Separate & Equal

Arguing over $$$!Courtesy of google.com

Arguing over $$$!
Courtesy of google.com

“You do what?” K.L., my friend,  was incredulous.

We had known each other a few years and I had not recalled ever seeing him look so surprised. I wondered why he was making such a big deal out of something my wife and I saw as practical and helpful.

I repeated, “I said we keep separate bank accounts and share the bills.”

“What are you roommates?”

I laughed.

Certainly there are many stresses on a marriage. A survey of counseling professionals conducted by Your Tango.com. found that “74 percent of experts polled agree that the number one predictor of divorce is differing values around kids, money and/or sex.” (http://magazine.foxnews.com/love/expert-survey-reveals-number-one-reason-couples-divorce#ixzz2WlNQhWCh).

However, it can be argued that money causes the most stress on a marriage. In fact according to a study by Jeffrey Drew at Utah State University, “Of all these common things couples fight about, money disputes were the best harbingers of divorce. For wives, disagreements over finances and sex were good predictors of divorce, but finance disputes were much stronger predictors. For husbands, financial disagreements were the only type of common disagreement that predicted whether they would get a divorce.”  http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/07/money-fights-predict-divorce-rates/

I can also speak based on empirical evidence. My parents had different perspectives when it came to money. Unfortunately, when they had financial challenges on top of their different perspectives, fuel was added to the fire and caused stress.

Between the studies and my empirical evidence, I take the money issue seriously.

My wife and I make around the same amount of money. By the way, I would like it noted that I would be quite fine if she made much more. My manhood would not be offended or threatened if she becomes a mommy warbucks.

Now, that that information is out there, let me get to the bigger issue at hand. My wife and I have different spending habits. She makes no attempt to keep up her checkbook. If you asked her how much she had in her checking account, she may be in the ballpark. She enjoys shopping. And as I have joked before due to her online habits, my children’s first three letters learned were UPS.  I always get the receipt when going to the ATM to check my balance, make and follow a strict budget, and shop only when necessary.

Clearly, we are opposites and there is every reason to believe that money could be a real issue in our marriage.

I responded to K.L. “It just works for us. We have different philosophies on money and we make around the same amount.”

“But you are a couple. Isn’t everything both of yours?”

“Of course. But having some independence is a good thing. Besides, I know that S (my wife) likes to shop. I don’t always agree or think it’s necessary (see the bench http://larrydbernstein.com/to-the-bench/). But I also know that she is a wiz at online and rarely pays full price for anything. Anyway, this saves us from arguing over her every purchase. I just bring the UPS packages in the house.”

“And the bills?”

“We split them.”

“What do you divvy everything up at the end of the month?”

“Pretty much. Look, it’s not as if we split it down to the penny or count everything. The point is we have a system, and it works for us.”

“I guess so.”

And that is the point, it works for us.

What about you? How do you handle money issues in your marriage?

27 thoughts on “Separate & Equal

  1. I think it is very interesting that you do this and I know other couples who do the same thing. It probably takes away alot of discussions that you would both probably rather avoid. Howie and I have a more “traditional” set up. He pays all the bills and manages all the savings. My paycheck goes into direct deposit and he deals with whatever happens from there. Sometimes he gives me $20 and I am good to go for the week. I take cash out of the ATM on occasion as needed. I pay for gasoline with my visa card. He checks our bank activity online, all the time. He knows when I have hit the mac machine. He knows when I have purchased something with my visa. Sometimes I have some ‘splaining to do. I often have to justify why I bought this or that or why I had to get a gift for this one or that one. I know little about the bills and what gets paid, when or how. I know that he has his system and it all seems to work. Sometimes I wish I had my own little stash that I could spend freely but most of the time I am happy with the way things are…..I am glad I am not responsible for the mortgage, the phone, the cable, electric, insurance, etc, etc….but it is probably not a good idea to be so ignorant.

