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On mixing money and marriage

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life, Uncategorized, do more with less


My husband and I have never merged our money. It doesn’t make sense for our blended family to also have blended finances, so in order to keep our assets and financial obligations and liabilities separate, we keep our financial accounts separate as well.

According to many marital and financial advisers, this is a recipe for disaster. “If you are keeping two separate accounts, then I seriously want you to reconsider the vows that you took with your spouse,” writes Erik Folgate at Money Crashers. “You stood up at the altar to show that you are dedicated to becoming one cohesive unit that functions together.”

But some financial experts have found that keeping separate accounts is becoming more common: people are marrying (or remarrying) later in life, they point out, and more women are outearning their husbands. And with credit scores having become so important, it makes sense for each spouse to build and maintain a credit record in his or her own name.

All I know is: It works for us.

Of course, money is still a source of stress — though we tend to worry about how the bills get paid, not who is paying them. But I think that there’s big a difference between having a separate account and having a secret one, and one doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the other.

Psychologist and couples coach Dr. Jan Hoistad says that every issue in a marriage is a partnering issue — including money problems. In her new book, Romance Rehab: 10 Steps to Rescue Your Relationship, she suggests that couples search for “win/win solutions” and working to resolve issues together instead of fighting over them. Looking over past receipts and tracking current and future expenses can help illuminate the bigger financial picture, she suggests.

As the breadwinner, it’s tempting for me to try to shield the rest of my family (including my spouse) from financial issues, but that does them a disservice in the long run — and causes resentment and confusion in the short term as well. You can’t really expect someone to ratchet back the spending if they don’t have a clear idea about why you need to save money, but I think that clear picture comes from communication, not a joint checking account.

How is money handled in your household?

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10 comments so far...

  • Hm, I think it may depend on how tight the finances are. As a woman who easily, singly supports my family and puts away significant bucks each month, I don’t see how it would be important for my would-be husband to have his hand or his paycheck in my bank account. I could see asking him to pitch in for this or that, but putting all the money in one big pot? I’m not sure what that would accomplish.

    Now, if it were necessary for me to tap into his earnings on a regular basis in order to make ends meet, I would not want to have to go and ask him for my allowance. You know? I would want to be a signer on that checking account and just take care of family business, with communication but not “permission.” The same would apply if I were the main breadwinner and he needed to write a check for something.

    I can also see the point of having both separate accounts and joint accounts. Joint ones for mutually important stuff like making ends meet, saving for the kids’ college, etc. Separate accounts if there’s money left over after that - so each person has some sense of control over what he/she has produced. I would want that. Could that be why I never got married?

    Not to be overly spooky, but I seriously dated a guy who was very, very interested in my money (I’m not rich but frugal, so I have some savings). If he eventually got his hands on my money and transferred it “somewhere” and I lost it, I’d have to say I should have seen it coming. Granted, that’s one reason why we did NOT get married, but I can relate to the concern, whether you’re a husband or wife.

    I note that, at least in my state, it doesn’t matter whose bank account it’s in if there is a divorce. If it was earned during the marriage, it’s part of the divorce negotiations. (Yes, I checked!!)

    SKL  |  April 13th, 2010 at 3:50 pm

  • Our finances are a mixed bag. We have a joint checking account, but we have separate credit cards, separate retirement accounts, and separate investment accounts (mostly because we already had those things when we married, and it was too much of a hassle to merge them). The mortgage is joint, as are car loans when we carry them. I agree that the most important thing is communication, not whose name is on which money.

    akmom  |  April 13th, 2010 at 3:54 pm

  • Love this topic! I’ve actually had “friends” who have asked me why I even bothered getting married if we weren’t willing to combine our finances. However, those “friends” (because what friend actually says that?) were females who didn’t work and relied on their husbands to provide them with money.

    We have always had seperate accounts and it has never been a problem in the ten years we’ve been married. What we do is divy up the family bills and I pay my portion of them with what I earn and he pays his. We have one joint account that I contribute my share toward the mortgage and he pays the remainder. Once we’ve paid the portion of our family expenses we’re responsible for (including savings), the rest is ours to do with what we choose. I LOVE the fact that I don’t have to ask for (or notify him of for budgeting purposes) any extra money if I decide to buy an extra expensive pair of shoes one month, etc.

