This is What Happens When Married Couples Have Separate Bank Accounts

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Well, the title may be a bit misleading.  One thing that Rob and I have learned during our 26 years of marriage is what works for someone else, does not always work for us.  With that in mind, the title of this article should be:  This is What Happened When This Married Couple Had Separate Bank Accounts – – – and Joint Bank Accounts.

One of my pet peeves when reading about the available options for personal finance is when the information presents itself in a manner that communicates this is the only way to go.  If you do not follow x, y, and z, you will fail.

For Rob and me, knowing what our options are and the experiences of others is the key for us to make better decisions with our money – hell, with life in general.

When it comes to our finances, we have managed our money together, apart, and then together again.  The first fifteen years of our marriage we kept a joint bank account, the next ten years we had separate bank accounts, then there is now, now we have separate bank accounts and joint bank accounts.  We have become bank account junkies!

Are your bank accounts the gauge of the health of your marriage?

Before we go any further, I want you to know that in our experience, my answer is a resounding NO.  When Googling this topic this morning, I found the top search result is Separate Finances and On Their Way To Divorce – Ask Dave.  Just so that you know, I am a big fan of Dave Ramsey.  I am a fan of Dave when he preaches working together as a couple.  I am not a fan when he makes blanket statements and passes judgment on others for the decisions they make.

When someone wants to separate their money, there are several possible reasons. There are two that come to mind. One is that you’ve been misbehaving, and they’re tired of dragging you along, so you need to quit acting like a financial boat anchor and be a grownup, work together, and stop being irresponsible. That’s the first step toward divorce if that’s the case. The separation of finances is the first step to the separation of the marriage. The second reason that I most often see people want to separate their finances is an unhealthy level of independence. The very nature of a quality marriage is that you are interdependent. –  Dave Ramsey



Why we have had joint and separate bank accounts

Like marriage, the answer to this question is pretty complicated.  If we are to take a high-level view of our reasoning for our account setup it will boil down to three main items:

  1. Single income household
  2. Two income household
  3. Kids are gone – – – now what?

Yep, there is no diabolical plan here to “misbehave” or some “unhealthy level of independence,” for us, it is just part of our story.

Single income household:

When we were first married, I was sixteen.  One month and a day later I turned seventeen.  It was on my seventeenth birthday that I found out we were going to be parents.  The only thing I can think of is that our young and dumb saved us.   We were broke and had a baby on the way.  It was crazy times!  The only thing that we were confident of is that we wanted to be awesome parents!

Two income household

The time had come.  The kids were a bit older, and I was able to escape the house and find a full-time job.  We rocked it!  I went out into the workforce; we were able to pay off our notes on two auto loans quickly and then we just saved the money I earned.

We would splurge now and then, but for the most part, we were savers. For us, we had been crazy responsible since we were kids.  I managed the money and Rob would ask if he could buy something.

After going through so many hard times growing up together, this was just our way.  Rob would joke that if something were to happen to me, our eight-year-old son would have to take care of our finances because he had no clue.

After a ton of talk, Rob and I both decided that separate accounts may work out well for us.  I would no longer feel like the financial Nazi and Rob would have the experience of managing money.  It seemed like a win, win.

Kids are gone

The beautiful thing about an option is, another option often comes along that is worth a try.  For us, we do not look at every decision we make as winning or losing.  We look at it as we are trying to find what works for us.

After years of having a joint bank account, followed by years of having separate bank accounts, Rob and I decided to try a hybrid version.  We have our mutual bank accounts and our separate bank accounts. So far, it is working out great!




5 Pros and Cons of Separate Bank Accounts for THIS Married Couple

1. Independence is something to celebrate

Pro:  The definition of Independent is:  free from outside control; not depending on another’s authority.  At its purest form, independence is what makes us unique, and it is the element that brought us together in the first place.

It was our independence that attracted us to one another.  Hell, it was the early 90’s, and we were all about independence and going against the establishment.  (I remember that it included a lot of plaid flannels and ripped jeans – thank you, Kurt Cobain)

I am not in charge of Rob and Rob is not in charge of me.  We are a team!

