Saying “I do” these days may mean saying “I don’t” to combined banking accounts. Couples are increasingly keeping money separate from their significant other. In fact, 57% of all couples keep at least some of their finances apart.
My husband and I are among that group. Outsiders may think this means trouble in paradise, but I think it’s perhaps just a natural evolution of how 21st-century human beings marry and manage money.
I talked to Minnesota-based family law attorney, Zach Smith, and his 15 years of experience on the matter to learn more about how modern married couples are managing their finances.
Keeping separate accounts can be a really good idea for married couples. While legally, it doesn’t make a difference because it’s all considered martial funds, it can eliminate some money stress when each party has their own checking account.
In addition to reduced stress, here are 15 reasons why smart couples are saying “I do” to splitting the bills.
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No nitpicking each other’s Amazon buys
Haven’t we all made a regrettable purchase at 2 a.m.? That’s why I have three cubic feet of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in the basement. But with separate checking accounts, it’s a non-issue for my husband and me.
Separate bank accounts could be the secret to quashing any frustrations between partners on the matter. Because, explains Mr. Smith, separate accounts enable each party to maintain agency with how money is managed.
Of course, it’s ill-advised to redo the master bath or buy a whirlpool without talking it over. But in a healthy relationship, most couples don’t need to disclose or nitpick the other’s day-to-day buys.
No secret spending
In a recent financial survey, 62% of married couples admitted to secret spending–hiding from their significant other.
While it may seem counterintuitive, separate bank accounts can curb clandestine shopping, separateness can actually breed transparency. With nothing to hide, there’s no purchase approval ever denied or sought.
If I want a spendy sweatshirt, I can buy it from my separate account without justifying the price tag. Yet if my husband and I had a shared checking, I’d be more apt to resentfully skip the purchase or try to hide it — burying that line item between Costco runs and medical co-pays.
Save for your own individual goals
Separate bank accounts make saving for each spouse's individual goals easier. While big money decisions like mortgage, retirement, and vacations are made together, you may have separate goals your spouse has no interest in.
This could include attending Comic-Con with VIP tickets, a sound healing spa retreat, or restoring a classic Corvette.
With price tags in the thousands, it’s easy for others to quash this sort of individualistic bucket-list spending. But with separate bank accounts, I can save up my own money to spend on things that are important to me.
What’s mine stays mine
My husband and I both work outside of the home. Shortly before getting married, we opened a set of his and her bank accounts together at the same institution. We told ourselves we’d eventually merge those two accounts into just one.
But six years later, we haven’t done it. We’ve just never seen the need. When either of us logs in, we can see the other’s account and easily transfer funds. But the accounts are still separate.
As a working woman, I love the satisfaction of seeing my money go into my own account, and I don’t have to think about earning extra money for the things I want.
It elevates gifting
When I get my husband a gift, I want it to be something that comes from me and my money because I work outside of the home and have the ability to do so. So it becomes meaningful to me.
I don’t want to take out $50 or so from our joint checking and have him grumble about me buying something he doesn’t need or ask me how much this set us back.
Instead, when the gift comes from my separate stash, I get a polite “Thank you, dear” or genuine excitement about what I picked out for him.
Build and maintain your own credit history
Having separate accounts enables each spouse to build and maintain their credit history, which can be essential for several reasons.
If a spouse passes away, or you and your spouse split up, you don't want to have no real substantive credit history because all the bills were in their name.
Ideally, both you and your spouse will improve your credit scores over time instead of just one of you. This can open up borrowing opportunities whether you stay together or not.
Both spouses come to understand finances
With many couples, there can often be one spouse who manages the money — paying the bills and setting up retirement accounts — and another who's completely hands-off. Unfortunately, this spouse can be left entirely in the dark when the other spouse passes.
Additionally, a spouse who's never written a check or logged in to an online banking account can be left trying to figure out how personal finances work decades into adulthood.
If each spouse is involved with all aspects of money management, they’re better positioned to manage household finances alone when the time comes.
