Combining married finances - is it wrong to want to pay my own debt off?
June 11, 2013 12:56 AM   Subscribe

So, I feel like a weirdo because I've discovered that though my husband and I, who are recently married, still keep many of our finances separate, most other couples combine everything. Friends who I've discussed this with think it's strange that I am paying off my own student loans instead of it coming out of both our incomes. I think combining everything is a little strange and uncomfortable, and I feel like I should be responsible for my own debt. Are we going about things completely the wrong way?

My husband and I, both 30s, lived together for a while before getting married, and got used to using both a joint bank account and separate accounts. We have figured out the monthly amount that we need to pay for rent, shared bills, groceries, eating out, entertainment, gifts for friends and family, and basically everything else that we share. We each end up putting about 40% of our respective take home pay in a joint account to cover that stuff. The other 60% of our paychecks goes in our own accounts to cover whatever else. Since we split based on percentages rather than dollar amounts, the contributions are fair based on our respective incomes (he makes a little more than me.) We both are making pretty good money.

That 60% "whatever" for each of us means different things. For me, a lot of it goes towards aggressively paying off my student loans, which I'm trying to knock out in the next 2-3 years. I'm foregoing retirement savings for now so I can get the loans paid off faster (they are at a higher interest rate than what a 401k or Roth would likely earn, and I'd like to just get rid of them.) I will then start maxing my retirement in a few years to catch up. I don't really have any savings - after we got married, I used my savings to knock out more loan principal.

Husband, on the other hand, has no debt and has started putting money away in a 401k and a Roth every month. He has used a good amount of his 60% to amass at least 6 months' worth of emergency savings (that covers both of us). We see this as "our savings" so I don't feel the pressure to have to save while I get rid of my loans.

A lot of people seem to do it the other way around, where both paychecks go into a joint account and then each partner gets a usually-equal "allowance" for money to go in their personal accounts. This weirds me out a little, for a couple reasons. One is that it seems a little unfair to the partner who is making more money. The other is that I truly feel that I should be paying off my own debt. Frankly, my husband feels the same way about my debt. He had debt that he paid off, and I have debt that I am paying off. Why do many people I talk to think this is wrong or weird? I would never, ever ask anyone, not even my husband, to pay my own debts for me.

I get that we're married and that what's yours is mine and blah blah blah. I love being married. But I also love being my own independent person. I just don't get the idea of a joint account with "allowances", and I REALLY don't get people who just combine everything without even using personal accounts. My husband doesn't need to see how much I spend on my hair and I don't need to see how much he spends on gadgets. Are we total weirdos for functioning in this way?

And one more thing - I know one of you is going to mention kids, so yeah, we want kids, sometime in the next few years - another reason why I want to get rid of my debt by then. We both have pretty awesome careers and we both plan to keep working.
posted by emily37 to Work & Money (68 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
My SO and I have you *exact* same financial setup. Our monthly debt share is calculated by percentage of our respective incomes, and we see this as the most fair arrangement (as I am earning a bit more).

So no, I don't think you're weird at all. It would feel extremely weird for me, not to mention uncomfortable, to require my SO to handle my debt.

So, to each their own debt payments, and purchases of luxuries (shoes, clothes, whatever) - we don't have allowances for those either. What ever is left over after debt budgeting is your to do with as you wish.
posted by alchemist at 1:03 AM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

First: You can do what you want with your finances, you're not weird, many couples do more or less what you do.

Second: Depending on the state you live in, you should be aware that there's a good chance that whatever arrangements you two make to keep finances separate doesn't matter to the law.
posted by atrazine at 1:03 AM on June 11, 2013 [13 favorites]

It doesn't matter what other people do if you have found a method that works for you, stick to it.

FWIW I would prefer your approach than your friends. I think it allows each partner some financial autonomy.

I would suggest that you consider retirement as something you work on jointly as you need to ensure that either of you would have enough income should the other die first.
posted by plonkee at 1:06 AM on June 11, 2013

Response by poster: It's worth noting that we are totally okay with the law seeing us as one unit - we don't have a pre-nup or anything - and that we have set up all of our savings/retirement (I have some from before, but I stopped to knock out the loans) to make sure that our SO will get everything if one of us was to die. We also have term life insurance to cover our asses just in case.
posted by emily37 at 1:09 AM on June 11, 2013

I do not think your arrangement is weird at all, and I think your sense that you own your own debt (as he owned his) is admirable. When I was married we did not even have a joint account because we both felt very strongly about the importance of financial independence. We simply agreed who would take care of which expenses (adjusted to reflect the difference in our incomes) and then what was left was our own.

This also made things tidier when the divorce happened but we don't need to go there right now. :-)
posted by Decani at 1:20 AM on June 11, 2013

We also have the same arrangement as you. In fact, we don't even have joint accounts. We split rent and bills, although my SO earns more than me so he buys most of the food. But although we are both generous to each other with money, and would never see each other go short, we manage our own finances in terms of debts, what we buy for ourselves, etc. I've also had conversations with people who think we're weird, but each to their own. Personally I much prefer being financially independent, (although this may be related to some baggage following my parents' divorce.) As long as it works for both of you then there's no issue.
posted by billiebee at 1:22 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

To heck with what everyone else does! If it works for you, go for it.

