What's yours is ours
April 13, 2010 7:16 AM   Subscribe

Marital Finances filter: I'm curious about how couples decide if they are going to be an "our money" couple or a "your money/my money" couple.

In my marriage, we have "our money." A joint account where the paycheques go, the bills get paid, and we don't worry about who's pay cheque is bigger. Other people I know talk in terms of "my half of the mortgage" and "It's his money, he can spend it how he wants." How did you decide how you were going to handle finances with your life partner?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl to Work & Money (67 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
This is an interesting question. My wife and I were talking about this exact situation last night. We use the same system as you but were surprised by the number of friends and relatives that chose the latter.

For us, it just seemed a lot easier to manage the finances through one account. We have a fairly large income disparity but the act of splitting would have created such a gap between what we could afford together. It has made larger purchases, vacations etc. much more enjoyable.
posted by purephase at 7:24 AM on April 13, 2010

I already had the house, bills in my name, etc when my now-wife moved in. For the sake of convenience (and laziness) that has remained the case. Since all of those things are on auto-pay (again, lazy) from my checking, my wife pays me as needed from her account.

I suppose our whole banking schema is a reflection on the fact that everything was in place before we met (I'm also six years older than she is).
posted by notsnot at 7:26 AM on April 13, 2010

It was never a question for us, because that's the way both our parents do it, and it never occurred to us to do it otherwise. One of us really manages the money, and the other doesn't care to deal with it, so that works out. We discuss everything, don't make purchases over a certain amount (maybe $50, it's not concrete) without conferring. It's a trust thing.

I'm not 100% certain but I'd be interested to see if people who experienced fall out from infidelity/dishonesty in a marriage that led to money problems would be MORE likely to use the other system? But I'm 100% that we do it this way because it's the behavior we saw modeled, and it works in both our families.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:28 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Me and my wife keep things separate.

I think our decision was made because we are both pretty disorganized about money. Neither of us balances our checkbooks, we just try keep track of things in our heads. This is much easier than it used to be with online banking and bill pay, since we don't write that many checks. With a shared account it would be almost impossible to keep track of, since neither of us would know what the other one had spent.
posted by jefeweiss at 7:30 AM on April 13, 2010

My husband and I are separate. I think the primary reason to do so was that he had so much confusion going on (multiple jobs, automatic withholding for child support, etc.) that I (one job, no dependents, no complications) didn't want to get mixed up in it. I pay most of the household bills out of my salary--he just passes on a check a couple times a month for some mortgage and all home heating oil. It's worked fine for us; I wouldn't want to consider doing it another way.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:34 AM on April 13, 2010

We started keeping things jointly because he's disorganized and I'm best described as anal-retentive. His lack of organization had caused him some problems before we started living together, so I put myself in charge of the bills. When we married, it made more sense to put all the money in one pot and have the anal person in charge of accounting.

It's a lot easier to do one-pot accounting now with everything handled through online banking and with services like Mint to keep track of your spending. When I was reconciling statements by hand, I sometimes ended up in tears with the frustration of trying to enter wadded-up receipts for our credit card. Still, it was better than missing a bill payment and the associated credit ding. (He did take up the responsibility of paying bills for a while after we were married and did a great job; it was just early on that he had the reputation to live down.)
posted by immlass at 7:40 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My wife and I keep it separate because we are so organized. We had a nice system for tracking and sharing expenses set up before we got married, so it was easy to keep it that way. It also means that income above and beyond the shared expenses, saving account contributions (down payment money, car replacement, etc), and retirement contributions is personal, so I don't get to / have to worry about her blowing a fair amount on things that I would think are nuts, and vice versa.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:41 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

My husband and I started out 100% combined, and I handle all of the bill paying and money managing. Several years ago, after my husband called me to check and see if there was enough room in the budget for him to send me flowers, we decided to change it up a bit. Now the majority of out money goes into our joint account, and a set amount from each of his paychecks goes into two individual accounts that are entirely discretionary spending. Our budget allows us to go out to eat once a week together from our joint account, but extra meals out, clothes, video games, gifts, etc., come from our individual accounts. It's actually really nice to be able to ask each other out on a proper date, and buy real gifts for one another again.
posted by ferociouskitty at 7:41 AM on April 13, 2010 [26 favorites]

There are so many practical and emotional factors that can come into play when people make the decision of ours, yours/mine, or a combo of both.

e.g., I know people who are trust fund babies who are just used to having their cash accounts connected to all their investment accounts, and adding another person's access/deposit would just logistically confuse things.

When my ex and I got married, I was warned by my overly cautious, divorced mother not to mingle my money because it would be harder to disentangle and determine who's the owner of what come the eventual divorce. (Yes, she was paranoid. No, she didn't use those words. Yes, I did eventually wind up divorced.) We kept our separate accounts but maintained a joint checking/savings account that we each deposited $x.00 into each month. That account was used to pay daily & household expenses like groceries, dry cleaning, pet costs, eating out, home maintenance, etc. Then, I don't remember how we decided this part, but we both wrote a check for half the mortgage every month, and the utility & tv bills were split up--half in his name, half in mine. We never had a joint credit card. Btw, our salaries never had a huge disparity.

Looking back, I would say I never mingled my money with his because I was suspicious that we might not be together forever. And indeed, when we got divorced, it was logistically very easy; this was one of the reasons. And it cost us only $158.

With the person I'm with now, we're starting to mingle money a little bit. We haven't been together very long, and I make twice what he does. Even though I don't know if we'll ever have the piece of paper that says to the world and the IRS that we're married, I feel much more comfortable mingling my money with his--because I trust the permanence of this situation much more than I did that of my marriage.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:41 AM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

We have separate personal accounts where our paycheques go, and one joint account from which rent, bills, etc go. Also all joint expenses, such as dinner out, groceries, etc. We transfer equal amounts into this account every month, and if either of us deposits more, s/he emails the other who makes it up as soon as s/he can. We're pretty flexible about small expenses going out of the joint or the personals, since they usually balance out. Eg I might buy my toothpaste from the joint account, but might also get detergent from my personal account. We don't consult each other about joint expenses, but since our accounts are online, we take a look every week or two.

