Marriage as Mini-Socialism

How combining finances can make us stronger, not weaker.

I thought I wanted to write about marriage and money. I thought I wanted talk about how combining finances is the single most difficult step we’ve taken in our relationship, but also the most powerful. But it turns out, I was wrong. I didn’t want to talk about money. I wanted to talk about the ways we think about supporting each other, and how combining forces can make us stronger, not weaker. When I first started writing about married finances for APW, I assumed that most people operated about the same way that we did. That they dug in their heels a bit about combining finances (giving up the idea of “my money” was really hard for me), and then had dumped everything into one pot and sorted out some sort of budget. That was my solid understanding of how marriage worked: Mini-Socialism! All pulling together for the same goal! I still get my own money to buy shoes!

But then I realized that was not the case. Our generation was not combining their finances, more often than not. I pondered this. Could this be a wonderful thing? Was this the New Frontier of Marriage (TM)? I needed to know more. So I started asking why people were not combining finances. These were the answers I heard most frequently:

  • My partner earns more than me, and until I can contribute an equal amount to our relationship, I don’t feel like it’s ok to pool the bills. I can’t ask more from my partner then I am giving.
  • I make less, so it’s only fair that I have less spending money. (But sometimes my partner treats me to a nice dinner.)
  • I’m an independent woman, so on feminist principal I should keep my finances separate (even if I make less than my partner).
  • I can’t ask my partner to help pay off my debt.
  • My partner doesn’t like me to know what they are doing with their money.
  • It’s better to keep the money separate, in case you get divorced.

I mean, look. I want to be clear. There are a host of valid reasons for keeping your finances, or portions of your finances separate. Maybe one of you runs a business. Maybe one of you is heir to a sizable family fortune, and there are legal ramifications around that. Whatever. Fair. But the point is, these were not the reasons people were giving me. The reasons people were giving me had to do with two ideas:

  • That we can measure what we contribute to our partnerships in financial terms.
  • That our strength lies in our total independence, not in learning mutual dependence.

I think we’re making a mistake. I brought this up with my mother, a staunch second wave feminist, who stayed home with us when we were small. I explained that people felt that to be a good feminist, you needed to keep your money separate in marriage, even if you earned less. There was a gasp and a long pause on the other end of the phone, and then she said, “I think your generation got the wrong idea. We’re all supposed to be caring for each other. That’s the point.” She’s right.

I worry that on a fundamental level we’re coming at relationships and money from the wrong angle. We’re thinking that we need to be equal contributors to our partnerships, but we’re overvaluing financial contributions. Generations before us, of course, didn’t have the chance to fall into this trap. They knew that while everyone might have different jobs in a family, all of those jobs helped make the family tick. Yes, someone needed to earn money to buy food, but someone also needed to cook the food (which used to involve a lot less microwaving). Sure, someone needed to pay the bills, but growing tiny humans and then keeping them alive was a huge job, too. Add to this the fact that many women didn’t even have the option of doing meaningful financial work outside of the home, so partnerships were not viewed as dueling money-making machines.

I’m not glamorizing the past. In the past, I couldn’t even have worn pants. I’m damn grateful for all of the feminists that fought and sacrificed so I could vote, own property, have a career, choose to stay home or not, and have an equal say in running the household finances. But I don’t think those woman fought and sacrificed so I would judge myself based on how much money I brought into my marriage, or upend the mini-Socialism of the family, or feel that I had to work outside the home to be a valued partner. F*ck no. They fought for my RIGHT to wear pants, not for me to be REQUIRED to wear pants. They fought for me to be viewed as a whole human being, not just as someone who earned money.

Which brings me back to finances. First, a lot of us are living legal fictions. Sure, you can not combine finances and let your partner “treat” you to dinner (something I find deeply unsettling, and reminiscent of when women didn’t have equal access to family earning power). But unless you had a powerful pre-nup (or don’t have a federally recognized marriage, which we talked about in depth yesterday), under the law you own your partner’s shit. The legal reality is that he’s treating you to dinner with money that’s yours.

Second, marriage is about pulling together. It’s about building a life together, through thick and thin. When we don’t let our partners pay down our debt with us, not only are we not letting them love us and support us, but we’re also not letting them help-us-pay-off-the-damn-debt-so-we-can-save-for-a-downpayment-together (practical considerations, says the woman working hard to pay down her husband’s law school loans). When we feel guilty about being unemployed, we’re not fully realizing that marriage usually lasts for a long time, and sooner or later we’re going to be financially carrying more of the burden than our partners. When we think we deserve less spending money because we make less, we’re devaluing all the things we do to make our household run (chores! cooking! jokes! hugs! planning!). Plus, we’re totally depriving ourselves of new shoes. When we hold back because of the possibility of divorce, we’re not creating a fully functional partnership in the moment. And when we keep our money separate because of feminism, I think we do feminism a disservice (why not just wear pants to celebrate feminism instead?).

Being married is scary. It’s about creating great dependence and great emotional vulnerability. Anyone who tells you this isn’t terrifying shit has no idea what they are talking about. But it’s that release of our close held ideas of self and protection that allow new things to grow and flower. New plans, plots, businesses, careers, travel, babies, no-babies, and all of it. It’s all made better by the truly scary shit of sharing your money and building a life together. That, and being allowed to wear pants. Literally.

Photo: Emily Takes Photos

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  • Katie in DC

    Thank you so much for writing this. I’m sitting at my desk crying, but reading (and re-reading) this was so incredibly needed. My fiance and I are actually doing the final combination of finances tomorrow, but even though we’ve moved forward with that decision, it hasn’t made it any less hard and guilt ridden for me. For all the reasons you described above: bad feminist! massive student loans from law school! under-employed! making 1/4 of the income my fiance is bringing in! minor (but existing) credit card debt!

    To his credit, my fiance has been amazing about my crying and saying things like, “I’m a bad financial risk,” and that he could do better. In fact, he’s been saying a lot of the things that you wrote above in the second to last paragraph. But, I guess I was sort of feeling like he was saying that because he loved me, but that ultimately he’d come to really resent the financial imbalance. Somehow reading the above is really driving the point home. And frankly, it’s helping to know that I’m not the only one with such fucked up and conflicted views about financial/personal worth.

    So, thank you for writing this. And thank you for opening up this discussion on APW. Truly, thank you!

    • Edelweiss

      I just want to say I love this post from the opposite perspective, and maybe give voice to your partner’s view. I make much more than my underemployed partner (although neither of us are doing awesome in the money-making arena). He has delayed and delayed combining our finances out of the feelings of guilt you describe. Just this week he’s starting to finally turn a corner and it couldn’t make me happier.

      I’ve hated that I can buy a new dress and he feels stressed every time the check engine light comes on in his car. I don’t care what’s printed on a paycheck – this is our household and our family and we’re in this together.

      This is the first post I’m printing for him to read.

      • I agree with Meg: Marriage is long. One of you may be earning less now, but who knows how things will change over the span of 20-60 years? Even in just a four-year relationship I had, one of us started out unemployed and living off loans (the other one paid most of the bills), and by the end things had pretty much reversed. Especially in our 20s-30s, our career and financial trajectories are just getting started, so things can be rocky at first.

        Just want to throw out that longer-term perspective.

      • Suzy


        “I don’t care what’s printed on a paycheck – this is our household and our family and we’re in this together.”

        What is marriage if you’re not, ultimately, in this together?

      • I am in a similar boat. We haven’t technically combined yet – he needs a national bank for practical considerations; I refuse to bank anywhere that is not a credit union; he can’t be on my account because I have 2 loans that would have a higher interest rate if it was both of us (my credit is better); and my employer’s payroll system is from the dark ages and cannot handle direct deposit into a second account. So, our accounts are separate. It’s annoying. Really, we need to go to the bank and TALK to someone about this ridiculous jury rigged system we’ve got going.

        But, to underscore your point about check engine lights, this happened to him recently and he was all upset when I put the hefty repair bill on my credit card. He kept asking if I was sure it was OK. Um, of course? That’s how marriage works.

    • Jo

      That fiance sounds like good people to me!

      • Katie in DC

        He really is.

        • m.

