, the stereotypical husband where he’s the major breadwinner, or he’s the only breadwinner. And the wife is a stay-at-home mom, and the husband then has to give an allowance, quote-unquote, to his wife. If he is controlling over that, or lords that over her, then money to him is power. So she then probably is getting her power in other ways. And it could be by manipulating and being sneaky about things, or—who knows? I mean, you could get into all kinds of different scenarios there.

But then it comes down to, it’s really all about meaning, and what does that thing mean to each person? And when you can understand that a little more from your spouse, and for each other, and more importantly for yourself, you really can start to disarm some of the power that argument has in a relationship.

Because you realize, for me personally, money used to be status. And I was really big on, I want to have the latest thing and I want to look the certain part, I want to dress a certain way, I want to drive this certain thing. And you know, over the last six years or so, when my wife and I have been on a pretty big simplicity kick, that’s really—I’ve had to redefine what that means.

And now to me, money is freedom. And so we’re working towards that, and that’s our primary goal, and that’s something we’ve both latched onto.

And this is a perfect transition. It’s like we talked about this beforehand, but we didn’t. And what I wanted to talk about, sort of move into, is leveraging that money—the issue of money is not really the issue. But also getting down to leveraging a joint financial journey, I guess in pursuit of a larger, more passionate goal. That’s a very wordy way of saying it.

Courtney and I have been married three years. We’ve had ups and downs, obviously. But finances have been a strength, because we’re on the same page. It’s exactly what you just said. We’ve positioned ourselves where, when it comes to finances, we’re not exactly the same. But we’re on the same page, in that we want to live our financial life a certain way because it empowers a deeper goal for us.

The goal for us is also freedom. It’s also the ability to not have to worry about money, but at the same time, not worry about money because we make $1 million a year. But to make a decent living, but to not worry about money because we understand the way it works. We’re able to control it. We’re able to communicate about it. And that openness, that flexibility—I guess freedom, flexibility, the ability to adapt—all of that is very much at our core.

And we’ve used it recently to travel. That’s obvious from the blog, and we plan to do some more travel coming up. Without revealing any top secret plans or any personal information, do you and your wife have underlying, big, powerful, emotional goals that help pull you through and keep you on focus in your finances? Do you have any? Do you use that same sort of system?

Yeah, we do. And for us it’s really—it’s a bigger picture than just money. It’s, we have latched on, within the last three years, to this whole idea of life as a story. And there’s a larger story going on in our life than just us and our kids. But there’s  a camaraderie and a community and a force, if you will.

I mean, I add spiritual components to that because it’s an important part of my life. But it’s this whole idea of, we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. So we work towards that, so money then has to fit into that. Our giving has to fit into that, to other people, whether it’s monetarily or our time or expertise or whatever.

And so once that kind of came around, it started to give a purpose for what we do and how we deal with things. And it allowed us—it gave us some more motivation to have those tougher discussions of, “Hey, maybe we should live on a budget, quote-unquote,” because that’s the word I always hated growing up.

And that’s the word my wife lives within every day, because she loves the Excel spreadsheet, and getting everything nitpicked out, and I can’t stand it. So that’s one now that, as we kind of got a hold of this idea of, “Yeah, there’s something larger we want to do and be a part of,” and we may even fail at it. That’s OK.

But it’s about the journey. It’s about the journey.

Yeah, we want to do it. And that’s allowed us to have those conversations of, “Maybe we should cut this expense. Maybe we should get rid of this. Maybe we should”—just recently, in the past three weeks, we have stopped eating out completely.

Well, let me rephrase. We have a small allowance we have allotted each of ourselves to use, and when that’s gone each month, it’s gone. And so that’s all we can do if we want to pick up something quick. Other than that, we’re eating at home. And that’s a huge difference for our finances. And that’s just $5 increments at a time, but still that’s a big deal.

And again, it all comes back to, you’re doing that together. In the last three years, we’ve always had what I felt was an open relationship. And I think that’s been one of the pluses of our finances. I think it’s actually the most important element of finances, which we’ve talked about here at the beginning of this conversation.

But as it applies to the relationship as a whole, it hasn’t always been completely easy for me. It’s not that I have trouble hiding things. But it’s sometimes that I have trouble being completely vulnerable, and completely open and honest about my feelings. And so that’s been the biggest sort of transition for Courtney and I.

Do you have two or three tips—doesn’t have to apply to finances, I’m just talking about life in general. Do you have two or three tips for helping people sort of be more raw, open, and vulnerable? Because that’s just been a really big thing that Courtney and I have been working on.

Yeah. I think that it’s—again it comes down to the meaning you attach to whatever it is that’s going on. Because one of the components that’s going to naturally be at work in every single relationship is this whole idea of, “We want to be together.”

I want the togetherness with my spouse and what that offers and what the relationship can only provide. But I also want my own autonomy and I want to be my own person. So a lot of times, those defensive, tense, emotion-laden conversations are usually butting into one of those.

And typically if it’s money, it’s the separateness issue. My wife is questioning some of my judgment. OK, no she’s not. She’s asking why I’ve spent $20 on a watch or whatever. But I interpret that as much more than just an expense, because to her it’s something different.

So the biggest example I’ve got, or biggest tip I have for every couple is to realize a majority of what goes on in relationships is not personal. It’s not a personal attack. It’s not a defamation of character, if you will. It’s more just somebody speaking up for something that they hold dear, or is important to them, or will bring them comfort.

And I have to allow my spouse the freedom to speak up about those things and address it honestly. Because if I try to cover it, or I don’t know where I stand on it, it’s going to perpetuate. And it’s going to continue to be there and fester. And it typically then spills over into the bigger areas of life, and then you start building up walls and resentments and you just start co-existing. You’re not heading together in the blissful romance that marriage can be, even though that’s not what it always is either.

I think that’s a really great core tip. That’s that just because a conversation is started about something—whether it’s an activity, whether it’s a fault, it’s a behavior—doesn’t mean that it’s a personal attack. And it’s so easy to take it as a personal attack, because you’re so close and intimate with that other person.

Almost every argument that we’ve ever had I can trace back to that one thing. And obviously you’ve provided that tip before, because when I think back, having heard you say that, it is at the root of almost every problem.

And that’s the whole idea of lots of couples—and this is a little bit of a detour from what we’re talking about, but it applies. Lots of couples will come to me and say—or one of their main complaints is, “We can’t communicate. We can’t get along with this,” whatever.

And my response is, “Yeah, you can. In every single relationship, if it’s important to you especially, you cannot not communicate. The problem is, you don’t like what the other person is saying or not saying.”

So it’s learning how to handle the message and another person being free to be what they want to be and believe what they want to believe, and that’s not an indictment on you, ‘cause you have the same freedom. And then you start navigating it together based on your own values, and then it starts become choice, and it starts to become planning, and it starts to become dreaming, and it starts to become that guided path together rather than a fight the whole time.

Because you’re going to fight in relationships; that’s just a non-negotiable. You’re going to have disagreements and conflict is good, because it makes us better people.

Awesome. Awesome advice, and you current—just new out the last couple weeks— released a new e-book, and it’s insanely cheap, I must say. I read every word. You sent it to me—full disclaimer—you sent it to me and I really did read every word of it. I thought it was great. It’s an issue that I don’t read enough on, so that’s why I love the message that you’re sending out.

But you have a new e-book. It’s called Buck Naked Marriage. It’s insanely cheap. Tell us a little bit about how this e-book came about, or why you decided to provide this information basically as an e-book.

Simple Marriage, my site, the blog that I do, started  two and a half years, almost three years ago now, as a way to try to reach people that just want to experience more in marriage. They want a better marriage. It’s not necessarily for crisis or dealing with issues. It’s more for, “Marriage is OK, but I want it to be better.”

Since then, it’s kind of evolved into a broader reach, but some of that belief has stayed. And so a year ago, I just conducted a quick research study, ended up having over 1,000 people respond. And I just asked one question of, what’s the basic element necessary for marriage or a committed relationship to thrive?

And so from all those respondents—each one was able to give me up to six different answers—I just put all that into some stats work and all my doctorate kind of junk came into play here. Put that into some stats, came up with the top 10 according to what the research showed, and then there’s the 10 chapters of the first part of the book.

So it’s the basic common sense kind of things that you think of that is important in marriage of honesty, communication, love, respect, friendship, those kinds of things are an important part of every relationship. And I just wrote up my take on each of those.