When/ if there is a major disparity between our incomes, we've already decided we'll change the contribution proportions from 50:50.

This is the first time sharing expenses for both of us. Our salaries are roughly equal, so it works. It also works because one of us is a little more extravagant than the other and keeping 'my' and 'our' money separate keeps us both in good moods.

How we decided it: well, neither of us even considered just a joint account. This just seemed the best and simplest way to manage it.
posted by tavegyl at 7:41 AM on April 13, 2010

I am struggling with this right now.

We have been together eight years, are not married, and own a house together. We have always kept separate money with equal shares of joint property. But we were undergrads and graduate students, so our income was low and similar. Also, we live with other folks, so there is already a spreadsheet of expenses.

But graduation may force a change, as the income gap is going to become large. At the same time we are moving, so we have to change banks. I think without an event like this, inertia would have dominated and we would have just kept on splitting things evenly.
posted by cjemmott at 7:42 AM on April 13, 2010

When mrs. alms and I first got together we kept our paychecks going into separate accounts, but also started a joint account that we periodically put money into and that we paid bills out of. This addressed mrs. alms concern that she maintain financial independence; in our culture many women do not, and she did not want to follow that path.

Eventually the multiple accounts became too much trouble to juggle. It's hard enough just keeping up with the bill paying. The multiple accounts meant we also had to make transfers from two separate accounts into our joint account before paying the bills. Bleh. The transition to having paychecks go directly into our joint account was also eased by time; we were both more comfortable with this deeper level of financial sharing.

Even so, we continue to maintain separate individual bank accounts with personal money in them. For us it's an important psychological safety net to know that you have a little bit set aside that is in your name only for emergencies, mad money, spouse-get-hit-by-a-car or taken-over-by-an-alien or whatever. We don't often put more money into these separate accounts or spend money out of them, but they are there.

Some couples take a hybrid approach. All the money goes into a joint account and that is used for joint expenses, but each person gets a personal allowance that they can spend on whatever they want, no questions asked by the other person.

Maintaining completely separate finances would be fraught, I believe, especially in couples where there is a large difference in income. A relationship between a lower-income and higher-income person would create tension that I think for many people could undermine the trust and unity in the partnership. Some people, though, obviously prefer that level of psychological and financial distance and can manage the differential in the access to financial resources.

Pre-existing assets that are brought into a relationship are a different thing altogether. If someone owns a house or has inherited wealth, etc that existed before the marriage, it is very common (more common than not?) for that person to retain sole ownership of the asset. This can still create discomfort in the less-wealthy party, but it's not as problematic as maintaining a separation of current income.

Retirement accounts are also a different beast. In the US, at least, these are by law associated with individuals not couples. So it can be very difficult to maintain equality of retirement savings. Those levels will really depend on the retirement plans that each partner has available to them through work.
posted by alms at 7:44 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the "put all the money in a pot" idea is a very old fashioned way of thinking. My parents might have enjoyed doing lots of things but that doesn't mean I won't think about whether or not it's a good idea to do a particular thing in the same way as they did.

The advantage of "It has made larger purchases, vacations etc. much more enjoyable." by obscuring who has paid for it sounds bogus to me. Having separate finances doesn't stop the one that earns more paying more (if they want to).

Sharing finances presumably pushes your average spend up closer to the higher earner, whereas not sharing finances pulls it down to more closely match the partner with the lower income.
posted by devnull at 7:45 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

We're an "ours" household; we married pretty young without a lot of premarital assets, and we knew that when we had children we ideally wanted one partner to stay home with the kids when they were young. (That turned out to be possible for now, and that turned out to be me.) I think it's very difficult to maintain a yours/mine when one partner is an at-home parent.

People manage their marriages in different ways; for us, having merged belongings and accounts and money is very important; wearing wedding rings or sharing a last name is less so. We know couples who are exactly the other way around -- they never mingle funds but taking off a wedding ring would be a serious betrayal.

I personally would be pretty uncomfortable in a yours/mine situation, though I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:46 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've never used a big pot of money. The arrangement I have more experience with than any other is when I'm managing the bills, and letting my my partner know how much it is they owe towards them that month. Everyone keeps their own money, no joint account.

(I would also like to recommend the amazing and free billmonk.com to anyone who is sharing finances or expenses with anyone else.)
posted by Jairus at 7:52 AM on April 13, 2010

ferociouskitty has it.
posted by cusecase at 7:52 AM on April 13, 2010

We do separate accounts. We had both been on our own for so long when we got married, that it just seemed like a huge shift to have to put our accounts together. There was also a huge difference in our paychecks at the time and it was hard to arrive at an agreement as to what was fair or not. Both of us have niche interests, too, which played a role. It would have irritated me to see him spend my money on his motorcycle and it would have upset him for me to spend his money on crafting supplies. With separate accounts, we can indulge ourselves as needed without worrying about taking away from the other.

Now that some time has passed, however, our income levels hover at right about equal and both of us are spending more time and money doing things that we both like instead of our niche interests. I think we will move to some kind of split system, where we put so much into a shared account every paycheck but retain a percentage for our own savings and personal interests. It's a lot of work to move things around and get such a thing set up, though.
posted by bristolcat at 7:53 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

When we got together, he had money, I had none. Now the situation is reversed. For a while, in the middle we both had money and we tried to keep track and be organized, but it didn't work well. Now since I'm the only one bringing in money, there's no option, it's all pooled.