Some questions you might want to ask yourselves, though...

- How are you going to finance any time (however long or short that may be) when you're not working due to pregnancy and birth?
- What would you do if one of you became unable to work due to illness? Or if somebody gets burnt out on their career and wants to work part time, start their own business, or work at something poorly paid?
- When do you each want to retire? What do you want your retired lifestyle to look like, and how much will that cost? Will your current retirement efforts meet this? Will you be happy if he can retire comfortably at 50 but you can't, or if your retirement savings will only finance a much smaller income than his?
- Will you be wanting to buy a house? How are you planning to finance the deposit?
posted by emilyw at 1:24 AM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

A retired insurance man suggested that one way to be prepared for funeral expenses was to simply deposit monthly the amount of a term insurance premium into an interest bearing account. At 30 you are looking at probably 35 years of employment. You get the benefit of your money in the form of the interest. With term insurance, the insurance company gets the use of your money until the day you die when it goes into your estate.
BTW, there is nothing 'wrong' with your bill paying schedule. What fits your circumstances is what you should do.
posted by Cranberry at 1:26 AM on June 11, 2013

I would never, ever ask anyone, not even my husband, to pay my own debts for me.

You are currently paying off your individual debt instead of contributing to retirement funds.

So, I actually agree with you about separate spending for personal expenses, and I understand the psychological feeling of 'paying off your own debts', but I think that money being diverted from retirement funds/shared access savings effectively is coming out of a shared pot. Assuming you plan to continue your current system, at some point you will likely change from receiving money for work to receiving money from retirement funds, and if you continue to split expenses based on relative income, then you will pay a smaller share of expenses than you would have if you had saved a larger amount for retirement.
posted by jacalata at 1:35 AM on June 11, 2013 [11 favorites]

Nothing weird at all! My wife and I do something similar. We do have a joint account but then draw proportionally from that into our own accounts. You may be married but financial freedom is important.

Christ, I saw my dad work all the hours under the sun, hand everything to my mum (who also worked full time). He got pocket/beer money. They were always broke, now divorced and both have nothing (yet he was an above average earner). Major regret of my dads life was that he didn't at least try to manage part of his own finances!

Saying that when we got married my debt got consolidated into our mortgage (but I pay proportionally more than my wife towards bills)
posted by twistedonion at 1:40 AM on June 11, 2013

I think wanting separate finances and to pay off your own debts is fine and who cares what other people think is normal (my partner and I have just a joint bank account and spend/save as we need as a couple - but that's what works best for us and our personal circumstances) but this is where it kind of falls apart...

We see this as "our savings" so I don't feel the pressure to have to save while I get rid of my loans.

Between you, there is a certain amount of money. To maintain the same outcome financially as your current situation (ie, the same amount of money saved and the same amount of debt repaid) you could use some of your money for your own savings pile and he could use some of his money to pay off your debt, or you could dump all your money in together and some of it pays off the debt and some of it gets saved for the both of you. The end result is the same, its all just semantics. Essentially your husband is helping pay your debts for you by saving his money in a combined fund so that you can spend more of your money on paying off the debt.
posted by missmagenta at 2:13 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

The only thing I find weird about any of this is that your friends are in a position to pass their judgement. Your finances are a) totally fine and logical, b) not that dissimilar to mine after 18 years of co-habitation and c) no one else's business.
posted by shelleycat at 2:30 AM on June 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

The other is that I truly feel that I should be paying off my own debt. Frankly, my husband feels the same way about my debt. He had debt that he paid off, and I have debt that I am paying off. Why do many people I talk to think this is wrong or weird? I would never, ever ask anyone, not even my husband, to pay my own debts for me.

It's totally fine to feel this way, but if I were in your husband's situation, I might help you pay off your debts before saving more because we (as a family unit) save more money on the debt interest that we avoid than we would gain in savings interest if we saved that money instead. So that's one "pro" of helping the other partner to pay "their" debts - as a family unit it overall helps our financial situation. But again it's fine to do it your way too.

For what it's worth, our financial process is similar to yours except we both pay 50% of the joint bills instead of a proportion of our earnings.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:42 AM on June 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

Not weird; it's also what my husband and I are doing.
posted by Fig at 2:52 AM on June 11, 2013

If it works for you then thats absolutely fine. I don't have that system myself. Myself and my wife have never really harmonised our finances in any particular way. We have a joint savings account where our savings go, and we agree to discuss most major purchases. I think of money in terms of "our" money, on the assumption that in the long run that is how it'll work. But if you're happy with how things are working, why would you change that?
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:52 AM on June 11, 2013

Not weird at all - we have a similar set up. I've run into some of the same feelings - once you're married, everything has to be combined! and this is what works best for us, so for now, this is how we'll keep it. :)

We've kept our debt "separate" as well, and I'm paying down my student loans on my own.
posted by needlegrrl at 3:15 AM on June 11, 2013

You're not weird. You are both managing money, including debt and retirement, sensibly. That might be unusual, but it's definitely not weird.
posted by carter at 3:21 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are a million ways for different couples to arrange their finances, and you should do whatever feels right to you.