          My fiance and I (lawyer and teacher/grad student, resp.) have been going back and forth and back and forth on this for years now. I was raised by a feminist mama who worked outside the home and makes a lot more money than my (also very feminist) dad. They are a total team in their marriage, parenting, finances, everything. My fiance was raised in a very traditional house, dad with salary and mom at home. While he adamantly insists that it’s not a you-me situation but an US, the thought of being the woman and bringing in the shorter financial load still terrifies me.

          Anyway, for some reason “mini-socialism” is exactly what I needed to wrap my mind around what starting a baby family actually means. And to remind myself that I’m continuing the feminist tradition by seeing myself as an equal, regardless of money. Thanks for writing this, Meg.

  • Very, very good post. I’m wearing pants today. Or not.

  • First of all, I think we need t-shirts that say “No Pants Required.”

    Second, love this post. I haven’t really heard anyone talk about the emotional weirdness of merging finances for women who have grown up as feminists. When my husband and I were dating, we’d try to trade off who paid for dinner or groceries or whatever. It made sense, but it got oddly stressful–how could things even out naturally? Merging finances actually made life a lot easier as there was no question of who “owed” the other person what. We can also treat each other, which feels special, but running out for toilet paper and toothpaste doesn’t have to be an issue of who should take out their wallet.

    I’d also wonder about the male feminist perspective. I wonder if there’s still the pressure for men to financially “provide” for their family, even for guys who are very pro-equality and understand that having a lot of money doesn’t necessarily mean you’re caring for the people you love.

    • Katie in DC

      Yes! I would love to hear more male perspectives on this!

    • Edelweiss

      “I wonder if there’s still the pressure for men to financially “provide” for their family, even for guys who are very pro-equality and understand that having a lot of money doesn’t necessarily mean you’re caring for the people you love.”

      There is for some men. That pressure feels like our third roommate sometimes.

    • carrie

      I’m married and we do exactly this – who is paying for what grocery trip? When we go to Costco, we each pay for half. After reading this post and your comment (I mean this in a good way), this seems totally stupid for us to do. Because tomorrow if his car broke down and he was waiting for a paycheck, I wouldn’t hesitate to put my card down or vice versa. And never expect the money “back.” We look at the money in each of our bank accounts as OUR money, but at the same time, we’re not really treating it as such.

      The thing about not merging, is that I *don’t* feel bad when I buy something impulsively. When he went all out at Best Buy this weekend, he sorta cleared it with me, but I thought well, he’s not missing any bills by getting this, and then I didn’t feel the hit. I don’t feel like we’re bean counting, but maybe we are?

      So interesting.

      • That’s the thing! You’re not exactly holding back from paying and don’t expect it to be exactly equal all the time, but it’s still something to think about. For us it worked better when we removed the issue of having to ask each time who was paying.

        Still, we also have separate accounts for personal stuff. If I want to buy a pair of fun shoes, I don’t have to worry about taking the money out of the grocery/rent/etc. fund. And it’s what I use if I buy my husband’s birthday present or something similar. The personal accounts are definitely secondary, but it’s been nice having them there as well. Maybe that would work for you guys too?

        • carrie

          That makes a lot of sense to me, thank you! This would also force us to budget better. We both, thankfully, do just fine and have money for fun stuff when we want. But we’re not tracking. He just put on his tablet and I don’t even want to look at it b/c I hate that stuff, it scares me! Which is why I need to face that shit. Thanks, Annie. :-)

          • Parsley

            In my relationship, we each get an “allowance” every month. That’s what I use to buy my fun things, and the money I feel I can spend without justifying it. All the money that comes in is “ours,” and then we each get this individual pot to play with. It works for us.

          • One of the awesome things about partnership is that if you hate something, you might be able to trade it away. I manage all our household money as of last month, and my partner just checks in with me periodically and keeps track of her own personal account. Thinking about money makes her stressed, but it makes me feel in control.

            Also, we do exactly what Parsley does. That way one of us can legitimately treat the other to a fancy dinner or buy a present or something, without undermining the general combination of finances.

          • LilyTop

            Parsley – This is exactly what we do! Hooray for allowance! No guilt! Joint Financial goals! Fun Money! It’s the best system I’ve ever encountered, and honestly I don’t know why more people don’t use it. We started as soon as we got engaged, and it just feels so ordinary by now that anything else sounds exceedingly complicated.

        • Carly

          We do the same thing. We have joint savings and joint checking, but we each have our own personal checking too. That money is ours to spend however we want, with no need to talk about it first. I buy shoes and Starbucks with no guilt, husband plays fantasy football and goes out to lunch multiple times a week with no guilt. Win-win-win.

          • This is the system that we use too, and we really like it. Both of us have SERIOUS baggage about money from our former marriages where we went into it ready to do mini-socialism, and came away feeling deeply used, exploited and taken advantage of. B. LOVES to closely control money and I cannot stand to be monitored at that level of detail. He literally does a weekly inventory of our pantry. I’m glad he does, its one of his more endearing qualities, but if my spending became part of that inventory I would go insane. I am more “extravagant” than B. is, and this system lets me feel like I have an area of my life and resources that belongs to me alone. Even if it is a legal fiction, it is a psychological mechanism that I find empowering.

            B. and I are fully merged and deeply committed–when I had a cash flow issue earlier this ye,r he bailed me out without question and then I paid him back because it just felt like the right thing to do. We take care of each other. We are deeply intimate. I show off everything I buy anyway. But that touch of separateness is symbolically important to us.

            The other really good practice we have now is having a financial summit from time to time where we set aside time to discuss finances. Otherwise, it can be a topic that we avoid. The summit always feels really good and liberating.

      • Vee

        One more vote for “allowance accounts” here. We allotted a specific monthly “allowance” amount which we used for personal lunches at work, his cigarettes, and whatever other frivolous things we wanted. He plays fantasy sports. I buy …. well, lots of things. Shoes. Clothes. Books. I liked the idea of being able to buy something even if I couldn’t justify a need for it. Also, I had an exact idea of what I had to spend on such things each month.

        We did away with our allowances (always meant to be temporary, just haven’t picked it back up yet) when we bought our home, around this time last year, because we wanted time to adjust to the mortgage payment and to save up for house repairs, but you know what? I think we spend MORE now on personal things than we did before, because we don’t have that set allowance.

        • carrie

          “I think we spend MORE now on personal things…” This right here is why I think I should push for a joint account and then have allowances (what’s a better word? I feel like I’m a kid again waiting for my $10 on the stairs from my parents – haha). Because we definitely spend more money on stupid crap than we should. Having an allowance will force us to budget better, make sure we’re saving every month, etc. I unfortunately operate on the if-I-don’t-see-it-then-it-can’t-be-bad principle a lot b/c money scares me. These conversations have been SO helpful today. Thanks for all the insight, ladies.

          • librobot

            My parents do this. They call their personal account their “slush funds”.

    • LAS

      I totally agree. We recently merged finances and it has given us so much freedom. Before there was always a running tally in my head of “you paid last time, so I’ll pay this time.” It was exhausting and only worked to make each of us feel guilty when it seemed like one person was paying more. Joint Checking has been such a blessing. We both contribute what we can- no guilt trips, no tallys. And, guess what! All our bills get paid and no one feels guilty when we go out to dinner. Score!

      • Totally agree that merging the money is very liberating! Also that individual “allowances” work for personal fun stuff. My husband and I have been doing this for over 40 (eek!) years and, ya know, it works just fine — no guilt involved! I’m the financial gatekeeper (like my mother was) and that also works just fine. I feel that we are stronger, our marriage, our lives are stronger as a unit.

        Yes, “Pants Optional” t-shirts! (maybe that didn’t come out quite right?!)

      • We’ve got to the point where we joke about who’s turn it is to pick up the tab at restaurants. Because all of our money is joint, it matters not one wit, but it can still be fun. ‘It’s my turn, I insist’ and the like.

        • Haha we have joint accounts too, but I almost always insist on “paying” for dinner, especially when the waiter/waitress hands the bill to Donnie. I smugly grab it out of his hand and say, “I’m paying, dahhling. This one’s on me.”

          • I do the EXACT same thing . . . only I grab for it immediately, while the server is still there.

            Himself rolls his eyes.

      • Liz

        We talked about merging finances for months, MONTHS before we did it. It ultimately came down to me having a stress breakdown, “We’re making all of our emotional decisions as a baby family but we treat our finances like roommates.”

        That was the break through moment. Now, everything goes into one pot that we use to pay our bills and make deposits into savings. After that, we get the SAME amount of “fun money” in cash to suit our whims. Shoot-’em-up movie and gummi bears for him? Done. Friday Night Drinking Club for me? Done.

        My resentment over managing our cash flow is gone. We’re totally in this together.

        • “We’re making all of our emotional decisions as a baby family but we treat our finances like roommates.”

          Exactly, exactly a thousand times exactly! Both of us are resisting the financial merge, for opposite reasons. I spend, and dammit don’t tell me not to, and he’s terrified of losing control over the pinching of every penny. But (to me) it feels like not being married for me to write him a check for my half of the mortgage and utilities, blah blah blah. PLUS I get irritated b/c I’m the one that buys all the groceries. We’ve been talking about it a lot. We get married in 44 days, and we’re not planning on joining accounts until after that. But damn it drives me crazy.

          The current plan is to each contribute the same percentage of our paychecks to a joint account, from which we pay all bills and buy food/eat out, etc. The rest will remain ours to blow or save.

          • MDBethann

            Whitney, we do something similar to what you are planning to do. We get married (I think) the same weekend you do, but we bought a house together 2 years ago and created a joint account at that time to pay the mortgage, utilities, home repairs, etc.. We contribute equally to that joint account and, to help build up savings, any tax refunds go into that account. However, we’ve each maintained our separate credit cards and bank accounts too. We each charge different things for our baby family and just pay for it out of our personal accounts (eating out, movies, groceries, etc). We seldom worry about who paid for what, figuring it comes out in the wash at the end of the day. He was married before & his ex had credit card issues that impacted him financially, so it is a sensitive topic for him and we’re treading slowly. He says one of the things he loves about me is that I’m frugal and thrifty, so I figure we’ll eventually merge everything when the bad memories are in the distant past.

    • Jessica

      I think there definitely is still societal pressure for men to “provide” for their family. My husband is vastly underemployed (after months of unemployment) and I make about double what he does. Our finances have been joined since we got engaged, but every so often the pressure of not being the bread winner really gets to him.

      What I find interesting is among my family and friends only one couple has a male breadwinner.

    • Caroline

      There so is. I know my partner feels huge amounts of it . Even assuming that we are equals and each may earn more money or less money or no money at points in time, he really struggles with the idea of even marrying me before he can Provide (yes it deserves caps). Which to him really means can support us both on one income. It doesn’t mean he can/should be the only one working, but he feels a very strong need to provide. Which is difficult, because we’re both nearing being ready to get married, except for TNT bit, which he feels strongly as an external pressure, but we are nowhere near acheiving.

    • Chiara

      Can we please get T-Shirts that say “No Pants Required”!?

  • Fuck yeah Meg.

    Partners not having equal amounts of fun money really grates me. And anything that’s not totally equal power in a marriage pisses me off. “Sometimes my partner treats me”- are you freaking kidding me??

    • That’s not say you shouldn’t give each other gifts. But not pooling your money for bills and savings? Those power dynamics creep me right out.

  • anonymous


    As a woman who makes considerably more than her husband, my experience turns this around a little. I wanted to pool our incomes so that he wouldn’t feel broke or less or weird when “my” income was paying household bills. And I didn’t want to be able to shop wherever and do whatever while he was living a different more frugal lifestyle. By pooling, I feel like we’re equal. What’s mine is his, what’s his is mine, we’re both contributing (financially and otherwise) to the household and marriage as much as we can and I’d rather not track who is contributing what or feel like we’re living side by side but not together. I bet many men or other women who make more than their partners feel similarly

    • This is my situation too (I earn significantly more than my husband at this particular point in time), and combining finances was one of the best things we could have done for our relationship. Could not agree with this post more.

      • Liz

        I was in the same situation at the beginning of marriage, and since then, the situation has flopped. Especially when things are on that kind of see-saw and role of “breadwinner” is constantly shifting, it makes sense to just have all money as “ours.”

        Also, it allows us to be generous to one another, no matter whose money it is. Because it’s “our” money (even though Josh is earning it), I get to say, “Babe, go buy yourself that book you wanted…” and it’s magnanimous of me even though technically I didn’t earn that money he’s going to spend.

    • Margo

      This is totally us, too. Right now I make 5 times as much as my guy, and even when/if he ceases being underemployed (and with the vagaries of the job market you never really know, do you?), I’ll probably still make twice as much just because of the industry I’m in versus the industry he’s in. When I took my current job we just said, f-it and pooled everything, and it has made our lives so much simpler. Budgeting, saving and paying regular bills became simple math rather than crazy multiple stakeholder calculus. Plus these types of conversations all became about “us” rather than about “him” and “me”, which I think makes our relationship stronger.

      But I wonder sometimes if the gender role reversal will ever come back to bite us. We talk about it and I make sure to make it clear that monetary contributions are not the only household contributions, but sometimes he feels bad for not contributing more money and sometimes I feel a bit martyred, especially when I’m working crazy hours. That’s another deal altogether :)

    • JEM

      Great points! My fiance and I are in an interesting situation: He is formally unemployed (although has a side business to bring in income) and I have a full time job. I also have just under six figures of student debt. My fiance and I do not pool our money. We do not have a shared account. He pays our rent and bills, I buy all supplies/groceries/items to keep our home running. He manages our household finances and we also each manage our individual finances. It works. Things are split, probably not evenly, but we are each comfortable with this arrangement.

  • Judie

    I am overjoyed that you posted this entry. I’ve read so many couples rationalize why they are keeping finances *very* separate without considering the underlying reasons for their decision. One bride wrote: “I want to be surprised when he gets me a gift, so we will have different accounts.” When we married, I told my spouse “but I have tons of school loans,” and he replied along the lines of “well, they are mine now too.” I’ve always earned more income than my partner, but he probably brings more emotional stability to our bond. Walking the dogs at night is more annoying to do than my job. So-there-we’re-even. If that appears silly, it is because it is ridiculous. We do what needs to be done as efficiently as possible to enjoy each other and life.

    • “We do what needs to be done as efficiently as possible to enjoy each other and life.”

      Amen to that. If both partners can feel comfortable accomplishing life tasks in some combination–whether it’s finances or walking the dog or cleaning the bathroom–it doesn’t matter who “should” be doing what. Finding a balance that’s right for you is all that matters.

    • meg

      I’ve detailed our account system before. We do have separate accounts (with equal amounts in them) so we can buy each other gifts, and just generally buy our own stuff without asking permission.

      • I hear about this system from a lot of people, and I understand why it’s nice to have separate accounts when buying gifts. What I don’t understand is why having a totally joint account means you have to ask permission to buy things. We have one checking account, and we both “just generally buy our own stuff without asking permission” too!

        Several commenters used the words “guilt-free spending” and gave examples of what they and their partners use this money for. Why does having a joint account make people feel guilty about going to a movie or a girls’ night out or buying shoes?

        It’s definitely possible to have totally joint accounts and still make as many “fun” purchases as you’d like!

        • Well, maybe “permission” isn’t the best word for the situation, at least in our case — purchases from our joint account are purchases that affect us both, and take away money that could be used otherwise. So we just check in with each other, sometimes with a little healthy debate/devil’s advocate, just to make absolutely sure that it’s a purchase worth making. Our personal accounts need absolutely no discussion, no justification.

          And for us, those personal accounts help us keep our frivolous, fun expenses budgeted. Works out pretty well for us.

        • I think the “permission” is the wrong way of looking at it. Consulting one another on luxury or extras spending matters more when budgets are a little tight. We got really ambitious on paying off some debt which didn’t leave us a ton extra so as things have loosened up so have we when it comes to buying those items without discussing them.

        • We do the same. I think I may have mentioned it when commenting on another money’n’marriage post, but we have a joint checking account and a joint credit card. All of the day-to-day stuff comes out of there. (Maybe it’s also a little easier for us as well because we each still have an account in our home countries and have the freedom to use them if we really had to do so.) At first I was a little hesitant, especially because I’m a bit – ah – thriftier than he is, and I was worried about the cash flow. But you know, it evens out for us. He may spend more often, but I spend more at once. Or whatever. I never feel guilty about buying something, and I’d bet a “No Pants Required” t-shirt that he never has either.

          We also have a price limit, and if one of us wants to make a purchase over that limit, we have to consult the other. Keeps things from getting out of hand. But to be honest, if we’re making a large purchase, it’s not impulsive and we both already know about it. Point is, as someone else said, it all comes out in the wash.

