Should married couples share finances?
I asked on Facebook recently whether people kept joint back accounts or separate ones, and quite a few people said that they kept separate accounts.
They either divide expenses down the middle, or they delegate certain expenses to certain people. They may have a joint account for some things, but much of their money is separate.
And I think this is becoming more and more common, especially when both people work. Yesterday I was talking about how dangerous it was for one spouse to have no access to money, which most commonly occurs when one spouse is at home with the kids and one works. The one who works outside the home feels that the money is theirs to decide what to do with, since they earn it.
Wrong. And it’s just as wrong when both people make money outside the home.
I’ve been binge watching Dave Ramsey YouTube videos lately, and he says some great stuff about marriage. And when it came to sharing finances, he’s adamant.
“When you try to do a joint venture instead of a marriage, that’s when things get messed up.”
Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have separate bank accounts for certain things. But you have to be able to make a financial plan TOGETHER when you each consider all the money to be family money, in my opinion.
So today, for Top 10 Tuesday, let’s look at 10 reasons why it’s important that the couple consider all money “theirs”, not “his” and “hers”–even if they do keep multiple accounts for different reasons.
Why married couples should share finances–the Big Picture reasons
1. You are one when you’re married–so you are one with money, too!
The whole purpose of marriage is that you now are one…. Married couples are found to be more dissatisfied when they don’t pool their finances. And couples who pool at least 80% of their income are happier than couples who pool 70% or less. This stuff matters.
2. Sharing finances means you’ve jumped “all in” to the marriage
When people hold back their money, it’s almost as if they’re holding back part of themselves. It’s like we’re saying, “I need this money in case our marriage doesn’t work,” or “I’m holding on to this because I need to still have independence.”
If you’re worried the marriage won’t work, or if you still need independence, you shouldn’t have gotten married.
And studies have repeatedly shown that couples who fully commit then create love. The simple act of commitment often makes people act more lovingly, because they know they’re in this for life. So don’t hold back!
3. Total transparency comes from shared finances, not split finances
Marriage means total transparency. You shouldn’t be keeping things from each other, because that builds distance. If you don’t know about your spouse’s financial situation, that’s not good for your marriage, besides being dangerous if one of you is ever incapacitated or hurt and the other needs access quickly.
Why married couples should share finances–the practical reasons
4. If you share finances, you don’t have to keep track of “his” and “hers” expenses
I know a couple who keeps completely separate finances. They even have “his” car and “her” car. But this can lead to needless stress over the smallest of things.
For instance, they got in a squabble once when his car was in the garage, but they had to take a four hour drive out of town because his family was having a reunion. So they took her car. But when it came to gas, who should pay? He said it was her car; she said it was his family.
I listened, flabbergasted, because I can’t imagine ever having to negotiate this stuff, since everything Keith and I have ever had is “ours”. And thus we avoid these squabbles entirely.
5. Sharing finances allows you to budget easily
When you share finances, you have something called a “household income”. You can then look at that number and decide together what your spending should be. If, on the other hand, you each keep separate finances and contribute a certain amount into a pool every month, or divide up the bills to be paid, then it’s much harder to keep a lid on spending and make some long term goals.
Incidentally, having a “household income” does not mean that you can’t allocate money for you to spend as you see fit. I’ll let my daughter chime in here on what they do:
Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach–living on a shoestring while building a business and putting her husband through school
Connor and I jumped right into the joint account life from the beginning for a ton of reasons–but a large one was the accountability when it comes to spending.
We live on next to nothing month-to-month–and a lot of that is because I’m starting an online business while putting Connor through school, and he won’t be certified for his profession for another 2-3 years! So from the beginning of our marriage we got used to sitting down at the beginning of every month, looking through our finances, and deciding how much money we realistically could spend. While we were both in school, we would each get a $50 bill out at the bank at the beginning of the month and use that and that alone for all spending money, eating out, clothes, and the like for the month.
We didn’t have much wiggle room. Having separate bank accounts would have made it that much harder to see what we actually had to spend as well as how much we were spending. Having our money pooled together showed us the big-picture of what we were doing with our money, and alleviated the guilt of spending wisely! Since we had decided together how much we could afford, we were free to spend that money however we saw fit, so I didn’t need to feel terrible about getting a Starbucks once in a while. Connor actually saved up almost all of his spending money for a few months and bought himself a PS4, something we never could have afforded outright! It has really helped us be mindful of what we’re buying and how it’s impacting not only “my” money, but our lives. Because to us that’s what it’s about–money is merely a tool to build up our future together, so why not just do it together in the first place?
6. Sharing finances allows you to make retirement goals
One day neither of you will be working. And retirement savings needs to be coordinated. How much do we need, together? For tax purposes, who should have the most in a 401K?
If you are each contributing for retirement separately, though, it’s much harder to coordinate these goals. And the one who is more of a saver could easily resent the one who is more of a spender and isn’t contributing as much. When you have a household budget that includes a line for “retirement savings”, this is much easier to negotiate. Which is probably why couples who share finances tend to save more!
7. Sharing finances allows you to save for short-term goals
Let’s not just look at the long-term, though. What if you decide that it would be really nice to take the family on a cruise in two years. How do you budget for that? Do you each have to contribute equally? What if it’s more important to one than the other? Again, when you share finances and have a shared budget, these decisions are easier to make.
8. If you share finances, you get a heads up if someone’s in trouble
What if someone has a gambling problem, or a spending problem? What if someone is doing something they shouldn’t be doing and leading a double life? It’s much harder for these things to become issues if the finances are shared and open. And when being secretive isn’t that easy, it often takes away the temptation for many of these things which could all too easily become addictions. It’s just accountability–and it works!
9. Sharing finances means there’s not an automatic spirit of “doing your share”
When you’re splitting finances, there’s this underlying assumption that you each should “do your share”. That leads to a dynamic where the goal is “fairness”. Any time in a marriage where you’re trying to measure if someone is doing their share, there will be tension, because people tend to value their own efforts more. If she earns more money, does that mean that she only has to contribute the same amount he makes, and she can keep the rest? If he gets a raise, does he have to share it with her? If he’s working overtime, should she have to work overtime, too? If she goes back to work, does childcare have to completely come out of her income?
If you’re always trying to keep things fair, then the focus will always be on what is right for me, rather than what is right for the family. In fact, that’s so important let’s make it into our last point:
10. Sharing marriage finances leads to a family focus, not a self focus
I know a couple who, when they got married, assumed that they would each contribute a certain amount of money to the household each month.
But then she got pregnant. And somehow the expectation that she should keep contributing money didn’t go away. He didn’t suddenly start paying “her” bills (the ones they had allotted to her, like electricity) just because she had just delivered a baby. So when the baby was very young, she had Grandma baby-sit and went back to work. Meanwhile he was spending a lot of money on fishing trips, because he was still contributing “his share”.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says:
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
One of the benefits of marriage is that someone has our back! If one person goes through a period of unemployment, the other steps in and helps. If one is sick (or just delivered a baby!), the other one covers. In fact, “specialization” is one of the things that brings the most happiness and satisfaction to married couples vs. other kinds of couples. When you are totally committed and “all-in” to the relationship, then you can each start to do what you do best, rather than having to act the same way you did before you were married. So if one makes more money, they can work more while the other is home with the kids. And it works out better for everyone.
Want to start budgeting together and start sharing the family’s finances? Here are some resources that can help!
- Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollar app–helps you build a budget together and stick to it.
- Dave Ramsey’s YouTube channel. I often watch these videos when I’m making dinner. Great information there!
- The Money Saving Mom’s Budget: Slash Your Spending, Pay Down Your Debt, Streamline Your Life, and Save Thousands a Year
Having a joint account means that we each know what the other is spending. We have a shared credit card, too – I can look at the statement and ask “what was that expense?” and so can he. (We try not to look too closely in December!) Since I’ve been full-time at home with kids more or less forever, my earnings have been zero. (Makes my tax return really fast to do.)
At one point I broached the subject of an “allowance” or fun money, since I wasn’t earning. He said no. And then he told me why not. “It’s not my money. It’s OUR money. You have just as much right to spend it as I do, and if there’s something you need let’s go shopping.” Apparently he understood what marriage means way better than I did in those early days.
