When hubby and I married, I was 31 and he was 33. We had each been living on our own since our early 20s. That was a big part of why we decided to keep the individual accounts we had established as singles and set up a joint account for household expenses.
I know this tends to be a controversial topic in personal finance and there are strong opinions advocating both sides. I want to explain how we make having separate bank accounts work for us so that others looking to do the same can have some guidance.
Why did we choose to maintain separate bank accounts? We don’t want to have to justify our spending to each other or feel guilty about it. We’re grown adults and want to spend how we want. I know so many people who lie to their spouse about their spending, and I don’t want that to be us.
Everyone’s different so don’t let people make you feel guilty for choosing one financial style over another. Find what works for you and own it. Your job is not to defend your choices. Your focus should be on choosing a financial style that works for you, stick to it, and make it work for the both of you.
We’ve been married for 4 years and are happy with how we’ve made it work while having separate bank accounts.
Determine What’s a Household Expense
The first thing we did after getting married was to open up a joint checking account. We decided that everything related to our home would be paid out of this account. For us, those expenses include:
- Mortgage (including interest and property taxes)
- Utilities (electricity, gas, water, sewer, trash)
- Home Entertainment (Internet, Netflix, HBO Now)
We also pay joint living expenses together and those include:
- Groceries and Dining Out
- Personal Hygiene Products (shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc)
Being married means we forge a new life together but it does not mean that we lose our previous identities. We still have our own interests and hobbies and these are the expenses we choose to keep separate. Hubby recently bought a 3D printer that he paid on his own. He bought it without any guilt because it was his money.
When I visit friends out of town, I pay for all the expenses out of my own account. That way, I can enjoy the trip fully without worrying about emptying the joint account.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Hubby and I put all our joint spending on our credit card. When we’re out and about and spend cash, we don’t insist on an equal split of the expenses. Sometimes we go to restaurants that only accept cash or we go camping and need to pay the entrance fees in cash. We just take turns paying since these expenses rarely exceed $20 so it’s not a big deal.
Similarly, when we dine out, it doesn’t matter if one of us happens to order a more expensive meal than the other. It all evens out eventually. We don’t nickel and dime each other. We don’t keep track of what each other orders at restaurants and insist that everything be equal. One person paying a few dollars more here and there is really no big deal. You have to decide what works for you. If you want things to be split on a strict 50-50 basis, don’t keep that to yourself. It’s something you and your partner both need to agree on.
You have to decide what works for you. If you want things to be split on a strict 50-50 basis, don’t keep that to yourself. It’s something you and your partner both need to agree on.
Have a Cushion
Hubby and I have each set up a recurring transfer that takes money from our individual accounts and deposits it into our joint account. We transfer a little more than needed to cover the monthly expenses so that we have a cushion.
Ideally, I would like to reliably calculate our expenses down to the penny but that’s just not realistic. Therefore, we contribute a little extra each month so that we don’t stress ourselves out. If we end up spending more in a certain month, we have the cushion so that we don’t have to worry about transferring money mid-month.
You might be wondering, why don’t we just put in a large lump sum in our joint account instead of messing with all these transfers? We put our joint funds in a low-yield Chase checking account. Chase has branches everywhere and they offer free transfers. They also make it easy to pay our bills.
The downside is that the account hardly earns any interest. So, we choose to keep larger cash reserves in our individual online accounts which earn higher interest rates.
If we need to change the amount that’s being contributed to our joint account, it’s no big deal. We just talk to each other. When things are added to or subtracted from our joint expenses, we talk about it and make changes accordingly.
Having separate bank accounts doesn’t mean we don’t talk to each other about our finances. For example, when we took a trip overseas, we discussed how we were going to pay for the vacation. We decided to add extra money to our joint account so that we can enjoy the trip fully.
Help Each Other
Do we always stick to this division of financial responsibilities? No. When times are hard, we help each other out. Hubby was laid off for a period and I helped pay for his health insurance and also for treats like dinners out.
While we have separate bank accounts, that’s not to say we don’t love each other and can’t help each other. We wouldn’t abandon each other in times of hardship.
Even though we have separate bank accounts, hubby and I can still work together towards retirement and financial independence. We have monthly check-ins with each other to see how our finances are doing. We calculate our combined net worth and measure our progress towards financial independence.
It’s not the most romantic thing but it’s how we make having separate bank accounts work. We also talk about our goals and look at whether there are ways we can cut expenses. At the end of the day, we trust each other. Neither of us is a big spender and we trust each other to be fiscally responsible.
Some people say that having separate bank accounts means you don’t trust each other. On the contrary, it takes a lot of trust to allow each partner to manage their own finances. I trust that hubby knows what he’s doing. We don’t demand that we show each other our Roth IRA and 401k statements. While keeping separate bank accounts, we’re still able to work towards common goals.
How do you manage your finances with your significant other? Have you combined your finances or do you maintain separate bank accounts? What are some reasons that made you choose one over the other?