    • Marina

      “When we married, I told my spouse “but I have tons of school loans,” and he replied along the lines of “well, they are mine now too.””

      That’s pretty much exactly what I told my partner. It benefited me to pay off his loans quicker, because then both of us could start saving for our joint goals.

  • Msimon

    BRAH. VO. As always, Meg, I am inspired and in awe of your insights, you just always get it so right! I’ve been reading your blog since early 2009 and rarely comment but for some reason, this post made me want to come out of the woodwork and say ‘Thanks’ for all that you do, I heart APW (even though my wedding was almost two years ago!)

  • One More Sara

    my feyonce asked me the other day if i was going to stop reading wedding blogs after the wedding… to which i replied, HELL NO!! and this is exactly why. thanks meg :)

    • carrie

      Feyonce. You win the internet today.

  • PA

    “But I don’t think those woman fought and sacrificed so I would judge myself based on how much money I brought into my marriage, or upend the mini-Socialism of the family, or feel that I had to work outside the home to be a valued partner. F*ck no. They fought for my RIGHT to wear pants, not for me to be REQUIRED to wear pants.”

    This. SO much. I sometimes catch myself falling into the logical fallacy that, because the feminists of other generations were fighting for my ability to choose to do certain things, I’m somehow failing by not doing ALLof those things. At once. While juggling.

    Also, one of the scariest things about relationships is letting someone else help you, and I think it’s scary no matter the gender dynamics of the relationship. What I think we all grasp (and then forget, and then re-learn, and then forget again … ) is that in a healthy relationship, there are times when one partner needs help (or both do), and that between the two of you it’s far easier to pick up and move forward. Long way of saying, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

    • Caroline

      I read that as “the whole is greater than the sum of the pants.” which actually kind of made sense in this discussion. I swear, around here objects take on layers of new meanings. Ducks, pants, artichokes… I love it.

      • PA

        I will now no longer be able to say that without laughing. *grins*

        New t-shirt? “A Practical Wedding: Ducks, Pants, and Artichokes”

        • Caroline

          I like it. I think we need an entire line of Apw shirts. I must admit, “a practical wedding: ducks, pants, and artichokes” makes makes me picture a wedding with ducks walking down the aisle, both people in pants, and serving artichokes. The ducks walking down the aisle strike me as less than practical in most situations. Ducks being wily, I feel it would be difficult to convince them to walk down the aisle in an orderly fashion.

          • Izzie

            I actually did have ducks walking down my aisle so I’ve got that bit covered…
            No, they weren’t terribly orderly but did raise a few smiles so worth it I think…

  • Lizzie

    We combined finances without question when we got married and it was a relief. Our living-together-before-marriage stage was actually more explicitly socialist – we each paid a proportion of the rent that matched our respective salaries. But here’s why I think it was really easy for me: because at the time I was making significantly more than my husband. So there was no guilt or worry on my part about whether or not I could provide for myself. Emotionally, that would have been really really hard for me to deal with. He had moments of worry along the same lines, but I could both understand his feelings and tell him why it didn’t matter, because I was outside the grip of that worry.

    Since then, I’ve quit my job, and for the past couple months I haven’t made any financial contributions. I won’t say that I’m 100% comfortable with that, but for the most part it’s surprisingly easy to adjust our budgets and let him carry that particular weight for now because of our established understanding about it all. And I absolutely would not have had the confidence or support system in place to get myself out of a job that was not at all healthy for me without that.

  • goodheart

    i’d like to exactly the whole post! this week has been powerful for me to read since i am currently unemployed and feel like all i do is spend, spend, spend (or run errands to return stuff i bought on impulse…). love the concept of a marriage as mini-socialism, and as someone who grew up in a socialist country, this really resonates!

  • Molly

    Love this post.

    Also, I find that once you start thinking critically about work, how much you get paid often does not reflect how hard you work or what the value of your work is. We all know this about parenting — that it’s the most highly underpaid job in the world — but this inequity is also true in traditional go-to-the-office-in-the-morning-come-home-at-night jobs. Society at large works very hard to make us all believe that our value and the value of our work is determined by the size of our paycheck. This is a very calculated move by the establishment, and it is the reason the big banking system can fail hard and we all see corporate execs taking home yacht-sized bonuses and sigh and think, “well, that’s just the way it is” (which, of course, is exactly what they want us to think). I don’t see any need to perpetuate that myth in our homes and marriages. I make far more than my wife does, but I don’t think there would be any doubt by a panel of independent arbiters that she works far harder and does much more valuable work than I do. We have completely joint finances, which I feel strengthens both our marriage and our individuality, and helps us to remember that we’re not defined by our individual paychecks. Also, it just frees us up to think about more important things than money and its perceived value.

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      Love this post, love this comment. Even without kids, I feel like I am aaaalways working. My graduate student husband has a ton more free time, but he works a lot too. So, should he “get” less than me? Seems unfair, and runs the risk of counting out pennies to make sure no one is given any injustice! Too much complicatedness for me, frankly.

    • Liz

      “I don’t see any need to perpetuate that myth in our homes and marriages.”

      SO.MUCH.THIS. (I Exactly’d you but felt you deserved a comment high-five too.)

    • mecmec

      Gosh this stuff is so great to hear. I was recently told by a friend that I was “insane” for having a joint checking account with my partner, who makes less than I do, and that she would never pool her money with her partner even if they were married for 30 years (she’s a corporate lawyer, he’s a freelance graphic designer). It really bummed me out. But as anyone in the arts or a creative field (or academia…or child rearing…) knows, money =/= value. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Meg, thanks for this!

    Learning interdependence- especially in the financial realm- has been one of the great joys (and challenges) of marriage so far for me. It’s been so fun to cheer for our team efforts! I also got a little queasy when we threw finances together. I was nervous about my debt, and worried because our attitudes about money were so different (I was the budgeter, he wasn’t so much). It’s all provided I great opportunity for us to get financially stronger together, to communicate more, and to set some pretty exciting future goals.

  • Jess

    I appreciate this post, but–my husband and I keep our finances relatively separate, and I don’t see a problem with it. We get paid into separate accounts, and contribute an amount proportional to what we earn to a joint account to pay bills. We do also maintain joint savings, which we contribute to more equally.

    Part of the reason why I prefer separate finances is because, as a woman, I want to protect myself financially when women are traditionally financially vulnerable in marriage. I came into our marriage with more money saved, he has student loan debt and I do not, he has family members who need financial help (although I do contribute to this more now that we’re married than I did before).

    This doesn’t mean that one of us won’t jump in 100% to help the other if situations change or crisis strikes. But you know what? My husband’s student loans that he took on years before we met are not my student loans. The financial decisions my husband made before we were married are not my decisions. I certainly do not feel like my marriage is weakened or that we care about each other less because of it.

    • This is what my wife and I do (and have done since we moved in together in 2008) – we have a joint checking, which gets 50% of our take home pay for expenses (groceries, bills, rent, dinners), and the rest goes into savings and personal accounts for other things (student loan bills, clothes, etc…). We have joint savings too, and again, we contribute equal percentages. It works pretty well, though sometimes there’s a ‘ok, who’s paying for this’ feeling.

      • Karen

        My concern with treating each other’s debts as totally separate is the long term. While one partner is paying off loans or credit card debt, that money isn’t going into retirement, a down payment on a house, travel funds or a cash cushion. If both people worked together to pay it off, it could get done sooner and payments into other accounts could happen sooner.

        I want a future with my partner for the rest of my life, which I am very serious about. That includes taking on things that are not “mine” but if I want a life together that includes travel, there’s no point in me being in a better financial position than her. We must both be on the same team (sometimes I want to get us team jerseys!), to make this happen. I believe in the long haul and equality.

        As to women who want to maintain their own financial independence for the what ifs of life, here’s an agreement I propose (from couple friends at church who fostered and adopted many children over the years): whoever wants to leave has to take the kids. :-) You might not have kids yet but come up with some other agreement that says if one wants to leave, how things will be settled out. Nolo has “living together agreements” on their site that are useful for this. I know that marriage is beyond living together but at least it provides a framework for discussing exactly how you’re going to work things out should your union come to an end.