I would raise the point, though, that beyond the complications of salary, pensions, mortgages etc., both on the legal and logistic side, it is not easy to 'value' time spent towards valued activities in a marriage that are non monetary but still valued (such as childcare, housework, and home renovations). In marriage, time and value does not always equal money. I would suggest that any negotiations around money include question of Value(s) and Time explicitly, as this is likely where all the emotional aspects are likely to come out around money, and often (but not always) these may include gendered differences.
posted by kch at 7:58 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seperate, with a small joint savings that tax returns get dumped into, used for emergencies of either an individual or joint nature. We did get married later (30 & 35) so we had our own accounts. Mostly, though, we have different money management styles. Neither one are wrong - we are both responsible, but combining would make for tense joint money decisions and we just don't have time for that. I do like the privacy and autonomy, but mostly, I get to keep my more conservative habits, he gets to keep his more freewheeling ways, and we just hope it all balances out in the end. We don't have children, which makes this approach easier.
posted by rainbaby at 8:00 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My fiancee and I have discussed the merits of each system in preparation for when we move in together after the wedding. She had originally assumed an "everything is ours" arrangement, since that's how everyone in her family does it. We both agreed that having totally separate finances would create an artificial tension in expense management (e.g. it would feel strange to have a scoreboard of back and forth transactions for shared transactions like rent, furniture, etc.) but I was uncomfortable with the idea of completely combining accounts because I'd feel guilty spending "our" money on something that was just for me.

We're planning on a His/Hers/Ours division, with a joint account for most of our income to cover our shared expenses (home, food, utilities, furniture, entertainment) but retaining our own accounts for personal expenses and gifts. Also, it seems easier to me to keep our retirement accounts separate so that I can keep the tax consequences straight.

On the whole, this approach addresses my personal neuroses while meeting our combined goals. While she loves me and has no problem with my personal hobbies, I'd still feel uncomfortable using Our money to buy Left 4 Dead 2 when I'd be the only one playing it, and I'd feel petty for asking her if she used Our money to buy something for herself.

My goal is to satisfy my irrational lizard brain while still imposing rational order upon our finances.
posted by Lifeson at 8:06 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Our money goes into a common pool for things like bills, long term savings, clothing, and vacations. Then we get a weekly allowance for entertainment and other discretionary spending. This gives us the best of both worlds; we can pool our resources for the big things and not have to worry about who paid the rent this month, and we can spend $50 at the bar without worrying about screwing the other person. This system also allows us to truly treat each other to nice things - if everything was combined, the earrings I got my wife for Valentine's day wouldn't have really been a present from me to her, but a present from 'us' to her.
posted by sid at 8:09 AM on April 13, 2010

My wife is great with finances, and I'm... less so. We starting mingling money in various ways when we moved in together before we were married. It started with getting a credit card with both of us on it, so that we could share the benefits.

When we were first living together, we kept most everything separate, but now, we just throw everything into a large pot. She makes significantly more than I do, but everything goes in evenly. Rent, bills, and everything else come out of the same pot.

We keep separate checking accounts for various other transactions, but those generally don't have more than $100 or so dollars in them.

It just seemed like the right thing to do - I don't remember if we ever had a specific discussion about it. She and I spend very similarly, so there was never the worry of one of us going off and emptying the account.

Now that I think of it, I think the reason we merged was that she was tired of asking me for my half of the rent when we were living together at first...
posted by SNWidget at 8:09 AM on April 13, 2010

We have one checking account that we do everything out of, but we budget "blow money" for both of us each paycheck. My wife withdraws cash for herself and I use a debit card, keeping track of purchases using Balance on my iPhone. I usually let her know when I spend money, even though it is "mine" and I'm free to do what I want with it as long as I don't spend above my blow money budget.

I don't think we ever really had a formal discussion about this, it just kind of happened. We did talk a little before we got married about how to handle money, but we were both on the same page that there should be one account and nothing hidden.
posted by joshrholloway at 8:11 AM on April 13, 2010

We are a "your money/my money" couple. We were both previously married and had the "our money" and we both dealt with significant others who didn't feel the same way about money as we did. I pay all the bills, he pays a proportionate amount of the bills- we've done a weighted scale for bill paying- so he pays less because he makes less. We're both really happy with this arrangement, as it allows for surprise gifts and we don't feel accountable for every last cent to the other person- just to ourselves.
posted by Zophi at 8:11 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lifeson - I thought that's how we'd end up, too. We got a joint account when we got a mortgage, and the idea was that utilities, groceries etc would come out of that. But when the baby came along, so much money had to be in the joint account, that the personal accounts gathered dust. Now my savings account has become the house savings account, and my husband doesn't even have his own account. Now we buy each other gifts "out of my side of the joint account."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:17 AM on April 13, 2010

We do things completely jointly in our house, for much the same reason as Medieval Maven mentions. Everything goes into a single pot, all the bills get paid out of said pot. We each have a preset amount to save/spend/blow/etc. on a weekly basis, and we allocate on a line-item basis for funding of other, larger items. This works for us because it means any significant purchase, we agree on together, frivolous or otherwise. We're both pretty easygoing about those decisions, however, even though we're the classic spender/saver combo (Oh, SNWidget, are we similar creatures). It's also helped that we try and work on a save-up-for-it-and-pay-cash basis for purchases, rather than carrying a lot of high-interest debt.

I'd also add the caveat that, our finances are pretty simple, so historical financial drama didn't figure into the mix -- but, as we've both said, we legally inherit each others' debt when we get married anyways, so why make things more complicated than they have to be? We have two kids and a lot of volunteer commitments; trying to figure out whose responsible for what bills, and the stressors involved there, seems a waste of time that we just don't have.

I'll be honest; the concept of separate finances is completely bizarre to me. I'm probably going to get crap for this, but I firmly believe that, in many (Many. Not all.) situations, couples getting married/becoming legally attached to each other who do their finances separately likely have commitment issues, and are setting themselves up for failure. I've seen far too many of my friends' relationships where separate finances was like a parachute -- 'Well, if this doesn't work out, at least disentanglement of our money will be easy.' YMMV.

Do I think our system is perfect? No -- I think that, in an ideal world, there's a mix somewhere in between with more "discretionary" fund being unencumbered, but as the spender, I appreciate the sober second thought from my saver partner when I start thinking about buying new toys.

On preview, echoing Burhanistan. The key, regardless of your method of managing, is calm communication when it comes to finances. Money makes things tough; it really is the only thing in our house that causes any significant friction, and we're pretty damn good communicators.
posted by liquado at 8:19 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was in a 9 year live-in relationship and we never completely melded our finances. We had a joint account only for paying the mortgage. As long as I can remember, my mom did "bills" and split all of the things my parents paid jointly in half (both my parents worked). For my ex (who also had two working parents) it was the same. I liked that having my money seperate meant that he didn't resent my clothing purchases and I didn't resent his electronics purchases. While we are split now, we never fought over money.

I think most people approach this according to the cultural milieu in which they were raised. It didn't seem natural for me to meld my finances with my ex, even after we bought property together, because the only relationships I'd witnesses where people did that were profoundly unequal ones (not saying all people who meld their money are unequal, but that was what I observed amongst my neighbours), so I of course thought it more normal to take the model my parents had and agree to large joint purchases while keeping my money seperate from my partner's.
posted by Kurichina at 8:19 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing three-account setup: yours, mine, ours. Lizsterr and I pay bills, rent, groceries, dinners out, and other shared discretionary expenses out of a joint account. (PNC's Virtual Wallet, which except for the Flash-based web interface, is quite convenient.)

Lunch while I'm at work, my credit card payments (debt from before we were together), and solo discretionary purchases like clothes and bike parts come out of my checking account. Gifts, too. I'm not sure what comes out of hers, but that's the way it should be, I think. (Gave myself a Mad Men "Executive Account" vibe there.)
posted by supercres at 8:32 AM on April 13, 2010

We do the large pot joint account for joint bills and agreed on savings, and also each have smaller individual accounts for "blow money" which is where we differ money management - he'll eat expensive lunches out or I'll buy overpriced make-up out of these accounts, which if it came from the joint we'd argue about, but as long as the bills are paid and the savings goals are met we can each manage our blow money without arguing about it.
posted by cestmoi15 at 8:35 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend and I used to have separate accounts, then a joint account for house things. But when we moved to a bigger city, I found a job very quickly and he did not. We merged our accounts then so we wouldn't have to deal with "I pay 75%, you pay 25%" every month.

So essentially, the major factor in our decision was that I hate math.
posted by kerning at 8:35 AM on April 13, 2010

It's our money. See my previous comment in this thread that might be relevant to your question.
posted by arcticseal at 8:38 AM on April 13, 2010

I'm a freelancer and my husband has a salaried job. Currently, while my gigs pay fairly well, my husband earns the majority of our collective income and his checks come in far more regularly and reliably than my own. We each have seperate bank accounts as well as a joint one we can both access easily for day-to-day shared expenses (groceries, meals out, movie tickets, etc) as well as rent and utilities.

Generally, when I get paid for a big job, that check goes straight to the joint account. But when I do small personal commissions, get money as gifts for my birthday or Christmas, etc, it goes into my personal account. Mostly so that I can then spend it on non-essentials for myself without feeling guilty for it and with the knowledge that I'm not cutting into what we need for living expenses.

My husband and I also have long-term investments -- mostly relating to inheritances from relatives and such -- that we manage separately but may one day combine for the sake of, say, buying a house.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:45 AM on April 13, 2010

I think in many marriages, depending on one's personal 'philosophy' about financial matters, one partner eventually 'steps up' to be the manager, even if both are individually financial 'slobs.'

In our case, when first married we had joint checking. It didn't work. I'm the type who likes my checkbook to balance to the penny when I get my statement each month and pores through it to track down what the discrepancy is if it doesn't. Turned out my wife is happy keeping a running tab in her mind that if she's within +/- $20 she feels is balanced. After a couple of instances when I came to write the mortgage or bills checks and found that there wasn't enough in the account to cover it I said 'that's it' & got a separate account so that I can be sure there's sufficient funds.

Over time my wife has quit being a salaried employee and now has her own decorating business. Basically, there's 'our' money, made and largely managed by me, and there's 'her' money in her personal & business accounts that I don't have any part of (until tax time, but that's another story). I give her an 'allowance' each month for household expenses & groceries, but I pay all the other bills.

It's the only way for me not to go crazy.
posted by Pressed Rat at 8:58 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One of the benefits of marriage is specialization -- we have joint finances so that only one of us (me) has to think about finances. My husband specializes in other things like taking care of the dogs, car, and grocery shopping (and I don't think about them).
posted by Jacqueline at 9:11 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When we were living together but not married, Mr. Corpse and I each paid half the bills and had our own accounts. It was such a pain to keep track of that once we realized we were in it for the long haul, it was a great relief to just dump everything together. I had a separate account for a while, as it had some investments I'd inherited and I hadn't bothered to put Mr. Corpse's name on the account, but when I closed that account I moved the funds to a shared account.

My parents shared their money when I was growing up, and Mr. Corpse's parents share theirs, so that's what we're used to. If Mr. Corpse had wanted to keep separate accounts I would've been surprised.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:14 AM on April 13, 2010

We are in the process of combining.

There have been some bumps - he wants me to use a credit card and I have never done that before. He manages the money and I let him handle it, which is better for me because I don't have to worry about it, but he has a tendency to make things complicated so sometimes I have to ask him to simplify the accounting system.

The initial worries were all about how we have different spending priorities and I feared he would judge me for spending money on frivolities. But his solution to this was simple: just make a budget that estimates how much I will spend on those things. As long as it's within the budget, he doesn't worry about it.

