Joint or Separate Finances?

Should married couples combine their finances? Or should they keep them separate? This is a bit of a financial hot potato, with strong supporters on both sides of the aisle. In the end, however, the “right” answer almost certainly depends on the circumstances and the people involved.

With the foregoing in mind, I wanted to talk a bit about how we approach things, and to also give you guys a chance to share what works for you (and why).

Our approach

My wife and I actually combined our finances before we even got married, and we’ve never looked back. To be completely honest, I can’t even remember having had a big money conversation in which we decided to do this. Rather, it just seemed like the right thing to do, so we did it.

Looking back, this was very easy to implement because things were so simple. We didn’t have much money, and neither of us had any debt. In the end, we just had to open a joint bank account and put each other on our credit cards.

Since that time, our finances have grown increasingly more complex, but we’ve maintained a joint approach across the board. With the exception of our retirement accounts, where we’re not allowed to have joint ownership, my wife and I are joint owners of all of our banking and investment accounts.

As far as credit cards go, we have two main cards. My wife is the primary account holder on one, and I’m the primary account holder on the other. We’re both authorized users on each other’s accounts, and we use them interchangeably to maximize our rewards.

Overall, this has been a fantastic arrangement for us. My wife and I are two of the most financially-compatible people you’ll ever meet, and we’re also very open with each other. While we’ve had our fair share of disagreements about various things over the years, I can’t recall a single argument about money.

Another wrinkle for us is that my wife now stays at home with the kids. Since she doesn’t currently have an income of her own, maintaining separate finances would be the rough equivalent of putting her on an allowance. Given that she works at least as hard as I do, that just doesn’t sit well with me.

What about you?

Okay, now it’s your turn… Are you a fan of joint or separate finances? Or perhaps you’re partial to a combination of the two approaches? Whatever your preference, what concerns you about the alternate approach?

38 Responses to “Joint or Separate Finances?”

  1. Anonymous

    we were married for 20 years with separate accounts which worked very well for us, but one should keep in mind that the courts are not set up to handle separate accounts, and divorce is likely to be unfair to the responsible member. Every couple should have a pre-nup, and it’s especially true if you plan to have a non traditional financial arrangement.

    And for those who say “divorce is not an issue for me” you are being naive. We most assuredly thought the same thing – but she fell in love – and lost sight of everything she believed in in six weeks. Everything.

  2. Anonymous

    Short answer is: I’ve had both and I’m LOVING separate checking accounts.

    For a joint account (and marriage, actually) to really work, the couple must be equally ‘yoked’. Yes, I am referring to the yoke that joins two animals together for the purposes of work. If one animal is smaller than the other, they will be dragged along by the bigger one while the bigger one does all of the work. In a marriage, it means that they must have the same attention to and respect for each other, their marriage, their family and their finances. Without that, joint accounts and marriages will have problems and, most likely, fail.

    My husband and I have been married for 10yrs and we had joint checking/savings account for 13yrs. We are not equally yoked by any stretch of the imagination. For the last 8 years of our joint accounts, we have argued constantly about money. The problem is that my husband is a compulsive gambler so, over his lunch hour, he’d take money out for bets or he’d ‘run to the store’ after dinner and gamble before he stopped for groceries. I never knew what money was available in our account because I didn’t know what he might do. I began using my credit cards for everything because I couldn’t guarantee what was in our checking. Of course, he hated that I used the credit cards but I had to take care of the house somehow.

    In 2008, he emptied our tax savings account to pay his credit card. That’s when I took over the checkbook. I set up auto-pay with creditors and the bank. I had to write very few checks on my own anymore. I had everything auto-entered into my Quicken checkbook. For the first 10mos, everything went very smooth even though he hated the auto-pay. Bottom line is there were no late bills even though we still didn’t have much cash because of his gambling. Then, he went on a golf trip and took out too much money because they were gambling at night, I now had to empty our savings account to cover our bills. Our mortgage check nearly bounced and now we didn’t have enough money for taxes. He blamed me, of course, since I was in charge of the accounts. I knew the truth. After two months of almost constant fighting or not speaking to each other, he finally got fed up over some money thing and got his own account in September, 2009.

    I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders. He now pays me a set amount of money twice a month and I pay the bills. He takes care of his accounts and I take care of the rest. He still gambles (and I signed him up for MyFico to stay on top of where his debt is at until my personal and our joint debt is paid off and I can work with him on his debt) but I now know for certain that we have enough money for food, etc. and that my daughter will not go hungry. For instance, I know that, if I stay on budget, I will have $200 left at the end of the month. He has issues with the fact that he doesn’t know what’s being paid or when. I’ve offered reports, etc but he’s turned them down.

  3. Anonymous

    My husband and I have been married for 2½ years and finances have been a problem from the beginning. I managed the finances completely and ended up resenting him for not sharing the burden which led to a lot of arguments. Since I was in control and saw how much we had, I spent way more than he did sometimes just for myself. Our solution: both paychecks are deposited into our joint checking account every month with the exception of $500 each being deposited into separate accounts. Bills and household expenses are paid out of the joint account while the we each get an allowance that we are not accountable for to the other person. It’s worked out for us and we’ve even been able to save more money this way!

  4. Anonymous

    Daniel, I was trying to gently point out that your first comment was really offensive to people who are committed to their marriages but aren’t arranging their money like you are – there’s no reason to imply they’re not really united or really committed just because they do things differently than you do.

  5. Anonymous

    We do things a little differently than most posters. Paychecks go into our personal accounts. We have a joint checking that is essentially a zero balance account. We pay all the shared bills out of this account and each transfer an equal amount into the account at the beginning of the month to cover the bills. We also jointly save equal amounts each month for vacations and other large expenditures in a joint savings account. We have a joint credit card that is used for all shared expenditures (groceries, family travel, gas, car repairs, etc.). The bill for this card gets paid out of the joint chekcing account. Whatever is left in the personal accounts is free for any use, including investing. This has worked for us for 5+ years, largerly because we’re both pretty good savers and don’t worry that the other is spending every last penny.

  6. Anonymous

    I would not marry a man that I could not trust or unite with financially. It’s more than a contract, it’s a covenant and a bond forever. We got to know each other very well before we made any commitments or before we bonded together. One of the many things we both got to know about each other was how we each handled finances. Neither of us felt it was wise to pay credit card interest or indulge ourselves beyond our income. “Check” he met one of my criteria and I met one of his – on down the list and he met all of my Top 10. You’ve got to admit, planning for happiness and financial security beats the odds of hoping to get lucky. With a plan like that, we’re also hoping the odds of getting a divorce went down a notch or two. Party of our 18 years of marital bliss has been bliss-ters – but . . . we still laugh every day at each other’s jokes, and we have no debt to quarrel over – it gave us a focus beyond bickering to get established that way. We don’t think we have life’s answers – it’s just worked out for us to do things this way.

  7. Anonymous

    @Jace, I don’t believe in “one true love” either – it’s just that divorce is not an option for me. I made a personal choice that I got married for keeps, and she did too, so there’s no reason to keep things separate.

    @Rosa, there are categories in our budget over which my wife has exclusive control (e.g., Baby, Dining, and Househoold supplies) and I trust her to handle that well. I don’t ask her about those purchases, but I expect that she will keep food on the table with the money.

    Rosa, it has nothing to do with making it “really logistically difficult” – it’s just that we decided that marriage is forever, and divorce is not an option. As I said, to me it is a natural part of “two become one.”

    Anyway, I’m not here to argue about this or debate it – I just wanted to respond to a few points.

  8. Anonymous

    When I was a stay-at-home mom, having my own account was really important to me. My partner was really freaked out by parenthood and by being responsible for all of us financially and for about a year he was just impossible about money – he would quiz me on why I bought specific groceries, and the first time I bought the baby shoes (at the thrift store) he said “Why does he need two pairs of shoes? He can only wear one at a time!”

