To Share or Not to Share

Thursday, February 01, 2007
Martin, the super saucy Swedish archaeologist, had an interesting post today on the pros and cons of joint bank accounts. Go on, give it a read. I’ll wait…Done? Excellent, please continue.

Martin’s post reminded me of the one I did back in December on surnames and marriage. While I’m a bit up in the air when it comes to the idea of a name change, I agree with Martin’s view on separate bank accounts. Money issues are the number one cause of divorce in North America (no I have no documentation to support this, just trust me – I watch Judge Judy) followed closely by adultery and abuse.

The thought of a joint bank account makes me very uncomfortable. I certainly don’t like the idea of having to ask my husband/partner if I can buy something or spend some of the money we share. Frankly it makes me feel like a child asking for an allowance. Money is an issue, like that of children (to have or have not), life goals, and religion, that definitely needs to be worked out before anyone even steps foot down the aisle. Worrying about these things after the honeymoon is not the time.

As with the name game, some people may feel that the refusal to have a joint account is a sign that you don’t trust them, that you’re not planning on sticking around forever, or that you want to keep your money but make them pay for everything (oh yes, this has happened, trust me – and no it’s not a personal story). While this might be true in some cases, it isn’t always. Martin’s idea is one way to avoid the pitfalls many married/cohabitating couples encounter when it comes to money. One of my family members has another plan that has worked well for them for the past 8 or 9 years – separate bank accounts and a shared, household account. If and when I ever end up in a situation where the idea of shared/separate bank accounts comes up, I would likely go with this one. Sure there are plenty of couples out there who have joint accounts and who’ve had no problems whatsoever. One of my closest friends is a prime example. I commend them for being able to do it with few problems. However, there are far more couples out there who’ve tried and failed.

The issue also comes up about the amount each person should put towards shared expenses. This is a tough one for me. Typically I’m a 50/50 person. In this case I stick by that rule…to a point. If the incomes of the two individuals involved are similar than sure, equal shares. However, if I’m a bigwig at company XYZ and he works as a fry cook at a fast food joint (no judgement – he’s free to do as he pleases), I can’t reasonably expect him to pay half. The same holds true if it were the other way around.

There is also the argument that with separate accounts, and no one to be accountable to, there could be the temptation for one or both partners to overspend on non-essentials (items other than rent, bills, food, etc) and therefore not be able to ante up their portion of the shared expenses. I don't buy it (ha ha ha, no pun intended). If someone is irresponsible with their own account they're likely going to be just as irresponsible with a joint account.

As Martin so adequately points out, "The secret, apart from the basic requirement of marrying only sensible people with an adequate income, is to keep each person's income and expenses separate. This may sound profoundly un-romantic and anti-family, but believe me, it's a lot more romantic and family-like than the ugly fights that invariably result when one spouse uses the other's money to buy things that person doesn't value at all." Amen.


mister anchovy said...

We share an account, and Tuffy manages the money. I like it that way, because with that arrangement, we save a bit. If I managed it, we would have many excellent accordions, some obsenely good scotch and a selection of bamboo hand-made fly rods, and nothing else. We have never argued about money.

Red said...

Oh, Mr A, I do like a man who abdicates responsibility!

* and I do just what your family members do, Karen: we each have our own account, plus a joint account that we contribute to in equal measure. That's for stuff like mortgage, groceries, bills etc. That way, we are free (and guilt-free) to do what we want with our own money. It works great for us.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you and Martin on this one. If money causes many of the divorces I think the problems lies more with the people than with the paper. I think most people don't know their potential spouses well enough before they marry them and they 'expect' a zebra and get an elephant. But back to finances (marriage and divorce is a huge issue unto its own I think). My husband and I have had a single joint account for 11 years and we lived together for 5 years before the marriage and we have never once had an argument or fight over money. We are mature enough to know what bills need to be paid and what money needs to be spent or saved. If I need something or want something 'unnecessary', I talk to my husband about it but there is NEVER a need to 'ask for permission' as it is my money too. If he wants something, again, we TALK about it. A marriage is not 50/50 - it is 100/100. Every person must give 100% into the marriage or it won't work. Separate bank accounts are just an excuse to 'do what you want to do regardless of what the other person thinks', and as far as I'm concerned that is not a marriage. I think it also instills a sense of separation between the couple and if you want to be your own separate individual, don't get married. If one person overspends, I think that it is a sign that there is already a problem with the individual or the marriage to begin with and this person is overspending out of boredom, trying to get back at the spouse for something or because they are lacking happiness in their marriage and they are looking for some materialistic things to bring them joy (which we are all guilty of but there are limits). If you have to sit down and figure out who is putting in an 'equal' amount of money for each bill, as soon as one payment is not equal you start a battle.

