Makin' Money

Popping the money question: Part 2

Chris Farrell Feb 4, 2011

‘Tis the season for love and money. It seems with Valentine’s Day 10 days from now a popular topic is how to handle everyday money in a relationship: Specifically, should couples have joint, separate, or mingled accounts. Yesterday, I highlighted an article at Kiplingers on the topic.

Now Megan McArdle, the business and economics editor for The Atlantic, weighs in:

Before Peter and I were married, we were on the combination plan: we had a joint bank account for basic household expenses (and later, for wedding savings), but kept our other money separate. These days, we still have some technically separate bank accounts, because we haven’t gotten around to adding each other to the old bank accounts, and because I, an inveterate fiddler with data, am reluctant to close them; doing so would mean losing several years worth of account data that I’ve loaded into Mint. But we are definitely an Ours couple.

McArdle’s post is a well-reasoned argument for joint accounts–to go all in, so to speak.

Her basic point is that if her husband didn’t have an income he’d still need haircuts and nights out with friends–and vice versa. Who cares in a marriage if the money comes out of her account or his? It doesn’t matter. Individual expenses, she believes. “ended when 130 of our nearest and dearest watched us swear to love, honor and cherish.”

McArdle’s post is in reaction to a Slate series by Jessica Grosse. Newly married, she interviewed other couples on how they managed their money, plus insights from experts and practices in other countries. She was searching for the right approach for her and her husband. What did they decide?

Initially, we were put off by the Sometime Sharer method of having some joint and some separate accounts, because deciding which expenses to put in each basket seemed like a headache. But we’ve decided that it’s worth the fuss. As much as neither of us loves discussing money, Autonomy With Benefits, as I’ve come to think of it, outweighs the potential strain and annoyance.

It’s helpful to learn how other couples handle everyday money. But Gross also highlights the key point about money and love. It isn’t the mechanics that matter–far from it.

And so the biggest lesson I take from this project is that we should all talk to each other more about our money strategies–the nuts and bolts of who pays for what, when. It’s a cliché that talking about money is taboo, but I hope that shibboleth is evaporating.
Again, it’s all about rescpect.

It’s an insight echoed by McArdle.

Ultimately, the secret to making common accounts work is respect for the other person. You both need to act like adults, and you both need to treat the other person like an adult. You need to admit that while you, personally, might not think it’s worthwhile to spend $400 on a video game console or a pair of shoes, the other person should be the judge of that as long as the family finances are sound.

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