Merge Your Money Seamlessly

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Merge Your Money Seamlessly
Author Martha Baer does the math on sharing finances as a couple.

When my parents established their first bank account together after their marriage in 1948, they made the "modern" gesture of including Mrs. Herbert on the checks—it was a cutting-edge joint bank account.

This little tradition has lingered for decades, with some minor changes. Mrs. has for the most part turned into Ms., and most women today actually have first names, but the basic practice of spouses sharing a checking account, from which all the household expenses, gifts, and fun money are drawn, has remained prevalent.

Sometimes there's a joint savings account, too, for those rainy-day needs or that new Chevrolet. Look more closely, though, and you'll find some surprises. Today, the dual account that experts still tout as a savvy marital setup and that some insist is the only honest arrangement for conjugal finances, is a far cry from the way many couples actually live.

Ask what once was a simple question—how many bank accounts do you have?—and you get the wildest range of answers. One woman says two; another says five; one happy husband says seven! And you find every possible configuration: some couples share one and keep others for personal use; some share everything.

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.