Love that! We share everything, too. Once Keith was out buying a ton for our tenth anniversary and the credit card company called the house because of unusual activity on the credit card. They started telling me all the stores he’d been to that day–and then I told them that they had better stop or they’d give everything away! 🙂
Ha! We had a similar conversation about fun money. 🙂
As I have read these articles, I am convinced my marriage is not typical, nor do I want it to be. My wife is a SAHM. We have one joint savings and one joint checking account. It was never a question of separate accounts. The necessities are purchased from these accounts. Lower cost items that are nice to have are also purchased without discussion, if the budget allows for them. We discuss more expensive purchases as they may affect long term financial goals. To us, it just makes sense to do it this way. If I wanted separate accounts, I could have simply stayed single.
If your marriage isn’t typical, then mine isn’t either! You just described us to a tee. 🙂
This is how my parents have been; my mom worked the first few years they were married, until they had kids, and there’s never been any need for her to since we (the kids) were adults. There has never been anything like an “allowance” or “fun money” or something between my parents. They’ve always had joint accounts, full access, and no weirdness between them about money, even for all the years my mom was a SAHM. My dad’s favorite phrase when I was a kid was “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Even when money was tight for a few years and we had to do a lot of cutting back, my dad never once tried to limit my mom in what she did; he just trusted her.
I love having shared finances. We are a team, and it is our money. It really helped that we actually took a Dave Ramsey course together before we got married (and then actually taught the course once for our church). It was incredibly helpful to have the same groundwork and even terminology when it came to budgeting.
Dave is so smart!
I do agree with everything you say, but note that this works ONLY if your husband does not have mental health issues. We tried a joint account early on in the marriage, when I didn’t know he was having severe psychosis issues. Money went missing left, right and center, and I personally never had enough money at any given time for a coffee from McDonald’s (even though I was the one who worked). Things have gotten better over time, but the aftermath is something only God can deliver us from.
Very true, and thank you for mentioning that! There are definitely times when you need separate accounts, when one person cannot be trusted to have access to all of the family’s finances, either because of these types of issues or because of spending addictions or gambling addictions (or any other kind of addiction, really). And sometimes you may need help getting your husband off of those accounts, so sometimes we need to recruit help from our church community. So, yes, it’s the ideal, but it doesn’t apply in all situations!
We have always had joint accounts for our entire 20 year marriage. There is no “his” and “hers”. It is all “ours”. I am currently a SAHM and while I have no income of my own, I do know how to make his income stretch to the point that many part time jobs are not worth my time because I can get more for the money being at home. We budget together and always consult the other for any spending above a certain amount.
My ex wife and I fought allot, but NEVER over money. We decided from day #1 to have joint accounts and we had a rule that any one item over $50 (US Shelia!) required a joint “yes”. So, if she was at the store and wanted to buy a $75 dress, she would call and get my confirmation. If it was $45, she would buy and I didn’t question it. We both were blessed with good jobs and were frugal with money, so we weren’t living pay-check to pay-check which made this system a breeze. Yes …. we did turn each other down at times! Of course, this could be abused, but it set a general tone that it was OUR money! This didn’t change when she became a SAHM.
I’m still angry over yesterday’s article ….. if you married this women, are intimate with her, are raising YOUR kids together, how the HECK would you not share the money!!!!!!! It seems to be very covert HOSTAGE TAKING!
Thanks so much! Sounds like a great system. 🙂 And I’m angry over yesterday, too.
Great article!! Thank you for writing. I have been a SAHM all of our married life (almost 7 years) and I had no income before I got married (very conservative background where women having an income was looked down on) so honestly it was no big deal to me to share an account with my husband. I experienced guilt for spending “his” money on myself though. Coming from a frugal family where money was never in excess, I was scared to spend my “husband’s money” even though we had plenty for us to live on.
You know the saying, “a penny saved is a penny earned”? I had to look at finances differently to free myself from the “his money” mindset. I did our laundry, housekeeping, meal planning/cooking, grocery shopping, child care, mending, cleaning the car, taking the kids to and from school, etc. All of those things would cost money if we had to hire them out. So my staying home and doing all of this is how I contribute to our income. (Now that doesn’t mean my husband never helps with the chores. He absolutely does, especially after I’ve had a baby. But that’s another subject.) I treat my job as a SAHM as a job even though I don’t get “paid” for it.