And then part two, I just added another component of, “Here’s some of the major things that trip people up,” being money, obviously is one. And then family, kids, rest, contentment, that kind of stuff. And so just kind of wrote a little bit of a guide of how to deal with those, and the idea just kind of sat for awhile, until it was like, “This is really good research, I’ve got to do something with it.” And so, spent several months kind of working it, massaging it, writing it. And then launched it, so it’s out and available.

Awesome.  Your site is a site that I regularly read. I consider you one of the authorities on this. I love the work you’re doing. Obviously it’s a big part of my life. And I think that people underplay the importance of marriage, not only in their financial lives, but in their quest to live lives of passion.

Because if you’re married—and the far majority of people are either married or going to get married and going to be in serious relationships—it’s just at the core. It’s at the very core, everything starts. And it’s taken me awhile to learn this.

Everything starts with my marriage. It doesn’t matter if I’m trying to make money, grow a business, travel, do what I love, sell my crap—whatever the thing is in my life, it all starts with that. And so I love that there are people as intelligent as yourself attacking this issue, helping people out. So thanks for your blog. And I appreciate the 20-25 minutes we’ve spent together today. So thanks for joining me.

Thanks for having me on. It’s been great.

Cool man. We’ll talk soon.

What others have shared…

My original post, not-so-surprisingly, stirred up a lot of feedback. Some was non-constructive crap, but the far majority added to a great discussion.  I wanted to share a few of my favorite comments, from all sides of the issue.

Kyle commented:

My wife and I have separate accounts and a joint account. We don’t really have separate finances though. Our separate checking accounts are for our personal spending like gas for our cars, blow money, and eating out for lunch. It is essentially just a budget item which gets moved into two separate accounts.

All bills and household expenses are OUR expenses and are handled through the main account. The separate accounts makes it easier for us to keep up with our blow money and keep play separate from the business end of our joint finances.

Kevin commented:

Completely, 100% agree with you.

Last time I checked marriage was supposed to be about unity and joint-ness rather than just living together. Just goes to show how far our society has gotten from God’s design of life. “Yea, I just live with my wife. I don’t know what she does with her money.” (palm-face-smack image here)

Dan Malone commented:

I think that having separate finances is great. It works very well for my wife and I, as linked above.

We discuss our finances openly, but never fight about money because we are individually responsible for our own money. If she wants to splurge on shoes, its no skin off my back and vice versus if I want to buy power tools. It ultimately allows us to become closer.

Brett commented:

It sounds like you have a great financial partnership and you should be thankful.

However, not everyone is so fortunate. You should keep in mind all of the challenges of having an irresponsible spouse. When this happens, all of the talking in the world doesn’t work, because they really don’t care about the finances. They just want to buy whatever they want, even of it hurts the rest of the family. They consider excessive spending to be a right, not a problem.

I personally know many couples who have gone through financial nightmares because of irresponsible spending by one of the spouses. For the responsible spouse it’s the most helpless feeling in the world. Separating finances is one of the few things that may work in this situation. It can be the single thing that saves a marriage.

The reason you can’t list any negatives of joint finances is because you probably haven’t experienced any of them. It’s like saying you don’t understand alcoholism, when you don’t have a drinking problem. When joint finances go wrong, bankruptcy and divorce are the two biggest negatives. They are also very common right now.

Try talking to someone who has been there and then you will know what it’s like. It’s an awful feeling when you go to pay the bills one day and find out all of the money is gone. Imagine you have a single income for a family of four, the bills are due, the refrigerator is empty, it’s two weeks until payday and all the money has been squandered on junk.

Having said all of that, I can now say something a little more positive. We are still married after 18 years, our finances are in pretty good shape and Yes, we still have separate bank accounts. We have both become more responsible and we rarely fight about money any more. Many other couples I know aren’t nearly as fortunate.

Emily Davis commented:

I love you to death. Stay away from my money.

Seriously, I can’t imagine SHARING my finances with someone else. Money is like water. You have it, you give it. You need it, you take it! But a joint bank account? No, thank you. My boyfriend (I wince at the term boyfriend, we’re both professionals in our 30′s with a two year old) and I are talking about getting a quickie marriage license, to have a nice fam unit for our daughter.

But I don’t agree with half the things he buys, he shudders at half the stuff I buy. So what? We’re working adults and we can do what we want with OUR OWN MONEY. We would strangle each other with a joint bank account. Does that mean we don’t love each other and want to be a family? I don’t think so. We’re also very generous with each other. I’ve helped him out with medical bills before. He bought me a HD video camera when my little digital video camera broke. But we have separate finances.

The only reason we’re considering skipping marriage is because we don’t want to file our taxes together. I’m a big girl and I can handle filing my own taxes. but I’m penalized for it because i’d be married. Argh!

Can’t I have my own financial identity AND get married?

Priscila commented:

I’ve been married for over a year and every time I bring this subject up it’s an argument. My husband makes more money (+15k) than I do and he feels he is entitle to all his money. He feels I need to live within my limits and not ask him for money, because he doesn’t ask me for money.

I had to hear it when I asked him for 20 bucks to help pay for the pet’s vaccination. If one of the pets get sick, he expects me to pay for the bill as I came to this marriage with the pets, so they are mine.

We had plans to have children but I got that totally off the book. There is no way we can raise a child under these system. I’m looking for a second job besides my full time job and part time school to help me pay for all my expenses.

We have a joint checking that we put a certain amount of money to cover bill and groceries. That was another fight over 4 months to get done. He would go to the store, pick his junk and separate them at the cashier. I ended up paying for all the groceries that I cooked and both of us ate. I had no money for groceries and I had relatives from outside of the country over.

I asked him for money and he limited me 50 bucks for grocery. Next day he shows up with an Opus One and I found his bank statement showing 1,600 available for over 3 months in his checking account. I cried so much and I decided it had to end.

That’s when I finally won the joint account for bills only. Oh did I mention he wanted to file separate with IRS and I had to speak up? What do I do? I’m starting counseling, will try to bring him to couple’s therapy but I’m seriously giving up and thinking seriously of divorce. I feel he is selfish and maybe he is hiding things from me.

Julie commented:

My spouse and I both make about the same amount of money so we share the bills equally. The way we handle our finances is this. We both have separate checking accounts where our paychecks get deposited into every two weeks. Immediately after pay day all the money we need to pay our bills, and put into savings for that period is automatically deposited into our joint account. That is the same amount every paycheck.

Whatever is left in our separate accounts is left for us to spend freely on entertainment, eating out, clothing, toys. We sit down every few months and decide how much we want to save and for what purpose: vacation, big purchases, retirement, etc.. That way we can adjust the automatic transfer amount that goes into our joint account.

This allows us to work together easily to pay bills and save towards our joint goals. It also allows us to not feel guilty if we occasionally splurge on something for ourselves. It works for us!

I think everyone is different and you need to work out what will work for your relationship. There is no one best way, although I enjoy reading about different approaches to get ideas. Thanks for this post!

Slinky commented:

Two people meet, each handling their own money, they get married and then combine finances. As this is generally how it goes, I think the more valid question is why combine?

For what reason do people abandon their existing system and move to a new one? Why did you? What’s the benefit to doing so? Where is the advantage?

It’s not that I think combining finances is horrible or anything like that, I just don’t see why we should go to all the bother when what we do works fine. So, the answer to “why not?” is “why should I?”

Many of my blogging friends have also tackled this issue:

As you can see, the issue is not only popular, but has many levels. Some deeply emotional and some not. It affects different people in different ways.

Bottom Line: This is an extremely complicated and intricate issue!

What I *have* learned recently…

With all this talk about relationships and money, I’ve done a lot of thinking.  While the core position of my preference on this issue has changed very little – my tone has changed.

You see, when I first started blogging and forming my opinions on personal finance subjects, I had a tendency to try to figure out the right answer.  I wanted to highlight the most effective way of doing things.

I’m also well aware that in life, generally, people want to be told what to do. We think we want to educate ourselves on a topic, but mostly we just want to know what to do. If I want to lose weight, consciously I may be interested in learning about how, but subconsciously I just want to know *exactly* what I need to do.

In other words, the inconvenient truth is that it’s many times more effective to pick a side and support it – rather than continually weigh the pros and cons. This is especially true when trying to positively influence others.

