Over the last few weeks, I have noticed something that is totally baffling to me. I’ve heard and read about multiple married couples who keep their finances separate. Call me weird, but I just don’t understand the logic of this. Call me old-fashioned, but I think marriage should be a partnership. Call me crazy, but I think separating your finances is a bad idea. Here is why.
The Benefits of Marriage
I know, I’m a regular Don Juan, but one of the best parts about getting married was combining our incomes. Romantic right? Of course, I love my wife and she loves me…most of the time. Still one of the best byproducts of that love is that our income instantly increased. I hadn’t really thought about it before we got married, but it was awesome to have two paychecks to pay the bills. No longer was I solely responsible for paying for all of my grocery bills, utilities, rent payments, etc. We had two paychecks, and I felt freakin’ rich!
I have to admit, before we got married the thought of keeping our finances separate didn’t even cross my mind. It didn’t make sense to me, and it still doesn’t. Everything we make is ours, just like everything we have is ours. It’s not like I’m the only person in the house that uses the lights. I didn’t get to bask in the heat of our home while Holly struggled to stay warm under a blanket last winter. We both use everything in the house. It just seems ludicrous that we would pay for those things separately from our different paychecks.
Reasons Married Couples Keep Their Finances Separate
Still, I’ve noticed that keeping finances separate seems to be a trendy thing to do these days. I can understand why retired widow and widowers who remarry may decide to keep things separate. Afterall, these people are bringing a lifetime worth of savings to the marriage - a savings that they accumulated with another person. There are often times adult children involved, and it is simpler to keep their finances separate so that each individual’s children receives their “proper” inheritance. OK, I’ll buy that. However, there are plenty of reasons that I won’t buy.
1) My spouse/fiance has a lot of premarital debt.
So, your future spouse racked up a lot of premarital debt? Maybe they went on wild spending sprees with their credit cards. Perhaps they financed their medical schooling using student loans. Whatever the case, they are bringing a lot of financial baggage to the marriage.
If this is the case and you find it so troublesome that you would prefer to keep separate finances, you should probably be reconsidering marriage in the first place. Before getting married, you should be trying to clean that debt up. In the case of a student loan, the education will be benefitting both of you financially, so why would only one of you pay the bill anyway?
Furthermore - in almost every state - when you become married, you are now a legal partnership. Your debts are her debts and vice versa. Just because you keep your finances separate doesn’t mean that creditors won’t come after your money as well. You are now a legal partnership as well as an emotional one, so you may as well act like one. Instead of separating your finances, why not team up and knock that debt out together? You now have double the ammo to mow down your biggest of financial enemy, so take advantage of it before it becomes a problem for you both.
2) What happens if the marriage fails?
Several – if not most – of the married couples I know who keep separate finances have at least one member of the partnership who has been through a divorce. I can understand that they may have gone through some traumatic and financially difficult times during that period. However, nothing says “We are in this for the long haul” less than having a financial backup plan in case things don’t work out. Essentially, you are saying to each other is “I mostly trust you, but not with my money.” With this sort of attitude, how could you possibly fail??? *sarcasm drip, drip* If you are this gun-shy about combining your finances, you probably aren’t ready to get married again anyway. Why not just live together and skip the vows? You’ll be better off in the long run.
3) We don’t want to fight about money.
Personally, I think people who use this excuse are probably fooling themselves. They think that if they keep their finances separate and don’t communicate about money, then they won’t have to fight about it. The problem is, what happens when one partner needs to borrow cash from the other in order to pay the cable bill? Is there an IOU system put in place? It seems like this sort of arrangement is bound to cause one partner to be resentful of another, which usually means a big ‘ol fight.
In my experience, the exact opposite of this excuse has been true. A marriage team is not unlike most sports teams. When the team is put before the self, the team prospers. When the team communicates with one another, the team wins. So too does the marriage team. When both partners are communicating about their shared finances, then the team becomes stronger – both financially and emotionally. When the team fails to communicate, the team becomes weaker. Whether you like it or not, when you are married your money is the team’s money. The faster you get on board with your teammate, the better it will be for all facets of your life.
The Real Reason Married Couples Don’t Combine Finances
Let me jump even higher onto my soapbox to spell the rest of this out for you. In most cases, I believe the real reason that married couples separate their finances is because they don’t want to grow up. They don’t want to tell themselves “no” to anything – and they don’t want anybody else to tell them no either. They have no intention of being accountable to anybody for their bad spending habits, including their spouse.
With separate finances, it is easy for them to buy anything and everything they want without any consequences. Why? Because they can simply say, “It’s my money. I can do what I want.” If they had to be accountable to one another, they may actually have to change their habits to benefit the team. They may have to stop selfishly spending on new shoes, purses, and clothing so that the family (team) could reach their common goal. They may not be able to buy the newest gadget, go to the big game, or go on that hunting trip because it didn’t benefit the family. For this reason, most of the married couples I know who keep separate finances are also some of the biggest overspenders I know.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that people in a relationship should never be able to do or buy what they want. Neither am I suggesting that having a small “slush” fund is detrimental. I am speaking explicitly about those who keep completely separate bank accounts. My point is that marriage is a partnership in every way. Why should finances be any different?
No matter the source, financial problems in a marriage are one of the top causes of divorce in America. While I’m certainly not a marriage counselor, I believe that being on the same page about money is absolutely crucial to a healthy marriage. If you are living separate financial lives, I believe you are headed down a fairly dangerous slope. I would strongly encourage you to start talking to your fiance or spouse about how you are handling your money today. You may even consider taking a class - such as Financial Peace University – to learn how to better handle your money together. I wish you luck!
I’m interested to know what you guys think about this issue. Am I wrong? Am I right? Am I painting everybody with too wide of a brush? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
For Holly’s response, check out Combining Finances: Holly’s Perspective.