In my opinion, independence is not a bad thing in a marriage.  It is our differences that make us stronger, that push us beyond our natural limitations and give us the courage to learn new things.

Our decision to separate our bank account pushed us out of our natural tendencies.

My nature is to plot out everything.  I want to track progression and have historical information to make decisions.  I am a planner!

Rob is not a planner by nature.  Rob operates with a different form of caution.  He prefers a minimalistic approach that doesn’t entail spreadsheets and charts.  To him, charting it all out is just unnecessary noise.

The pro to separate bank accounts for us is it allows us to show that both methods are successful.  I learned to relax a bit, and Rob found out that his way of finance works.

Con:  To every decision, there are good, bad, and unexpected outcomes.  Our choice to separate our bank accounts is no exception.

Although we are independent people, we do live our lives together.  Separating the bills was the easy part.  The struggle was the little stuff.  “Are you paying for dinner tonight, or am I?”  It was those awkward moments out in public when we had to “fight” over the check, or keep track of it’s your turn or my turn.

We are both independent people that do a lot of stuff together.

The lack of group money was an uncomfortable feeling that just never went away.  Ten years of practice, yet it still felt icky!

Learn more about our bank accounts:  Easiest Way to Budget Your Money | 8 Bank Accounts



2.  Financial freedom defined a bit differently

Pro:  Our separate bank accounts was the first time that I felt the weight of being responsible for our money lift off of me.

When we were first married, I became the money Nazi by need.  With my natural desire and need to plan, the finance part of our marriage just naturally fell on me tracking all the ins and outs, making sure we meet the deadlines and figuring out what we need to get us to the next payday.

For this to work, Rob cleared all his purchases through me to ensure we had enough money.

The situation wasn’t ideal, but it worked.

When we opened separate bank accounts, the survival techniques that we developed over the years went away.  Poof!  I didn’t feel like a dictator and Rob could review his money and decide what he wanted to do.

It was freeing for both of us.  I think we finally felt like adults.

Con:  The freedom of not having to talk about money turned into a situation where we didn’t talk about money at all.

For Christmas, Rob bought gifts for our kids and so did I.  We went from working as a team when it came to managing our household, to carrying the burden of coming up with the money to pay for things we “needed” plus the things we wanted.

It was a ton of pressure we inadvertently put on ourselves.  In so many ways our expenses doubled.

I remember our son putting things into perspective one day when he was in high school.  He made a comment that I got gas money from dad last week.  Our son had to notify me that it was my week to pay for the gas for his truck.

Rob and I depended on our sixteen-year-old son to keep us inline.



3.  Goal setting propels you higher and gives your money purpose

Pro:  Being able to set your eye on something and work your ass off to get it is one of accomplishment.  It is our achievements that build confidence, allow us to reach for more and provide us with a sense of purpose.  Without goals, we flounder.  We suffocate ourselves in the mundane.

Setting goals that you want to reach is such a rewarding feeling.  Since Rob and I starting so young, we had never experienced the gratification of establishing a personal financial goal and then reaching it on our own.

It was always the story of Rob and Heather.  To be able to do this for the first time in our lives was exhilarating and motivating on a personal level.  We finally understood what it felt like to have the success or the failure of reaching a goal that weighed solely upon our actions.

Cons:  From me wanting shiny new cars (yes plural – I bought 3 in this period) to Rob saving up for a full sleeve tattoo.  We both had goals; they were not bad goals; they were just very me-centric.

We planned our vacations independently of one another.  We no longer enjoyed the planning part of our trips.  A goal that we wanted to do X with the family, we would save up money to do X, and then we would go.

Part of the fun went away.  The unfortunate part of this was we didn’t know what we were missing.  We just knew there was emptiness.



4.  Trusting someone to do something just as good as you can

Pro:  Trust is the core of any relationship.  When trust is brought up in a relationship, it is often associated with a break in trust.  For us, the component of trust came into play with having total faith that we would take care of one another by paying for the bills we had assigned ourselves.  It was that blind trust in one another that we knew that the only way we would know if one of us were not upholding our end of the bargain would be if our lights were turned off or our credit score dropped drastically.