On issues like credit cards, television, following your passions, I realize there are pros and cons. I’ve researched and studied them myself, but I still passionately suggest a very specific way of handling these topics.

The same was true for the issue of combining or separating finances… until very recently.

If someone asked me for specific advice, I’d still encourage them to combine finances in most cases. However, I just want people to be happy.

Long-term relationships of any sort are complicated, emotional cluster… you know whats. While some financial issues are more cut and dry in my mind – how couples treat finances isn’t. I’m much more in tune with that now.

Some people have decades of financial history, assets, and responsibility that they bring – especially if the marriage is not their first. Others choose to stay together and never marry – complicating the legal side of the equation. Others are wounded (or arguably wiser) because of a past divorce or violation of trust.  Some couples can’t marry.

I get all that. I really do. I hear stories everyday – many of which are from you guys.

And at the bottom of this one issue… I just want people to be happy.

Rather than be the number one issue couples fight about, I’d love for more couples to have it be the main source of strength.

Does that make me a bad advice giver? Probably. Telling people “be happy” rarely helps solve a problem.

Ultimately, I think more light needs to be shed on how couples manage their money – both good and bad. The more we can expose the ups and downs the more we can learn from each others experiences.

I’m really tired of this subject being so taboo.

What about you?

Are you willing to help share how you treat (or have treated) finances with a spouse or long-term partner?

{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

the Dad, Climbing Out November 18, 2010 at 2:49 PM

Just be happy. I certainly like that advice. :) Here is our take on it: http://www.climbingout.net/2009/06/why-having-separate-checking-accounts-was-wrong-for-us

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Edward Heming November 18, 2010 at 2:57 PM

Yeah I think it’s definitely not a black and white decision. For my wife and I we keep separate finances because it gives us each a feeling of both autonomy and engagement. We try to make sure that doesn’t mean we are hiding things from each other, but getting into fights over who spent $20 more that month on something they wanted is not very productive. What we decided was that each of us was intelligent enough and trustworthy enough to spend our piece of the pie responsibly. But that doesn’t mean that approach works for everyone.

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Eric November 18, 2010 at 3:03 PM

A lot of great content here Baker!

When my wife and I were dating, but living together, we had seperate finances that were split into percentages of how much we made. Example my salary was 60% of the pot so I would pay 60% of the bills and she would cover the rest.

After doing this for awhile, it became a pain. We both had our free spending money and it was a constant convo about who was going to buy dinner or the lift ticket.

We agreed the hell with it and combined our finances. It was the best move we’ve made because 1, I suck at balancing a checkbook and 2 it requires more communication to make sure each partner knows where they are financially.

Bad ass Baker at it again!

Eric

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OurTakeOnFreedom November 18, 2010 at 3:20 PM

What I’ve gathered from friends that I’ve spoken to and bloggers that I’ve read is that both models can work, and that good results are dependent more on communication and shared values than on joint vs. separate bank accounts. [To weigh in as a data point: We have joint accounts. Works out fine.]

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Kristin November 18, 2010 at 3:45 PM

This is a great post!

I’m a CPA so I give MAJOR props to Corey’s wife for being ok with separate finances. :) My husband and I are SO fortunate to have a financial system that really works.
I’d say that it’s a combo of joint and separate finances.

As my experience lends itself well to managing our finances, I take care of managing our retirement and investment portfolios (which we both contribute to at amounts we agree upon).

So basically, our paychecks are each directly deposited into our own checking accounts. From there, our living expenses are transferred to a bills account and our retirement/investment expenses are transferred into a savings account. That way, whatever is left over after these transfers can be managed by the person who earned the money. If my husband works overtime, he directly sees the benefit of having a larger amount of his check available in his spending account each week. Conversely, if he spends all of the money in his account… well, then it’s gone.

Like Corey, we have the transparency to always see each others accounts.

For us, we see great value in having our ‘spending’ accounts separate. It gives my husband initiative to work hard and spend independently-which he truly enjoys. And… it gives me the ability to spend countless hours pouring over spreadsheets – which I truly enjoy :)

Thanks for the great joint post guys, I really enjoy both of your blogs.

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Hamlet's Mistress November 18, 2010 at 4:00 PM

My husband and I have been married for a little over 5 years. We have separate finances. It works well. We still talk about our finances. We know what’s going on in each other’s accounts and in these 5 years, the first 5 years that are supposed to be the hardest… we’ve had not one argument over finances. Not one. The mortgage comes out of my paycheck, everything else comes out of his. Any credit cards are paid by the respective credit card holder. We do not share credit cards or the responsibility of paying them. He makes 10K a year more than me. But we both have things that come up that we want and it makes things so much more peaceful if I don’t have to ask if there’s enough money for a pair of shoes and he doesn’t have to ask to buy a movie prop. We pay the household bills, gas, food and we save. The rest is ours to use as we see fit without judgement, anger or feeling like one’s wants are more important than the other’s. Big decisions like car buying and whatnot are worked out with whose pay it fits into better and then a couple bills get reallocated. It works. And it doesn’t just work. It. works. well.

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Heather November 18, 2010 at 4:02 PM

This is such a tough issue. We have separate accounts, but the money is joint. I’m against separate accounts at the moment (we’ve been married for 3 years) because my husband does not pay attention to it. He’s not making any major purchases, but time and again he’ll pay his credit card bill late, or wind up short because he didn’t predict how much money he needed in his account, and I can’t stand it. I talk to him, and he gets impatient, and doesn’t want to “deal” with it. Unfortunately, someone has to. When he’s ready realize this isn’t going to work for US, and pay closer attention, then I’ll know it will be ok to combine the accounts. If we did now, I wouldn’t be able to keep track of any of it.

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Lou Mindar November 18, 2010 at 4:13 PM

Baker –

A very well thought out post. Well done!

Like you and Courtney, Kim and I have combined finances. I’m not opposed to separate finances if it works for a couple. It was just never an option/necessity for us.

What I don’t understand about this subject is how the lack of trust drives couples to have separate finances. Above, Brett mentioned couples where one person irresponsibly spends a family’s money so there are no funds available for monthly bills. Emily then said something to the effect of, “I love you, but keep your hands off MY money.” In my mind, neither of these situations point to a money issue, but instead speaks to a complete lack of trust between spouses/partners.

I don’t have anything against separate finances, but I really have to question the strength or appropriateness of a relationship if one spouse/partner can’t trust the other with money.

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Baker November 21, 2010 at 12:58 PM

Lou, you bring up a great point. Separate or joint – if there are issue where only one handles the money AND can’t *trust* the other – that’s a much bigger issue. (Corey pointed this out in the interview too). I totally agree. :-)

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Thursday Bram November 18, 2010 at 4:21 PM

My husband and I have joint accounts, in theory, but in practice, they wind up being separate in quite a few ways. We have a personal checking account and a business account — the business is, more or less, mine (my husband does a few things like keeping the servers running) so, while my husband has access to the account, I’m generally the only one that uses it.

My husband is the one who sits down and spends time paying bills and what not every month because he’s more inclined towards it — I married a mathematician and I’m happy to let him play with the numbers.

It’s not a system that would work if we didn’t talk about money regularly. We talk about big and little purchases, and we each have an ‘allowance,’ so that we have a way to handle things that there isn’t consensus on.

But everyone always has to work these things out for themselves. There’s no one right way. You’ve done a good job of showing the different sides of the matter here!

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Baker November 21, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Thursday, I completely understand the business/personal topic you bring up. We have a business account, too – which is basically “mine”. I talk with Courtney about most spending – especially large expenses – but I’m essentially the sole decision maker on that account.

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MyMoneyMess November 18, 2010 at 4:22 PM

I’ve advocated joint finances for years. I just don’t see any financial benefit in separate finances. My parents tried it for a while and it was a miserable failure it was a big hassle and ended up costing them more overall.

This next statement may be somewhat inflammatory but here goes – The only reasons I can think of for separate finances are (a) lack of trust, (b) lack of faith the marriage is actually going to last, (c) someone has something to hide.

