The world of Mr. and Mrs. Herbie is gone for good. Like our childbearing choices and our wedding plans, our personal finances today are open to endless variation, and we're using them to reinvent life and love in our own images.
Take the case of Monika S., who worked for five years as a financial adviser and saw "people lose everything when the relationship went sour." She keeps cash from her inheritance in a separate, individual account—which makes the grand total of five for her and her husband: aside from her socked-away inheritance, there’s a joint checking account for the mortgage; joint savings for vacations; her personal checking for frivolous things; and his for gifts and cigarettes. She struggles to find the delicate balance between maintaining her autonomy, giving him his, and making sure both still have a stake in the marriage.
Tricia N. and her husband can top that: He has created seven different credit union accounts. "He likes to put things in buckets," Tricia says with remarkably lighthearted tolerance. He's got one account for travel, one for taxes, one for savings, and one for each of four kids.
"It's ludicrous," says his wife, who boasts an MBA and a job in finance as well as a heap of patience. "But I've come to accept the buckets. He's trying to force more savings by having more accounts. It's a guy thing. So I say, 'Sprinkle away, honey.'"
Sometimes many buckets are a clearer way of representing a couple's values or mapping out shared—and independent—goals. Research in the relatively new field of behavioral economics suggests that people can have different feelings about the very same number of dollars, depending on how the cash was obtained and what it's intended for.