This past weekend, the Honeybee and I had one of those conversations that most couples who are married long enough tend to have from time to time. But that didn’t stop our 11-year-old daughter Nina from shaking her head in complete amazement after overhearing it anyway.
Although I can’t remember the exact words, the discourse went something like this:
“Hey Len, did you happen to take the –”
“So can I assume that you told Sharon –”
“Yes, yes. She said she’d have it next week, Honeybee. By the way, did you buy –”
“Yesterday; while you were pulling weeds. Which reminds me, have you called –”
“Of course. Did you really think that I’d forget?”
“I don’t know, Len. Last month –”
“Hut! Don’t you dare say it!”
“You know what I’m talking about!”
“You’re darn right I do!”
Yes, after 15 years of marriage, the wife and I are a well-oiled machine. And while many couples can brag about finishing each others sentences, the Honeybee and I have got things so fine-tuned now that we simply interrupt each other and move on to the next subject.
By the way, we’ve got our household running smoothly too, thank you very much, right down to our personal finances.
To Share or Not to Share
Now even you hopeless romantics out there have to admit that sharing money is one of the most challenging aspects of any relationship. It requires equal degrees of communication, trust, commitment and personal responsibility. That’s why, prior to tying the knot, one of the first big decisions any couple will make is how to handle the household finances. Basically, that decision comes down to one of three primary options:
- Joint accounts
- Separate accounts
- Some combination of both
Of course, each option comes with its own pros and cons. Here’s my take on joint and separate accounts:
One of the biggest advantages of a joint account is the simplicity that it brings to managing your household finances. The Honeybee and I have used a joint checking account since we were first married. We pay all our bills from the same account, because we’ve agreed that every bill belongs to the household — regardless of who generated it.
Pros: A big benefit of this philosophy is that it requires the couple to work together as a team when managing the household finances. As an added bonus, it adds a critical check-and-balance system that encourages spouses to think twice prior to making unplanned or impulsive expenditures without first consulting their partner. This makes it much harder for one spouse to become financially irresponsible without the other one knowing about it.
Cons: Well, it’s definitely tougher to surprise your spouse with gifts for birthdays or the holidays, but I’ve found a way around that minor inconvenience — I simply tell the Honeybee to avoid looking at the credit card statement until she opens her gift.
Marriage may be a team sport but, believe it or not, sometimes it makes absolutely no sense to have a joint account. When one spouse is unable to control their spending, separate accounts help reduce the risk of the irresponsible spouse negatively affecting the good credit of the other. Separate accounts also may make sense if one spouse has premarital financial issues stemming from, say, a bankruptcy or trouble with the IRS. In two-income households where the higher-earning spouse wants to allocate the household’s resources in relationship to income, separate accounts can often help keep the peace too.
Pros: This approach permits each spouse to retain their financial independence, and helps each partner maintain separate credit histories. It also helps reduce arguments regarding how the household money is spent.
Cons: Separate accounts are not only inefficient, but they also make money management somewhat more complicated. They demand less financial accountability when compared to joint accounts too, which doesn’t help folks who have trouble spending less than they earn.
Then again, many couples choose to straddle the fence and take a compromise approach that utilizes a joint account for the household bills and separate accounts for personal spending purposes. I’ve even heard of folks that prefer to use two separate-but-integrated accounts where each spouse has their name on both accounts, but they treat one as “his” account and the other as “hers.”
Summing It All Up
You know, when I was younger I used to believe that married couples who didn’t share their finances were completely missing the point of marriage, but over time I’ve found that to be a grossly naive oversimplification.
Now that I’m older I realize that, in the end, it really doesn’t matter whether you keep your finances joint or separate. What’s really important is that you choose the option that’s best for you.
Photo Credit: Shelly Panzarella