Time to go put on my fire retardant suit…

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Hamlet's Mistress November 18, 2010 at 5:25 PM

I’m not going to set you on fire… but I will tell you that you’re wrong. From your point of view those are the only reasons people would have separate accounts. Which to me says that you a)wouldn’t trust your spouse to have their own account b)think that a joint account is necessary to a happy marriage, c) would constantly be wondering what your spouse is hiding in their separate account. However, when looking at it from the point of view of someone who has a) total trust in their spouse b) a happy marriage and c) nothing to hide with a spouse that has nothing to hide it is a) easier b) more convenient and c) has lead to ZERO financial arguements in a little over 5 years of marriage.

So from your point of view those may be the the only 3 reasons that a couple would have separate accounts. Rest assured those are not ACTUALLY the only 3 reasons.

HM

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Corey November 18, 2010 at 5:54 PM

Wow – that’s quite a blanket statement there.

I have no idea where to begin – so I’m going to leave this one alone.

There are many ways to have a great marriage, the key is to find what works for you.

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Pea November 19, 2010 at 10:34 AM

We know you are being incendiary MyMoneyMess, but Hamlet’s mistress nailed it and Corey put it to rest with, “the key is to find what works for you.”

Absolutely no one can predict how they will feel in 10 years time and in turn they certainly cannot predict how their partner will feel. Very few people start marriage and a family foreseeing divorce and yet the numbers are unhealthily high. There are many justified and unjustified reasons why people divorce. Bakers’ comment, “joint finances is just less complicated.” is fine – if they never separate.

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MyMoneyMess November 19, 2010 at 5:09 PM

Sure I worded my post in a way that would incite folks. Sometimes that elicits more discussion than a bland neutrally worded post. This is an important matter to discuss.

First, let me say that personally I have been married for nearly 25 years and we have always had joint finances and we don’t fight over money.

Second, my statements were in large part based on 10 years of working with people with messed up finances. While trying to straighten out their finances I pretty routinely get one or more of the reasons I listed in my first comment as the reason for keeping their finances separate.

I also saw my parents trying the separate finances thing for a while when I was a kid. It didn’t work for them.

I guess there are some folks who can make it work. My experience has been that those are the exception rather than the rule.

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Kirsty November 18, 2010 at 4:25 PM

Hey,
Great post!
Here’s what works for my hubby and I:
We have all joint accounts, saving, bills, mortgage, everyday living (ie, petrol, groceries etc), but then we have separate accounts for ‘play money’. In these accounts we each get a small (big, depending on your perspective) amount of money $180AUD each month, that we are allowed to spend in whatever way each of us feels fit! We have agreed to not question each other about the use of this $, this has saved many, many, many a heated discussion!! If we spend all of our allocated money in a few days, then so be it!
We discuss all things to buy beforehand with the joint money :-)
This method works well for us :-)
Thanks again for the blog!
Kirsty

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Manu November 18, 2010 at 4:26 PM

Hey!
Nice post… My wife and I have always had one joint account. Well… she also have one account in US for paying her student loan. We are living in Canada and she can’t pay her student loan directly from our Canadian account… I don’t have any student loan: I’m french and my 5 years of college cost me less than 1000 euros (yay!)
Anyway, sharing our account has always been something natural as we don’t want to have any secret. It can be a problem for christmas presents when she sees something like “Amazon – DVD Pride and Pr.” on the bank statement though.
To have even more control and “vision” on what we’re doing, we have been using mint for the past month. We also stopped using our credit card except for car rentals.I must say mint helps us because it is a lot more visual than a bank statement.
Thank you for this post! I really like your blog!

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Cherie @Technomadia November 18, 2010 at 5:01 PM

Chris and I are unmarried by choice, but intentionally committed to lifelong partnership with each other. We partnered in our mid-30s – already each with successful careers, investments and assets (and each debt free). We’re also childfree by choice.

We have a combination of joint and separate accounts. We have a business account for our little tech consulting company, a joint personal checking account and a joint credit card (and I know you’re not in favor of this as a solution, but the majority of our purchases go on the credit card and are paid off each month from our individual accounts.. it works remarkably well for us.) I’d say that between these three accounts, 97% of our daily spending (which includes all of our full time travel) goes through them, and are clearly joint purchases. So on the day-to-day spending front, I’d say we’re mostly joint.

However, we each also have our own individual checking accounts (and individual credit cards). We fund our individual accounts from the business account, and take care of all our personal tax deductible spending from our individual accounts (we file our taxes as singles). This includes contributions to our IRAs, HSAs and health insurance premiums. And then we each pay half the joint spending credit card balance each month, and when needed, refill the joint checking account. The individual accounts enable us to also make individual purchases, which are quite rare in our little household. With our life of full time mobility, we don’t have room to buy stuff anyway.. so our purchases are more a consideration of space/functionality than cost anyway.

However, the biggest financial separation we make is in savings & investments. This is both because we came into this relationship with different assets, have different individual tax considerations, and well.. frankly, different investment tolerances.

But when it all comes down to it.. everything is considered ours in partnership. We talk openly and honestly about our financial moves, investments, risks, savings goals, etc. We have online logins to each other’s accounts, and regularly review each others setup. We’re each listed as primary beneficiaries on each others investments & savings. And if the shit hits the fan, we work together to find a solution between our combined resources.

In the 4 years of our partnership, we’ve not had a fight about money. We’re quite blessed to be basically equals in the way we view and handle money. And I think all and all, we’re at the very fortunate place where we’ve been able to make money something we don’t have to give much consideration. Not because we’re rolling in millions, but because we’ve designed in agility to scale up and down as we wish and not make it have to be a big issue.

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Baker November 21, 2010 at 1:03 PM

I love you guys! :-) This is a perfect example of a long-term relationship where you choose not to marry (and have additional considerations on accounts because of that). Now I have a good example to use in the future. ;-)

Yes, like you point out – I don’t think smashing all expenses on a credit card is a positive choice for most people. But I love it when two people can develop a system – any system – that works well for them.

Thanks for chiming in with your unique situation. Can’t wait to talk to you guys again soon!

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Kevin M November 18, 2010 at 5:42 PM

I’ve done both separate (with my ex) and joint finances (now) and I can definitively say the method has little to do with it, the people behind it are why it succeeds or fails. We personally do joint now just to keep it simple – less accounts, less transferring money around, etc.but I’m confident we could separate it and not skip a beat.

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Baker November 21, 2010 at 1:04 PM

Another good point. I feel the same way, that we could switch and be fine – however, I prefer joint for many of the reason you share (and listed above). :-)

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Gillian November 18, 2010 at 5:44 PM

My theory is what ever works for people, works…as long as they are happy. My partner and I share all our finances…all into one big pot…all out of one big pot. We have similar spending styles, share the same goals and are perfectly happy with it. When we first started I canvassed my friends and found a multitude of ways of doing it…but all seemed happy. It’s when one partner is unhappy that it doesn’t work…and that’s when the hardest conversations have to take place. I consider myself fortunate.

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Shae Bynes November 18, 2010 at 6:47 PM

Gillian, I’m with you! My husband & I have joint personal and business accounts and we have shared goals. It hasn’t been a problem with us at all and I just find it to be much simpler than separating things and then having conversations at the cash register like “So are you paying for this or am I?”. That being said, if a couple is operating effectively with joint finances, who am I to judge?

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David November 18, 2010 at 5:56 PM

I am really interested in this idea of autonomy, people wanting to have their own account, the freedom to do what they want with their money. It seems that a lot of these comments come with a “If she/he uses up all the money then they are out, its their choice.” Coming from a shared finances, one income situation I find that very hard to understand. The having to explain what I want to do with some of “our” money is a very important part of our marriage. Sometimes it sucks, I would rather just do what I want to do. However, in the end it definitely makes us more connected. Freedom vs Connectedness. I think the balance in a relationship comes from knowing where you end as a couple and begin as an individual. Maybe finances provide that line of demarcation for some people. There is us, here is me. Just a thought.

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Baker November 21, 2010 at 1:10 PM

Extremely insightful, David. This is the core issue that I can’t explain very well. There is a lot of blame… or individualism expressed in some comments that I don’t connect with at all. I try to keep an open mind, but this same issue makes me wonder. :-)

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Bruce November 18, 2010 at 6:14 PM

The assets that my wife and I hold (property, banking, etc) are completely separated. Since we have different citizenships, different tax obligations to different countries, and the fact that our assets are spread across the continents. it is really the best choice for various tax, legal, and liability issues.

But, the simple reality is that how we have our assets aligned is meaningless, because on a personal level all of our assets are equally shared and nothing is hidden.