        • Yes, so much. Entirely. We’re in it for the long haul, and that means I get no benefit out of her giving me cash for rent and then putting other necessities on a card when the rent could just come out of ‘my’ income.

        • Nicole

          And think about how much more money your husband is paying in the longterm because the debt isn’t yours together. Really. Go grab a card or loan calculator and input the interest and see how much money would be available in the future by paying off the loans faster, now. Money for a downpayment, for kids, for travel… for whatever you want.

          Paying loans off just a few years early will save you thousands of dollars. That’s a good thing for everyone involved.

        • HH

          Yes to team jerseys!

          I definitely just started designing these for my partner and me in my head!

          Love it!

    • Carolyn

      I think I’ve seen the sadder side of this, which is why I just can’t jump on board with separate finances. My mom had student debts and credit card debts. She was still in school when she married my (much older) dad. She made a few rookie mistakes, and a few acts of generosity to family backfired on her. I think to this day, it hurts her that my dad was/still is so protective of “his” versus “hers” funds. I think, too, that my mom would have learned better how to manage “her” money if my dad had been more supportive financially (supportive, as opposed to enabling).

      I’m not knocking your system– I’m sure you are choosing what is best for you. I just wanted to warn you of the pitfalls I have seen. I hope my parents’ mistakes help someone!

      • Jess

        Keeping finances in separate accounts doesn’t have to = not discussing your joint finances, at all. My husband and I have our separate accounts, but they are not hidden. We both see exactly what goes in and out of the other’s “individual” account. Having your finances in separate or joint accounts does not preclude one person making bad decisions without consulting the other, nor does it preclude both of you being knowledgeable and involved with the family finances.

        I’m puzzled by what seems like judgment at people who decide to keep finances separate or quasi-separate in a marriage in these comments (Carolyn, this is not directed at you personally–just a general comment about the thread!). There are many, many, many circumstances that fall in between mingling money 100% and having completely separate finances that the other one knows nothing about a la roommates, and many, many, many reasons that may motivate a couple to do so. A couple can choose anything along the spectrum and it does not make them more or less committed to being in their marriage for the long haul.

    • Rose

      I’m on the same page. Lizzie above describes as more explicitly socialist a system where they each contributed to their rent in proportion to their joint incomes. My husband and I do the same thing: we budget our rent, food, travel, everything joint, and put the right amount into a joint account to pay for those things with. Right now that means I’m paying 2/3 of our expenses; someday it may mean I’m paying none. But once we’ve done that, the rest is ours to do with what we please, including paying our vastly different levels of student loans (which contributed to the salaries we have now). I love the extent to which we have joined finances, because it does eliminate the messiness of splitting stuff, the way we did when we were dating, but that doesn’t mean we don’t each deserve to have control over what we don’t need right now to support our lifestile. And you better believe our pre-nup makes sure what’s his is his and what’s mine is mine.

      My husband’s response when I sent him the post: “woah, that article is all like, fuck being practical, I just want the romantic marriage crap.”

      • Lizzie

        Reading this post, I kept thinking about the scene in the movie Frida where Frida and Diego have reached an equilibrium where their marriage works out because they have completely separate houses next to each other. My initial reaction was – wait, doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of getting married? But the movie does a lovely job of making you see that love and partnerships don’t all look the same. So like I said, throwing out the explicit socialism for who-cares-where-the-money-came-from-it’s-ours was liberating – and thus practical – for us, but it probable also makes it easier that neither of us buys much stuff in the first place. If we wanted to make more purchases that were just for one of us or the other, we’d have to do a lot more talking, and it might not work as well.

      • I disagree; I think this article is *very* practical. It is practical to pool your resources so that you can pay down student loan faster, together, and save up faster, together.

        That being said, it sounds like you guys have a pretty good system worked out; you’re pooling your resources to pay for shared expenses together. I think the point here is that so many couples are keeping separate what’s actually, legally, common property, and they’d be better off (financially, and relationship-wise) sharing their financial lives and having the “big picture” of their family finances.

      • Vee

        “My husband’s response when I sent him the post: “woah, that article is all like, fuck being practical, I just want the romantic marriage crap.””

        I think, perhaps, for some of us – it is more practical to pool the finances. Maybe it’s a matter of salary? For myself and my husband, we’re not exactly in the upper middle class range or anything. It makes sense for us to pool our resources and do things together. He has student loan debt, I have student loan debt, and outside of that, our responsibilities are basically the same. And in the grand scheme of things, our salaries are relatively close as well, mine being only slightly higher. Every couple is different, thereby having a different version of what ‘practical’ looks like. I’m glad you have a way that works for you, but believe me, combining money was not about romanticism for us!

      • Zen

        What works for you is what works for you, but who’s to say you can’t be romantic *and* practical at the same time?

    • meg

      “I came into our marriage with more money saved, he has student loan debt and I do not, he has family members who need financial help”

      It’s interesting. We’re talking about this issue tomorrow, but normally you’re not protected and instead living a bit of a legal fiction, unless you have a pre-nup. In most states all assets would be pooled in a divorce proceeding and split. If that’s NOT the case in yours though, this sounds smart. Student loan debt, by the way, ALWAYS stays with the person. We’re both paying my husband’s down, since we feel it’s joint responsibility. But if we ever divorced (god forbid) the remaining debt would attach to him, not me.

      • meg

        ACTUALLY, after checking with the lawyer husband, if you jump through the legal hoops and don’t co-mingal pre-existing funds in any way over the course of a marriage, they are excluded from community property. For the record though, you could still have joint finances, but keep a chunk of savings separate. Anyway, we’re talking about THESE ideas tomorrow at length.

        • LAS

          The law can be very tricky around these issues. Community property states are in the minority, and common law marital property states vary widely. I live in Illinois where we have a statute regarding commingling and transmutation of assets. In Illinois, if property (money) that would be considered “marital” is put into an estate (bank account) that is considered separate, that marital property can be transmuted into separate property. This means, essentially, that wages and salaries earned during the course of a marriage that would normally be considered marital property could be classified as separate property if regularly desposited into a separate checking account that existed prior to the marriage.

          This means that for partner may be unwittingly converting their marital property into separate property by allowing their salary to continue to be deposited into a separate account after the marriage. While this becomes complicated by a “right to reimbursement” in limited circumstances, it could still leave a spouse unprotected.

          This is why I strongly believe that all couples should read, figure out, and talk about the property laws in their state prior to marriage. It is important not to make assumptions about how property will be classified until you understand the laws of your state.

          • meg

            YES to this. And that was my overall point with this comment (and partially with this post). I think a lot of us have the idea that if we keep the money separate, it’s ours. But that’s not the case. You can go through tons of inequality in your marriage, not having the same amount of spending money to keep things separate… and then, if you get divorced, find out that low and behold, all the money was both of yours all along, legally. All that stuff you were doing was a legal fiction.

            Which means EVERYONE should understand marital law. It’s the most binding and powerful contract you will ever sign, and most people don’t read it. And if you need to protect yourself with a pre-nup, get a pre-nup (discussion coming tomorrow). Because you usually can’t fake a pre-nup after the fact, by not pooling assets.

          • In Tennessee, funds can be transmuted from separate to marital, but I have never seen it done in reverse– depositing “marital” funds into what you thought was your “separate” bank account could just make those separate funds a part of the marital pie, rather than the reverse.


        • This really depends on what state you’re in. California is a liberal state in terms of marriage/divorce laws. In a lot of states, there’s very little you can do to keep things as non-marital property.

          But I totally agree with you that many people live a legal fiction when they think that “my” checking account is really mine. A lot of people don’t figure out that this isn’t what the law says until it’s too late.

          • meg

            Oh, I wouldn’t argue California’s liberal. As a community property state, good luck arguing you have separate assets!

        • Thanks for the clarification! I really didn’t want to dust off my Family Law notes so I could write this comment but I felt COMPELLED. I’m so glad it’s already here.

  • Ann

    “They fought for my RIGHT to wear pants, not for me to be REQUIRED to wear pants.”

    THANK YOU!!!

    I feel like this is what I’ve been trying to tell my “feminist” friends for years. That just because women fought for our rights to do everything men can do doesn’t mean we have to do all of those things. That it doesn’t make me a bad person/woman/feminist when I decide not to work full-time because I have no desire to be Big Fancy Careerwomen and get more joy out of taking care of my homeand (eventually) children.

