Does how you share your money affect how you share your life?
This post originally appeared on Engaged Marriage.
Do you and your spouse use a single, joint checking account? Or do you choose to keep separate bank accounts? Have you considered the alternatives? I was frankly surprised at the responses I've heard to these questions over the past week or so. And I was really shocked at the emotional reaction that many have in defending the structure of their family finances.
It started in the comments to my (first) monthly column at Simple Marriage where everyone seemingly ignored my main points in the "Six Steps to a Simple and Successful Financial Life" and focused in on my statement that a joint checking account was the way to go. Curious, I then posed the question on the Engaged Marriage Facebook page and received some incredible responses. 4 Ways To Avoid Fighting About Money
For instance, the pro joint account crowd provided comments like this:
Mary: We have a joint checking account. Always have and always will. We're married and share everything – nothing is his and nothing is mine. We agree on finances and how we spend OUR money.
Erica: We have joint everything…we discuss all major purchases/goals/bills, but gas, food, etc. just comes out of our joint account as needed. It works very well for us and I couldn't imagine having it separate. All the figuring out who has paid for which thing and how much and trying to make it "even" etc. has never made sense to me. It's US, and OURS.
And some readers love their separate checking accounts:
Sam: We have separate accounts. I cover most of the bills and the majority of his money is used for discretionary costs (gas, food, etc). We both have access to each others accounts, so it's not like my money is strictly my money (and vice-versa). Works for us! Honestly, I think a joint account would cause some stress for us. Jennifer: We have separate accounts. I pay mortgage and living costs (groceries, fun, etc.) and he pays all other bills and savings. We find it much easier to manage money that way.
I don't think my suggestion of trying a single joint checking account was too radical or really all that forceful in the way it was presented. Nevertheless, pretty much every comment on my Simple Marriage post was related to that issue. I was even accused of making broad generalizations, and it was clear that I offended some folks with my recommendation. It turns out that people can be pretty passionate about their choice of bank accounts! Do You Have Separate Bank Accounts?
I loved the conversations, and as I have taken some time to think about the issue a little more, I've even opened my mind a bit. I thought it would be useful to outline the main reasons why a married couple may choose a single joint account vs. separate accounts. And then, for the really important part of this exercise, we'll take a look at why this decision should matter to you and your spouse. 5 Tips to Juggle Love and Money
Reasons Why a Joint Bank Account is Best
- Encourages regular communication about finances
- Built-in accountability partner on spending matters
- Fosters unity in money matters
- Strong sense of working together to meet financial goals
- Clear that all household income is treated as "our" money
- No conflict or administrative work in "splitting up the bills"
- Dave Ramsey says this is best, and we all love Dave, right?
Reasons Why Separate or "Yours, Mine and Ours" Bank Accounts Rule
- Duties of financial bookkeeping not solely on one person
- Clear boundaries set up-front for individual spending
- May be easier to track specific savings goals
- Easy to surprise your spouse with gifts
- No need to talk about finances regularly
- Each spouse can keep "their proportionate amount" of household income
- Ability to maintain privacy about what you spend money on
- More independence and autonomy to spend as desired without seeking concurrence
So, who is really right? After reading a lot about this issue and reflecting upon it, I have divined the one, true and infallible answer to this age-old question: It depends.
You will notice that the reasons I listed in support of separate accounts are broken into two groups. In my opinion, the "[unitalicized]" group are legitimate and healthy reasons for having multiple accounts. However, the "[italicized]" group spells trouble. The reasons listed in [italics] are centered in a mentality of not just separate accounts, but separate finances within the marriage. I feel strongly that this is a dangerous and unhealthy foundation for money management for a married couple. These reasons come from a spirit of selfishness, and they do not reflect the fact that marriage is a partnership. And they certainly do not support open communication and trust.
Personally, Bethany and I use a single, joint checking account and feel that is absolutely perfect for us. And before I gave this much thought, I would have prescribed this same arrangement for every married couple. Actually, I still think this is the way to go, but I can see where other approaches can work fine, too. The main reason that we choose to keep a joint bank account is our belief in unity. We believe that when you get married, you become one, and money is a key area where this is lived out. There is no "yours, mine and ours" but only "ours." When you handle your money together, you are agreeing on your hopes, dreams and goals together. The use of a single joint account also encourages (requires, really) open communication about your finances, which is absolutely critical to a successful marriage.
As long as the right intent is there, I think you also operate in full unity with multiple accounts. I don't think it provides as accommodating of environment for unity and open communication, but I fully believe many couples lead happy, healthy and successful financial lives together under this arrangement. Plus, we feel it is just easier to manage when everything goes into one account and out of the same account. For us, it's the simpler solution to maintain a single checking account. I realize that some couples find the simplicity of their money management to actually be enhanced by using multiple accounts. And, while that's not our deal, I can certainly understand and respect that. In fact, we have several different savings accounts for this same reason.
In my opinion, the real question to ask here is not how many accounts you have or what you call them. The key is to operate your finances in a unified way with open communication at all times. You can do that with one account or twenty. However, if you do operate with multiple accounts, they should all be "joint" accounts that you both can access, and there should be absolutely no secrets about how money is being earned or spent. And remember that your motivation should be one of unity. That will keep you in the black and out of the red in more ways than one.
So, I just have to know: Do you and your spouse use a single joint checking account or do you choose to keep separate accounts? Why?