I’ll Never Combine Finances With My Spouse

I’ll Never Combine Finances With My Spouse

One of the major questions for couples as they contemplate a future together is whether to combine finances or keep things separate. I say any system that works best for you and your partner is valid. The end.

Just kidding. I’ve got a LOT more to say about relationships and finance. More on that later, but first.. let’s drag up the dysfunctional money memories from my childhood!

I grew up in the typical nuclear family – toxic adherence to rigid gender roles included. My father earned (and controlled) the money, and my mother.. didn’t. The next massive financial fight was always just around the corner. Both of my parents constantly complained about their relationship, each other, and money. They were prime candidates for divorce but followed the marital mantras of ’till death do us part’ and ‘staying together for the kids.’ My mother couldn’t leave because she had no money and no career as a result of the patriarchal nonsense that required her to leave the workforce to raise children. My father couldn’t leave because he was concerned about being bankrupted by child and spousal support.

I, however, could leave, and I counted down the days. When I did finally move out, I swore to myself that I would never be dependent on another person for anything, ever. Seriously, never ever. I cannot understate the need for independence that was deeply embedded in my soul as a child. That time I was administered general anaesthetic for dental surgery and was required to have an escort home? Pure dread. Even though I trust my partner completely, something deep in my psyche shrivels up at the mere thought of being helpless.

My bank accounts and my retirement savings, while a sign of immaturity to some financial ‘experts,’ are a major source of comfort for me and I’ll give them up on my death and not a moment before.

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression – my mother and father both loved me and I loved and enjoyed spending time with them.. separately. Together, they were a nightmare. My parents were an ever-present example of how combined marital finances (and the patriarchy) can go horribly wrong. Naturally, I did what any reasonable child would do – the complete opposite!

My partner had similarly dysfunctional experiences with money in his formative years, and as a result a matching need for independence emerged in him. As children we witnessed the epic failure of ‘conventional wisdom’ and ‘tradition,’ so we’ve never put much stock in any of it. Marriage? Meh, we’re good. Changing my last name to his? Not on my watch. Gendered distribution of work? Hard pass. Procreation? None for us, but thank you so much for asking.

By now you might be thinking that our relationship could devolve into complete anarchy at any moment. How could two people possibly be so independent and yet wholly invested in a partnership? You must be immature, delusional, or uncommitted! Far from it. Instead, we forged our own path. We communicated. (Imagine!) We shared our views on life and love and finances, early and often. We considered our own personalities and preferences. Above all else we respected each other’s needs, especially our mutual psychological need for independence. 

How’s all of this radical experimentation working for us? I’m glad you asked.

My partner and I have been dating for 5+ years, living together for about half that time, and are in a common law spousal relationship according to our local law although we’ve never felt the need to sign on the dotted line. We both cook, we both clean, we both do dishes and laundry and take out the recycling. We both have full-time jobs and mutual friends and common interests. We do nice things things for each other on a daily basis. Arguments are few and far between, and quickly resolved. We still have completely separate finances, and we’re still happy.

Even after all of my negative experiences with combined finances, and all of my positive experiences with separate finances, I’m not prepared to tell anyone else what they must do. Why? We are all different, and our relationships are all different!

You might have grown up in an environment where your parents kept individual accounts and behaved secretly with money. Maybe you’ve witnessed infidelities, arguments, or domestic violence. All of these experiences will shape your attitude towards money, and no one else has any right to tell you that your reactions to your experiences are invalid.

There are many different approaches to money, and the best part is exploring these approaches together and deciding on your own ideal financial management system. Don’t let anyone tell you the right or wrong way to structure any aspect of your relationship!

Ironically, proponents of separate and combined finances cited almost identical reasons!

Reason Combine! Separate! Comments
Commitment We commit to each other by embracing togetherness! We commit to each other by embracing independence! All of this sounds nice, doesn’t it?
Trust Trust means having no secrets! Trust means having freedom! You realize that your account setup is not a magical barrier against dishonesty either way, right?
Convenience It’s easier to combine everything! It’s easier to keep it separate! Whatever works!
Access Having access to joint accounts in an emergency is important! Having access to individual accounts in an emergency is important! Why not both?!
Communication Shared accounts means we talk about money. Separate accounts means we talk about money. As long as you’re talking, what’s the big deal?

Relationship or finance ‘experts’ will make their recommendations, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide. Combined accounts may not necessarily be the ideal setup for you, and this doesn’t make your relationship less valid than anyone else’s.

Combined finances are not a reliable indicator of relationship success. As my parents have already so helpfully demonstrated, you could have an outwardly stable marriage built on a rotting, crumbling foundation. You could also have a relationship that appears commitment-phobic but is actually a beacon of unity.

Combined finances are not a protection against infidelity, dishonesty, or divorce. Most of the statistics put the likelihood of divorce between 40-50%, so we all need to be realistic with ourselves and have a contingency plan in place for this very possible scenario. If someone chooses to have an affair or end the relationship, I hardly think a joint chequing account is going to slow them down!

Combined finances are not a universal sign of commitment. There are endless ways to demonstrate commitment in a relationship, and the setup of your finances is just one of them. My partner and I commit to each other every single day by staying when it would be fairly effortless for either of us to leave. There’s no joint account to split or children to consider. The fact that I wake up and he’s there, and I come home from work and he’s there, means more to me than a sheet of paper or a piece of jewelry ever will. Our daily actions are our relationship thermometer, not whether we share the same bank account.

Combined finances are not ideal for every combination of personalities. I track every transaction, obsessively. I could tell you down to the penny how much I spent on groceries last year, or what my net worth is. He prefers to spend based on his account balance and a loose, mentally calculated budget. He has a plan for his money, but doesn’t feel the need to wade into the daily details. Joint accounts would inhibit the way we naturally interact with money, forcing us to either accept one person’s system or adopt a monstrous hybrid in which neither of us would be satisfied.

Combined finances are not a buffer against arguments. Finances are one of the most common reasons cited for divorce and arguing about them can add unnecessary stress into your relationship. I can’t remember the last time we had a full-blown argument about money, except maybe last year when I got a little too enthusiastic about personal finance. Now I’m very cognizant of the glaze that settles over his eyes when I talk about detailed finances, and promptly change the subject. If your financial arrangement is transparent and keeps things running smoothly, don’t feel the need to rock the boat!

Other Perspectives On Relationships & Finance

Ava from Millennial Money Challenge posted about how her experience as a cult survivor shaped her need for financial independence. Ava grew up in an environment where almost all of the women were financially dependent on a man or on the group for survival. Not surprisingly, these early interactions with money influenced Ava to keep independent accounts!

You might argue that if we had a stronger relationship, we would trust each other enough to combine finances. I disagree. I think it’s because of our strong relationship that we’re fine with a setup that is outside of the traditional ‘norm’. Ava, “Hell Yeah We Keep Our Money Separate When Married!” Millennial Money Challenge, August 17, 2017.

Luxe from The Luxe Strategist posted some commentary from her husband that I thought was so on point, it was tough to pick only one quote.

Given that we are transparent, share goals, and have a fair money arrangement, IT SIMPLY DOESN’T MATTER. – Teddy Luxband, “We Had Our Wedding: Does Our Money Have To Get Married, Too?” The Luxe Strategist, August 10, 2017.

Now, not everyone agrees! There are those out there who believe that married couples must combine their money.

I’m not here to judge, but to encourage my point of view to be seen in the proper light.  But, the number one reason to join your accounts is that when you get married you become one unit.  You, no longer exists, and all transactions become “our” or “we.”  “We will get our groceries.” and “Welcome to our house, we are glad you came.”  Your money is no longer roommates, but one unitJosh, “Why Married Couples Must Combine Their Money” Monkey Free Me, September 10, 2017.

You know how I feel about words like ‘must’ and ‘always,’ but I still think it’s important to consider a variety of perspectives!

How do you arrange your finances? Do you think couples should always keep their finances combined, or separate, or do you think it depends on the relationship?

12 thoughts on “I’ll Never Combine Finances With My Spouse”

  • We combine our finances, but it took five years after marriage to make it happen. It’s so much easier to plan and align on goals.

    Similar you and your partner, I grew up with some dysfunctional notions of money. Notions that drive my current quest for financial independence!

  • I’m ‘in the middle’ camp 🙂 My dad was also patriarchal but my mom had her own money. They ended up divorcing. I think when you have children it’s much easier to pay for things from a ‘joint’ account. I have my own accounts and my husband has his own accounts and we have a few joint account. It works for us. Everyone is different as you say. We signed a prenup before getting married so that our separate accounts really are separate.