Personally, however, I think this arrangement may be economically irrational. Not emotionally irrational--again, whatever floats your boat. But as you note above, the amount you're paying on the debt exceeds the amount you might get on your 401K, etc. Unless your spouse has access to different investment strategies than you (which may be the case), the same comparison should hold for your spouse's investments. If they are not outperforming the interest rate on the debt on an after-tax basis, you, as a family, are throwing money away. Since you're already sharing the "insurance" benefit of the 6 months' emergency fund (which is great!), you might reconsider the rationale behind lengthening the payments on your debt. If you want to remain responsible for the debt, I would suggest perhaps paying off the loans on a more aggressive timetable and then repaying your spouse for his contributions. The interest is such a waste.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:27 AM on June 11, 2013 [16 favorites]

A lot of people seem to do it the other way around, where both paychecks go into a joint account and then each partner gets a usually-equal "allowance" for money to go in their personal accounts

First of all, partners dont aleays get an "equal" allowance. a lot if them divide it by proportional income. So this is effectively no different from what you're doing. You're just doing it in reverse order.

A+B=C; B+A=C

If it helps, consider it this way -- you each get some mad money, and instead of buying shoes with it, you enjoy making extra payments on your student loan. Instead if buying bigger and better tvs and electronics, he likes to sock it away for retirement.

It's easier to just stop talking to friends about it. And for heaven's sake, don't feel like you have to justify yourself. If you like it and he likes it, you're doing it exactly right; congratulations on making your finances work! You've avoided a major stumbling block for a lot of couples!
posted by vitabellosi at 3:35 AM on June 11, 2013

I would love that arrangement, and have proposed it several times to no avail. As far as I'm concerned, you're living the dream.
posted by jpe at 3:47 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you're in the US, the only issue I can think of with this is if your husband is already contributing the full 401(k) and IRA contributions he's eligible for and has started saving for retirement in taxable accounts. If that is the case, it would likely be better for that taxable money in his name to shift over to your 401(k) and/or IRA accounts instead, to keep as much retirement money as possible in tax-advantaged accounts. But that's strictly a tax thing to maximize the amount of money you collectively can keep in those accounts; if he's not already at the max contribution he's eligible for, this isn't something you need to think about.
posted by pie ninja at 4:28 AM on June 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

My wife and I handle our own incomes and split up the bills. We pay our student loans separately. Checks go into separate accounts. What you are doing is not strange or weird. It is just not super common.
posted by Roger Dodger at 4:33 AM on June 11, 2013

Not weird. Weird is people who have no business advising you how to run your financial business attempting to run your financial business.
posted by flabdablet at 4:39 AM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

For what it's worth, I think your arrangement is weird. One of the glorious, beautiful things about love is that it breaks down all the self-reliance bullshit that is ripping our society apart. Your household is a joint project, and you both contribute to it in your own ways; it shouldn't matter who is earning more or who came into the situation with more debt or whatever. The 'self-reliant, independent, etc' model is pretty much based around childless, healthy, able-bodied, relatively wealthy people anyway - you'll probably discover how much it sucks pretty quickly as soon as you move away from being the model citizens you currently are, which will almost certainly happen at some point as you begin to age, and to see that dependence and interdependence are not shameful, and to abandon your just-world-fallacy thinking. But hey, nobody's stopping you from doing this. I'm giving you my opinion because you asked for opinions, but do you honestly care what one mentally unstable lesbian Marxist thinks about your financial arrangements? Just keep doing what you're doing until it becomes unsustainable. Who knows, maybe you'll be able to keep it up forever. You're not hurting anybody unless you count making society even more atomised and alienated, and that's a drop in the ocean.
posted by Acheman at 4:42 AM on June 11, 2013 [25 favorites]

For what it's worth, I think your arrangement is weird. One of the glorious, beautiful things about love is that it breaks down all the self-reliance bullshit that is ripping our society apart. Your household is a joint project, and you both contribute to it in your own ways; it shouldn't matter who is earning more or who came into the situation with more debt or whatever.

This is more or less where I am on this. Your arrangement sounds like it works for you, and that's great and you should absolutely do what works for you and ignore other people telling you what to do with your money and relationship. I think the merit of the joint bank account are primarily that it give each partner the freedom to rely on the household finance

By way of example, right now my wife is temping because she desperately needed to quit a job. Her income is basically enough to pay her student loans and cheap rent, but nothing else. The thing is, she doesn't have to do that, she just has to rely on me to shoulder some more of the load, as surely as she would do for me were the circumstances reversed, which they have been in the past.

I also don't see how people have these arrangements without fighting all the time about money, but that's me and my attitude toward things, obviously other people are different.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:00 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

It may or may not be weird, but it also might not be the most financially advantageous way for you to run a household.

Thinking of the household income in collective terms may allow you to pay off the collective debts sooner and, therefore, spend less of that collective income on interest.
posted by toomuchpete at 5:14 AM on June 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

My fiance and I are getting married in 3 months and we have discussed MANY times how we want to handle our finances once we're married. Basically, we're keeping it separate until we're both coming in to it even. He has debt and I have debt. We want to have our personal debts more or less paid off before we fully join up. We have a shared account for groceries, we each pay half of the mortgage/bills/etc. It all works out and we're both happy.

Do what you want. It is your life, your money, your relationship. If you are both happy with the arrangement then what's the issue?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:30 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband and I are about the same as Rodger Dodger's family. We will have been married for 10 years in a little over a week! We have three accounts; individual checking accounts and a shared savings account.

We allocated shared expenses to each of us, in proportion to our income, and pay our student loans and individual credit cards separately. I receive rental income and pay the mortgage for our two-family. He pays for maintenance supplies, because he's the one who does the maintenance, so he goes to the hardware store. The electric/cable/internet/etc./ is shared arbitrarily but allocated so each of our requirements to pay shared expenses are about the same. Of course, if something can't be paid by one of us, we reallocate.

For us, it's just easier that way. I had a friend tell me recently that it weirded her out. But so what? It works for us, and has for more than a decade. It has nothing to do with whether we trust each other-- of course we do. It's just easier. If I want to go out with a friend and buy dinner and a few beers (or shop for clothes, or buy coffee), I don't want to have to notify my husband that the amount in my account was reduced by x dollars, and neither does he want to notify me. What a pain it would be to start!
posted by miss tea at 5:31 AM on June 11, 2013

It all works as long as both partners want to.

"He has used a good amount of his 60% to amass at least 6 months' worth of emergency savings (that covers both of us). We see this as "our savings" so I don't feel the pressure to have to save while I get rid of my loans."

It sounds like you consider it joint savings but he is the one with the access to it.
This is speculative and hopefully unlikely but were things to go awry he would be in an overall better financial position.
But since it's just 2-3 years that you are paying the dept off and not saving for retirement/ do you guys plan (emergency) savings after you paid off your debt?
posted by travelwithcats at 5:33 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

If your arrangement makes you feel better than of course there's nothing wrong with it.

There's nothing wrong or weird about putting in a pot either, so you could always hold your judgement on that the same way you would most likely want people to hold their judgement on your arrangement.
posted by ftm at 5:36 AM on June 11, 2013

Nthing not weird - we mostly do it this way, too.

Even if it were weird, if it works for you, then great.
posted by rtha at 5:39 AM on June 11, 2013

No. Mr. theBRKP and I have had completely separate accounts since we married 13 years ago. I am on his primary checking account, but I can count the number of times I have written a check out of that acccount with or without his knowlege on one hand. I came into the marriage with more student loan debt and felt that it was my responsibility to pay it off. He came into the marriage with some significant credit card debt,which he felt was his responsibility to pay off. Other bills were divided up based on the income we brought home.

Over the years, as our priorities have shifted, so has the sphere of responsibility. We are now student loan and (almost) credit card debt free. As monthly child care in our area is as much as a mortgage payment, we spend close to the same amount to care for our child and keep a roof over our collective heads. We still split the rest of the bills based on the income we bring home. And we communicate frequently about money. I track our spending and together we make decisions about the big things. We have gotten comments over the years, but we do what works for us.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 5:50 AM on June 11, 2013

Not weird, but perhaps less common because it's taken a long time for family norms to change even though women are more and more co-breadwinners in families.

full disclosure: married 6 months, separate finances because I (the main breadwinner) am too lazy to bother combining them

When I used to read Get Rich Slowly (when it was still primarily written by mefi's own jdroth), he had a split finances arrangement with his wife, and I seem to remember him spending a not-insignificant amount of e-ink defending/explaining it. Here's an interview with him and his wife about how they make the separate finance thing work.

Good for you for USING YOUR WORDS with your husband and coming to an agreement about how you want to handle things while you are paying off your debt. Just remember to revisit these decisions at big milestones -- after the debt is paid, when you consider having children, when you need a new car/house, etc. It seems to me that communication is the best way to figure out what works for each couple.

I also think that it's strange and rude for your friends to be weighing in on this, but since you asked, I feel like my answer would be a little different if you were talking about debt that was entered into after you were already married. For example, I have a friend whose wife, after they were married, chose to go back to school to pursue a master's degree. He now complains a lot about being saddled with her nearly $100k debt load. I have little sympathy for him because they both should have been on board with her furthering her education and taking on the debt, so the debt really is owned by both of them. I assume that you started school before you got married, so in your case, you decided to take that debt on on your own.
posted by sparklemotion at 5:57 AM on June 11, 2013

Not weird, my wife and I do a similar thing. We each pay the same amount into a joint account to cover daily expenses, rent, etc. I have a mortgage on another property that I also pay out of my separate money and she has a load of debt to family.

If one of us is without a job for any significant length of time then we'll rethink - but for now it all works well. FWIW we also married in our thirties after living as singles for our adult lives until then; perhaps that makes a difference to our attitudes.
posted by dickasso at 6:00 AM on June 11, 2013

We have the same arrangement. Once his debt is paid, he will have more money than me. But I got him through a rough patch recently when he had to pay a large tax bill, and one day I will hopefully take time off to have a baby, so he'll cover more of it then.

We do the same as you, with 50% going to a joint account and keeping the rest. We withdraw money from the joint and put it into jars for various categories. When we do have a baby, he or she will get their own jar :-)
posted by JoannaC at 6:08 AM on June 11, 2013

Not weird, but I'd be worried about what happens if you split up and he has all the savings and you only have paid-off student loans.
posted by winna at 6:13 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think PuppetMcSockerson's planned approach combines what you're doing now with what people are cautioning you about in a sensible way: starting out with separate finances until you have paid off the debt you brought with you, and then combining your efforts to work together to save, build assets, plan retirement, etc.

Separate asset-building becomes more at odds with joint decisionmaking when child-rearing, job losses, or other changes/interruptions happen to either person's income flow. Not to mention illness or disability. So being open to revisiting/adjusting the arrangement throughout your lives is probably a good idea.

(People can probably ease up on criticizing the OP's friends for having the gall to express an opinion about their finances. It's a conversation they initiated with the friends and they asked for opinions.)
posted by headnsouth at 6:22 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are reasons you might want at least to jointly own property (even things like cars and nonhouse property) and bank accounts and the like, even if you continue to use them entirely separately, in case one of you dies unexpectedly, because it both eases access to and transfer of the property/accounts, as well as avoids some taxes. Setting up an appointment with a local trust and estates attorney won't be terribly expensive and won't take long. It will make also sure it's all done correctly and that you understand the implications of leaving accounts wholly separate or not.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:24 AM on June 11, 2013

Nthing everyone else saying if it works for you, go with it. It really doesn't matter what other people do so long as you and your spouse are happy.

For comparison purposes, my parents have 100% combined finances to the extent that I'm pretty confident my mom doesn't know what her biweekly pay amount is. She spends what she wants/needs, but after that, my dad has just always handled everything. Trying to think back, I don't think I ever saw my mom going to the bank growing up, not even to an ATM. Finances, bills, bank trips, etc--that's all my dad's world and has been since before they got married, when he took out a loan in her name to buy a house (for them live in after they got married).

I look at this and think wow, they must be completely insane. But my mom hates dealing with money (and I suspect she'd be really, really bad at it anyway) and my dad is an accountant anyway, so it works for them and has for 36 years. I do worry what will happen if my dad dies first (he's already started dropping not-so-subtle hints about where all the relevant info is so I can find it if he does kick off before her) but for now, they're good.

Do what works for you.
posted by phunniemee at 6:31 AM on June 11, 2013

Just chiming in to say my wife and I keep our finances separate. Our accounting methods are too different and I make 2x what she does. We are joint signatories on some items (i.e. mortgage) but not bank or credit cards. We have access to the bank accounts but they are not merged. It makes so much easier to not have to worry about "hey I had to pull $20 out of the ATM".

We have gotten pushback from family - they seem to take this as a sign we are not committed to each other. I take it as a sign that we want to stay committed and part of that is not driving each other insane.
posted by IzzeYum at 6:38 AM on June 11, 2013

I love being married. But I also love being my own independent person.

My Grandma kept some of her own accounts for that reason. She and my grandpa were happily married for more than 60 years and were true partners in life. The sense of independence she got from keeping and handling her own money didn't take away from their unity and seemed to be good for both of them.

The two of you are happy, you are quickly paying off debts, you have life insurance and an emergency fund. All in all, you seem to be handling the money part of your relationship better than most couples.
posted by Area Man at 6:39 AM on June 11, 2013

If it works for you, great. But I could see its disadvantages aside from the student loans, depending on where you live:
- in Canada the tax rate is determined per person, not per household, so it makes sense to shift income to the lower earning spouse. For example child benefit payments from the government should go to that person
- also in Canada the higher income spouse can contribute to the lower income spouse's retirement fund and have the tax credit count against the high earners income, thus lowering the effective tax burden on the family
- in our family the lower income spouse is 6 years older, shifting savings to that fund enables both of us to draw them out earlier
- we started a business and we try our best to keep the money in the business, as corporate tax rate is lower than personal tax rate. Dividends get paid to lower income spouse in name. The higher income spouse never saw a dime of earnings for efforts expended in the business. However the business has a nice savings account
- low income spouse was stay at home parent for a year no problem
- low income spouse was seriously ill and couldn't work for months, we covered it
- low income spouse can use high income spouse's credit card and enjoy the higher credit limit than that person would qualify for independently. Useful when buying auto insurance, auto repair, airline tickets, and furniture
- only one person has to manage investments and that person has more cash to play with, so we can diversify more easily. Many funds have minimum buy ins that we might not reach alone. also with a joint portfolio we can achieve asset mix by doing one account risky and another conservative, even though the "name" would not suggest that as an investment strategy.

In our case we would be paying tax unnecessarily if we did not join finances at the hip. Also the low income spouse gets to enjoy the benefits of the high income spouse's stable income and not change quality of life due to income instability. All in all a good fair deal, and I say this as the high income spouse.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:45 AM on June 11, 2013

This is how we do it too. Separate accounts, plus joint account for joint expenses. Debts are separate as well.

