When my parents got married they opened a joint checking account and it’s been that way ever since. I remember my dad in front of the computer on Sunday mornings, balancing their checkbooks, calling out to my mom about this charge or that charge and did she really need those shoes? And up until a couple of years ago, I always assumed that’s what you did when you got married.
But the modern couple doesn’t always do it that way.
“We just decided that it would be best if we took one of the top three things that destroy marriages out of the equation. For us, it was two separate accounts,” said Seattle’s Charles Shull.
Charles and Becky Bates-Shull have been married for ten years.
“I pay all the bills out of my account and then at the end of the month he writes me a personal check and I just deposit it in my account,” Becky said. “He gives me 60% of the bills because he makes 60% of the household income and I’m 40%.”
Seattle financial planner Brian Johnson says there is a reason so many couples are going with separate accounts these days.
“People are just simply getting married later. When you do that you are establishing your own financial independence prior to joining finances. So you just come into the picture with your own separate accounts. So joining finances means giving up some of you individual accounts to join this joint venture, if you will.”
When I asked KIRO listeners on Facebook how they managed their money, most of the ’40 and youngers’ said they do separate accounts and the older crowd said they were perfectly happy with the joint account they set up 45 years ago. Becky says she and Charles would probably be divorced by now if they had to share an account.
“I don’t balance my checkbook, I kind of know how much is in there, that’s how I operate with money. I just have a general idea of it. Charles, he puts in the two cents he gets in interest in his account and inputs every withdrawal from the ATM. We would be fighting all the time if we were having to communicate on that kind of level around money.”
But Becky and Charles do share an account that they use for retirement savings, the kids college funds and investment opportunities, which is exactly how Brian recommends doing it.
“Usually, what we recommend is they maintain their own separate accounts but they use it for their own separate spending, happy hours, things like that. But they also create a joint account. You pay the mortgage out of it, it’s for your joint savings out of the joint account. A separate account for my own individuality but joint account for my household goals and expenses and so on.”
Brian says whatever works for the couple is fine with him, but he sees how money affects relationships first hand.
“Oftentimes, as planners, we feel more like marriage counselors because you have these two completely different types of personality traits. You have a driver, you have someone who is a little more laid back, you have an engineer or a creative individual. So they internalize finances completely differently.”