    And a big thank you for the reminder that I don’t have to feel guilty when my husband is making significantly more money than me while I’m the one that brought in the massive student loan debts. Thank goodnees he understands this, too.

    • “And a big thank you for the reminder that I don’t have to feel guilty when my husband is making significantly more money than me while I’m the one that brought in the massive student loan debts.”

      Yes yes yes yes yes. I’m finishing up law school, which means six figures of debt, while my fiancé is student loan-free. I felt like I was only bringing bad money things while he contributed all good money things, but he knew what he was getting into when he decided to ask me to marry him, and he openly acknowledges that he supports my career which means taking on my debt.

      • Lturtle

        The way I see it, educational debt is an investment you make in your future. When you choose to marry someone it becomes their future too. It totally makes sense to me to pool resources and view student loans as just one more expense of the baby family.

        • Katie in DC

          I wish I could see it that way. I graduated law school last year, decent gpa, lots of good resume experience, and I passed the bar exam. I’m still not employed as an attorney. I see every day the oversaturation of the legal market, and to be honest sometimes (most of the time?) it feels like I’m never going to find a job that makes the law school debt worth it. For me, my student loan debt feels like a mortgage on our future, not an investment in it.

          • Lturtle

            Well, in my opinion a mortgage is also an investment in your future just in a more concrete way. Obviously this is a difficult time to be starting a career, but your future is not just this year or next. It is, hopefully, the next 50+ years. And the education that you borrowed to pay for can be an asset wherever life takes you.
            Not meaning to pick a fight, or put down anyone else’s POV. Just my thoughts on the matter.
            Our plan was that my husband would work while I finished my degree, and then I would be the breadwinner while he went to grad school. Taking turns supporting each other, but both accruing debt as well. Which would be a joint responsibility to repay. But then I got sick. Now I am disabled and stay home full time, whereas he is the sole moneymaker and probably always will be. It has been a difficult transition for both of us. He says that it’s easier for him not to resent me staying home because he knows that I would support him if I could and it was needed. I feel that the only way we’ve come through this as well as we have is that we already had an agreement in place that we would each care for and support each other, including financially, before we even got married.

      • Same. Here. Exactly. But switched. :)

        It’s been said already, but I’d love to hear the male perspective on this; replace “feminism” with “masculinity” in this article and it doesn’t quite work, but I think ya’ll know what I’m getting at.

  • AMEN sister.

  • M

    I’m getting married in October, and am in the depths of financial planning discussions. There is definitely a gut instinct–a self-protection instinct, to keep the money separate. I think it is about fear, about trust. In the end, we want merge the finances, and this is what we will do. We recognize that a marriage is about building a life together–and our finances are part of that. One household, one plan, one goal.

    And when we start in on the money talks, we realize our trust issues are really deeper than that. Where you spend your money reflects what you value, and looking at the different ways we spend our money shows how we each find different things important. For example, I spend a lot of money visiting my friends. This drives my partner crazy. He just doesn’t value that the same way I do, and he has a hard time understanding how I feel about my friends, and why I keep in touch with so many people. Merging our finances means he has to trust that I’ll spend this money is a responsible way (that I won’t take 10 trips a year), and it means I have to trust him to understand and respect my needs.

    It is hard to start out the money talks, but once we work through an issue, I feel like we are a TEAM, and have a stronger partnership.

    • EM

      This is such a good point, M! I really like the idea that there are two intermingled issues at play here: 1)the to-combine-or-not-to-combine question, and then 2)the conflict and trust issues that can brought up by that decision.

      It sounds as though, in your case, having the first conversation actually facilitated the second — which is such a good thing! Conflict about money is incredibly hard to talk about — not just with our partners, but with our other support networks. I guess it’s partly because money is so hard to talk about. I keep thinking back to earlier this week, when Meg talked about comparing household budgets — using real numbers — with a girlfriend. I’ve been feeling kind of jealous ever since then. Meg, any chance of APW setting up a thread to facilitate this, kind of like the one you did for wedding budgets?

  • GREAT post. :D And there are some great comments, too.

    My wife and I actually pooled our finances BEFORE we got married, because I was her joint signer when she opened an account at the same bank as me. Then, I handled all our bills (rent, groceries, utilities, and stuff like shopping, eating out, etc.) I still had a separate account from before she opened her account, but she had all the info to get money from it if she needed to. Then, we moved banks last year and now we only have joint accounts.

    • Karen

      Yes, sometimes it takes a while to evolve and it can start earlier than the actual wedding date. I was appalled recently when I read an article about combining finances where the writer said that you begin talking about finances when you get engaged. I totally disagree; money conversations should begin long before then. Money is a major compatability issue.

  • this! except that i will be celebrating feminism by wearing a dress =)

    as the current “breadwinner” in our household, i agree with pretty much all of this. except the judgement about treating – as far as i’m concerned “treats” and gifts are the same thing, and there’s nothing unsettling about spouses giving gifts (even unequally).

    we began pooling our finances out of practicality, and they have slowly, naturally become more and more pooled. obviously, now that we have only one earner in the house, they are pretty completely combined (though we both have personal accounts as well because we both have personal money…even though our personal spending money comes out of the joint pot initially. it’s just that i find separate accounts for separate purposes to be a great budgeting tool.)

  • rys

    I think this is a really fascinating post, and I’m still mulling over the ideas within it. I’m not totally sure where I stand — as a single reader of this site, it’s not an issue I’m facing imminently — but there were 2 thoughts that kept nagging at me as I read.

    1) There’s more than just feminist principles at stake in this discussion. There’s a real history of discrimination — women were not allowed to open credit cards in their names until the mid-1970s. They had to be tied to their partner — who am I kidding, their husband. So my mother, who was working, couldn’t get a credit card in her name but had to do so in my father’s name, even though he was in school and had much less money when they first married. I don’t think this obviates the importance of shared finances, but it does make me pause. Too few people realize the history of credit discrimination, and there is something (pragmatic) to be said for building individual credit histories and taking advantage of the opportunity to hold finances independently.

    2) Point 1 notwithstanding, I’m still thinking through your very important argument that money is over-valued and not placed in the total context of how it’s used, who creates it, who sustains a home, etc. But I wonder if this lets women and men off the hook a bit, when it comes to home-sustaining and child-care. I hear way too many women in my close circle of feminist-identified friends say that they are working part-time when they have kids b/c their spouses make more money so it would be silly for their spouse to work full time and not them. (Yes, I’m taking the desire to be a full- or part-time or whatever-percentage child caregiver out of the equation because, by the same logic Meg gives above, the reasons proffered to me are about money and “rational” financial decisions. I realize there are other pieces to the puzzle.) So it seems like the over-valuation of money qua money also perpetuates women staying at home as the primary caregivers to children even if they love their work, they want to work, they think working mothers are important role models. And this bothers me tremendously, especially as I watch my well-educated, driven friends “lean back,” in the words of Sheryl Sandberg. In this sense, it’s not just overvaluing money but overvaluing where/who it comes from that then keeps women in the position of claiming they “ought” to stay home for rational, financial reasons rather than leaning in, pushing forward, and modeling working mothers for their kids. At the same time, this over-valuation of money prevents men from going to their bosses and asking to work 75% time or leave at 5 pm or take a sick day b/c their kid is sick and a whole host of other things that have, for the most part, become the default of women (yes, this isn’t always true and yes, this is heteronormative).

    I don’t know where this leaves me, other than with a lot to think about. But I think both of these considerations — which may well work against one another — complicate the arguments about the pooling of financial and other resources.

    • Lethe

      Excellent point, and I was wondering when someone would mention credit – my own mother tried to take out a credit card in her name at 45 years old and realized, belatedly, that because hers and my father’s finances had been completely combined since her early 20s, she had no independent credit history at all. She was denied for the card. It was a big wake-up call as to how difficult things would be if, god forbid, something happened to my dad, or if my mom ended up divorced against her will.

      It’s really really important for women to take the necessary steps to build an independent credit history. Hopefully you will never need it, but you never know.

      • Eva

        Yes, my parents DID get divorced three years ago after thirty years of marriage. They’d always had pooled finances, and my *mother* had always been the sole breadwinner. And when they got divorced, she couldn’t get a credit card in her own name because she had no “credit history.” The assumption was that allllllllll of the credit history was my dad’s. And not just the credit cards — the cars, the house, everything.