    So I had my own account for spending out of and if I didn’t, I might have had to leave him. (He’s better now. He’s a very good, conscientious person and he was terrified he wasn’t going to be able to do it right.)

    Daniel, it’s just about as fair to say that people who make it really logistically difficult to leave aren’t secure in their emotional commitment to each other – if you’re really committed, you can have all separate everything and still be together, after all. You can’t judge people’s emotions by their practical arrangements.

  9. Anonymous

    I know I’m going to get hate mail for this…

    [edit: disclaimer] I’m not one of those people who believes in “one-true love” – I think a relationship is work and sometimes it doesn’t always work out.

    @Daniel – Perhaps it’s a way out but the fact that a majority of couples divorce and only a handful of those are amicable, I find it fiscally irresponsible to throw everything together and let “love conquer all”. I equate it to driving without car insurance or removing the guard on my lawnmower. Sure, I’m never going to willingly stick my hand in there so why do I need it? I love my girlfriend and no, I haven’t been married before so perhaps I’m being ignorant but being a child of a divorcee and seeing what kind of devastation it caused financially and knowing that it can ruin a good portion of your life, I a bit skeptical of putting all my eggs in one basket. Perhaps I’ll change my opinion after I get married… but God bless those of you who believe in forever love, I guess I’m just a pessimist.

  10. Anonymous

    My wife and I have always had combined finances.

    I know this will offend those with split finances, but I always wonder about those who keep separate finances: are they spouses, or are they roommates?

    To me, combining finances is a natural part of “leave and cleave” and “two become one,” and I cannot fathom why people would not do it. It just seems to me that keeping finances separate is a subtle, if subconscious, way of making it easier to divorce, which to me is not an option. Our life is combined – forever – so our finances should be too.

  11. Anonymous

    I have been married for almost two years, and we combined everything over three years ago when we moved in together. When we started, my husband earned more than I did because he was working full time and I was in grad school. Now that I’m done with school, I make a much higher salary and he has gone back to school. I agree with the comments that separate accounts when he earns so little would feel like an allowance. The way we view things, I couldn’t have finished grad school and gotten my job without his support, so it’s his money as well. He goes to school and does all the cooking and most of the housework, but that doesn’t bring in a formal paycheck, though it contributes greatly to our household. I manage most of the money, almost all bills are automatically withdrawn from our account, and we have a $20 rule on fun purchases. So far, it is working very well for us. We’ve worked out a budget together, and we’re both trying to stick to it. In our situation, with him being in school and having almost no income, I think it would be unfair and create a bad dynamic if we were to keep separate accounts.

  12. Anonymous

    My girlfriend and I created a personal escrow account that a portion of our paycheck is direct deposited into. I wrote a website (linked) that calculates when our main bills come out of that account automatically (rent, car payment, insurance, etc) and makes sure we stay in the green month to month. We have a “joint” savings account but only my name is on it as it’s for emergency savings so we agreed to limit access. We each have our own checking and savings accounts though; this keeps the main financial conversations to the joint bills and lets us maintain a level of privacy for our own spending. If she wants to buy me a birthday present, she doesn’t have to explain why there’s $200 missing from “our” account. If there’s a big expense or an emergency for one of us, the other helps out but we’re pretty independent otherwise. The escrow account solved 99% of the financial fights we had before (not having rent money, not being able to cover insurance, etc).

  13. Anonymous

    We have everything together. One checking account. All investment accounts are together. It’s simple and it works.

    I’ve seen couples that benefit by keeping things apart however. Especially when one has a huge spending problem and they need to isolate it. This can be a decent solution but a better one is usually therapy.

  14. Anonymous

    Because my wife & I were older as well as financially & professionally established when we married – I was 30 & she was 27 – we started our union by way of separate finances. Over the years we have combined more and more facets of our resources, but we still maintain separate checking accounts and it works really well that way.

    When we have children we will probably merge the checking accounts because, Lord willing, my wife will be staying home.