I especially appreciated all the points you made because I’m in the process now of building my own in home/online business and my husband may be going to school in the near future. So the income dynamics will be changing quite a bit. We’ve talked about setting up another account for my business and using some of our joint savings account to fund my business till it takes off. I’m not sure what will be the best way to set this up, and I’m sure there will be some trial and error, but these points will definitely be on my mind as we navigate this.
We have never had a budget until this year when we downloaded the Every Dollar app. It’s amazing how much more conscious we are of how we spend now that we’re recording every dollar we spend. I always thought having a budget would feel confining, but it’s actually quite freeing! We were always careful with our spending before, and usually managed to add money into our savings account every month. But I didn’t realize how much MORE we were capable of saving until we made a budget.
I personally feel like having separate accounts because one spouse isn’t wise with spending money is hurtful because it never helps the unwise spender to “grow up.” It’s like taking consequences away from a child who is making poor decisions. Getting to the root of WHY unwise spending happens may be messy and need counseling and accountability outside of the marriage relationship, but it’s worth it for your relationship to seek help, not just find a temporary solution for the problem. If a spouse had a drinking problem or anger problem or gambling problem or whatever problem we would want them to get help. It isn’t that much different from having a money spending problem, is it? Just a thought, not trying to stir up anything. ?
Sounds like you guys have a great system! And best wishes as you launch a new business! That can be a scary time in your marriage, but also really exciting.
And I LOVE the EveryDollar app. I’m glad you gave a plug for it! 🙂
I’d agree with you that taking someone off of a bank account isn’t good–IF it’s the only thing you’re doing. I think sometimes it has to be done as a temporary thing, if there are addictions involved. But it also has to be accompanied by some counselling and some accountability groups so that you can stop the behaviour. Setting it up as a permanent thing is really scary. If someone can’t overcome that addiction, then the problem is much bigger than a bank account! Thanks for mentioning that for clarification. 🙂
Thank you! Yes it’s scary starting a business. ?
And yes, I agree that temporarily removing an unwise spender from the account is necessary. Credit score and paying the electric bill obviously are very important!
Regarding a separate account for your new business: YES!
1) All income for the business gets deposited into this account. Always.
2) All expenses for the business are paid for from this account. Always.
3) Pay yourself a “salary” from this account.
4) Both husband and wife should be signers on the account. After all, this does belong to both of you, even if it is “your” business.
Never mingle personal accounts and business accounts. Ever.
This way, when it is time to do your taxes, you have a clear record of all income and all expenses. Even if you are an accountant (I am!) this very clear record will save you a headache at tax time.
That’s what I do now, too, for my blog. I have one account for that, and if we need personal money, I pay it from there. But all expenses and income are in that one account instead of being mingled with the other!
I find this topic interesting. I usually hear how it evidences a lack of oneness or unhealthy marriage, leads to divorce, etc. I think there is a difference between sharing finances and responsibilities and sharing bank accounts. Sharing finances and responsibilities is what the covenant of marriage requires, not necessarily shared accounts. While some reasons for separate accounts may be evidences of a lack of oneness and family-focus, others may be practical and wise.
You can share finances and responsibility with separate accounts and have a healthy marriage that is family-focused and achieves goals and plans for retirement. Conversely, you can have shared accounts and not reflect or achieve the objectives of this list which I heartily agree should be every couple’s aim.
I agree. Separate accounts joint accounts or a combo will not solve the mentality issues. I think all should be shared information, but I have separate savings accounts just for myself as a single person. it seems like the key to finances working for a married couple is that they are on the same page.
I feel like my husband and I need to improve at some of this. Our main checking account is shared. He has another account he had to set up a couple years before we got married for his car loan. My name still isn’t on that account. That’s just been a lazy thing on our part, rather than him not wanting to share with me. Also our credit cards are separate.
Yeah, I think one of the biggest things is that when things are separate like that it’s hard to make a budget together–and you really need to if you want to get a handle on your finances and get ahead. I know that can seem daunting, but it’s great to feel like you know how much money you have, how much you owe, and what your plan is to move forward! I hope you get there.