In our case, I make about twice as much as he does but neither of us is living beyond our means; most of the money is going into savings.
posted by mai at 9:17 AM on April 13, 2010

As an experiment one year, we had his, hers, and ours accounts, as a change from our normal system of lumping everything in together. We kept forgetting to dole out the personal money, and when we did, we never spent it. The separate accounts just made us feel bad. Even if one of us wants some outrageously expensive thing, I think it makes us feel better to talk about it and have one agree that they want to spend the money in order to make the other happy, rather than have it be this cold feeling of "it's your money, do what you want." Plus, we do pretty much agree on most things.
posted by HotToddy at 9:25 AM on April 13, 2010

My favorite way to approach this is to establish an equal burden system.

Let's say you have a household income of $10,000/month. Let's say the husband makes $7,000 of that and the wife makes $3,000 of that.

Now let's say that the family budget requires $6,000/month in expenses (mortgage, groceries, car payments, insurance, savings, retirement, vacation fund, etc). The husband would contribute $4200 (70%) towards that fund in a joint checking account. The wife would contribute the remaining $1800 (30%). All bills are paid out of the joint checking account. The remaining money for each party is deposited into their personal accounts.

This only works under the following conditions:

1) You have a thorough budget that accounts for all yearly expenses and short term savings accounts for family purchases. This is actually the hard part. Do we budget $1,000 or $3,000 on a new TV?
2) You have extra money. If every dollar that everyone makes is going towards bills, then there's no point establishing a system where you try and figure out who gets the extra.
posted by shew at 9:29 AM on April 13, 2010

My husband of six months and I keep things separate largely because he's currently being audited by the IRS for a mistake on his taxes from 2006. It was an honest mistake, and actually they owe him money, but they currently think (or thought for awhile, at least--he's resubmitted everything, but the IRS is sloooow) he owes them money, and have placed levies on/emptied his bank account once already before they processed a bunch of paper work from him. In short, it's a clusterfuck. Our goal is to someday comingle funds, but that just wouldn't be smart right now. By keeping things separate, and filing taxes separately, I'm retaining the right to my own money and safeguarding my accounts from being emptied.

Some unmarried friends of ours, incidentally, had a similar thing happen with their joint account. One partner had an outstanding tax bill from the state of Massachusetts, who decided to go in and drain their savings completely. Ugly stuff.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:30 AM on April 13, 2010

(However, he is an authorized user on one of my credit cards, and all of our joint expenses go in there. Once a month, he gives me a check for half. It works perfectly for us.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:31 AM on April 13, 2010

I fall on the 'joint money' side, although we're not married yet so it's still separate for now. I live in a community property state, so it's all "our money" anyway, and that's what my family's always done. I also make significantly more than my S.O., but his company does 401k matching, so we've agreed that he should be putting the max in to that account (so, we end up making similar amounts, just a lot of his is inaccessible). Since we're both involved in decisions about salary, saving, investments, etc, it's silly that it would only affect one partner... Also, writing a check every month to each other seems like such a hassle (and then you have to go to the bank to cash it, blah) - I am ALL ABOUT online bill pay.
posted by Lady Li at 9:45 AM on April 13, 2010

We're another three-account setup couple. It's been this way for several years, even before we got married. Our paychecks get directly deposited into our own individual accounts, and we put "our share" into the joint account which is used for household expenses. It's a good mixture of freedom and making sure we each contribute our share towards the house, etc. (Also, I would never NOT have my own account after watching assorted governmental screw-ups mess up my family's finances on occasion -- I feel that each partner needs to have their money go into their own account, so that if the government messes up and puts levies on our accounts for essentially no reason, at least one of us will be able to buy things. It's not like we intentionally screw up our taxes or anything, but mistakes could happen and bad stuff could result. It sounds paranoid, I know, but I'm not taking any chances after the things I've seen.)
posted by kataclysm at 10:23 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My fiance and I are both seriously organized with our money (spreadsheets, trackers, the whole nine yards). When we moved in together, we established a joint checking account and credit card, and contribute evenly each month (we make about the same, and the one who earns more has way more in student loans so it works for us). We did not want a roommate situation where one person was writing the other checks for rent or groceries or anything like that.

The system has worked very well for us, but we found that it's much more time consuming, so when we marry later this year, we'll probably combine all of our accounts into joint everything and give ourselves an individual "allowance" for our own money. We may keep a separate account each for freelance work, if things work out like we think they might.

We currently have a once a month money meeting to make sure everything's evened out and to figure out our net worth, and I expect that to continue, so I don't think that there will be one designated money manager. We talk about finances all the time.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:24 AM on April 13, 2010

I think it depends on what your spouse is like - if you love them despite them being horrible with money then you probably want to keep separate finances. Also separate finances if you know you are horrible and want to not drive them crazy.

If you're both fairly sane and reasonable with money then I think shared finances are great - simpler, more fair, and they can bring you closer if you work together to manage them. Shared is also better if you have one person good with money who doesn't mind managing it, and one who really doesn't care as long as they can get $20 a week for coffee.

I'm not sure what you do with two people who don't care or one who cares, but doesn't want to manage it - maybe hire a financial consultant?
posted by meepmeow at 10:51 AM on April 13, 2010

In Thabombshelter household, we have a joint checking for bills and joint expenses and seperate checking for personal stuff. I pay my personal bills (my credit cards, loan payments, insurance etc) from my personal account, and she pays her credit cards etc out of hers. This way all of the bills and joint expenses (groceries, some dinners etc) get paid equally by both of us, while we both still have money that we can use at our discretion without the other having to worry.

I'm much better at money management, so I handle all of the bill paying and balancing of the Joint. When we had better paying jobs (thanks, Grad School!), we had a set amount of money come directly into the joint each paycheck (calculated from our monthly budget expenses), and the rest was discretionary money. She buys yarn, I buy video games. No one is angry.