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Baker November 21, 2010 at 1:12 PM

Another great point – you guys are on fire!

I love the point of on a “personal” level it’s all joint. I think that’s what Corey was saying in the interview. The accounts may be separate, but the communication, goals, and mindsets considered everything joint.

Love it.

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Maggie November 18, 2010 at 7:06 PM

Blanket statements in either direction just don’t work…. Period.

My hubby and I are a bit more complicated than “combined” or “separate.” The way our finances have developed it’s sort of both — we live on what he makes, and whatever I manage to make pads savings accounts and helps fund goals. I am pretty much entirely supported by my husband and we have a joint checking account. (Each of us has a debit card to it.) Anything small for each of us comes out of here, as well as all the bills and entertainment.

My earnings are usually routed through that account (when I have paper checks to deposit) and end up in my ING checking account. Only I have the debit card to that, and I’m the one who handles all of the saving and investing side of things. My husband NEVER sees this side of it, at all. For us, it’s better — he’s not that great with savings, and out of sight is truly out of mind for him. For me, I can know how much is there and it doesn’t affect me much one way or the other.

It’s not that we don’t trust each other, or that I don’t think we’ll make it (people much older than us have issues too, being young isn’t a deal-breaker) or that I have anything to hide. (I suppose hiding would be my credit cards that he never sees, but if he asked I’d tell him anything. Of course I know about his all the time since I pay the bill.)

One last bit to my long and weird comment: Even if I spend the money I make and he spends part of his income, we always talk about it. I always know if he’s planning on a video game or ammunition or some sort of gun part, and he knows if I want to buy a sweater or shoes or something. Just because my side is kept separate (which was really born out of my need for absolute control — my husband didn’t deserve or need to be subjected to it) doesn’t mean it’s all hidden, even if he never actually looks at it.

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Dwight @ Financially Elite Blog November 18, 2010 at 7:11 PM

I like to keep mine separate, but can see the benefits of a joint account as was reiterated in your post.

Dwight Anthony
Financially Elite Blog dot Com

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Freedom November 18, 2010 at 7:17 PM

Excellent interview. Dream and I have joint accounts, and we’ve always done it that way. We’ve just found it easier for one of us to be the money keeper. In either situation, I think the biggest factor is for spouses to be on the “same page” with each other on money matters.

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Andrew @ Money Crashers November 18, 2010 at 7:55 PM

Really interesting post Baker and neat to get Corey’s perspective. You raise a polarizing issue in how you’ve always struggled with the idea of separate accounts. I know exactly what you mean, and I kind of have always felt that it’s tough to truly be on the same page financially and to be stress-free financially unless your finances have become one and the same. But, it clearly does work for a lot of people and I guess ultimately it comes down to a matter of personal preference…perhaps for some people, a joint account will simply cause MORE stress than if they had kept their account separate.

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Living the Balanced Life November 18, 2010 at 8:52 PM

Touching on the controversial subject, eh Baker?
As has been stated by so many, I don’t believe there is a right or wrong as in joint or separate. I think the cirumstances around your marriage and finances will make a huge difference.
For instance, my husband and I got married at 15 and 17. We have been married almost 30 years now. We have never been great at handling money, we both have our flaws, but I couldn’t imagine having separate accounts. We do get “our own” spending money each month, but it doesn’t go into an account. On the other hand, if a woman came from bad relationship, had supported herself for years and has children to care for, she may not be so quick to just release it all.
There are many things involved here, trust, communication, maturity, not to mention some issues dealing with 2 different nationalities and countries!
The important thing is to find what works for you and if it is not working, speak up. Talk about it til you work through a solution.
Bernice
http://livingthebalancedlife.com/2010/dream-job-overload/

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Susan November 18, 2010 at 10:56 PM

I’ve never considered having separate accounts. Aside from all the personal and intimate benefits it brings, we just have more money combining it all together. There’s no ‘who paid for what last’. I’ve had periods where I’ve hardly made any money as a writer and video editor, then periods where I made far more than my husband. We more or less take turns bearing the brunt of our finances.

It also keeps us communicating about everything, appreciate each other’s hard work, and having a closer relationship.

I think money is probably one of the most intimate parts of a marriage. And I’ve never quite understood why it’s not openly discussed.

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Ben November 19, 2010 at 2:40 AM

We combine our finances because that’s what works for us. I think the best answer is to do whatever makes managing your money easier and less painful in your relationship

As long as two people can figure out a system that keeps them out of the poor house and out of divorce court, who cares what everyone else thinks.

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Lakita | Personal Finance Journey November 19, 2010 at 3:49 AM

Baker,

I think this is going to go down as one of your longest posts! But I thoroughly enjoyed every word of it so I’m not complaining :)

The new hubby and I are a hybrid of joint & separate. Mostly joint, with the separate “play” money. We have a joint checking account for the household bills and joint savings and investments. We communicate savings goals and priorities and work them together.

The separate play money gives us enough flexibility to deal with the minimal purchases (that add up over time)…gas, lunch etc and the occasional splurge or surprise gift.

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Baker November 21, 2010 at 1:13 PM

I think it may be the longest every published, but it’s cheating because around half of it is the transcript of the video. :-) Still a long one though, I wanted it to be a resource of sorts on this issue for the future. :-)

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Andrea November 19, 2010 at 9:13 AM

Joint account and two separate accounts. Here is something I “don’t get”, and I’m not trying to be snarky of facetious, I am genuinely curious – how do couples with 100% joint finances handle purchasing gifts for each other?

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Amanda November 20, 2010 at 2:36 AM

We withdraw the amount we’ve budgeted in cash for anniversary exchange. He borrowed extra from his mom!

Honestly I can use cc as he doesn’t care to look at Accts anyway!

For sporadic gifts I likely wouldn’t see cc by time he gave gift. Anything more than would be purchased at grocer is discussed first. Not a lot of gifts in our house.

We also get a weekly cash Allowance. Could come from here.

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Baker November 21, 2010 at 1:16 PM

We budget gifts (or try to). A lot of the times we spend cash, some of the times we’ll spend on debit cards or online and try to ensure it’s masked (like from eBay it’s hard to see what the gift is many times even if you see the purchase).

Mostly, though, we buy only a tiny fraction of gifts for each other compared to many. For holidays or birthday we often plan and do events, rather than buy a single gift, etc… The experience is still a fun “gift”, but it’s not a surprise item, per se. :-)

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Amy December 3, 2010 at 5:35 PM

This is a good question Andrea. My husband & I have 100% shared finances and creating and maintaining the level of surprise is VERY difficult when buying a gift. But, like Baker, we don’t buy a lot of gifts, as we tend to enjoy “experiences” together and they are often planned. When I do buy a gift, like for our 5th anniversary, I saved small amounts of cash to make the large $500 purchase. Because we both look at our finances regularly it’s the only way I’ve found to keep the surprise.

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Elle Dougherty November 19, 2010 at 9:37 AM

Another excellent post, Baker. I never thought of your ideas as right or wrong. YOUR blog tells YOUR journey, how YOU do things & why they work for YOU. I love it!

I will quote from a recent post on my own blog, “Almost anything can be justified, although that doesn’t make it right. We all see the world from different perspectives. What is important to one person may seem ridiculous to the next.”

As long as what you are doing is working positively for you financially (and emotionally), that is great! When your relationship with money or your partner is crumbling, it’s time to reassess.

We have been married 12 years & my husband is the “bread winner.” I have not worked secularly for almost 6 years (by choice), but I am the one who manages all of our finances now. A lot of our friends find that weird, but it’s been working for us & we are almost out of debt! :) If it stops working, we will try something different.

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Brenda November 19, 2010 at 10:29 AM

My husband and I have separate accounts and it works great for us. We are transparent with our spending though and we can both log into the other’s account whenever we feel the need to do that. However, I can’t remember the last time I looked at his account. I simply trust him completely and I know that I can count on him to take care of the bills for which he is responsible. In the (almost) 15 years that we’ve been together, he has never let me down. My sister and my best friend are astonished that we don’t share accounts. They actually get heated up over MY financial relationship with my husband because they feel strongly that when you are married, you should have joint accounts. In the first year that we were married, we did have joint accounts but it caused so much friction because we handled finances so differently. At the end of the end of that first year, we decided we weren’t going to give money the power to destroy our relationship. To that end, we decided to divide the bills evenly. I pay the rent, utilities and my student loan. He pays everything else. We have come together somewhat this year because we have decided to break free of our debt and live a cash-only existence. To that end, we sit down together every Friday and discuss how much of our paychecks we each can contribute to eliminating our consumer debt and which charge card we will pay off next.