The way I see it, my partner and I have different friends that we don't share, we have different jobs, we have separate bicycles and clothes and all sorts of things. I don't think that having separate finances means you don't trust each other, it just means you are separate people and that can be healthy. It's good to share (especially when it comes to information), but having your own life is an important part of having a strong partnership, and that can include finances.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:56 AM on June 11, 2013

If your arrangement works for you and you're happy with it, don't worry about it. I do think that others have covered some of the reasons why you might consider a different arrangement:
- if you are eligible for matching 401(k) funds from your employer you are leaving money on the table
- the contribution limits for tax-advantaged retirement investing are not that high, so even maxing your contributions later will only get you so far--you can't contribute 10k to an IRA one year to make up for not contributing in previous years.
-I do agree that knocking out your loans ASAP makes sense, but doing it yourself probably isn't the fastest way. You will save more interest if you jointly pay them down and then you continue to make those "payments" to your joint savings.

But all in all, most people don't totally optimize their finances (including my husband and me) and if you are happy and you feel like you're in a good place and you have a way to access your husband's savings if you need to, I don't think your friends should have a say in it.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 7:02 AM on June 11, 2013

It works for you, end of story.

Opinion: it wouldn't work for my family because we simply find it easier to deal with all the income as family income and all the debt as family debt. In my mind, marrying my husband meant an agreement to help shoulder his med school loan debt. Of course, I also benefit from his high doctor income. It all works out in the end.
posted by gaspode at 7:28 AM on June 11, 2013

As stated many times already, it appears that your "separate" arrangement is in name only since your husband is making up to the communal savings when you are paying off your student loans. What happens on vacations? If he has more in his savings for vacation, will he go to the beach resort without you? Will he fly first class and you fly coach -- snarky question only to make a point. I imagine you will still go on the vacation even if you don't "personally" have the money.

Therefore I think your arrangement is weird. It isn't being honest with how it really works in marriage.

For legal reasons it is good to not combine student loan debt with him legally putting his name on your debt. If it is all in your name and you die before it is paid off, he will be absolved. If he is on the note, then he would have to still pay it off. That is a technicality though.
posted by LeanGreen at 7:32 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

It doesn't even matter whether it's weird. It works, it's legal, you like it, so keep it going. But, yeah, it's also true that this is largely an artificial construct. To take LeanGreen's point a bit further, what happens if one of you loses a job? Would the other refuse to pay for all the food? Of course not.

So use whatever mental compartmentalization you need to make the finances work, and be there for each other with no reservations when the need arises, and you should be fine.
posted by Longtime Listener at 7:37 AM on June 11, 2013

I agree with everything that LeanGreen said. You're already jointly paying off debt--because he's amassing savings for both of you. Just because the funds aren't earmarked this way doesn't make it any less true.

I'm only going into my fourth year of marriage (but my eleventh with my partner) and already we've both experienced periods of income disparity, during which time one of us will shoulder the burden for the other. I think your system is fine for when money is abundant and incomes equitable, but also the reality of economics is that men are typically paid more even for the same work, and women are more likely to experience dips in incomes due to taking time off work for childcare and the like. My question would be how your finances will be managed during lean times. It wouldn't seem "fair" to me for you to continue to be the one paying off your debt alone, particularly if your compromised income benefits both of you.

For what it's worth, I don't think you should look down on those who accept spousal help on debts. My husband decided--unilaterally, I might add--to pay off a chunk of mine because the payments were eating up a huge chunk of my income and making it difficult for both of us to save. It's not that I am not an independent person; it's that he recognized income disparities between our families that led to me having debt that he did not, and we both realized that it was in our best long term interest to eliminate this for our mutual financial futures. But I have also given him money when I've had it for his own debts. We help one another, and by doing that we're helping ourselves--because our future is a joint one, with shared financial goals.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:46 AM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

The Guardian had a feature on this a few months ago that you might find interesting: What's mine is mine |10 couples on how they arrange their finances.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 7:55 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Married for two years with a system basically like yours. We started with the expenses divided percentage-wise based on the percentage each of our incomes contributes to the total (he makes a bit more than me). But since I have so much more student loan debt, and am not comfortable with him paying off my debt, we ended up tweaking it so he pays a little more than his so-called share of other expenses (he usually pays when we eat out, he covers our Target credit card instead of us splitting it). That means I pay a little less toward shared expenses, which means I can put more money toward paying off my loans.

Logically, a dollar is a dollar. Him paying for food so I can pay more towards loans isn't financially different from him paying some of my loans. But emotionally it feels different, like I am a strong independent person taking care of my own debt, and he is a strong caring spouse helping me out while I do that.
posted by vytae at 7:56 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I understand the desire for a sense of independence and paying off your own debt, but a couple of thoughts about neglecting retirement to pay off student loan debt.

(1) I'm assuming your employer does not offer matching contributions to a 401(k)? If so, what you're doing would make zero financial sense.

(2) Loan interest vs returns on retirement savings -- I think this past year my retirement accounts grew ~10% because I'm young and investing aggresively and the market has done so well recently. No guarantees about what the market will do in the future, but the assumption that your loans are at a higher rate than possible return isn't necessarily true.

(3) If you and your husband split up, he would likely take his retirement savings with him and you might regret not saving for yourself during these years.
posted by Asparagus at 8:17 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You say that you and your husband keep everything separate but others combine everything - then in your explanation below the fold you explain that your money goes into a joint account and then gets redistributed. You may not realize that from another person's perspective, your finances sound "combined", although you choose to be the one to send in the payments for your loans from your share of the pot, as others have pointed out, the distinction is more in your mind when you are choosing not to save for retirement (presumably a shared expense) and your husband is holding the joint emergency fund.

This is just an opinion, but I think my own arrangement makes more sense. We proportionately split the bills based on our respective incomes, but we keep personal separate accounts from which we make the bill payments, rather than combining our money in one pot then redistributing it. Our joint account holds the emergency fund savings. We had equal amounts of educational debt, and we both separately pay equal amounts on our debt and save equal amounts for retirement. We discussed and agreed upon what our goals were for debt repayment and retirement and we check in each month to ensure we are on track.

What is "weird" and what is normal for relationship finances really depends on the couple and their feelings and job situations. But to me, holding the emergency savings jointly makes a lot more sense in most situations. If the emergency is that your husband becomes incapacitated, emergency savings in his solo account will be difficult for you to access. I also think having shared retirement goals and a shared plan for achieving them makes sense. I say there is no point in me saving to be able to sip margaritas on the beach and retire at 55 unless my husband also has enough saved to be there with me. That just leaves your loan payment situation, and I think it is fine for you to make the payments yourself right now, but to say you would "never" ask your husband to help pay your debt seems likely untrue. You just haven't considered the possibility that you might become completely disabled and unemployed long term, or that you might decide to be a stay at home mom (you say you will continue to work, but let's say you have a severely autistic child and the skilled care you would need for him or her eats a large percentage of your salary... Might you change you mind then?). Consider ALL the contingencies and consider not being so rigid about what will "never" happen.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:22 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yet another vote for "not weird," we do it that way too, etc.
posted by diogenes at 8:35 AM on June 11, 2013

We do not handle finances this way, and in fact, Mr. Getawaysticks knew I was coming into the marriage with a lot of debt. We paid it down together, but he was "in charge" of the spending I did until the debt was paid off. This worked out well for us because I had a massive spending problem. This would probably be weird to others.

This is my roundabout way of saying - do what works for you. Everyone's relationship is different. Why change something if you feel like it's working?
posted by getawaysticks at 8:37 AM on June 11, 2013

If it works for you, then keep doing it, even if it's weird.

But when I say, "If it works for you," I mean if it REALLY works for you. I had an acquaintance who had a similar arrangement with her husband. It was less formalized -- instead of splitting the money into different accounts proportionally, they "assigned" each other various household expenses in a proportional way, so one took the mortgage while the other took daycare, one took utilities, the other took groceries, and they each kept their personal expenses, like debt, expenses related to their individual cars (mostly gas, but not always), and mad money for clothes, eating out, etc. They traded off paying for dinner when they went out as a family or together.

It worked OK for them until it didn't -- they had a spell where he had paid down his (significantly less onerous) debt and wanted to spend "his" money on something frivolous (electronics, maybe?) while she was struggling to continue paying down her debt and also had some unexpected expenses, like paying for repairs to her car after an accident. They had huge fights about it and it created some real problems for them. And they just couldn't figure it out and kept fighting about it -- until she was laid off and had NO income for a while and they combined finances because it just didn't work otherwise.

So that's an example of it NOT working. But if it is working for you -- and I would say that it working for you also means you know how it will work for you when there are emergencies or unforeseen changes -- keep doing it. I would suggest that you be open to changing the system, though, if it stops working.
posted by devinemissk at 9:00 AM on June 11, 2013

I think if you have children, it will require a lot of adjustment, esp. if one of you works less or stays at home. Have you talked about what you'd if one of you got laid off? Your arrangement works for you, and I know other couples who do this. Other options - Both paychecks go into a shared account which is used by both, with no 'allowance.' One person controls finances, giving the other an 'allowance.' Separate accounts, and sharing joint expenses 50-50, without regard to earnings.

If you got divorced in a joint property state, your pre-marriage assets and debt would still be yours and any debt/assets during the marriage, including retirement assets, would be split.

It sounds like you genuinely share things equitably and thoughtfully. It also sounds like you have pretty similar approaches to handling money, and I think it will work fine. Your judge-y friends could maybe be told that their judgement is not helpful.
posted by theora55 at 9:33 AM on June 11, 2013

I think this is all just a way to make yourself feel better and more independent. He's contributing to your savings, so you're able to pay your debt. Is that not the same as him helping you pay your debt? To make it really "fair", you should have separate retirement funds and savings, otherwise, it's little different than combining your money, and taking a portion of that to pay off your debt together. But whatever floats your boat.
posted by ribboncake at 10:33 AM on June 11, 2013

You're arrangement will go out the window once there are children in the mix.

That's why most folks do it the other way around than you do currently.

Pooling the money makes for easier budgeting.
posted by jbenben at 10:49 AM on June 11, 2013

I don't think it's weird to split finances this way, but I do think it's weird that you and your husband are viewing his contributions to the 401K as a "personal" rather than joint expense, since you will jointly benefit from it.
posted by corb at 11:00 AM on June 11, 2013

I don't think it's weird (a lot of couples are approaching finances this way) but I think it's sad. a big part of marriage is interdependence. The idea that the person making 60% of the money gets to make 60% of the financial decisions and such is very very so not the concept of marriage to me. What happens when one of you isn't working at all? That person gets no say/no power in the money situation? One of you gets to have nice things (clothes, etc) while the other has to make due with what they can afford on their portion of the income? Marriage is about give and take and unity. Sometimes you're able to contribute more, other times less, depending on your work situation. But always, ALWAYS both couples should have equal share in deciding how the money is spent. Otherwise you're not really fully working as one. The whole arrangement you've got (and that seems to be increasingly popular) reeks of a business partnership instead of an interdependent union of two people making decisions together in light of what's best for the marriage. It also seems bizarre to me (totally bizarre!) that you are willing to share your body with someone day in and day out but not your money.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 11:11 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

My wife and I do the same thing you do. We, too, have friends who think it's weird and don't understand it. So what? It works for us. It was obvious; we barely had to talk about it. If our system ever causes a problem we will change it, but other people thinking we're strange doesn't qualify as a real problem.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:39 PM on June 11, 2013

We do it your way and it's fine. We make sure that we're both left with the same amount of money at the end of the month, so the person who makes more contributes more to the household account. That way, one person isn't broke while the other is rolling in cash. Again, it works fine.

It really doesn't make any difference whether or not "it's weird." It works for you and you're not fighting about money.
posted by cnc at 12:44 PM on June 11, 2013

If you and your husband split up, he would likely take his retirement savings with him and you might regret not saving for yourself during these years.

This is not true in community property states. Money contributed during the marriage belongs to both parties.
posted by cnc at 12:46 PM on June 11, 2013

Joining the chorus of "whatever works for you." When we moved in together we started with a 60/40 split on household expenses, because that reflects our income ratio, but within a few months of getting married, my husband, who manages the finances, decided that it would be much, much easier for him to handle each month if we just pooled it all and I agreed. We also each take the same amount of money each month for our personal expenses (and we hate hate hate calling it an "allowance" because that feels demeaning! So we call it "mad money") because he felt weird about having significantly more money for random spending each month than I did.

We also started paying my student loans out of joint expenses instead of my sole income because it made more financial sense in the long run to throw as much money as possible at them and get them paid off (finally done!), so we could start putting that money to other expenses coming up before too long, namely cars as my car is currently on its last legs and his will be in the next couple of years or so. We currently put the same amount that we were paying out to loans into a savings account each month.
posted by telophase at 1:21 PM on June 11, 2013

What works for you, works. Ignore anyone's opinion. It's none of their business anyway. Right now, if this is what you're comfortable with, go for it. Things change, and you may find at some point that you want to combine your money. That's fine, too. The biggest and stinkiest issue in a marriage can be finances. If this procedure works for you without causing heartache and grief, you better stick with it. I've seen too many marriages where the finances are mingled and there's frequently fights on how to handle money.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:31 PM on June 11, 2013

You should really do a financial analysis of what would happen if you combined everything -- income and responsibilities. You might come up with a very different plan that makes more sense financially. This is particularly true in several situations:

1. Your company provides good retirement savings, e.g. a 401(k) match
2. Your student loans have very low interest rates compared to income potential
3. His savings are not in your name
4. One of you or both of you would benefit from disability insurance
5. You own significant property, e.g. a house or a business
6. One of you will at some point be earning significantly less, e.g. while a child is young or when going back to school
7. One of you faces significant risk, e.g. injury (from work or hobby), malpractice suit, child support from past relationships, ill parents needing support, bad financial choices (gambling, high-risk investments), that sort of thing

Do the financial analysis, see if you'd make the same choices if the money and responsibilities were pooled, and then decide if this is the best arrangement for you.

I've posted on here before that my husband and I combine all our money and have an agreement that we each have exactly 50% say in how it's spent. Even if one of us makes 10 times what the other makes does not give that person any more say, as long as we're both working hard on what we're doing (working, going to school, raising our child). You and your husband have elected to have 50% control over your pooled money and almost 0% over the rest, which puts each of you somewhat at the mercy of the good sense of the other. If your husband stopped saving his 60%, and started buying boats, would you still be comfortable only paying down loans? Is that good for your marriage? In my opinion, your arrangement is risky, and leaves you both vulnerable because you're not working for a future together. Or rather you are, but you don't see it as a project in which you both have an equal say.

It's not "weird." But it might be imprudent or even very risky. (And advice to ignore other people's advice is odd, when you specifically asked for it. Other people have experience you might want to learn from.)
posted by Capri at 1:51 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband and I never combined our bank accounts after we got married. We share what we both earn.
posted by luckynerd at 2:11 PM on June 11, 2013

I think your post rubs me the wrong way a bit because it actually sounds like you are judging your friends (for not being independent enough) while at the same time fooling yourself. Your finances *are* combined: your debt repayment and general lifestyle and financial security *are* being subsidized by your partnership. The divisions that you have made are more emotional than real.

Of course it's fine if it works for you; don't waste your time comparing yourself to others if you're happy.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:53 AM on June 14, 2013

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