As for Red's comment about spending money 'guilt free' - I think you only feel guilty doing something when you know it is something you shouldn't be doing in the first place.

I also understand that situations change if there is only one income earner in a marriage but again, it comes down to maturity. If I was the only one 'bringing home the bacon' in my marriage and my husband wanted to buy himself a new toy, we would discuss, together, where that money would come from and what we would have to sacrifice to get it. If we decided together that it was worth it, then he would buy it. There would never be an issue of 'him asking permission to spend my money' because the day we became a couple was the day everything of mine became his. That's how relationships and marriages work.

Money is only an issue and a problem in a marriage if you make it one.

* (asterisk) said...

When Red and I met, I was an almost-broke overspender (albeit with a mortgaged flat in my name). As such I was keen that she not be any part of my irresponsible financial ways and suggested that we keep the separate accounts we already had, in addition to setting up some necessary joint ones.

Once we got married, in Italy, we were surprised that there was something akin to a prenup that we had to opt in or out of as pasrt of the service. Essentially, do we want "shared possession" legally, or "separation of possessions".

Everyone we spoke to advised we opt for the latter, as unromantic as it may seem. The truth is that the great majority of marriages end in divorce. That is a statistical fact. So it makes good business sense to make sure your bases are covered, so to speak.

I hope my marriage lasts the distance, even though I know I will get out of it everything that I brought to it, by law.

I hope Anon's marriage lasts too; otherwise her philosophy may well cost her a lot of money.

Incidentally, the upshot of Red being frugal and me being frivolous when we met is this: She has taught me how to save, and I've taught her it's okay to spend once in a while. And if that ain't a good end result, then I don't know what is. It probably wouldn't have happened if we'd had joint accounts only.

Red said...

More than the divorce statistics, though, what persuaded me that we should go for the "separation of assets" was our accountant friend. He works for the government and he said that should there ever be any inconsistency in the accounts, he wouldn't want the powers that be to come after his wife as well. So it is a form of protection in more ways than one.

Martin said...

Me and YuSie have a pre-nup. In our situation, it's the only way to make it work: none of us has many assets, but both have pretty affluent parents. And neither set of parents would be happy to off-load their legacy on a dead-beat estranged in-law.

As for Anon's comment, I am actually pretty keen to remain my own separate individual, and I wouldn't touch a woman who didn't have a similar ambition with a ten-foot carrot.

Anonymous said...

It was not my intention to offend anyone with my comments regarding marriage and money so please forgive me if I did so. I am very passionate about my marriage, and my husband and I both believe that we have found our 'one true one'. I know it is corny but it is true.

What scares me is that there are so many people out there (several of my friends included) that go into a marriage with the idea that 'hey, this might not work out' and have their 'financial plans' in order if it doesn't. To me, if you think that there is ANY possibility that things may go sour, then they probably will. We went into our marriage with the complete and utter belief that it will be forever. There was no question. This may be naieve but it is just how we are. Having a new baby recently has caused the only strain that our relationship has ever seen but it has not shaken our resolve that this is still forever.

As for statistics, just because you have a better chance of dieing in a plane crash than a car crash doesn't mean that I am never going to fly or am expecting to die when I do. If 50% of marriages (or more) end in divorce, that doesn't mean I am expecting or going to plan for this to happen either. So many people have lost (or maybe never had) the real reason for marriage. Maybe some people were never meant to spend their entire lives with just one person so that is why some are so eager to throw in the towel when things get tough, but that is not how I feel. Maybe I am just luckier than most and I have found the 'one'. I feel sorry for those who don't feel the same way about their spouse. Too many people 'settle' for second best just so they don't have to be alone.

As for your comment Martin on being a separate individual in the marriage, I don't think a person can be in a successful marriage if they want to remain an individual. Isn't marriage about the joining of two individuals to become one? To share their lives together and their responsibilities? If you want to be your own person and do your own thing, you are no longer a married couple but roommates. I have things that are 'just me' but for the most part, my husband is my life and I am his. He is my best friend and neither of us like to do much apart. This may be pathetic to some people but it is so much more fulfilling of a life than living one with a person with whom I don't want to be around, who I don't trust with money and who I am expecting to leave when things get tough.

As for Karen's original intention with her post - money matters - sorry for getting so off topic Karen - it seems that money has more substance in some marriages and to some people. In my marriage, money is about as important as who emptied the dishwasher last. We don't care who has bought what or how much they spent. We pay the bills, we have some money put aside for savings and we buy things that make us happy. There is no jealosy, there is no competition and there are no secrets.


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