        So. Fucked. Up.

    • meg

      Ah yes, all this too. But that’s a different post…

    • Anna

      When my father opened his own business a lot of my parents larger assets: homes, investment accounts, vehicles, etc were transferred to mine or my Moms name for liability reasons.

      Later when my Dad went to open a pretty basic account in his name he was denied because he had no collateral. He was kinda pissed. My Mom and I thought it was pretty funny!

      • Not Sarah

        My parents are in a similar situation and I find it quite amusing. Technically if my parents were to get divorced, my mom would be the one who could freeze all of the accounts and walk away with the house quite easily. So my dad was the breadwinner, but my mom was the one with all of the assets, even the primary driver on the vehicle(s)!

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    “we can measure what we contribute to our partnerships in financial terms.”

    So.unsettling and I totally agree that this seems like an implicit assumption some people make when not combining money.

    I think most of us would find it a little reprehensible for a working partner to grant an “allowance” to a nonworking partner who stays home with children. Uuuuuh, 1950s, any one? That allowance is partially based on the idea that staying home with children is actually WORK and should be rewarded as such, which I think many people actually do agree with. So, to extend the argument — how does this making sure we all get “equitable” out-puts work? Since I make 1.4 what my husband makes, do I get extra money? But, he does the dishes… so… then what? It just starts to get complicated, and in the end I think that (for me at least) relationships can be healthier when both partners accept that they give unique things to the relationship and neither partner should be disadvantaged because they either don’t make as much money (non-profit worker married to high-flying lawyer anyone?) or don’t contribute as much to the maintenance of the home.

    That being said, I do have a separate checking account into which some of my “earnings” go, for things like lunches and coffee and books. But, that’s mostly so that I don’t feel like I have oversight for the purchasing of those things… and because our bank basically set up my account that way.

    • meg

      I do want to say what I said in the post! I think there are GOOD reasons some couples have for not combining money. I know some couples that don’t combine for various good reasons. So I don’t think this is ALWAYS the implicit thought process for not combining money. I think when it IS the implicit thought process (which seems to be often, given my APW research) it’s a bit problematic.

      • Umpteenth Sarah

        Of course. I was addressing the assumption by some people, and not the reasons of all — many people might have reasons I can’t even conceive of to keep money separate, and I’m really interested in what those might be. As someone (like yourself) who is an ardent feminist, I found myself somewhat surprised that I didn’t really care much about combining money (honestly, I think the ease of not doing all of the tallying and math just appealed to me, in that my job revolves around spreadsheets and I don’t want another one at home, ughhhh) and am very interested in the reasons other people use to keep money separate.

        Reasons based on THIS assumption, or following from it — those are what I find problematic.

        • A friend of mine is married to a neurosurgical resident. Obviously, he makes a ton more money than she (a postdoc) makes…he also has squillions of dollars in educational debt. She confided to me a while back that they have considered legally divorcing when they decide to have kids so that they will have assets in exclusively her name in case a lawsuit is ever brought against him in his surgical practice – liability insurance only protects them so far, and neurosurgery is not for the faint of heart – it can easily go badly even in the hands of the most competent surgeon.

          It seems patently absurd to me that they would need to go to such great lengths, but in a community property state, plus all the rest of the charming legal system in Texas, it is entirely possible for docs to be sued for their personal assets in addition to professional ones.

          • A friend of mine went to practice as a neurosurgeon in Texas (a few did, but this was the only one I was close to) and I had given him a few personal finance pointers but I had no *idea* that the legal risk was so much greater there!!

            Specifically that they didn’t separate professional and personal assets in liability cases – that’s just absolutely horrifying when I think about it because he’s got two kids and one requires a lot of specialized medical care.

  • Carolyn

    YES. I was also one of those people worried about combining finances. I have tons of student debt, he has none. He makes 3-4 times what I do per month. But the more we talked, the more I realized… my husband is GREAT at earning those dollars, but he can’t manage them AT ALL. On my measly salary with rent-sized debt payments, I still managed to have a few thousand saved in my emergency fund before we got married. He had nada.

    Combining finances has actually benefited HIM more than it has me. For once, his credit card is being paid off. Rent and other bills are paid on time. We have money on hand for emergency car repairs or appendicitis scares. And so on. We take out fun-money in cash once a month, so surprise flowers remain a surprise. Joint finances took a little work (and hair-pulling) to figure out, but it’s definitely worth trying!

    • Lana

      Slightly related but just thought of it: I can guarantee you that if one of our cars would die or we would have an appendicitis scare or whatever of the innumerable misfortunes that might happen, we would BOTH be tightening our belts and looking for ways to up our income…I wouldn’t just say, “Look, I already make more money than you. You better start picking up your slack and make up the difference here to fix this. I’ll see you in a few hours, I’m going shoe shopping.” Hell no.

    • This sounds so familiar! When I’d been dating David for maybe 8 months, we spent the afternoon filing his papers. (Being a grown up does have boring moments.) And I found his bank statements showing a large sum of cash sitting in a non-intrest bearing account and proceeded to go financial planner on him. Kind of forced him to get RRSPs (401K equivilant, I think) and switch banks and deal with his money better. Now I manage the finances, because I’m good at it. He makes a good chunk more, but I make sure that we’re being smart with our family money. He’s happy to only need to sign off on key decisions and I’m happy to have spreasheets and charts detailing our savings. Everyone wins.

  • Rowany

    There’s a Cracked article that really brought this home for me. A quick excerpt:
    “Pulling their weight.” That’s the problem.
    Don’t picture your relationship as two people pulling a wagon. It’s like two legs carrying a person.

    If you break a toe, your legs don’t have an argument about the fact that one of them is forcing you to limp. You just automatically change your stride and keep going.

    Or, you get into this bullshit math where you take home $500 a week and your girl or guy brings home $300. Your bills are $600. So, since you’re using everything in the house equally, you split the bills down the middle, $300 apiece. Now she has nothing, and you have $200 left over, which you hold up in front of her, flipping the bills past your nose and sniffing deeply. “Mmmmm … I sure do love the smell of sweet, sweet money. Bet you wish you had some.” ”

    From: 5 Ways You Know It’s Time to Get Married |

  • Hillori

    One thing I find missing from this post is the evolution of finances in the relationship. Finances do not need to be combined from the engagement or I-do’s but should be reevaluated from time-to-time throughout the marriage. For example, DINKs (Dual Income- No Kids) of similar earning potential, probably have little reason to combine finances. But if children come in to the picture, someone retuns to school, or life just plain-old happens– then the financial situation should be revisited.

    I do believe that finances should be ironed out before marriage, even if it is in a we’ll-check-in-in-six-months-to-see-how-everything-is-working scenerio. For richer, for poorer is a long time and likely, one or both of you will be financially carrying the other along the way. Nevertheless, there is no need to stress about combining accounts/not combining accounts if the situation works for BOTH partners. (Works=no guilt)

    • meg

      This is true, but this wasn’t a how to post (I’ve written those) but a more big picture piece. I would say that as DINKs, we have ever reason to combine finances. We’re contributing to a shared future, and we’re a family… exactly the same way we would be if we had kids.

      • We make fairly similar salaries (thank you federal grant) and have no kids, but because we have combined lives, we have combined finances.

        Also, you don’t know when DINKs might turn into SINKs. Layoffs, disability, injuries, illness: it’s not just kids that can knock down one person’s income. Marriage is a risk-sharing institution — its decline is one reason the inherited welfare state no longer covers people as effectively as it used to — and when you’re sharing risk, it makes a lot of sense to share your preparations for risk.

        • Alyssa

          Not to take away from a really important conversation (that I have nothing to contribute to but am LOVING the responses on) but these acronyms crack my sh*t up. We are currently DINKs, but I demand that after I poop out my kid that we become DICKs. (Dual Income, Cute Kid)

          • Oh, Alyssa. You crack me up.

          • Now I’m trying to figure out a way my girlfriend and I can be DIKEs….

          • Alyssa

            Dual Income, Kids? Eh…

            Dual Income, Kids Eventually?

          • Claire

            Love it!

        • meg

          This is so smart, and said better than I said it, “Marriage is a risk-sharing institution — its decline is one reason the inherited welfare state no longer covers people as effectively as it used to — and when you’re sharing risk, it makes a lot of sense to share your preparations for risk.”

