To Join or Not To Join?

wedding bands on a fan of $50 bills
image via stock.xchng | photography by penywise

Your checking accounts, of course.

His and hers. Yours and Mine. Ours and theirs. Money can be quite a mine-field in a relationship, especially if the two people involved have different philosophies about the management of those funds. As progressive as we’ve become these days–brides not taking the groom’s last name, the groom taking the bride’s name, offbeat weddings galore and traditions thrown out the window–joint checking seems to still be the default for newlyweds.

(Disclaimer: This is written with a definite bias against joint checking, I’m not even going to try and deny it.)

One thing that really gets me is when I hear a woman say (usually at one of those home parties or out on a shopping trip) “Oh, I’ll have to hide the statement this month!” Really? You’re going to hide your spending from your husband and you think not only is it appropriate that it’s funny as hell at the fast-one you’re pulling on him?

Oooookay.

That right there is one of the biggest downsides to joint-banking I’ve ever heard. It’s right up there with the idea of having to ask permission to spend money. In fact, having to ask permission of your spouse for anything just strikes me as a bad idea–either you’re equal partners, capable of responsible behavior or you’re not. And if you’re not, then you’ve got more to consider than just whether to combine funds once you marry.

It’s not just women that buy into this permissive spending idea, either. I’ve known couples where the woman controls the purse-strings and the man has to ask for money to go out with friends (emasculating much?). Or the guys who use direct deposit for their paychecks but get a certain amount held out as a paper check each week so they have pocket money that the wife doesn’t know about.

Does anyone else think this sort of duplicity is as backwards as I do?

When I was first married we had joint checking. One night, on the way home from a cake decorating class I stopped by Target. You see, I’d heard that Kitchen Aid mixers were on sale for $199 and I wanted one. Badly. It was late when I arrived home and my husband had already gone to bed. In fear that he’d make me take that precious mixer back I unpacked it, plugged it in, and tore up the packaging.

The mixer was a good deal and a justifiable expense–I was teaching cake decorating classes and even doing wedding cakes by that point, a hand mixer wasn’t going to cut it. The mixer is still going strong 13 years later, the marriage didn’t last another year.

So I get it, really I do, when a woman half-jokes about getting in trouble for how much she’s spending. But just because I understand it, doesn’t mean it makes sense.

Not when there are other options.

My second marriage, we kept our own checking accounts. It was, compared to previous experiences, pretty close to heaven to be responsible for how and when I spent the money I earned. Yes, we’d help each other out should something unfortunate happen and the usual budget wasn’t enough (I think maybe twice in 3 years I had to ask for help with the grocery bill), but otherwise we were pretty autonomous money-wise.

Separate accounts does bring up the question of how best to pay the household expenses. There are a few of ways to go about it and it just takes some trial and error to figure out what works best for you.

Scenario A:

Equitable distribution of payments. Say one spouse owns the home before marriage, he or she makes the mortgage payment. The other spouse, then, takes on the smaller household bills that, when totaled, equal the mortgage payment or thereabouts. They each cover personal expenses. Fairly straightforward provided both people make similar amounts of money.

Scenario B:

Also known as semi-joint checking. This involves opening up a joint account which both partners contribute to from their personal accounts. Beneficial when one person makes a significant amount more than the other. If you want to use this account for groceries and other more fluid expenses, consider keeping a fixed “buffer” amount in the account at all times. This will allow out-of-the-ordinary payments that can then be replenished afterwards without affecting the usual bill payments.

It helps to have all the accounts at the same bank, by the way; makes transfers easier.

Scenario C:

Roommates forever. You split everything household right down the middle. Used to be this was a pain, back when everyone still used checks to pay bills. With nearly every bank offering online bill pay and so many places accepting electronic payments, splitting each bill as it comes in is easy as pie.

The Road Trip thought we’d use Scenario B when we first moved in together but never really got around to it. We’ve each been saving up for the wedding expenses since a few months before officially announcing our engagement and haven’t gotten around to opening a joint account for that, either! Instead, we use Scenario C and have for several years, now, with no problems. We also take turns by week for groceries, for anyone who’s curious.

Of course, those scenarios all depend on both partners receiving a steady income of some sort. In situations where there is one income per family, joint accounts make a lot more sense and I’d never dispute that. I just think it doesn’t have to be the only way.

So, do you plan to share bank accounts when you marry?
Why or why not?

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