There are several ways for couples to manage their finances. Some choose to keep things completely separate and split the bills, some may keep their separate accounts and contribute to a joint account from which they pay their bills, and some completely merge their accounts and have everything joint.
Since the very beginning of our marriage, the Mr. and I have had our finances completely shared. Although he robbed the cradle and put a ring on it when I was only 19, I always had, and still do have, a very traditional mindset. We got married in the Catholic church (per my request requirement), and just as the church preaches, I very much believe that upon getting married we became one. It also helped that I was a broke, 19 year old college student without a job, so merging my finances, or lack thereof, with him was not really a big issue at all.
All of our paychecks and any other deposits go into one checking account, all of our expenses are paid from the same account, and we save and invest money into joint savings and brokerage accounts, etc. We both have access to all of our accounts. The only accounts that are not in both of our names are our individual accounts (401K, TSPs, Roth IRAs) for obvious reasons. But he even has access to log into my Vanguard account and modify what funds my Roth IRA is allocated to, and vice versa.
Naïve as I was, I totally thought this was how every married couple did things, but that obviously is not the case at all. Had I gotten married later in life, however, I’m not sure I would do it any differently.
They say the three biggest issues a couple fights over and/or don’t communicate about are finances, sex, and kids. Maybe having joint access to everything causes more fights and frustrations? It could be the case with some couples who may not be on the same page, but in my opinion, this method provides the utmost honesty, visibility, and fairness for a couple’s finances.
I totally understand that not everyone shares my sentiments and am fully expecting comments that argue otherwise. All I know is what I’ve observed first hand. I’ve known several couples whose marriages have suffered greatly and they had separate finances. Even if they ended up staying married (for at least some time), at some point the wives expressed to me that this was a major issue for them in the marriage. In one instance, a wife legitimately felt like she was living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to pay her bills, meanwhile she had absolutely no clue how much her husband was paid every two weeks, how much of it was spent on his portion of their expenses, or how much money he had left over at the end of the month. She knew he made significantly more money than she did, so for all she knew, he was comfortably affording all of his bills and blowing the rest on whatever he wanted that she had no clue about.
This was several years ago and I no longer have any communication with them so I don’t know how things worked out for them, but I thought it was so freakin’ effed up and extremely unfair to her. Not only did it lead to trust issues on her part, but it led to insecurity and serious financial struggles for her. Somehow they came up with who would pay what bills, and that was that; she had to survive on her own. And when she was struggling she felt guilty asking him for help with her bills (which, by the way, included their kids’ daycare). When he did help by paying some of her bills, it was almost perceived as an act of charity toward her. What the flip?!
Several times after that I heard of other couples doing it similarly… maintaining separate accounts and agreeing on what bills each of them should pay. And not surprisingly, it almost always involved a couple who was having some kind of marital problems. Not that we don’t all have problems… I’m talking legit separating and/or on the brink of divorce. Sure, maybe I want to punch my husband in the face sometimes, or maybe a lot of times, but divorce is not an option. I told him when he married me, “You’re stuck with me forever.”
But I know many couples do it this way and they can’t all possibly be having marital issues, be it trust or otherwise. So who does this strategy work for? And why do couples choose to do it this way? I can definitely see a few pros:
– Increased independence and/or sense of autonomy
– Less feeling of being micromanaged or every single purchase being scrutinized/spied on
– Brings some surprise and extra effort to gift-giving, since it was purchased with the spouse’s own funds versus the shared funds
– For couples married later in life who have lots of their own bills to pay, including child support, alimony, etc
– For couples married later in life who have lots of money, period, and decide on a pre-nup
– For those with small businesses or sole proprietorships that need accounts separated from everything else
But as alluded to earlier, I feel like this strategy can bring a lot of stress and distrust to the marriage. Not knowing where your spouse’s money is being spent, if they’re saving sufficiently for your financial goals, if they’re even saving at all! I know marriage is about trust, so should we trust each other enough to be able to have everything separately, or should we create the most trust possible by having everything jointly?
I realize I’m asking a lot of questions here, so please tell me your thoughts. I suspect that for this FIRE community who has a big focus on financial responsibility that most of us would have joint finances, but maybe I’m totally wrong. I can’t see us ever doing it any other way! I feel it is so much easier, more organized, and more streamlined. Whenever he buys me a “surprise” gift, but I happen to see the charge before he gives it to me and I know exactly how much the gift cost, I still appreciate it and pretend like I had no idea 😉 but gifts are few and far between nowadays anyway (at least those that cost money), so that’s really a non-issue haha 🙂