By having separate banking accounts, Rob and I showed one another the faith we had in each other.  It was an unspoken message that we would do everything we could to manage our finances wisely as not to let the other one down.

Con:  Trust in doing the right thing can make you numb to the need for interaction, for conversation.  When you have a proven history of meeting deadlines, of being responsive to needs, when not having to do without becomes the norm, complacency sinks in.  It is when a wicked sense of comfort leads us to the position where we do not need to push ourselves.

Rob and I all of a sudden found ourselves just living for today.  We quit challenging ourselves to enjoy our now and work harder for our future.  We trusted each other so much that the conversation of money never came up and became silent when it came to how we were funding our lives.  When you are silent, trouble has a way of finding you.

5.  Autonomy and the role it played in our finance

Pro:  Finding yourself is a liberating feeling.  For Rob and me, buying for want versus need was exciting and felt like true adulthood.

The opportunity that opening separate bank accounts afforded us both was a level of autonomy that allowed us to make decisions that in our mind, only impacted us and our success or failure.  They were our decisions, and we owned them individually.

Con:  There is a fine line between autonomy and isolation.  Although we are a couple, our independence cut us off from one another in a way that is hard to explain.  We lived in one house yet had no clue how much money it took to live in that house.  Everything was broken down into yours and mine category, and there was no room for ours.   I can tell you this now from the position of hindsight.  When we were living by his and her rules, we did not realize how unhealthy we were.  After all, we never fought about money. Therefore money was not an issue.

This hindsight that I told you about allows us to see now that our gradual acceptance of our independent lives led us down a path of isolation and ignorance.  We were surviving; we were not living.




 

In conclusion

So, if you are wanting to know if we are the advocates of separate or joint banking, that one I am going to leave for you to decide.  Because we do not advocate one over the other.

For us, we have adopted more of a hybrid approach since our kids have left home.  We deposit all of our money into one checking account.  From there it is transferred to multiple accounts that have been chosen based on our current goals as a couple.  We still have separate accounts that we use for our “fun money,”  but the bulk of what we bring in now goes to our dreams together.

Once our debt was paid off and we were able to quit living in the past,  we made a plan that works for our now and is flexible enough for our future.

What do you think about having joint or separate bank accounts?  Do you believe that your bank account is a sign of the health of your relationship?

15 thoughts on “This is What Happens When Married Couples Have Separate Bank Accounts”

  1. This was a really interesting topic and I love the spin you put on it!

    I feel like you’re right in that every couple will have different needs and what works for some couples will not work well for others. My husband and I have 100% joint bank accounts, but I know if I was with someone else (especially someone less frugal than myself), I would want separate bank accounts + one joint for household expenses. I think it was really interesting that you pointed out it depends on which stage you’re in in life as well, as over time, one system may become more ideal because your situation changed.

    Again, really interesting, thanks!

  2. My husband and I have the same account and it works well for us! Much easier to budget and we don’t have to worry about secret spending!

  3. This was a feel-good blog post, I am really glad that you approached it in a different way. We don’t have kids yet. We had to have our separate bank accts because we worked at different companies and they set it up for us. We’ll probably do the same thing once we have kids. Thanks for sharing without passing on judgement 🙂

  4. Thank you for the tips! It’s the first time I came across such a topic, and an important one! I’m single and your post makes me think over these things.

  5. What a helpful and interesting read! My husband and I also have always had separate bank accounts- not by choice really but by default. He owns a business and has his business account. I have my own personal account and added his name to it, but he never uses it really. We’ve always split everything. A year ago I quit my full time job and we had to change our set up so that it was a shared mindset. Holy cow did it cause a shift! I was so used to just buying what we needed and he was not. He had no idea how much if the everyday stuff I was picking up. I loved this line:’Without goals, we flounder. We suffocate ourselves in the mundane”. This! This! This! Goals are so important.

  6. Blair villanueva

    Me and my partner agreed that whatever I have is mine, and whatever he have is mine too 🙂 sounds funny but makes sense. We also have expense account for the household. It’s a matter of good agreement.

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