    • It really does help to avoid arguments. We rarely argue over $$. I also appreciate the independence and I know S. does too. If I had to worry about every package she had delivered, it would not be pathetic. Either way, I don’t want to track S’s money and don’t want her to that to me.
      Thankfully, with both of us gainfully employed and making a decent $, I don’t worry about not having enough for the essentials. Yet, there are plenty of choices – can I do this or that or nothing that come about.
      Again, it comes down to what works for the couple.

  2. I’m a budget person. And all my friends know it! They know that I am super anal about my budget and I balance my checkbook (an Excel spreadsheet) multiple times a week! I’ve tolerated lots of teasing; however, when they need help, I’m the first one they come to in order to help create a budget!

    My BFF and her husband divorced.. and then 18 months later started dating again, and now they are living together. One of the issues was money, and when he moved back in she was very clear that she would not be supporting him. They created a “house” account, and every paycheck they each put in their required amount. For example, they know that they need XX each month to cover the mortgage, bills and groceries. So each paycheck they each put in XX amount and at the end of the month it equals what they need. And they pay bills and the mortgage and groceries and any “joint” venture from that account. All of their other spending/savings/etc. comes out of their personal accounts, like you and your wife. My BFF is super budget conscience (I taught her after he walked out) and he just calls and checks his balance to see if he has enough to buy lunch or whatever he’s looking at! So, they operate differently, but having the “house” account helps them both be responsible and still have financial freedom. It also helps keep them both from feeling like they are supporting the other!

    So, I don’t think you and your wife are weird… I actually like that system!

    • Wow – you are one financially organized person!! I can’t hold a candle to you. Maybe, you should start a class to teach others like you taught your BFF.
      I’m glad it is working out for your and BFF and her ex.
      Really, the point is to find a system that works for the couple. It is not an easy topic as evidenced by the studies etc.

      • No kidding! I think that should I ever be in that position, I’d have my own account and then a joint/house account for the bills OR I’d have to be in control of it all! 🙂 I’m too much of a control freak when it comes to my budget!

        • Well, I am sure you could figure something out that would work for the two of you. It seems you would be the obvious choice to handle the finances.

  3. When my husband and I first married, our accounts stayed seperate because we never got around to joining them. When my husband was working out of town, his dad came along to help me buy a car, and somehow it came out that we had our money seperate, which he thought was just weird. We eventually joined our money into one account, which I just hate. He is so fast and loose with money. He just loves to spend. And the clothes I buy? Well, those are essential for my, uh, career path. Yeah.

    One thing I did though, to help myself feel that I had some control over our finances, was to set up an auto draft from my paycheck to a savings account in a seperate bank, in my name, not to be touched. I eventually told my husband about it, and he was just fine with that.

    • It sounds like you two have different ideas on $$ as well.
      Good for you gaining some control over your finances. Hopefully, the new system is working for you two.

  4. My wife and combined our money right when we got married but we were never very good at budgeting. About 9 months ago we found a program called You Need A Budget and it has been working for us. I wrote a post about it a few months ago and I suggest it to anyone who is looking to budget. I also know people who have their separate accounts. If it works for you, who cares what others think. http://bealittleweird.com/you-need-a-budget-seriously/

    • Thanks for the comments Brian.
      I just read the post you were talking about. The program sounds wise and practical.
      I am good at budgeting – drilled into me.
      Anyway, I very much agree with your last statement here – if it works for you, who cares what others think.
      Glad YNAB is working for you and your wife.

  5. Hi,
    You have won my heart with this article. My husband and I also have separate bank accounts and separate banks. He goes to a bank that he has been using every since he was a detective and I have an online bank.
    Like your wife, I love to go shopping on the internet, My main purchases are books and electronic equipment. My husband doesn’t understand one thing about computers and electronics and my buying it with the money I earn saves us lots of disagreement, because he would be constantly asking me why.