    To me, it boils down to: If you have separate accounts then it might be a good idea sign a prenup or a cohabitation agreement before you live together, because if the relationship disintegrates and one person is vengeful (e.g. if not married and living together) they can claim the increase in net worth from the date of common law marriage. I have a colleague who lived together with her common law husband of 15 years and he basically cleaned her out and she had to sell her house because he took half (it was her house).

    Perhaps the absolute “MUST” combine your money from the Monkey Free Me blog is probably meant to be more clickbait haha, as it draws the reader to read the post?

    • Very true – if we had children we would probably open a joint family account in addition to our personal accounts. At this point we have all of our bills on autopay from each of our accounts and our only other expenses are groceries and personal spending. We each buy groceries whenever we feel like it and cook/eat together. Other setups might make it more complicated to have separate accounts for sure.

      Cohabitation agreements are a great idea too, regardless of the account structure! It definitely depends on the law in your area.

      The clickbait method.. I’m not sure how I feel about it.. but it’s definitely a factor in a lot of posts I think!

  • Yes! People need to do what works best in their relationship. We combined finances when we moved in together and it became apparent that only one of us had any interest in managing money. It just made more sense, so I took on handling the money as part of my division of labor. This has worked great for us, but isn’t what I’d recommend for most.

  • My husband and I have been together for 16 years, married for 9, and continue to have separate personal accounts plus 1 shared account for shared expenses (home repair, taxes, heat, water, etc.).

    Despite our accounts being separate, we still know what the other has and what they spend because we are tracking everything in Mint as we embark on our shared goal of financial independence.

    While we have had the occasional quarrel over the separate dollars and cents, it generally works for us. I don’t know that there’s really a right or a wrong answer to all of this. Rather it’s what works for you and your relationship.

  • Wow, I couldn’t have written about it any better myself (which is why I outsourced it to my husband, hehe). I love the chart that details that there really aren’t any differences between the two systems.

    I do feel like a lot of people are still steeped in tradition just because, and I haven’t seen a compelling argument for why joint is better, besides administration being slightly easier. But the emotional reasons have never resonated with me (“feeling like one unit”. Sharing a bank account doesn’t make me feel closer at all. If anything, it’s just another bank account I have to keep track of. Maybe I’m unromantic?

    As you know, my problem is when people try to say their way is better and your relationship is less valid or complete otherwise. Pure BS. My husband waits for me at the door when I come home every night. We’re rock solid.

    Great post!

    • I loved his post!

      Tradition is not a compelling argument for me either, so I just ignore it for the most part!

  • Like GYM, my husband and I have a postnuptial agrément. We left ours flexible, so that we could easily make new income be marital property and I’m so glad we did that. I firmly believe that couples who keep separate finances should have an agreement because otherwise they are living a legal fiction. My parents (in my opinion) have an unhealthy relationship around money – my dad has made pretty much all of their money, but my mom has always been very controlling around how it was spent and hiding money from him.

    Separate finances work really great when both spouses can afford to cover their fair share of the living expenses out of liquid assets or income. They break down when that’s no longer possible. Since I currently can’t work due to health reasons, we decided to put all of our income (aka my husband’s income) into marital accounts and figure out how to budget together. We’ve been together for five years now and married for a year and a half and had been haphazardly budgeting together last year, so this experiment seems to be going okay so far. I also think it’s a really good exercise to live on only one spouse’s income (or if you’re maintaining separate finances like we did when we were dating, each saving 50% of your income) for protection towards situations like our current one…

    Even if we are combing stuff going forward, we are both really happy to keep our retirement accounts separate and some taxable investments and cash savings for each of us.

  • Your relationship sounds very similar to ours. Turned 6 years a few days ago. Neither one of us is in a hurry to get married; although, we did get engaged a year ago. Seeing so many go through divorce reduces our perceived value of marriage, and the need to complicate things.

    We have separate accounts and a joint account. We both know each other’s income, net worth, and expenses. The separate accounts allow us to manage and spend how we choose, while the joint account is a savings towards future children or joint large expense, like a new couch or bed. It’s been working for us, but like you said, everyone’s situation is different.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *