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 daughter, Nina, from shaking her head in complete amazement after overhearing it anyway.
Although I can’t remember the exact words, our discussion 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 18 years of marriage, the Honeybee and I are a well-oiled machine. And while many couples can brag about finishing each other’s sentences, we’ve got things so fine-tuned now that we simply interrupt each other and move on to the next subject.
Thankfully, we’ve got our household running smoothly too, including our personal finances.
To Share or Not to Share
Even a hopeless romantic has 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, it comes down to one of three 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:
The Honeybee and I have always used a joint checking account because it makes our household finances easier to manage. 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: This philosophy requires the couple to work as a team when managing the household finances. It also 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. As a result, it’s 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. To get around that minor inconvenience, I tell the Honeybee to avoid looking at the credit card statement until she opens her present.
When one spouse is unable to control their spending, separate accounts help reduce the risk of the irresponsible partner negatively affecting the good credit of the other. Separate accounts also may make sense when one spouse has premarital financial issues stemming from, say, a bankruptcy or trouble with the IRS. Separate accounts can also keep the peace in two-income households where the higher-earning spouse wants to allocate the household’s resources in relationship to income.
Pros: This approach permits each spouse to retain their financial independence, and allows each partner maintain separate credit histories. It can also reduce arguments when couples have differing financial philosophies, or can’t agree on how the household income should be spent.
Cons: Separate accounts are not only inefficient, but they also make money management more complicated. They also demand less financial accountability when compared to joint accounts, which doesn’t help folks who have trouble spending less than they earn.
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
There was a time when 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 naive oversimplification.
I now 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 works best for your marriage. So … Which method do you prefer?
Photo Credit: Shelly Panzarella