In a 2014 poll, Money Magazine surveyed 1,010 married adults on the topic of finances within their marriages. One of the most revealing results that emerged from this poll was that 70% of American couples argued about money above anything else.
I'm pretty sure this isn't news to anyone.
In most Evangelical circles, there are widely accepted beliefs that are attached to getting married: date for an extended period of time, become engaged, go to premarital counseling, have a beautiful wedding and combine your checking accounts as you ride off in to the sunset together. Even if you don't find yourself running in these circles, it's still very common to believe that marriage equals the unequivocal renouncing of separate checking accounts for the almighty and united joint account, where everyone lives happily ever after.
But as the Money Magazine poll has found, married couples are still finding themselves bickering about money more than chores, sex, spending time together and even snoring. Even though it seems we are actually in a decline when it comes to divorce rates in our country, as found in a recent study by the New York Times, I think everyone can agree that our marriages need all the help they can get. While money squabbles may not all lead to divorce, no one wants to spend their days in misery in constant arguments over finances.
Like many couples, my husband I found ourselves in that 70% about two years into our marriage. Prior to getting married, we both held successful jobs, lived on our own and spent and saved our own money how we pleased. We were responsible, but we were independent. After combining our accounts, we fell victim to miscommunication often on how our money was being spent. His simple question of “what did you buy at the store” so he could mark funds out of our dual account was met with my annoyance at being haggled all the time over meager purchases. I felt I had little freedom, while he still held on to the notion that it was “his money.”
It was another 7 years before I opened a separate checking account for my freelance work and our discussions on finances turned towards the better. I had no idea that keeping just a small portion of the money that I had earned alone would give our marriage the opportunity to breathe.
You see, I believed that when “two became one,” that included everything, especially money. I thought that as a Christian couple, that's what we were supposed to do, and that we would just have to keep working at our discussions on finance until we were 100. As it turns out, arguments about money are actually never just about money. They are about trust, values, fear, responsibility and equality between you and your spouse.
It wasn't until we decided to share all of these issues through separate checking accounts that it all became clear to me:
1. Restores A Sense Of Trust
Trust is the foundation of a healthy marriage and financial mismanagement is a quick way to mar the trust in your relationship. We often don't realize how much we communicate that we don't trust our spouse through our discussions and habits on spending. A separate checking account can help restore trust in your spouse, by delegating certain bills or expenditures individually. You may think it's no big deal to have your wife be responsible for paying the water bill. But to her, it means you believe she will pay it on time and keep water in the house for your family.
2. Elevates Self-Esteem & Ownership
In most marriages, one spouse will inevitably earn more than the other. That person inherently feels like the dominant earner and thus, dominant spender. Meanwhile, the lesser earning spouse can tend to feel like they don't “have the right” to spend money, resulting in a low self-esteem. Having a separate account gives both earners a sense of responsibility to pay bills and higher self-esteem rooted in the fact that their income matters. It's an easy way to see how their hard earned money helps take care of their family.
3. Creates Feeling Of Independence.
Marriage is hard for many reasons, and for those of us who are innately independent people, even more so. We need to maintain our own sense of independence and often times that includes our finances. Having separate checking accounts means your spouse is not always looking over your shoulder (although I do think it prudent to share your account information!). It's wise to set a budget for your household expenses, but also a small amount that you can spend however you like. It can be something as small as $20 from each paycheck that is yours to spend without criticism, so long as it carries a sense of freedom with no strings attached.
4. Increases Communication Between Spouses
I never thought I would see the day where my husband and I actually talk more about finances then when we argued about it constantly. But having separate accounts requires us to communicate about who pays what bills, tithing from our separate paychecks and ensuring we are saving money. We don't nit pick over small expenses, so long as our big bills are paid for and our needs are met. The rest of our communication can now be about things we'd rather talk about, instead of sweating the finances.
Does having a separate checking account work for every couple? No, it doesn't. It's not the answer to deep marital issues and won't magically salve the wounds of financial mistrust in a relationship. But for some couples, it could be the opportunity you need to actually talk more about your finances, and in a healthy way that's not peppered with distrust and resentment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a joint checking account, but as I've discovered, it's not for every couple.