The Marriage of Financial Ideas

Q: After years of marriage, my husband and I are considering a different financial system. We never merged our bank accounts when we got married, but now we’re considering either having only shared accounts or a combination. I know the “best” one depends on the couple, but I’d like to hear some arguments for one over the other.

A: The easiest way to determine is by taking at look at your spending habits. If one of you frugal or if one is an unstoppable spendthrift, a combination is probably the way to go. That way as a couple you can have an account to pay bills or save for vacation, but you won’t feel like you have to explain the way you spend your money. However, if the two of you are on the same page financially, then sharing the accounts is best. You won’t have to debate how much of a paycheck to put into the joint account vs. your separate account.

Slate ran a
really interesting feature back in February about the three main choices: sharing accounts, separate accounts or a combination. Close to 6,000 people participated in a survey and of the married couples, 48% share accounts, 40% have a combination and 11% keep things separate.

The shared account seems to be preferred — although not overwhelmingly so. This is probably because the money stops being “yours” and “mine” and is simply “ours.” Once that money is in the account, there’s no tracking whether or not more of your money is being spent or more of his. Perhaps less fights break out about who pays for what. After all, if the money all comes from the same place, there can’t be any arguments about who paid the mortgage last month or dinner last weekend.

According to Slate’s research, those who keep only shared accounts have typically been together longer (by at least three years). This makes sense, as these couples have grown accustomed to one another’s spending habits, whereas slightly younger couples find their ideas about money are more of a work in progress as they get used to sharing spending responsibilities with another person.

Interestingly, education has a fairly large affect on how couples keep their money. A larger disparity between education means the couple is more likely to keep separate accounts. For instance, if one has a graduate degree, but the other only has a high school diploma or a GED, then 21% keep separate accounts — compared to only 11% of all married couple who keep separate accounts.