    Any account we have opened since being married is always a joint account, even if it is primarily (and most times solely) used by only one of us.

  15. Anonymous

    I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to joint finances after having spent 6 years in the banking industry and watching divorcees deplete accounts and leave their soon-to-be ex-spouses hanging, cheating wives/husbands have their money used as an instrument of revenge, and many other sorts of shenanigans that don’t make me want to sign up with anyone.

    But, I do think at least two joint accounts are necessary. This would be the way I’d set up my finances whenever I do get married.

    1 joint account for household bills
    1 joint account for emergency funds

    I’d also recommend each have their own accounts for spending and saving that neither spouse is on. To keep things fair, I recommend that a specific amount from each check be agreed upon and allocated to each account according to the couples various needs. In addition, I’d recommend monthly meetings where they look over each others statements and make any adjustments if needed. It’s not about hiding money from the other person, but having a little protection in the event that something doesn’t work out.

    Just my two cents worth, anyway.

  16. Anonymous

    We have been married for four years and have had exclusively joint accounts until very recently. We decided that we’d like separate “fun money accounts” not because we had issues with how either was spending money but because gifts are more “gifty” when you don’t know how much the other person spent on it (and don’t need to take it into account in the monthly budget — we track all of our spending).

  17. Anonymous

    My boyfriend and I have been together for 5 years and have always had separate accounts. We’ve talked about having a joint account, if only to pay bills out of, but our current system works fine so we haven’t changed it yet. We each pay half of the rent, and pay our own bills.

    I make about 2/3 of his income, so sometimes he covers the more expensive things [like a vacuum]. We’re both paid biweekly, but our pay dates are never on the same week, so we have a system that whoever just got paid buys groceries until the other is paid. We try to hold off on discretionary spending until it’s within three days of the next paycheck, and then if then if one of us has enough money for something we’ll do/buy it.

    We don’t argue about money and are both generous to each other with it. Sometimes we do have ‘reminder talks’ though. His strength is saving, and mine is budgeting.

  18. Anonymous

    I’m w/ some others here – we have our main “house account” and then a separate account for each of us to do “whatever we want”. The house account is the largest and has all the goodies in it, whereas our smaller ones sit on the sidelines waiting to be spent as we wish 😉

    As long as both sides are HAPPY w/ it, any setup works for me.

  19. Anonymous

    I am a big fan of Dave Ramsey, but this is one where i do slightly differ from him. While I think husband and wife should both sit down atleast once a month and go over their budget and bills, I think there should be a joint account and each have an individual account. I personally would have a hard time with any of this becuase I don’t trust anyone so I would not be comfortable thinking my wife could be racking up 10,000 dollars of credit card debt. I guess it doesn’t matter though, I’m single for life.

  20. Anonymous

    Joint finances – especially since my wife works part-time to spend time with the kids. Has never felt like an allowance to me or her- we’re in it together.

    As for play money, we have unwritten rules that work pretty well. Discretionary spending (not groceries, etc) without prior consent of the other is ok – but cannot exceed a minimum amount. Started at about $20 – but has probably moved to $30-40.

    Maybe the most important thing is to have joint financial goals – and that way you work together toward them.

  21. Anonymous

    We started out 26 years ago with one joint checking account. All these years later (and some situations with too much debt, credit problems, disagreements, fluctuating incomes of the home-based entrepreneur, etc), we have a main joint savings account, a main joint checking account and then we also each have our own separate checking accounts.

    Hubster makes about twice as much as I do, so his paycheck goes into the main joint checking account and covers our one main cc payment — we tend to use our Upromise BofA cc for almost everything (food, entertainment, purchases, appliances, Rx, etc) just to get as much as we can toward our son’s college loans. Meanwhile, my paycheck goes directly into my personal checking account, then I pay all utility bills, mortgage, and any smaller cc amounts that I can cover with what’s left.

    Hubster’s personal checking account is funded out of the main joint account whenever it gets low, and he gets to do with that $ whatever he wants.

    It’s probably not a perfect system, but it seems to work out best for our situations.