It's a great system for us, and i think when we have money again, the system will continue, but slightly altered wherein we will have both paychecks go into the joint and a set "allowance" to come out for discretionary money.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 11:37 AM on April 13, 2010

I always wanted to have a system where we pooled a certain percent of paychecks for joint expenses, and kept a certain percent for individual spending, as advised by my mother. My mother is a divorce and family law attorney. However, my husband has very rarely had a paycheck to contribute to this method (and when he does, it is less than 10% of mine), and thus my money has always been our money. We came to this arrangement because my resistance to it was worn down over time. Don't let that happen: make an active decision.
posted by bunnycup at 11:42 AM on April 13, 2010

The soon to be Mrs. Brevity and I have a three account setup, with paychecks getting deposited directly to the joint checking and a set percentage of gross income going to our personal accounts as discretionary money. The joint checking pays all the bills, and the discretionary funds pay for things like books, lunches out, and all the little transactions that don't directly affect the entire household.

We do it this way because while we're both pretty good with money (she's a bit more disciplined) and have similar levels of income, we both have seen our parents go through serious issues related to finances and this seems to have an appropriate amount of control to both of us.

We had several long conversations that hashed this out. It's subject to change as events warrant, but we like it more than any other options we've tried.
posted by VeritableSaintOfBrevity at 11:44 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My husband and I went to a all-in-one-pot system not long after we got engaged (it was a short engagement, so it was only a matter of months till the wedding anyway). There was never really much interest in any other arrangement, really. We were both pretty established when we got married, but combining made sense. We were both making professional incomes, had roughly the same monthly expenses, luckily enough we also share most of our interests and hobbies (games and our techie gadgets are our major "fun" expense we budget for) and MOST importantly...we had the same attitude and philosophy when it comes to money.

Let me reiterate: we shared the same attitude and philosophy regarding the handling of money and our long-term money goals. There are always going to be differences-- he hates handling bills, I think he likes to eat out more than I do--but when it comes to the money basics, we're in agreement. How much "safety net" do we keep in checking/savings? How much do we spend on food/fun/etc? What's our priorities? How quickly do we want to pay off debt? What's an acceptable amount of debt to take on in the first place? What's our budget? What "big" things do we want to do this year? We agree on these things. That, coupled with healthy communication and sticking to a budget, making sharing one account relatively harmless.

(We do, however, have credit cards for "surprise" purchases and general agreement on how much discretionary spending we can do without discussing with the spouse.)
posted by ninjakins at 12:02 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Neither system is perfect.

I'm the main breadwinner and he has his own business that is just a trickle of money so far. We are both too disorganized to keep track of a bunch of accounts, so we have one main account and neither of us can make Huge Purchases without discussion. I have a small personal and savings account that I don't use much; he has a personal account to process his freelance stuff, but everything pretty much comes into the main pot. It is easier not to have to worry about Who's Paying What or that he won't be able to get to our cash if I get hit by the Hypothetical Bus.

We are thisclose to paying off our last credit card, and that alone is making our lives easier.

BUT--we have had in the past, many fights when he used the main account and didn't tell me--because I'm the budgeter and I need to know if things are going to clear or not.

If we had not been able to resolve that, I would have told him to get his own account and denied him access to mine/moved to a personal one. Thankfully, he stopped.

Money stuff is just hard, period. Lots of trust and control issues come to the surface with it. There is no one "right" way.
posted by emjaybee at 12:15 PM on April 13, 2010

i'm not married now, but ... oh, almost 10 years ago i was as close to it as legally possible for me. we had a joint account and separate accounts. something that my mother taught me. it's this story that gets me there: "we love each other now, but we also know the realities of life and the world - sometimes we grow apart, things change, and it's important to make sure that we're independently financially secure (yes, i know about community property, etc., but when things unravel, people do things to each other, like withdraw all the money, without remember the history of love that was there, etc.)."

folks sometimes don't like my bringing this up, but the way that i see it is this: if i love my partner and respect them now, i want them to be prepared and protected in the future, just like i want that for myself.
posted by anya32 at 12:31 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

We're pretty dysfunctional :( The stated intention, starting out, was to merge finances, but not far in, the process came to a screeching halt for various reasons I'm uncomfortable getting into here. We're at the point where we have to file married-filing-separately, which carries all kinds of penalties with it that hurts us both -- he has to itemize rather than taking standard deductions because I have deductions and itemize; I can't contribute to a Roth IRA at all because my income exceeds $10k/year, etc. We also disagree strongly about saving for retirement, etc, so basically we're completely financially separate for the foreseeable future.

The upshot of this painful little half-story is you should work out agreements about how to handle the finances before you marry. If I'd known then what I know now, I would have strongly considered 'just shacking up' rather than agreeing to be legally bound to someone who can't work with me as a team on finances :(
posted by 2xplor at 12:38 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

We didn't we just sorta made it up as we went along (and are still doing so), with me pushing towards more simplified, joint finances and him being generally change-averse.

I also get cash for the vast majority of my income, so our income structure tends to end up with things that need bank accounts coming from his income (although the accounts are joint).

It's one of those things where what exactly you do is not as important as how you feel about each other when you talk about it.

It seems like you were looking for something that you didn't specifically ask for, so I hope that my answer helped, either way.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:45 PM on April 13, 2010

From reading the comments, it seems like most couples in long-term relationships keep three accounts (ours-mine-yours) because they're uneasy about the other's purchases. I don’t understand that.

If my unilateral spending is so significant that it impacts my family’s long-term financial goals, then having a separate hobby/discretionary/entertainment account does nothing but hide the problem. In that case, it seems like the solution should involve just two accounts: ours-and-mine; i.e., I get an allowance to control my spending.