    However, I must admit that it took me some getting used to. My husband wanted it that way, not me. Now that I have gotten used to it, I would have a hard time reverting back to the other way. This doesn’t mean that I cannot go to him when I need help or am caught running short, and believe me sometimes I run short. Again, like your wife, I don’t keep track of my account. My hubby knows where every penny is. (Good that I got him).

    So thank you for sharing openly about a topic that many people shun to talk about.

    By the way, this has not hurt our marriage. We have been together over 25 years and still marching on.

    Shalom,
    Patricia

    • Wait a minute – just now I have won your heart? I thought that had been the case way back – you are a fickle one. Ha ha.
      It sounds like our similar systems have been put in place for the same reason: saves us lots of disagreement and constantly being asking and answering why. I don’t want to ask my wife this constantly – though I still do sometimes. If I don’t agree, I try to keep it to shake of the head, a mutter, and walk on.
      Glad to hear having this independence has not hurt your marriage – hopefully we can replicate that as well. Continue marching on.

  6. I think it’s interesting that this approach is working for you! We have a good friend who divorced recently, and money problems were one of the many, many issues. (Also, she started sleeping with an old, toothless, tattooed man. So there was that…) They also had separate accounts and paid separate bills. But, unlike you and your wife, neither spouse was good with money and they ended up with fines, late fees, back taxes, and a very unhappy mortgage company.

    So I’m realizing that the issue isn’t so much with the separate accounts/bills, but the responsibility and trustworthiness of both partners. Interesting.

    • I think you make a good point. If both or either of us was completely irresponsible, things would be much more difficult/challenging. We may not always agree with each other’s choices now but we know that the other will handle the bills.
      I think that other issue you mentioned probably loomed large in the break-up. Of course, I am no expert, but it just makes sense to me.

  7. This is very interesting, Larry. I’m a proponent of married couples combining bank accounts. However, you have obviously found a system that works and is agreeable to both of you. I’m happy for you!

    Opposites do attract. My husband and I handle money differently. We have different priorities for spending. Our inter-dependency causes us to benefit from each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Having one account forces us to grow in trust and oneness in our marriage.

    My husband makes the majority of our money. Yet, I keep the budget because I am a natural organizer. We have yearly meetings to update the budget and regularly discuss how to spend our money, especially windfall-falls.

    Thanks for sharing this, Larry! You’re right. It is a critical component in marriages/relationships.

    • Yes, it works for us and that ultimately is the most important thing. I am happy it works too. We can find other things to bicker about.
      I am glad that you and your husband find that the one account system works for you two and helps you grow trust in your marriage. It sounds like the communication is there in this and other elements of your relationship.

  8. My husband and I have seperate bank accounts too! For exactly the same reason, only with us my husband is the spender and I am the saver. People are always really surprised when I tell them we don’t have a joint account but in my eyes it makes perfect sense. I like to save money at the end of the month and he likes the spend everything he has. So he pays a bit more on bills and I save a bit every month. This way we both get what we want without any arguments or stress. It is perfect, and I’m glad I’m not the only one 🙂

  9. when I used to work, we both used to make around the same salary too and we had different bank accounts but shared bills
    after we decided I would stay home with Nate, well with only 1 salary, I had to unfortunately reduce my spending!
    btw, I’m the spender and hubby likes to save and knows exactly how much money we have in the bank 🙂

  10. How did I miss all these posts?!?!? Alrighty then … let me jump right in!
    I did the same thing when I was married and for the exact same reason. My ex was just paying for things when he wanted and not paying attention to his balance. I’m more of the person who pays bills first and then you can shop. We’d go through the bills together, he’d write me a check when he got paid, I paid the bills and that’s what worked for us. We were always separated financially from the start … kinda made it easy once the divorce process happened. We were already split down the middle.

    • Yes, how did you?
      I am glad the system worked for as well. I hope it did not contribute (get the pun there?) to the divorce.

      • Yeah, I got busy and lost track of wordpress.
        Our money issues added to the divorce but not because of the two accounts. That’s a totally different story!

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