Friday, April 15, 2005

Friday Mythbustin': Separate Checking Accounts

Myth: It's good to have separate checking accounts so both spouses can feel like they're contributing and maintain a sense of their own identity.

Fact: Having separate checking accounts is bad news, both for the relationship and for the budget.

When my wife and I first got married, we only had one checking account, but we had two separate checkbooks.

Say what?

Yeah. The way we figured it, as long as both checkbooks stayed balanced, both of our money was always there, and if we added the two checkbooks together, we'd know our bank balance.

It was, to put it mildly, a disaster.

We reverted to one checkbook pretty quick.

What I learned from personal experience, I've heard backed up time and time again, both by financial people and relationship experts.

One of the common factors that pops up before a relationship heads for trouble is that the couple starts using separate checking accounts.

Not only should both spouses pool their money, but both spouses should be involved in the finances.

Why is this?

1. Trust. You're not going to worry whether your husband picked up the tab for his secretary's new necklace if you both have access to all the family financial records. Ask anyone who's ever had a spouse who was involved with drugs or other problems, and they'll tell you one of the first warning signs was that their spouse started being very secretive about money.

2. Unity. If you're making financial decisions together, it will keep you on the same page, financially. You won't see her dashing out to buy four or five new chick flick DVDs with money you'd saved by eating tuna sandwiches for lunch (even though you hate tuna) so you could take her out that weekend.

3. "You and I" becomes "We." There's no arguments over whether "I" paid more towards bills or "you" paid more towards bills when "we" had to pay all the bills. If you're worried that pooling the money will allow your spouse to take advantage of you, swiping up all "your" money to buy "their" stuff, your marriage needs help for reasons unrelated to money. As long as it is "you and I" (or, more accurately, you vs. me) instead of "we," you will always have issues.

4. Exponential Increases of Power. Remember how they're always saying that in physics, 1+1 can often equal 4? Phrases like "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts?" That's how it becomes when money and energy is pooled. With the finances and intelligence of both partners contributing to the family's entire financial pool, rather than each assuming one or two specific areas, you get greater strength in every area.

5. Commitment. How many Olympic athletes do you think won medals who started out a race by dipping their toe in the pool and slowly climbing in the water to adjust to the temperature? You might think that's a poor analogy (Marriage isn't a race, after all) but I think it's a great one.

One of the reasons so many relationships end with both partners bailing is because both partners spend so much time making sure the parachutes work. Making sure finances are separate, cars are in separate names, maybe even avoiding a legal ceremony all because hey, well, we have to be ready in case it doesn't work. If they put as much effort into making it work as they put into being ready in case it doesn't, their relationship would probably work out just as well as their exit strategy would have.

How much more confidence would you have in your relationship if a spouse pitched all their money in together with yours, and sat down with you and began to make plans for how the two of you would prepare for your retirement years together? Would it give you a good sense that your spouse was in this for the long haul?

How do you think your spouse would feel about your level of commitment if you did the same thing?

Wouldn't it take a little of the edge of some of those fights if you both knew that you were still in it for the long haul?

Now I'm not saying money is the only way couples can become more united. But it definitely is one of them. Far more breakups and divorces are caused by financial concerns than are caused by infidelity and abuse.

So if you're in a relationship you want to stay in, pool your money. If you're not willing to put your money into a relationship, why in the world are you willing to put your time and your heart into it?

No comments: