Recently, Fox Business posted a video in which panelists debated about the validity and implications of research suggesting that couples are happiest when they pool their money into a joint bank account, versus when they keep separate bank accounts. This research found that people who pool all of their money are equally as happy as people who keep 5% of their earnings; that people who pool 80% of their money are happier than people who pool 70% of their money; and that people who do not pool any of their money are the least happiest of all. This pattern of findings begs the question—is a joint bank account the key to marital bliss?
What factors might account for these findings? One panelist raised the possibility that pooling your money eliminates a major source of conflict and stress in the marriage, although I read reactions posted on various blog sites about these findings that believed the opposite was true—that it creates more conflict. Another comment poster suggested that it decreases the likelihood of infidelity and excessive spending because the other spouse can see how every penny is spent. Other people who posted reactions were more cynical, (correctly) pointing out that correlation is not causation, and that marital happiness probably has nothing to do with having a joint bank account, but instead can be accounted for by a third factor, such as high levels of trust and commitment in the relationship.
Regardless of the specific reasons for these findings, they are nevertheless causing a stir. The reactions to these findings (and to bloggers who used these findings to advocate for having a joint bank account) were among the most polarized I had seen in a long time. Some people believed, unquestionably, that a joint bank account is the way to go. Others believed that this is the most ridiculous idea they had ever entertained.
It is well known that a top reason why marriages end in divorce is disagreements about finances. In a previous article, I discussed the importance of discussing financial issues and goals with your partner before making a full commitment to move forward with the relationship. I argued that it’s crucial for the two of you to be honest with one another about your financial situations as well as to be “on the same page” regarding the paying off of debt, spending priorities, and saving for the future. Here, I describe ongoing ways that you and your partner, once you are in a committed relationship, can manage your finances and plan your financial future in a manner that brings the two of you closer together. Balancing the checkbook doesn’t have to be stressful. Discussions about finances don’t have to lead to arguments. Planning for the future doesn’t have to be anxiety-provoking. But it does have to be based on honesty, trust, and a shared vision for your short and long term financial health.
Full disclosure: I believe that having a joint bank account is, for more marriages than not, a good decision. It’s the way I approach finances in my own marriage. I understand that there are exceptions to this rule. It is understandable (and probably wise) that people who are in marriages that are headed for divorce need to take care of themselves financially and begin to keep money to start their new lives. Keeping finances that are at least partially separate has the potential to make good sense for couples who are starting their second marriages and who both have children from a previous marriage, or for couples who are getting married late in life after their first spouses have passed away. Yes, there are plenty of people who are in their first marriages, with no previous children or extenuating circumstances, who believe that their marriages thrive with separate bank accounts. Above all, I believe that couples need to make their own decision on the basis of careful consideration, open and honest communication, and their own comfort levels. Keep reading...
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