You’re used to financial independence
Increasingly, people are meeting and marrying their life partners in their 30s and 40s. My spouse and I met at 30, for example.
We each had our own home and savings and were settled in our careers. Accustomed to handling money a certain way, why quibble over quarters? It turns out we’re not alone in our reasoning.
Among 183 million coupled Americans, 35% keep their own bank accounts and share an account with their partner.
For major items like homes, vacations, appliances, or college savings for kids, we pool together resources. But for day-to-day purchases, we still enjoy financial independence.
You have different spending habits
Different spending habits are not uncommon and can be a major source of friction. In his line work, Mr. Smith says financial fights are especially common when one spouse is a spender, and the other is more of a saver. Here, separate bank accounts can keep the peace.
When both of your incomes are merged into one banking account, the other partner feels a loss of control every time funds exit. But with separate accounts, you can liberate your spouse from agonizing over your (alleged) frivolity.
Maintain your own identity
It’s easy for a spouse to lose their sense of self in marriage as your identity can become melded into one another.
It’s everywhere in the day-to-day grind. You stop buying scented Tide or putting mushrooms on your pizza because your spouse has allergies. You find mutually inoffensive friends to see and start watching different TV shows to keep your partner happy.
Maintaining a separate bank account is one way to keep your sense of identity and self-agency. Each transaction is a decision you’re making for yourself for your fulfillment.
Preparing for the worst-case scenario
Keeping separate accounts can help protect your sense of security and well-being, especially if you’re not fully happy or satisfied with your marriage. Even if you merge most accounts, this doesn’t mean you can’t open a separate emergency account just for you.
My bank account is at a separate financial institution from my spouse, and it’s no secret. I’ve bluntly told my husband to think of it as my “golden parachute” if he gets out of line.
While Mr. Smith has commented that half of those funds still legally belong to my husband, my enthusiasm remains undampened. I adore my side stash. I feel better knowing I can easily access funds outside my husband’s ready grasp.
Improve finances for your next marriage
Roughly half of all marriages end in dissolution. While many divorcees choose to walk down the aisle again, remarried couples usually have more pragmatic views about money and may be less likely to merge accounts.
Past marital disagreements about money have a lingering, souring effect. Many divorced individuals had partners who used money as a means of control or were just plain financially irresponsible.
Savvier the second time around, keeping bank accounts separate can give newly remarried couples peace of mind about the present and future.
You can avoid an imbalance of power
It can become deeply problematic when one spouse assumes the role of doling out money to the other — like a parent giving their child an allowance. It’s an eerie 1950s sort of power vibe.
While this is less common today, it does illustrate the imbalance of power when one spouse makes, controls, and sets all the rules around the household’s money. Additionally, there are still plenty of relationships where one person uses money to threaten and manipulate the other.
With separate bank accounts comes less tug-of-war. For example, my husband and I have different shopping tendencies. We shop together often and sometimes alone. On solo outings, I buy generic everything. My husband is the reverse. He insists on non-generic crackers, for example.
If my husband didn’t work, I might bluster at his spendy, name-brand Saltines. But when he buys them, it feels less frivolous and more blase — even weirdly endearing.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all handbook. But given that money is a top reason why Mr. Smith sees couples splitting up, separate bank accounts could help keep your marriage fit.
When you do discuss spending, it’ll be for more major decisions like mortgages or retirement accounts, and these conversations will be far more constructive. Why? You haven’t burned up all your capital quibbling about spendy sweatshirts and the frequency of coffee drinks.
Many happily wed couples have only one spouse working outside of the home and the other managing all of the money. Or where both spouses work and combine all of their finances. For many, this may increase their sense of closeness.
But if you’re considering keeping your finances separate, there are many rational and healthy reasons to do so. It doesn’t mean you distrust your partner or that your marriage is doomed. Instead, it reflects the 21st-century state of marriage and finding the right balance for you.
Speaking from personal experience, you can happily share your life with someone while keeping your individual bank account intact. You may even find yourself eliminating some money stress along the way.
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