On the other hand, if my spending isn’t a drag on my family’s long-term financial goals, why should it be worrisome to my wife? Because I spend it on hobbies or interest that irritate her? Because she resents the fact that I spend a lot more on myself than she does on herself? Because, being the bigger earner, I feel entitled to spend more money on myself than she spends on herself? If that’s the case, the root of the problem isn’t money (I recall relationshipfilter AskMes for all three scenarios making that clear) and keeping ours-mine-yours accounts isn’t going to solve it.
posted by hhc5 at 2:56 PM on April 13, 2010

Best answer: My husband and I married in our late 30s. We were both employed and had long-standing accounts at credit unions we favored. We were both used to managing our own money and we both are good at it.

So we have three account system - our paychecks go into personal accounts, and we transfer money into a joint account, based on the percentage of income we bring to the family. All bills, groceries, house repairs, meals out together, and so on, are paid from the joint account.

We did this because we both too lazy to fuss with closing accounts, and changing our direct deposits, and because we were both very used to having our own money, and spending it as we pleased.

I've never understood why people approach this question in a judge-y morality way - like you're not truly committed if you have your own bank account, blah blah. Each couple should do what works for them and not worry about the people who want to make it about Right vs. Wrong.
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:51 PM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Squeak Attack, your response is the reason I left the question so wide open. I didn't want to lead the responses in any particular direction and get people's defenses up, but I wanted to understand the reasoning behind not sharing everything if it's "our household" and "our family" and "our life together." So many responders seem to be following the model with the joint account, plus the account for discretionary spending, that I can see that it does work the same way, really. It's "our life together plus I get to buy lots of shoes and you get high end power tools, and we don't give each other a hard time about it." In my own case, we are very much on the same wave length with how we spend our money, but I was curious about how the other half lived. Thanks to everyone who responded. This was my first AskMe, so it was quite interesting for me.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:24 PM on April 13, 2010

Response by poster: Geez, that sounds like I was accusing Sqeak Attack of getting defensive. Quite the opposite! I was agreeing that it's not something that anyone should judge anyone else about.

Each couple should do what works for them and not worry about the people who want to make it about Right vs. Wrong.

posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:29 PM on April 13, 2010

Best answer: Completely up to you guys what you want to do.

MrsTravel & I are very much "ours" people - we believe fundamentally that we are married and that our assets and all that are shared, as a unit.

That said, that doesn't mean we handle that by forcing everything into joint accounts. We both believe in respecting each other's individuality with regards to finance, and have separate accounts for earnings and whatnot. We plan together, and we don't keep secrets, but we don't insist on full access to each other's funds either. We respect each other's financial territory. When it's time to pay bills, we move whatever we need to wherever we need to - the concept of who's money it is, or who's "Share" of anything is not a factor in any way, shape, or form. We're married.
If I'm running low and need some cash from the Mrs, I'll just ask, and vice-versa. No questions asked really, other than out of mutual concern for our long-term planning if necessary.

We have a joint accounts as well, for convenience - checks, bills, etc... and joint credit.

Long, long term planning, as well as estate planning and wills and whatnot - that's all taken care of as well.

Having multiple accounts under separate names, multiple banks, as well as joint accounts gives you a lot more flexibility as well when it comes right down to it.

We figure if the relationship ever got to a point where we had to disagree about who's spending who's money on what, we have bigger problems than financial ones.

So far - this plan has worked out great. It doesn't have to be a big deal.
posted by TravellingDen at 7:08 PM on April 13, 2010

We have a joint household account that get's the lion's share of our income, and individual accounts fed by equal allowances. All household expenses come out of the joint account, and the individual accounts are for personal use, like gifts, clothing, date nights, etc.

We set it up this way for a few reasons:
We wanted an equal financial partnership in our marriage, and

we anticipated large swings in our relative personal incomes, and

we wanted to make sure we maintained some personal space in our finances.
Our arrangement meets all those goals, and I don't know of another way we could have.
posted by NortonDC at 7:20 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We're in the process of putting it all into one bank account; at the moment it's in separate accounts but we consider it one pot.

I don't understand the people that do the percentage thing -- like in shew's example, where the husband is making 70% of the household income and the wife is making 30% of the household income. In that scenario, the husband would have $2800 left over each month. The wife would only have $1200. He'd have more than twice her "personal" account!

That makes zero sense to me. Sure - maybe he makes that up in other ways. Maybe he pays for the family vacation, or maybe he puts more into joint retirement.

But at that point, why not just mix it all up, and give them each an equal allowance? Wouldn't the wife be pissed if he had more than 2x her disposable income in the SAME household, where they had the impression of doing things kinda equally?
posted by barnone at 7:48 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Right, Barone - this is the kind of scenario that made me ask the question. What do people do when there is a large disparity in incomes? Equal allowance, or unequal play money?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:14 AM on April 14, 2010

My boyfriend of 2 1/2 years and I live together, and have for long enough that we've created a system that isn't like any of the ones I've read about in this thread. We each have our own separate accounts. The mortgage and all the bills are in his name since he has better credit than I do. The only bill in my name is my cell phone). I keep a detailed Google Calendar/Gmail system and let him know when the bills are coming due so we can decide how to take care of it. Every time I open my email, I can see what bills/paychecks will be coming due within the next two weeks. Then we decide which one of us is going to pay what bills. It's trusting enough that my info is saved under each bill so I can tell him to go ahead and pay the bill from my account, but separate enough that I can buy things for him without him knowing. We each have a decent idea how much is in the other's account at any given time. He makes about 60% to my 40% of the income, but we split money pretty equally and it seems to work. It's kind of a separate, taking turns type of system, but without keeping track. It's a good system because all the bills are in his name but I am more likely to keep track of what needs to get paid and when.
posted by Night_owl at 9:54 AM on April 14, 2010

We have a huge income disparity (he makes something like 5 or 6 times as much as I do) and my income is highly variable.

He puts money into the joint account that pays all of the bills and rent, he still has spending money left over, so my income tends to be my spending money. I have never needed to ask him for spending money or an allowance because all of my needs are taken care of so it's just a matter of if I've been working enough to go out for drinks or whatever. Of course if he goes out he usually invites me so I'm not sitting at home crying about how broke I am.

