Getting Married? 5 Reasons to Keep Separate Bank Accounts

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Even though my wife and I otherwise fall into fairly traditional roles when it comes to our finances – I’m the breadwinner while she mainly takes care of our family’s daily needs – we always had separate checking accounts.

What we do is that I send her a fixed amount at the beginning of each month and she uses the money as she pleases. If she spends too much one month, then she’ll have to be more frugal the next. If she saved a bit, then she can splurge a bit more. I take care of the family finances and mechanics of saving for the future, so she’s “living paycheck-to-paycheck” sort of speak. It’s a lovely arrangement for her though because the paychecks are dependable and she doesn’t worry at all about running out of money in the future. It works for me too because we avoid bickering about every little spending decision by keeping the focus on the big picture.

While some marriage and finance experts recommend sharing a joint checking account to ensure good marital communication about money, I find that we are far from the only ones who benefit from having separate checking accounts. I know a few other couples who use separate checking accounts to keep the family finances humming along. Here are five reasons why this works:

1. It can be easy to overdraw a joint account.

One of the biggest problems with a joint account is the fact that each spouse will have to be very careful to track every penny and let their partner know of purchases or withdrawals. For some couples, that’s no problem. And that’s primarily because they likely keep too much money earning no interest in a checking account. But for many, it can be easy to forget to mention a purchase here and a bill there, leaving the account overdrawn.

To make a joint account work, either one spouse will need to be the “money boss” who tracks all finances, or both spouses will have to commit to working on balancing the check register together on a weekly (or even daily) basis. Otherwise, you would run into trouble if both partners look at the balance in the account and think they can use the entire amount to buy something.

2. You avoid a power imbalance.

You might remember the jokes in old movies and television shows (including in the opening to The Jetsons) about wives having to ask their husbands for money to go shopping. While that situation was often played for laughs in the past, there is nothing funny about it for the couples in those situations.

When one individual makes more (or all) of the money in a marriage, having a joint account can create a parent/child relationship when it comes to money. The lower-earner may feel as though they have to ask for an allowance, and the higher-earner might feel resentful about giving up hard-earned money. This is particularly true if they are not the one who regularly does the grocery shopping, bill-paying, and other tasks, and are unaware of current costs. By keeping accounts separate, both spouses can each make individual money decisions without feeling second-guessed.

3. Spending habits are different, and that’s okay.

Based on an informal poll of my friends, it seems that most of the women I know will make many small purchases for themselves throughout the year, while the husbands will refrain from spending anything for quite some time until they decide to make one very large purchase. Both spouses have spent about the same amount of money at the end of the day, but it can be difficult for each one to understand the other’s spending habits.

As long as there is communication between the spouses regarding how much to spend on personal luxuries throughout the year, it shouldn’t matter whether that spending is done all at once or over the course of an entire year. With separate accounts (and good communication), spouses with different spending habits will not feel obligated to defend those habits.

4. Dividing expenses is fairer with two accounts.

Whether you adopt a Yours-Mine-and-Ours system, wherein you have a third, joint account that you each contribute to for monthly expenses, or you simply assign different bills to each spouse, division of expenses can feel much fairer with separate accounts.

If all of your money is pooled together into one account, it can feel difficult to differentiate money for general funds expenses, which can easily lead to resentment. If you instead agree that a percentage or portion of each income will go towards bills, the situation will feel fairer to both the lower and higher-earning spouse.

5. Spouses with separate accounts who want to separate won’t feel as trapped in the marriage.

Unfortunately, one of my mom’s friends found out that her husband of 40 years has been cheating on her. And she didn’t find out until a real estate agent called her and mistakenly thought she was the mistress because the husband and the mistress were in the process of buying a house together.

She thought about filing for separation, but many of her friends pleaded for her to stay with her husband not out of love and forgiveness but because she doesn’t have her own accounts and it might take months or even years before she’ll see a dime of their joint assets.

The decision to stay together or file for divorce is complex, but it shouldn’t be based on whether there’s money to survive the transition. No one wants to think of the what-ifs but being independent in this regard just makes things simpler in many cases.

The Bottom Line

While married couples absolutely should regard their finances as shared, that doesn’t mean they need to actually commingle their money in one account. Both for practical reasons and the health of the marriage, keeping separate accounts and the lines of communication open are excellent methods for making sure money doesn’t get in the way of your marriage.

Look. I’m not saying here that having separate accounts is definitely the way to go. As with most things in personal finance, it’s personal. There are always pros and cons. Do what works best for your personal circumstances.

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