I was wrong. I’m sorry. Did I cause damage? No. But I probably added stress to relationships. For this, I’m sorry.
Allow me to explain.
It seemed like an innocuous answer to a very common question. The question: should married people have a joint checking account, exclusively. The answer: absolutely. My answer of absolutely was based on trust. I have long felt that money in relationships is a manifestation of trust. If you don’t trust your spouse with money, then you don’t trust your spouse. Simple, right? Yes, but over the last few years I have found that the absence of a joint account has nothing to do with the potential absence of trust.
I had misdiagnosed a problem. Married people with separate accounts ARE NOT a beacon of mistrust. In many instance separate accounts are a stress management technique. Oddly enough I tripped into this epiphany. Mrs Planner and I have had separate checking accounts for the last three years. We didn’t intend for this to happen, but when we set out to switch banks a few years ago, we never fully completed the transfer. Thus we had two different checking accounts. We certainly don’t have financial trust issues, so why would we bother keeping money separate? The money is separated, however the owners of the money remains the same. We both own the money. We both have “rights” to the money. Her paycheck dumps into “her” account for our use, and my paycheck dumps into “my” account for our use.
I use “my” account for the mortgage, charity, daycare, groceries, dining, and my fuel. She uses “her” account for the utilities, Target trips, car insurance, life insurance, her fuel, investing, and some other miscellaneous items. The reality is that both accounts are for our benefit. I view my income as “our” income, and she views “her” income as our income. This is enough. There is no need to have one checking account to accomplish this. In the past, I had incorrectly asserted that a joint checking was a must to build trust. The reality is that it’s often easier to split your money into two, and then split the bills into two. We have NEVER had the slightest disagreement about who pays for what.
I’m not asking you to now split off into separate accounts. I’m asking you to find a system that works best for you. I do know what won’t work: my money and your money. Separate accounts start to suck when the money in the account isn’t the household money, but instead it’s for the sole usage of the accountholder. In fact, that operating system will ALWAYS end in disaster. The household money doesn’t always have to remain in the same account, but always needs to be the household money.
So what do you do? Do you have separate accounts or a joint account? Is your system really working well? Let’s hear it in the comments.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.