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Amanda November 20, 2010 at 2:47 AM

I feel sad friends or fam would try to butt in such a personal matter. My closest friend that discusses $ w me usually agrees w me and I back her up
when her dh has horrendous financial ideas! Lol

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Peter November 19, 2010 at 1:27 PM

We have joint finances at our house, with joint checking, savings and other accounts. Up until recently, however, we still had separate checking and savings accounts. We’re going joint now out of necessity now because my wife just became a stay at home mom, and needs access to money since her income sources are now gone.

While my wife and I haven’t always agreed on whether or not having combined finances was a good idea (i though it was, she didn’t – in part based on bad experiences her m other had with an ex-husband), I think now that we have joint finances we’ve found a lot of good side effects. First, we’re communicating more about money now out of necessity. The added communication has created more intimacy because we know more about what’s happening with each other, and it leads to more trust. Second, we’re becoming more “one” in our marriage because we’re having to focus less on our individual situations, and more on our joint shared situation. It forces you to be less selfish. Third, it adds accountability. Where before I may have spent money on something I wanted, now that we talk about it more, I have a built in accountability partner. Those are the main benefits that we’ve seen – although there are others. All in all – as someone who has made the switch to joint – it has been nothing but good for our marriage and our money. Highly recommended!

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Pam McCormick November 19, 2010 at 1:58 PM

I have enjoyed reading this very much- to hear how other people/couples view money issues and handle finances.I myself have been married 34 yrs,we lived together for 2yrs prior to marriage and dated 3 yrs before that and the entire time we have always kept finances seperate.We do own our house together(paid off).I am in total agreement to find the system that works for you.Everything else we share or do pay for individually like heating we split,a car payment would be seperate,groceries we would either split or take turns.

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Amanda November 19, 2010 at 11:25 PM

We’ve been married 3 yrs and never discussed joint/separate. Don’t know why. Just combined. I think this works for us because we both thought along the same lines moneywise. He paid all his bills that came in during a month (including annual or semi-annual bills) , spent the rest and rarely went on vacations. He gave me full control of finances. He does ask if we can afford something. I’m not a spending-Nazi. I usually find a way to make things work that he and I like.

I think separate finances would work better for higher income earners (not min wage) or a situation where one is exceptionally higher earner than the other ($25,000 or more in my definition). Real life example: husband has million-level income. Wife doesn’t work. She gets $50,000 monthly allowance. Seems reasonable for their situation.

If both are 50,000 annual earners or more each and one is exceptionally higher I think it’s work best if they pay proportional expenses.

DH and I have small weekly allowance. Obliterated any fighting we could possibly have regarding my thinking his comic or videogame purchases are stupid! And he likewise w/my choices. ;)

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debt free daniel November 20, 2010 at 1:01 PM

while having separate accounts is more practical between couples nowadays. having joint accounts are much advisable. aside from it improves communication and trust between couples, there are also banks that offer greater interest returns when you have a joint account.

Daniel
thedebtsolutionsystem.com/financial_resources_kit/tdss_squeeze/opt.html

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Steven @ The Debt Solution November 20, 2010 at 3:07 PM

Saw your site can you contact me to discuss somethings?

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Steven @ The Debt Solution November 20, 2010 at 3:04 PM

I hope I don’t get beat up on this one!

I’ve been married for 21 years and my wife and I have had joint accounts for our business and personal accounts the entire time. I has helped with the communication and goal setting.

But over the last year our business has grown so much that we set up accounts that are still joint accounts but we deposit funds that are exclusively hers and mine. This money can be spent on anything we want without question.

We also just closed on another foreclosure property we bought last year. I walked out of closing yesterday with a check for $119,044.78 as agreed with both got $9,000 each to spend on what every we wanted and my daughter got $2,000 for helping which $1,000 must go for savings. We do this on all of our properties that we sell.

My wife mostly helps my daughter with her Anime store http://www.myanimix.com when she gets money. And she still saves a lot.

With my portion I mostly save and try new marketing ideas for my businesses. I’m also going to give a lot of my money away over the next month at the Milwaukee Human Services Department to single mom’s and families. My plan is to walk in and just start handing people a white envelope with $25 in each. I’m just going to walk up and say happy holidays and hand it to them.

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Penniless Parenting November 20, 2010 at 3:55 PM

My husband and I have joint accounts and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
However, I just gave advice to someone that I think she should have separate accounts from her husband. This woman is on her second marriage, and both of them have kids from their first. The woman is the main breadwinner; the husband makes some money, but not nearly as much. He spends a ton of their money on his kids, making fancy weddings, having them over for fancy dinners, buying them expensive gifts, but for the most part, he wastes money on buying himself whatever he desires, whether that means takeout or expensive electronics when he has more than he knows what to do with them… He’s basically using up all her money (because he’s not making enough money to cover what he’s spending). And then this lady has no money left over to spend on her kids, and to make it worse, he gets upset at her if she spends anything on her kids, or if she tries to be a little frugal. They’re terribly in debt and are not going to come out because of HIS terrible spending habits.
I think they need to separate their finances and pronto, but she won’t, because she’s too enamored by him and thinks separate accounts are a violation of trust.
It just gets me so mad to see him squandering away HER hard earned money, and seeing her kids suffer from it.

Separate accounts definitely have a place.

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charles November 21, 2010 at 1:36 PM

I’ll say just one thing: If you have separate finances you are NOT optimizing your joint financial condition. If you’re good with that great. It’s simply a matter of what you personally want to optimize.

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Bill November 21, 2010 at 2:01 PM

I have no problem with separate accounts for married couples. My wife and I have done it both ways (currently combined).

When we had separate accounts it was done for convenience. We did not have to keep track of what checks had been written while trying to manage tight budgets. We split the income at the beginning of the month and then each paid what we needed to pay.

The only problem with split accounts is when the spouse does not have access to all the accounts. Splitting for convenience is one thing. Splitting so you can hide your money is not acceptable in a healthy marriage.

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Lynda November 21, 2010 at 3:07 PM

Joint Finances = Fantastic and simple approach to life. The reason why so many people may become irate when discussing this topic = Fear. We all have addictive personalities weather we like to admit it or not. Addiction can take many forms: the need to be in control, the need to be “right”, the need to be liked or accepted by others…etc. These addictions have a serious effect on our most important relationships: the first being with ourselves, the second being with our spouse, and of course the list goes on. I think that we need to stop playing games, be true to who we really are and no longer be afraid of exposing our weaknesses and insecurities to ourselves (and this is the most significant: to our partners) – we can have open and honest relationships. We need to let go, and just be. If we don’t understand, ask why? – if we have doubts, share them – if we feel scared -talk about it….etc… Let’s stop living our lives and wasting time on the stories we are creating in our heads and spend more time on living in the present. Let’s not only talk but take time to listen. Trust me. If you have no idea what I am talking about, sorry. For those of you that “hear” what I am saying…you are on your way.

(And for those of you wondering what this has to do with personal finance – the answer is: everything.)

It comes down to communication. In my view, if all pretenses were removed from the very early stages of courtship perhaps we would have less divorce, more suitable matches, less marriages of convenience (you know what I am talking about…the old “I am approaching the age where I think I “should” be getting married, marriage based on the “idea of love and romance”, etc…), perhaps even less people getting married and having children for the wrong reasons (“because a baby will fix everything mentality”, we know that is never a good choice). If your marriage is strong and true there is no reason to NOT have joint finances – well maybe if you are both too lazy to merge them that is…..then you have other issues! (that I don’t have time to get into at the moment!)

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Pam McCormick November 22, 2010 at 11:31 AM

This will probably not come as a surprise but I disagree with several of the posts and their reasoning for joint finances.Many had different reasons from not maximizing or optimizing their finances to not a healthy marriage.I think that kind of thinking is judgemental and closed minded.What works for one couple might not work for another and as for a healthy marriage well we all know again what one persons definition is not anothers and even the mental health professionals don’t agree on that.My point- keep an open mind, do what works best for the couple since everyone’s situation is different.Maybe by sharing what DOES work for both seperate accounts and joint accounts we all could learn something.I’m just sayin

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Kevin November 22, 2010 at 2:59 PM

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a couple keeping separate finances. It allows them to avoid having difficult discussions, which means less fighting, which makes for a happier marriage. I actually think all couples should keep their money separate. In addition to allowing couples to avoid having to fight/talk about money, it’s also a great way to hedge your bets in case you end up divorcing down the road. It’s wise to plan for such things.

I’ve also found that if you sleep in separate beds, you’ll get a better night’s sleep.

Some of my married friends even live in separate houses. They’ve found that this is a great way to avoid arguments over how messy the house is, or whose turn it is to clean the bathroom, etc. Heck, some of my married friends barely even talk to each other. If you don’t talk, you can’t fight! It’s great!

At what point did the above cross into the absurd for you? Because the whole thing looks absurd to me.

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Baker November 22, 2010 at 3:03 PM

Oh man, you got me so hardcore. Every sentence I was thinking, “your just avoiding the problem… your just avoiding the problem… YOUR JUST…” and then smack you caught me.

Very nice, Kevin… very nice.

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Kevin November 22, 2010 at 3:35 PM

Thanks. :) I listen to some of these people defending separate finances, describing how it allows autonomy and avoids money fights, and I just want to ask them, “what the heck is the point of even getting married if you’re just going to keep everything separate anyway?”

If you love your money more than your spouse, then separate finances make a lot of sense. Otherwise, I just don’t get it.

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Hamlet's Mistress March 2, 2011 at 11:08 AM

Clearly you didn’t take the time to read anyone’s defense of separate money all the way through. Or at least mine. We don’t “keep everything separate”. We have a joint checking that pays the mortgage and the bills. We then have our own accounts as well. So please, keep your snark and sarcasm in check. Don’t look now, but your condescension is showing.

And also? I’m sorry that putting money together is the only reason to get married for you. I can think of LOTS of reason to get married even if you keep money separate. I do feel bad for you that you can’t.

Also, just because you don’t “get it” doesn’t make it wrong. Just for the record.

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Rob Ward November 22, 2010 at 4:33 PM

My wife and I have always had joint finances since we were married (four years and counting). In some ways that has been hard for me to accept because she has always made more money than I have. But just like you said Adam, it is one of main items in our marriage that keeps us open and communicating with each other.

By the way, that picture is perfect for this post.

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Heather November 22, 2010 at 7:24 PM

Our finances are joint. We have separate retirement accounts (I’m pretty sure we couldn’t combine those, even if we wanted to), but the checking and savings accounts are joint.

We are pretty much on the same page when it comes to things financial. Neither of us is a big spender. We both occasionally enjoy to go and do things or buy things that cost money. We always check with each other first, and unless there’s a big expense coming up that we need to cover, it’s always fine.

For the past year, we’ve done our budgeting differently, and it has made everything much less complicated and we’ve saved a ton of money. (OK, we paid off his car a couple of years early, so the money isn’t exactly saved any more…)

Joint checking for bills: my paycheck is direct deposited into this account to keep it and online bill pay free.
Joint savings: his paycheck is mostly direct deposited into this account. We take money from it as needed to pay bills.
Joint savings at the credit union: the rest of his paycheck is direct deposited into this account. We are both teachers and this is what we live off of in the summer.*
*I just started teaching only part time and started a personal training business part time. As the business picks up, we will not need to rely completely on the summer account for summer money.

A friend from college got married; she and her husband kept everything separate. He paid for the mortgage; she paid for utilities and groceries. For all other expenses, they were each responsible for their own. He was a spender; she was a saver.

She got pregnant and took maternity leave and therefore had no income. She spent down her savings in medical bills, utility bills and groceries. Before she was able to return to work, she borrowed a fairly large sum of money from her parents so she could still pay the bills, while her husband bought himself a second car (so he had two) and a wave runner.

It was horrifying to watch.

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Kris November 23, 2010 at 4:12 PM

I never really thought of having separate accounts as equal to simply being roommates with my spouse. We make the same amount of money, split the bills down the middle and only share a single emergency fund. Everything else is separate. We did share an account when we first lived together, but fought constantly and broke up as things got pretty hostile concerning finances. When we got married several years later, we didn’t make that same mistake. We’ve had one lone fight about money in our entire marriage. For us, it works. For you, it might not. However, are we living as roommates just because of our financial accounts? Not even close.

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Nancy L. November 23, 2010 at 11:31 PM

I find it interesting, being a person who has been happily married for over a decade with separate finances, to observe the way that many people with joint finances seem to get defensive or angry that a couple might not pool all their money into a single account. I don’t find myself wanting to tell couples with joint accounts that they are deluded or stupid for combining their finances, simply because I use a different method.

In our case, separate finances made sense when we first began living together, because we weren’t 100% sure where we’d end up. By the time we got married, we were so used to managing our money via individual accounts that it made no sense to rock the boat and try to mush it all together. Still, I don’t look down upon people who have a joint arrangement–I think it’s great when a couple does work together in that manner. The whole “trust” question is ridiculous. If my spouse wants to act dishonorably and damage our financial well-being, it’s not going to matter whether our primary account is a joint account or whether he has a separate account. A violation of trust is a violation, regardless of what circumstances surround it.

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Hamlet's Mistress March 2, 2011 at 11:13 AM

YES. THAT. Thank you.

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Sandy @ yesiamcheap November 24, 2010 at 1:17 AM

Three accounts keep us sane. Yours, mine and ours. Just very small play accounts and one large account for all.

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Sean November 24, 2010 at 7:03 PM

Doesn’t marriage mean marriage? Like togetherness? Union? Marriage is about combining everything. And money is a big, fat part of that equation.

Money represents a lot of things (power, time, freedom, etc) and that’s what it’s really about. Marriage is about going all out 100% and if you take money out of the equation, then you’re not getting the full dosage of marriage. I appreciate what you said Baker about the feeling of simply being roommates and not spouses. It just feels like less involvement and that doesn’t make sense with the person who’s supposed to be number one in your life.

If you’re living together in what I call a “practice marriage” and you haven’t committed to tie the knot, then by all means have separate finances. In fact, you absolutely should. Living together, roommates, business partners, etc – yeah sure, keep the money separate. But once you’re married, it’s time to unite baby!

In all the comments here to the contrary, I just haven’t seen a good enough argument for separate finances without the bottom line involving convenience, fear, or even borderline selfishness. Oh snap!

What a heated topic! Money, Love, Marriage all smashed into one! Thank you for so much amazing content here!

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Nancy L. November 25, 2010 at 10:45 AM

Good to know that my years of marriage have only been “practice”, simply because we never bothered to pay our bills out of a single bank account.

Seriously, if you think that maintaining separate accounts means that you never TALK about finances, or that you never make JOINT decisions about finances simply because you split the chore of writing out the checks between two accounts rather than one, no wonder you think so little of it. In my opinion, since both of us maintain 50% responsibility for the finances, we’re actually more actively engaged in our finances than many couples we know where one partner naturally takes over the “chore” of paying the bills. And why is “convenience” a negative reason for having separate accounts? Last I checked, most people consider time just as valuable as money. As well, in this day and age, where a computer glitch or fraud can lock off access to a bank account for up to 14 days or more, I think it’s actually prudent to keep our household funds spread across more than one account. If my account is frozen, I know my husband can still access his money.

As I said before, I don’t hold any major negative opinions of people who hold joint accounts, nor do I think my method is superior to any other. It’s just what works well for *us*. Trust, unity, and togetherness are not the sole domain of couples that happen to share a bank account, nor is a shared account some sort of magical protection against one spouse choosing to betray the other.

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Kevin November 25, 2010 at 1:11 PM

“in this day and age, where a computer glitch or fraud can lock off access to a bank account for up to 14 days or more”

Oh gimmie a break. When does that ever actually happen? Seriously. If you really need to resort to such outlandish strawmen to support your argument, perhaps that’s a reflection of just how weak the position is you’re defending.

To all you “separate finance” couples out there: What will happen when you reach retirement age? If one of you has saved more than the other (or has just plain had better luck in the markets), will you leave your partner home to watch the cats while you jet off on another cruise, because they can’t afford to come with you? What if your partner can’t afford to retire at the same time as you? Do you say “tough luck, have fun at work, if you need me I’ll be at the golf course”? Or do you share some of your precious “My” money with them?