    It has worked very well for us and I actually prefer it this way. We each have our seperate savings that we’ll combine for family trips, etc. We each have our own credit cards and the cars are in the name of whoever is paying for them. I pay for daycare and the “extras” (e.g. birthday gifts, cable package, new, fun clothes for our son, etc.), as well as carry the benefits and all of my own expenses including my car and student loans. I still contribute to the mortgage as stated above and he pays for all of our rental property expenses and the bulk of the mortgage as well as utilities.

    If I didn’t work or have a source of income, it would obviously be a different story. But as things are, it works PERFECTLY for us and we actually rarely have heated discussions about money. The only time we have is when there’s been a life changing event and we’ve had to reassess where our finances/budget are/is.

    Great post!

    Stacey  |  April 13th, 2010 at 4:27 pm

  • I run the business finances, but I keep my husband in the loop. He runs the household finances, and keeps me informed so I can adjust the business side if we need more income.

    Julies  |  April 13th, 2010 at 4:55 pm

  • To clarify further - I have never, ever asked for permission to spend money. Even when I was not working. That’s not how we roll. If one of us is considering a major purchase, we discuss it, but there’s no asking for permission. To us, it’s just easier to put all of our money in one pot - we pay the bills out of it, and there’s no ‘I pay for this, you pay for that’. We don’t argue about money, either. Combining finances works for us, but I certainly respect that it’s not the right thing for everyone.

    akmom  |  April 14th, 2010 at 8:01 am

  • If I were to get married at this time in my life, I’d assume there would be some separate accounts. However there might be joint accounts too, ala, X% of each paycheck goes in communal pot for rent, utilities, food, etc., X% to kids accounts, but everyone should have some money to play with that is their’s.
    I just wouldn’t want to be in the situation of some friends where they go to the grocery store to find out there’s no cash in the accounts because hubby went on a spending spree.

    Mich  |  April 14th, 2010 at 1:02 pm

  • We’re not married yet, but we own a house and have a child together, and we’ve always planned to merge money but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. The model that seems to make the most sense to me is the one my parents have used for 30+ years, which is that there’s a combined account for bills and general expenses and then there are individual accounts–separate but not secret, as you said. I guess this could become a problem if there was a big difference between what each spouse earned (meaning one would have more unaccountable spending money than the other), but in a situation where the earnings are similar, or where jealousy/fairness isn’t a problem, I think it’s a good solution.

    I think that the idea that separate accounts signifies a lack of committment to the relationship and/or trust in your partner is ridiculous. In some cases, the ability to maintain separate (but not secret) accounts without either side feeling a lack of trust is, in fact, a HUGE testament to how committed and trustworthy the partners are. (Kind of like I think that the fact that I’m in a committed non-marriage means we’re that much stronger for staying together when times get tough.) If someone feels he or she need to have equal control over every penny his or her spouse touches, I think the real question is what s/he’s worried about if s/he doesn’t…

    agirlandaboy  |  April 15th, 2010 at 1:20 pm

  • Thanks so much for this post. My fiance and I are getting married this summer and have been wondering what to do about our finances. I understand all the points made by those who keep separate accounts– we’re leaning that way too, as it seems easiest. BUT no one ever seems to mention how couples with separate accounts have decided how to SAVE as a couple. For those with separate accounts, did you each agree to save a fixed percent of your income each month? Does money saved go into a joint account or separate accounts? And how do couples manage the money that is saved?
    Thanks so much!

    jenny  |  April 15th, 2010 at 5:39 pm

  • We keep it “easy”…Both of our paychecks go into a joint account. All bills get paid from that account. No matter if it was a bill that we had before or after we got married. We both have separate accounts for “spending money” that also is just a populated amount from the joint account. Any savings and investments is a populated amount from the joint account. My DH usually ends up giving me his spending money because he hardly ever spends it and I can always find a place to spend it LOL.

    Acl  |  April 16th, 2010 at 3:08 pm

  • We have personal accounts but we also have a joint account….that is working very well for us as we get to work together as a team on most stuff but still have our ‘allowances’ to spend or save as we want. :)

    MamaLisa  |  August 31st, 2010 at 12:25 am