Also, separate can make sense if one (but not both) of you need to repair credit. My husband and I have mostly joint accounts, but all of the loans (mortgage and one car) are in my name only because I have excellent credit. My husband has a credit card that is in only his name so he can build up his credit score. It’s a temporary thing, really — in a couple of years, that’ll all go away. But I think it is okay to be strategic in what is shared and what is joint — the point is that both of you are sharing in your financial planning, not that everything is even-steven on paper.
Yes, that’s very smart. And sometimes it’s necessary. But as long as you’re doing your budget and planning together, and think of it as the “family’s money”, then I don’t think the specifics matter as much. It’s really the mindset and the planning!
Its very different here in South Africa – our tax laws don’t allow for a couple to have a joint account. Even for stay-at-home moms, you need your own account to show any income of monies, and any expenditure before tax will be paid out or taken into account. As a working woman here in South Africa, I am required to have my own bank account as any tax refunds will not be paid into any account that does not have my name on it – even joint accounts. I know this because I work for an accounting/auditing firm. So, for us, it seems silly to have two accounts in each of our names – and then have to pay additional banking fees for a third account just to have a joint account.
This does bring about problems like I pay for this, you pay for that… etc. However, I can see that my stance is changing in that it now has become – I don’t care who pays, its all our money anyway, which I think is truly at the heart of the matter. I have full access to my husband’s account and he has full access to mine (although I don’t think he can remember my log-on or PIN)… 😉 But would remind him if need be.
Seems that there is more against marriage working that just the entertainment culture…
P.S. We also spell “check”: cheque… 🙂
Wow, I had no idea there were laws like that! I do think that would make it an extra challenge for doing budgets together, but obviously you can get over that. I’m glad you both have come to see it that way! But really,….that would be a challenge.
My husband and I have a shared account; I closed mine when we got married, and he added me to his (checking and savings). I would have full access to the accounts if I could remember the login 🙂
We do sit down together about every week while he pays the bills and looks at what’s been spent/saved. Our own credit/debit cards are tied to the same account, and both our paychecks are deposited into the same account. So even though he overall takes care of the finances, we are definitely in it together.
He is a big saver. Although I’m not a spender, I’m not a great saver either, so this works really well for us–it’s a backstop for me, and we feel like teammates. I always have in mind that when we have kids I’ll become a SAHM, so I really try to be conscious about spending and think about living on his income only.
I am in complete agreement with the ideas presented in the article, but I have a friend facing remarriage where both have teenage kids. There are issues of child support, upcoming college expenses, house payment, etc. What would be recommended in this situation?
I couldn’t disagree more. Keep separate Credit Card accounts in different names. Do not take credit cards from one source in both names. The credit card companies love you as co-signers. Don’t do it. Everything will be fine unless one partner loses his job, is sued or becomes a collection target. Don’t endanger both your credit ratings. If another 2008 comes along, you will both be hurt. Separate, Separate, Separate. Yes, you can’t avoid co-credit obligations like a home mortgage. But all car loans and credit cards should be in each name. Then one-half of the marriage will still have credit. Every couple should see an asset-protection attorney before marriage.
Good tips, but when you have a “blended” family that really changes everything…We each have a separate account and a joint account for bigger purchases etc. Problem I face is when I bring up a “money” issue my husband says it’s “our” money, but if he brings up a money issue all of a sudden it’s “his” money. I can’t win.
My husband keeps all credit cards although I earn more than him. I was OK with that until I recently realise his relationship with other ladies. He doesn’t engage in sex with them but their conversations on what’s up or text messages sometimes makes me fell uncomfortable to the extent of asking go naked pictures. If I ask for my credit card ,He becomes angree and tell me , he is the head and needs to control the money. I love him but he is killing my love and trust for him.
My hubby and I (married 22+ years) have a great deal: he makes the money and I spend it. Lol just kidding.
He is the only one that works outside the home (since I had our first baby 17 years ago) but I pay the bills and keep track of everything.
There hasn’t ever been a lot of extra $$ to spend but if we have extra we figure it out together!
I’m sending this to my 17 year old daughter who is in a relationship-they already believe this way but this just backs it up.
That’s wonderful! I’m glad you liked it.