I still don’t get it.

“Computer glitch locking you out of your money for 14 days” … sheesh! Let’s keep at least ONE foot in reality, shall we?

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Nancy L. November 25, 2010 at 3:38 PM

Hmm…first reply got eaten so apologies if it appears later and there’s two similar responses.

I guess you don’t read Consumerist that much. Bank errors *do* happen, and they aren’t always resolved quickly.
http://consumerist.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-search.cgi?blog_id=1&tag=bank%20error%20not%20in%20your%20favor&limit=20

And I’m confused as to why you keep insisting that separate accounts means that we don’t make joint decisions with our money? You seem to have jumped on one comment I’ve made in my reply to you, and ignored everything else I’ve said.

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Kevin November 26, 2010 at 10:38 AM

Nancy,

People get struck by lightning too, but I don’t avoid rain like the plague.

People get killed in plane crashes too, but I don’t stop flying.

People get killed in car accidents too, but I don’t stop driving.

People win the lottery too, but I don’t waste my money trying.

Some things have such a ridiculously remote chance of occurring that it’s not worth restructuring your life over the “what-if” possibility. Worrying about bank errors freezing your accounts for 2 weeks easily qualifies as one of those things.

Also, I’m still interested in your answers to my questions about how “separate finance” couples will handle retirement when it turns out there’s a wide discrepancy in financial means between the individuals.

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Baker November 26, 2010 at 11:25 AM

Alright, Kevin and Nancy… I love you both, but it’s clear there isn’t going to be any change in either opinion. :-)

I agree that the account errors specifically is a minimal reason to separate finances – however many other ones have been presented.

On the other hand, Kevin, you are being a tad extreme in your examples. It’s obviously very possible that two people can have separate accounts, but continue to make joint financial decisions in retirement.

I think it’s clear for others to see exactly where you are both coming from. More discussion on this won’t add much more to the conversation. :-)

Xoxoxo,

-Baker

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Corey November 29, 2010 at 10:49 PM

Kevin-

I’m confused on why a couple with separate finances must mean they don’t share their finances or their accounts with each other. Can’t a couple share everything, but keep things separate?

In that case, a couple in retirement that want to take a cruise would simply go on the cruise together. Who cares which account it comes from? It’s both theirs – simply managed separately.

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Derek Sisterhen | getnakedbook.com November 29, 2010 at 6:07 PM

I think so many of us have tackled the combined vs. separate question because there isn’t neat and clean answer. I applaud the couples that enjoy deep intimacy, trust, transparency, and unity without combining their finances. In my experience, they are very few and far between.

I wrote a book called Get Naked: Stripping Down to Money & Marriage and in it took the stance that couples are best served by combining their finances. I did so largely from a Biblical perspective on marriage (Gen 2:24-25; “Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked before each other, and they felt no shame.”). That idea of “one flesh” is one I simply can’t deny in my own marriage, and I’ve even seen other couples grow together as they’ve joined their finances (and their lives).

Money has a way of putting our value systems on display. When 84% of married couples say money is the primary source of tension in their marriage, it’s clear this values-aligning business is hard work. So, do we stop working? Do we look for the trap door exit?

In the last few years I’ve helped hundreds of couples unite financially. In the cases where couples decided to separate their finances, it was quickly a step toward divorce. Naturally, there were other underlying issues, but since money touches everything, it simply serves to illumunate the problem areas. Separating the money moves in the direction of repealing “one flesh.”

Tough stuff, this conversation is. I do believe there is a right answer to the question, I just don’t think it’s easy or clean. But worth it? Absolutely.

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Jenna November 29, 2010 at 8:40 PM

I’m not married, but I think it would be weird not to share finances once one does get married. What would be some examples of reasons why you wouldn’t share the money? I can think of some, addictions for example, but are there any others?

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Pam McCormick December 1, 2010 at 12:36 PM

Nancy L. I enjoyed when you made the point about how hostile writers get about individual finances ! it seems they get angry if we don’t see it their way.And Jenna uses sarcasim and needs reasons.I thought it interesting that Jenna thought we wouldn’t share the money just because our money is not in joint accounts.Interesting how many misconcepts there are over money and the way people hand finances.Derek I enjoyed reading your perspective but do not agree with somethings and yet do agree with others.I don’t believe seperate finances leads to divorce but as you said they had “underlying issues”.I have been married 34 years and prior to that knew each other for 5 years lived together for 2 yrs.We have raised a child,paid off a house,paid for a wedding sort of all the usual things and negotiated thru them.We call it team work specifically at our house Team McCormick.The “answer” is what is best for the two people who came together and they need to find it.

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kelsey December 5, 2010 at 4:15 PM

I’m so glad you found what works for you two! My husband and I have been married for four years and we have a joint checking and savings account, and separate checking accounts. We like things to be even, so we pay bills from our joint account and our allowance, which is spent on clothing and entertainment purchases, is kept in our personal accounts.

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BVT December 8, 2010 at 3:14 PM

My partner and I (married) have separate finances, and it is so easy and stress-free, I can’t imagine ever wanting a single joint account. You see, we have expenses, and we have salaries, so we use or salaries to cover our expenses. We just skip the step where all the income goes into a joint account just to be taken out again.
Like others, we divided up the bills proportional to income. “My” bills are about 45% of the total and “her” bills are about 55%. Nice and easy. Whatever is left (if any) is yours to save or spend as you wish.
Who pays for dinner out? Simple: look in the “night out” envelope, and use whatever is there. Filling up the envelopes (food, gas, night out) is part of the “bills” so there is new money there every week.
No fights, no overdrafts caused by someone else’s bookkeeping, no stress about the bills not being paid on time.
And we as a society are well past the days when courts will allow one spouse to run off with marital assets.
The point is, we don’t have separate finances out of fear or distrust, but because it is the absolute simplest way for us to pay the bills

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Sonja December 13, 2010 at 7:29 AM

My boyfriend and me (living together for 2 years, have been together for 7) have seperate accounts and a joint account.

The reason for this? Very simple, I decided (not we) that I wanted to study, and I (not we) decided to take out a student loan to do so, and I (not we) will benefit from this by having a job I’m happier doing. So why should he pay for this as well? I want to take my own resposibility in this and not dump it on him.

This does not mean we don’t love each other, or that if one of us has problems the other won’t help out. We pay all our bills together. We pay our holidays together, and we pay together if we go out for dinner together. But I would never let him pay for MY choices if it’s not necessary.

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Sonja December 13, 2010 at 7:39 AM

As an addition to my comment (Ok, I should’ve though before I pressed send).

In the Netherlands the government is currently working on law that makes a pre-nuptial the standard rather than the exception. They see this as a way to get both partners more money smart (With joint accounts normally a single person is responsible.) and gain financial indepence. This would also relate into having different bank accounts (which I think is very normal here.)

It’s a bit like an insurance. You do not expect your house to catch fire. But just in case you take out an insurance. The chance of your marriage failing is much higher than the chance your house catching fire. This of course does not mean that you plan for your marriage to fail or you do not want to work to make it last. It’s just like an insurance, it’s there if you ever need it. Both partners will be able to fend for themselves and have enough financial knowledge to get by, because they have already been doing so.

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K.Tuten April 1, 2011 at 10:52 AM

We have separate checking accounts. I ran up some credit card debt and tried to get it paid before my husband knew because I know he hates cards,but I eventually told him.That was 3 years ago and since that time our accounts are separate. He pays the utilities,home and auto insurance. We have no mortgage. I pay for my gas and credit cards I have,my medical and help with groceries.I guess its okay this way because I’m probably always going to have a credit card because I love pretty things and don’t always have cash.My husband hates cards and has asked me things like”how much debt will I be in if you die?” Shortly after that I went out and bought life insurance so if I die my debts can be paid. My husband also gives me 50 every week to help me out because he makes almost 3 times what I do. He doesn’t trust me anymore and I don’t think I’d want our money back in one account anyway. (I do wish he’d get over it though.)Separate is probably the way to go,although if its because you’ve lost the trust of your partner you can feel kind of stupid and diminished.Almost like you’ve lost your value to your partner.

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Lisa October 28, 2013 at 1:20 PM

To those who are justifying having separate accounts because you don’t consider yourselves fortunate to have a spouse whom you trust with money, can you please explain why you decided to get married in the first place?

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