Merge Your Money Seamlessly


Author Martha Baer does the math on sharing finances as a couple.

Many partners immediately see the preference for separate accounts as indicative of a lack of trust. If both mates feel their union is for life and that their values, hopes, and dreams are shared, why split up the dollars? Unless we're unconsciously planning a breakup, they reason, each of us will want the same things and act in the interest of the marriage.

And there's certainly some basis for this belief. If there's going to be deception in a relationship, it will very likely involve a couple's finances. In a survey done for Reader's Digest in 2001, 48 percent of spouses who admitted lying to each other said they'd lied about the cost of a purchase (only 2 percent admitted to having lied about sex).

Fundamentally candid spouses who like to spend more than their partners do, often find themselves acting furtively--paying cash instead of using the joint credit card, forinstance, so as to avoid revealing certain purchases at the end of the month. When Eric E. moved the living room armchair and discovered a stack of shopping bags from Macy's and Club Monaco, he was surprised. And he was an extraordinarily good sport when he found out that his wife had gone to the ATM before shopping to avoid racking up visible charges on their credit card bill. Sometimes, of course, the problem is less the concealment than what the money's going for. Strip clubs? Booze? Lunchtime flirtations? Which is why many feel that the health of a relationship can be jeopardized by any secretive spending.In this view, every covert transaction, whether it's candy-bar consumption or a well-hidden porn habit, builds on others, creating a burden of guilt, an imbalance of power, and then a rift.Steve Deutsch, who in his experience as an accountant has seen numerous couples in conflict, believes this. "Everybody does things differently," he says, "but I think it's the healthier relationships that commingle everything. There's nothing hidden. There's a sense of humor. And the partners know money isn't everything."

Yet engaging in sneaky behavior and maintaining privacy aren't necessarily the same thing. A number of experts see huge emotional benefits in spouses keeping some funds in separate accounts. A marriage that makes room for personal growth and individuality, whether through separate vacations, separate friends, or separate savings accounts, might be the best sort of marriage to foster in a culture where independence is highly valued.