Monday, May 21, 2012

The Bottom Line of Marriage

A Practical Wedding recently discussed joint finances in marriage, and how that can sometimes become a situation where women are voluntarily giving up knowledge, control, and an active participatory role in their financial lives. I have to agree with some of the comments, saying "Who ARE these women?" because they don't sound like people I know. Here's my take: sharing finances with someone else is NOT an excuse to not participate. It's an opportunity to share the costs of building a life, but along with that is a responsibility to be involved.

The post was inspired by this article in the New York Times, and it is just boggling my mind.

Here's my opinion:

When Peanut and I lived together before we got married, we had a joint account for household expenses and maintained our own separate accounts for all other spending. During that time, we alternately had a $10,000 difference in our incomes and then earned about the same, within a few thousand dollars of each other. We split our household expenses exactly in half, and each contributed that much money to the joint account, which was then used to pay bills, buy groceries, and for things like joint vacations. The rest of our money was ours to do with as we pleased. This made sense, because legally, we weren't really financially entwined (we had an annual contractual obligation to each other and our landlord, but that was it).

As soon as we got married, we combined everything. All money goes into one pot, and all expenses comes out of that pot. There is no "allowance". There is no comparison. We pay the bills, we save for shared goals, and that's it.

I can't help it that my haircuts cost more than his. I can help it that I buy more clothes than he does, but it doesn't matter - I don't want to wait until my clothes are literally worn out before going shopping like he does. He goes out to lunch a lot more than I do. He had more student loans than I did, and he know makes more than $10,000 more than I do. None of that stuff matters. We're not keeping score, we're on the same team.

Our life is a shared life. We do maintain a spreadsheet for tracking our spending, and we do track it by person (him, me and joint) - but it's out of curiosity. I would never have to defend my purchases to him and he doesn't have to defend his to me. We make large spending decisions jointly, although we have never designated an amount of money where we need to ask the other for permission before we go spend it. There's just trust - because we openly talk about our financial goals, we can understand what our individual decisions would do to those goals. And we make good decisions for the benefit of our family.

I realize that we are unusual because we are both highly interested in personal finance. But I'm just astounded at the number of women who taken on such willful ignorance.

What do you think about the women quoted in this story who have completely given up participation in their financial lives?


  1. This: 'We're not keeping score, we're on the same team.'

    That article blew my mind as well. I could not identify at all, and thank goodness. We operate just as you do -- shared finances, and once we take care of bills and savings, we're free to spend as we need and want, both within reason. I couldn't quite articulate why the women in that article made me so uncomfortable (besides their willingness to give up control of something that should be so important to them), but it was the fact that there was an air of keeping score. Why are you in a marriage if that's how it goes?

    Of course, I recognize that I was raised by parents who were smart about money, and they taught me how to be smart. That makes it a lot easier, but I still just don't get it.

  2. I'm the money manager in our marriage; as my husband put it, better an accountant than a warehouse worker. We pool all our money, but we each have a weekly allowance that's ours to spend on our hobbies, no questions asked. (I just set up separate debit card accounts last month, after 24 years of being asked how much he was over/under every week.) Everything else, like clothes and toiletries, comes out of the joint account. Luckily I'm not a big spender on cosmetics or shoes. I've tried to keep him updated on what's going on, but he's not very interested. So I guess we're just the opposite of the women in the article.

    I find the attitude of these women more than slightly horrifying. I expect it from someone of my mother's generation, who always assumed she'd have a man to make the decisions and take care of her. And boy was she wrong; at 28 she was divorced with a child to support on her own. I joke that my husband can never divorce me because he has no idea where his retirement accounts are, but for many women this is no laughing matter. And if they have children, they do them no favors by abdicating responsibility for their financial stability this way.

  3. Nice post! I agree that with marriage comes figuring out what the two of you want to do with your money. It shouldn’t be one sided – it should be something that is talked about and that the two of you can get excited about.

  4. I think the men should take a little of the blame two, yes the women might voluntarily give up knowledge, control and participation into the financial aspects of their married lives, but I think even in such a situation, the husband should still at least sit and talk about it at minimum once a month, they don't have to go into fine details but a small talk on where they are heading should be just fine. If the roles are switch, the same applies.

    I would love for my future married life to be a lot like how yours is but I also have to take my partner into consideration, if anything, I am sure we will at least have one combined household account where we contribute evenly.

  5. My husband and I are totally joint as well (no allowances or anything) but while we track our spending we don't delineate it by who spent it/who it was for. I suppose we could go back in our records and figure out who is the more expensive partner, but we don't. Like you said, we're on the same team. If one of us really wants or needs something that isn't covered by the budget, we figure out together how to make it happen.

    I recently wrote a series on joint and separate money based on papers I read in the literature, so that might be more interesting/informative to you than the unscientific approach of the NYT article.


Thanks for commenting!