Essentially, my income is treated like pin money.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:20 AM on April 14, 2010

Well, barnone and ThatCanadianGirl, I'm in that situation - my husband makes more than 60% of the household income, we have our own accounts, and I've never even thought about being "pissed" he has more disposable income than me.

We're both very frugal and we both have more than enough disposable income, so I am never short on cash to buy stuff. We both put most of our disposable income into savings/investments, which are clearly understood to be jointly ours in the long run.

There have been a few times my husband has chipped in more for vacations and so on, and once he bought a solar hot water for the house with his own money because I wasn't interested in the expense.

If one of us was no longer employed, I think we would draw up a new way to handle the finances but everything works really well right now.

If we were in some situation where I couldn't afford new shoes and he was coming home with super-expensive electronics each month, that might cause some stress, but that's not our situation. Which, again, is why I say each couple needs to figure out what works best for them.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:43 AM on April 14, 2010

Oh and maybe it would be annoying that he has more play money but we play together so...it is not annoying.

If he were going out by himself all the time or buying flat screen tvs and telling me I can't watch them yes, I would be pissed. However, all of his discretionary fun purchases tend to benefit us both.

This is where I think that being overly strict and thinking about it too much really start to be worse than simply relaxing and letting it flow a little bit--do you really want to be thinking "oh, he has $1200 more than I do in spending money!" No. Percentages--you don't need those in a happy relationship. Just be generous with each other, basically responsible, and don't look at it as though you're competing or one of you is losing out. You're a team and you want to make each other happy. Compared to that, being fair, even, proportional--it's all stupid and inconsequential--$50 here and there, who gets a bigger shoe budget--if you're actually worrying about these things there needs to be a sense of proportion.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:32 AM on April 14, 2010

But see that's just it -- I don't worry about those things, I don't want to worry about those things, I don't want to think about those things. "Percentages - you don't need those in a happy relationship": exactly. Hence, our money.

If "his discretionary fun purchases tend to benefit [you] both" then why not just make it official, and make it joint money? What if it didn't benefit you? I don't see it as someone losing out, I see it as a fundamental inequity in decision making and financial liquidity. Anyway - if it works for you, great. A $1200 disparity in "fun money" isn't $50 here or there to me. It's over $14k a year.

And yes. I am the one who brings in the vast majority of the income. It's our money.

And Squeak Attack, I can imagine if the incomes are so close - 60/40 that it it's easy to even out pretty well. Vacations, or eating out more, or whatever. I'm talking more like 70/30 or more.
posted by barnone at 7:41 PM on April 24, 2010

If "his discretionary fun purchases tend to benefit [you] both" then why not just make it official, and make it joint money?

Probably in our case the motivation is that we think each other is cute, we have a sort of truce where we don't bring up the income disparity, we kiss a lot, and discussing it and/or making it equal seems like it would do nothing but bring attention to something that could cause hard feelings. So we avoid a potential source of conflict, everyone is as happy as we were yesterday.

What if it didn't benefit you?

I would be married to a different person. Seriously, as long as the bills are paid proportionally, the person with lower income benefits. A lot. They get more spending money that they're not spending on rent, or they get a bigger place. Etc.

In my case specifically, anything I make, I get to keep and spend. I don't worry about rent, food, health insurance, vacations. I work a random number of hours a week (or not at all), live in Manhattan, go out on the weekend, order takeout whenever I feel like it, and buy $3 coffee. If I needed money above and beyond that, I would just have to ask and I trust him to not be a jackass about it. What is there for me to be pissed about? I guess because it goes into and comes out of his account, he could be blowing it all on hookers or affairs, but he's pretty introverted. He eats lunch out more often than I do, though. RAGE RISING, no, just kidding, I don't work 9-6 so there's really no reason for me to spend cash on Indian buffet or whatever. Oh and he buys a lot of vacuums. I think we have 4 different vacuums. Hard to get mad about that when he is the person who does all the vacuuming.

I don't see it as someone losing out, I see it as a fundamental inequity in decision making and financial liquidity.

Ok, but let's assume the person who touches the money more is cool about it and not a jackass who is like "see ya, I'm flying to vegas alone and buying an investment property in my name because I am liquid as hell and you have no say in it muahahahahah". Instead they are a person who cares about the couple and spends discretionary income like they have a spouse to think about. There is certainly the potential for abuse--but--we're really splitting hairs here, because the same person who would happily split the money two ways (example: you, who are concerned about being generous and fair, which is awesome) would probably happily make major financial decisions jointly and be cool in general, so it seems like in practice it is six of one, half a dozen of the other. Even if you did have your own spending money and a lot more of it, you know that you would be fair with it and you wouldn't be going out and ordering lobster and making her order oatmeal because you're going to split the check. You would take her out, and you would pay, and you would not be weird about it or try to make her feel guilty or tell her she can't pick the restaurant because you have all the ca$h money.

In summary, people can do stuff in different ways.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:07 PM on April 24, 2010

Yeah. I it sounds like you're both on the same page, which is the way it should be. It just seems like so often, in hetero relationships, the guy brings home more money and then thinks he gets more decision-making power because of it. That's where I get irked.

There are oodles of AskMe threads on exactly that, and I know too many people like that too. He decides to come home with a flat-screen, but decides they can't fly somewhere for vacation, because he brings home the money.

Again - as with all things money -- it's not about the money. Communication! Thanks for your perspective.

I think the really big issues can also arise when money itself is tight -- if you're fluid enough as a couple for you to work minimal hours and all the other luxuries, then you're not really stressed about money as a unit. I think these resentments can be even more acrimonious when big-deal things are under consideration. Anyway - thanks for your thoughts!
posted by barnone at 10:41 AM on April 25, 2010

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