  22. Anonymous

    I am not married and have no base for anything to say here but it seems that there should be a combination of the two. A marriage installs a level of trust, and also combines finances. Major things should be combined, but smaller personal wants should be kept separate.

  23. Anonymous

    I think if we were married, I would want everything to be joint so we both saw all of it – I know too many people who married secret debt or had spouses who racked up debt during the marriage and they didn’t know about it (or sort of knew but didnt’ think it through).

    We do the percentage-of-income thing – we both put half of what we make in the joint household account, and the rest is spending money (though typically we both save our “spending” money, it’s separate from the designated savings & expenses accounts).

    It doesn’t matter much, though – we take turns paying all the bills, except when we do it together. I was in charge of all of it for a while and eventually it started making me uncomfortable – like, he wouldn’t even notice if I charged a bunch of stuff on his credit card or didn’t pay the mortgage, and that’s not right.

  24. Anonymous

    I know how to save.. my girlfriend doesn’t.. therefore separate finances, and the bills are split up a a % of total income.


    I make 100k
    She makes 40k

    Rent is 1400 / mo
    i pay 1k of it, she pays 400 of it.

    I do the same with all utilities etc, and is tracked in an excel spreadsheet.

    The things not calculated are medical etc etc. Any 401k etc are in the equation to also try and keep it fair.

    Things would be different if she knew how to manage money.

  25. Anonymous

    We have never considered separate accounts in our marriage. We unitedly save, spend, live, etc. There are no squabbles because we are commited to the “we” above the “me” – We are both pretty “tight” (you use the term frugle) – but, I get spoiled. And, I support any ideas or wants of my husband in return – I handle all the bills and the accounts, so I keep him informed on our financial situation. We often analyze things together to plug any holes draining our financial bucket. The unity and security of this system has been very rewarding

  26. Anonymous

    My wife and I have always had joint finances. She is a stay at home mom that works harder than I do and I can’t imagine her having to ask for money…

    But I also believe you need an accountibility partner in life and in finances!

  27. Anonymous

    My husband and I have been married for 3 years and have always had one account – with the exception of having a separate account for my husband’s school expenses. When he graduated we were very excited to go down to one account!

    However, he wound up getting a short-term job that is in another state, so in order to keep our finances straight we’ve now really got 2 completely separate accounts. It’s sort of strange, but that way neither of us has to worry about a rent check not being covered because the other one had a large expense.

    I can’t wait for the day he’s home and we can go back to 1 account!

  28. Anonymous

    We’ve gone the joint account route 41 years now. We also chose early on to make my wife primary account holder on one of the credit cards and build a credit history independent of mine in case the marriage didn’t work or I died.

    But I’ve seen people go both ways in the course of 300 money makeover/financial planning pieces I did in my newspaper career. I think the correct choice is the one you both are most comfortable with. Among many couples I know, one person tends to be more of a money maven than his or her partner, which might figure into the decision.

    Who owes what matters too. I don’t recall details just now, but I know there are some advantages to keeping student loan obligations separate and few additional benefits to blending them.

    I’d also take a close look at separate accounts if it’s a second or subsequent marriage for one of the partners. And some separation probably makes sense if the wedding couple are seniors with grown children who may or may not be comfortable with Mom or Dad’s choice. Thanksgiving could get awkward otherwise.

  29. Anonymous

    My husband and I have always kept separate checking accounts but a joint savings account. We earn very different amounts. We split the mortgage. He pays the utilities and car expenses while I pay for all groceries, pet care, etc. Since we are both very independent minded, it works for us, and even though I earn less, I feel as if I am contributing my share, which is very important to me.

  30. Anonymous

    My husband and I combined our finances before we were even married. I was controller for a restaurant and student while he was working on a phd in Animal Nutrition. As he says “I am just a scientist; there is no reason I should think I know how to handle money better than her who manages large sums of money every day for her job . . .”. I still manage all our finances. While my husband takes a part in deciding management strategies etc he is not involved in the day to day management of the funds. If he needs/wants something he just calls me to ask if we have the money and if he can buy it. 95% of the time the answer is yes. This system works since neither of us tend to spend unnecessary money and are generally concerned about getting out of debt (college loans mainly).

  31. Anonymous

    I have worked with several couples who didn’t combine finances, and there are always problems even if both partners make equivalent incomes.

    One, the couples tend to lose the power to discuss expenditures. Maybe one spouse is spending indiscriminately and it bothers the other spouse. Well, the spender tends to stick to the argument that he or she has enough cash in their account so they can do what they want. Or worse, the spender may start building a credit balance, but argue they can handle the payments with his or her money. But, this strains the marriage as each partner then starts analyzing the spending of the other. Combining finances tends to open discussions like these up.

    Two, one partner tends to pay the “bigger” bills and then this leads to arguments. One spouse may pay the mortgage while the other pays utilities, insurance, and food. This eventually leads to arguments from the spouse who pays more. Ideally, they would split each bill down the middle, but that tends to be difficult since each spouse ends up performing different tasks in a marriage (shopping, car maintenance, etc.). It is hard to be totally equal as it takes time each month so most couples just take responsibility for a certain expense. Having joint finances tends to make this a no-brainer and avoid certain problems.

    Three, non-disclosure gets to be a problem. This kind of coincides with problem one, but I find that one spouse ends up hiding expenses or bad money habits if finances are separate. Usually, there is a spender and saver in a couple. Joint finances tend to balance the two, but when they have separate finances the two reach extremes.

    I am sure there are some married couples who are able to navigate separate finances, but I have seen more problems than I do with joint finances. In fact, I have sometimes thought about not taking married clients who don’t do joint finances because it is always a lot more work dealing with the emotional issues each partner has towards their finances. I spend more time refereeing than planning sometimes.

  32. Anonymous

    We combine our finances. My wife works part time with a home for teenage boys with drug issues (among others). She makes very little money and it would be a similar situation in which separating finances would be more like an allowance.

    We combine our finances but separate via the budget. My wife does all the grocery shopping and she has a budget for that. We each have a discretionary spending budget (akin to each of our allowances). And then there are other budgets. We each take responsibility for different parts of our budget. Overall it works out because we know what we can spend on what areas. I don’t worry about the grocery budget and she doesn’t worry about my discretionary spending budget. We both see the numbers in all budget areas so we keep each other accountable to stay within it.

    Overall it is what works well for us.

  33. Anonymous

    My marriage is one of has and have nots. My husband is a physician and he “has”, I am a librarian and I “have not”. So joint finances is about the only way to go. My salary would barely pay for anything except maybe some of our utilities. If we didn’t have a joint account there would be an “allowance mentality” where I would feel as if my husband allotted me a certain amount of money each week. That would not make for a healthy marriage.

  34. Anonymous

    My wife and I have joint checking and savings accounts, but we also have individual accounts for our play money. We both get a direct deposit every month into our play accounts. This allows us the ability to surprise the other with a purchase if we want. The play money is also no questions asked. You get to spend it on whatever you want or save it, but you only get the set amount every month.

  35. Anonymous

    My husband & I did the same thing as you when we get married 20+ years ago. All money goes to joint checking or savings. The only exception is a small individual savings account we each have for “mad” money. It’s not a lot (maybe $20 here and there put in on payday), but it allows a little bit of freedom without touching the household money.

    As far as having any arguments about money, none per se, although we have had some testy and tense discussions the past few years because of accumulating a lot of debt, but that is starting to change. As we develop a plan to get OUT of debt and have started seeing some results, the tension about money has noticeably diminished.

  36. Anonymous

    Our main checking and savings accounts are joint. My paychecks come in on a weekly basis and my husband deposits twice a month. The majority of our bills are scheduled and automated.

    We also have individual checking accounts for gas, lunch, and gifts. These are minor accounts money-wise. In case of an emergency, we can access each other’s account.

    Its worked well for us and it’s been easy to maintain since many things are automatic.

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