Should Married Couples Merge Finances or Keep Them Separate?

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Money management can be tough when you’re on your own, but throw a spouse or life partner into the mix and things get much more complicated. Financial conflicts can cause major problems in relationships — including divorce.

When I was a boy, my parents often fought about money. They had joint finances, but it didn’t seem to matter. Each accused the other of being financially irresponsible. (Both were right.) Their example left me disenchanted with the notion of mutual money management.

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During the years my wife and I dated, we had our own accounts. When we married in 1993, it didn’t occur to us to combine our finances. I can’t recall that we even discussed the issue. It seemed natural to maintain separate accounts. Some people find this strange; they feel that it fundamentally undermines the nature of marriage.

Though separate finances have worked for our marriage for nearly 20 years, most people prefer to merge their money when they marry. Some couples keep a single joint account where they put all their money. Others have a seldom-used joint savings account for certain needs but otherwise maintain complete financial autonomy. Most couples fall somewhere in the middle. There’s no one right way to do this; each relationship is different, so the correct choice is the one that works best for you and your partner.

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Many couples find that the ideal solution is some sort of blended system; they share a joint account for household finances, but each partner has a personal account to do with as they please. With this hybrid approach, the real decision is about how to divide the household income.

  • If you and your partner make roughly the same amount, you could contribute equally to the joint account, and then keep what’s left over in your personal accounts.
  • If one partner makes significantly more than the other, she could fund the joint account entirely on her own and keep the remainder in her personal account. Her husband could simply keep his own income in his personal account to do with as he wishes.
  • Some couples use a proportional system: If one partner earns two-thirds of the household income, say, he contributes two-thirds of the joint account. After funding the joint account, the partners can do whatever they want with the leftovers.
  • A final option is to use the “adult allowance” system. In this case, both spouses put their entire paycheck into the joint account, and then withdraw a fixed amount into their personal accounts every month.

If you use a hybrid system, it’s vital to let each person use their personal money however they want. You’ll always have some personal goals that don’t align with those of your partner. (My wife rolls her eyes at my comic book collection, for example.) That’s fine, but put shared goals first. No matter whether your finances are joint or separate, make sure your common objectives are met before pursuing personal passions.

I love my wife, and believe that maintaining separate finances has strengthened our relationship, not weakened it. But that might not be true for you and your situation. If you and your spouse are happier with joint finances and if it strengthens your marriage, then use joint finances. But don’t combine finances just because you think it has to be done that way. It doesn’t.

What’s most important is honesty and communication. Any system in which the partners are open about their money habits is a good one.