Merge Your Money Seamlessly


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

In fact, in contemporary America, too much coupling, too much commingling, can make people uncomfortable.Ellyn Bader, director of The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California, considers all-joint arrangements a vestige of a pre-feminist age in which, as she puts it, "you had a lot of depressed women."The whole concept behind "pin money" (Monika's mother-in-law calls it "foxy money"; the Japanese, "belly-button money") was that husbands doled out small amounts of cash to their wives for managing the household (originally, in fact, for buying literal sewing pins that were pricey back then), rather than giving them actual access to the bank accounts.Bader believes the move toward more autonomy for women should be reflected in a couple's treatment of financial matters. "Money is so symbolic of control and power in a relationship," she says. "I think what you're looking for is some way that each person can do some independent decision-making and spending. Most couples don't know how to create a situation where there's some individual spending and joint sharing and privacy."

In Bader's own life, this balance translates directly into a style of banking that's recommended by many professionals: a joint account for household expenses and two separate accounts for private spending. What those separate accounts end up paying for, of course, varies from couple to couple.

Bader and her husband, for instance, pay for their clothes and recreational interests out of their private accounts. Monika's guy buys cigarettes. And a lot of couples spend a substantial portion of their personal funds on gifts for each other.

For many, in fact, the purity of giving is a key rationale for keeping those individual accounts. They feel that drawing money from a joint pool to pay for a gift dilutes or even destroys the gesture, not just by blurring the identity of the giver but by ruining the surprise.