Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Our best marriage decision: not pooling accounts

The best thing David and I ever did for our marriage is maintain separate financial accounts.

Decisions like keeping your own name when you marry (I did that too) are very common, but I have no idea what percentage of couples don't merge their checking accounts. For us, it was an easy decision. We each make very similar salaries. We're also both alike in our habits: we fritter away a lot of money on perks like books, travel and dining out, but we're also reliable about not spending money we'll need for rent and bills and such.

We're also both prone to spending on things the other would consider stupid. David recently dropped something in the high-two, possibly three, figures for his 25th "Dark Side of the Moon" copy. (He insists this one is somehow different and special. The distinction escapes me.) I recently spent three figures on a handbag, for the first time. (David doesn't understand why I didn't spend $20 and buy one off the street. The distinction escapes him.) If such purchases were coming out of our money stash, we'd be at eachother's throats about them. But because his personal spending comes out of his account, it doesn't faze me, and vice versa.

We could accomplish something similar by pooling all our money and giving ourselves allowances, as the Make Love Not Debt pair recently discussed. For us, though, there's no pressing reason to go that route. We don't have any big savings targets we're trying to hit right now. (We probably should, like saving for an apartment downpayment, but we're not there yet.) We don't have any joint debt. We're pretty good at shifting our resources around as is sensible. When I was trying to pay off my credit-card debt, David carried my student-loan payments for years. On a day-to-day basis, whoever feels like they can spare the cash for groceries, dinner out, etc., is the one to pick up the check. For major expenses, like a vacation or a sudden cat trip to the vet, we generally charge it to the Amex (our closest thing to a shared account -- I'm the primary cardholder, but David is an authorized user and has his own card) and split it up at bill-paying time. For us, it's a surprisingly stress-free system.

None of our financial information is secret from each other, and when it comes to big savings pools, I think we both consider them 'ours' -- I may be the only one funding my 401k, but I fully expect it to be used on us both, and I regard it as a shared asset. But I like the independence of each of us having our own accounts, and being able to indulge our own spending idiosyncrasies. Having kids is the one thing I can think of that would derail this independent-finances approach. There, the expenses are so big and so shared it would be hard not to have a joint pool to draw from. But for us, I think not going the typical joint-checking route has spared us a lot of marital discord.