          • My research is about risk-sharing and the welfare state, so I think about this all the time. When we combined finances I was like, “this is why married people have economic privilege! Look how much more efficiently we allocate our resources! When I run out of grad school funding or you lose your job or we have a kid, we can smooth our consumption by drawing on pooled savings!”

            I am a nerd.

    • Jo

      I was thinking about this too – the evolution issue.

      We’ve evolved to the point of shared finances over time and haven’t officially gotten married yet. We’ve evolved to the point of Common Law marriage too, but that’s another topic…

      Personally I can understand and respect why some people keep finances separate until engagement or marriage as a way to keep those phases of their relationship distinct. For us that didn’t make sense. Once we knew that we felt permanently committed to each other, making choices that required our financial co-dependence felt appropriate.

      For example, one night a few years ago now my husband came to me at his wits end about his job. We decided that his paycheck wasn’t worth his misery and he left it. I knew that we were fully committed to each other and that in the long-view of our life and relationship it was more important that he be happy and able to move forward with his career away from where he’d been working. So when the next month’s rent check came, I wrote it in full. And shortly thereafter we went to the bank and added him to my account. My savings allowed him to pursue his dreams and gave us the flexibility to make many other choices that followed. He was also much more pleasant to be around. ;-) And now it’s my turn to be unemployed and pursuing my dreams and we’ve learned how to support each other.

      Anyways, what you said: “For richer, for poorer is a long time and likely, one or both of you will be financially carrying the other along the way”:
      That’s exactly how our finances feel right now. We’ve both saved (me more than him), we’ve both earned (him more than me), we’ve both had debts.

    • Marina

      It was a major “aha!” moment for me when I realized that combining finances wasn’t a one-time decision but an evolving process. So one person has debt and the other doesn’t… that won’t always be true. There are so many things that can happen to finances… paying off debt, going back to school, taking a terrible job for the money, quitting a terrible job no matter how much it pays, staying home with kids, paying to put kids in daycare, getting fired, starting a business… What works at the beginning of your marriage probably won’t work all the way through when you think about it!

  • Becky2

    I totally agree, M, that it can be a big trust issue. My fiance and I have separate fun money accounts as well as joint checking and savings. I also completely agree that the spouse with the most money treating the other is just another way to hold that fact over someone’s head. As Meg said, that money is legally yours too, and allowing someone to decide that you deserve it sounds like an imbalance of power and control . You, male or female, have a right to it. I must also point out that if you’re waiting for the day when you can equally financially contribute to your household,that day may never come. Thanks to persistent pay inequality, women may always make less. Sad but true. Would it be better to operate as equals in a partnership, or long for the day you’ll “count ” as much as your spouse.

  • Sara C.

    Yes, yes, YES!

    As an engaged (and married in 2 months!) woman, I must say it is an utter relief to combine finances. As someone who has independently cared for themselves for the past 7 years (as many of you have as well!) I know that I can do it alone – but I don’t have to kill myself proving it anymore (thank you, moms!).

    But I really, REALLY can’t understate the POWER of combining finances – it’s your mini-socialism team v. World. All of a sudden, your combined savings/retiring/budgeting takes shape, there’s goals, and everything is propelling forward in an efficient manner. Sure – we could keep “my spending” money separate – but that really isn’t the most efficient way to propel our little team forward.

    Instead, we do 3 joint accounts: retirement/investments, general savings/big expenses (read: car maintenance fund), and general spending/household (Read: groceries & shoes). We divide up the oversight of them (he does investments, I do household, etc) but we have equal say in all of them.

    Because here’s the biggest kicker of all – where the “relief” comes from: to get it down to all joint accounts, there must be an incredible amount of trust & respect in your partner (sharing money is certainly more intimate than sharing a bed!). And working through each other’s aversions to joint accounts (which we did! and it was hard!) builds that trust, creates mutual respect, and is one of the best ways to forge your little mini-socialist (love that analogy!) team in the world. :-).

    • I completely agree about the importance of building trust and keeping the conversation about financial decisions shared, ongoing, and open. My fiancé and I decided to quit our jobs and take a year long road trip, we had a joint account for a couple years before that which gave us the power to see our shared savings and make goals together for how to spend our money. We never could have done that trip or have had it go as smoothly without having a joint account and trust in one another’s financial decision making.

    • TOTALLY 100% agree. We combined finances a bit at a time, starting before we got engaged, and now are totally joint. And after we got engaged, I quit my job and he supported the both of us for 7 months. And now we make almost the same amount and we talk about savings goals constantly.

      When money-sharing-versus-splitting conversations come up with friends, I usually feel like the odd one out, and I come away feeling like my partner and I are somehow closer. Because we’ve had the money fights. And we have to keep talking about this constantly. And talking about our individual and collective money goals makes us talk about everything. And sharing responsibility for savings means we REALLY have to consider the options and agree on constructive solutions.

      It makes us think harder about frivolous purchases, and we check with one another about them, but we still allow ourselves/each other to buy unnecessary things. With OUR money. I cannot even fathom being united in marriage but doing things differently with the money. It blows my mind.

      • Sara C.

        Exactly! I always feel more of the odd one out, too.

    • Amber

      I just have to say exactly, exactly, EXACTLY!!!

  • melissa

    Our financial situation has evolved. When my husband and I moved in together, he made $40k a year more than me. Everything was separate and all bills were split equally. You may not be surprised to learn that I was flat broke – always.

    Fast forward three years and I’ve closed the gap. He now makes $25k a year more than me. More importantly, all money goes into a joint account and equal amounts go into our individual accounts.

    I am not worth less in the marriage because I work in a field less highly compensated than computer science. Besides, I think it’s pretty clear that men still make more than women on average. We should perpetuate that in our homes as well? The couples I know who squabble the most about money are the ones who keep it separate and try to make everything “equal.”

    • meg

      “Besides, I think it’s pretty clear that men still make more than women on average. We should perpetuate that in our homes as well?” THIS. THIS THIS THIS.


      • Jo

        I make less than my husband because of the fields we’re in, not because of our merit. It’s not just the men-earn-more-than-women thing, I don’t think that our society appropriately values many careers (I think teachers and scientists who cure cancer don’t make enough and wall-street ceo’s make too much, but that’s just my opinion).
        In any case, when we work equally long hours and both do well in our fields, we see each other as equals, even if we’re not bringing in equal sums of money.

        • melissa

          Wall Street CEO’s make too much. The first sentence of the longest book that could ever be written.

        • Women also make less because we don’t ask for more! Women just don’t negotiate our salaries and raises as much as men do. This relates to the earlier discussion this week.

          • melissa

            So true! Since first hearing this, I’ve become a negotiator. I haven’t always gotten the money, but I never regret asking for it. I wish negotiating for more vacation time was more acceptable. There’s such a stigma over admitting I’d rather not be at work 49 out of 52 weeks a year.

          • Melissa — I think it’s totally acceptable. Especially if your employer isn’t giving you other things you’ve asked for (like money). I know a guy who negotiated getting an additional Friday a month off, for example.

            I also never regret it. It takes practice and can be like building a muscle, but over time, it just feels awesome. And empowering.

          • Replying to Danielle and Melissa:

            Yes, not only is there is problem that women don’t negotiate initial salaries and raise, there are studies that show that even the women who do negotiate are perceived badly. I do it anyway.

            Recently negotiated a salary bump (to go with a promotion that already included a nice bump), and then proceeded to ask for more vacation. :) I didn’t get the vacation but not for a really good reason. Still, it’s in their minds that with a smile, I’ll do an awesome job, I have expectations of X, Y, and Z for comp, and that includes an excellent salary and more vacation. Especially since they gave me *some* more money but not all of what I asked for. (I’m planning to share on my blog some of this later.)

            Then I came home to find out that I know outearn my spouse in base salary. So that’s new.

    • It is changing though! According to the recent Time Mag cover story, it was I believe 4/10 households where the wife outearned her husband.

      Also, “I am not worth less in the marriage because I work in a field less highly compensated than computer science.”


      Also, for the record, I don’t do more at home than my husband. We both spend about equal time on cleaning, cooking, and errand running. We also spend about equal time working and commuting (I often work a little less but I also have a forty minute commute so we’re home about the same amount of time.)

      To me, I think household chores should be split up based upon time, not how much bacon each partner is bringing in.

      • melissa

        The pay gap is definitely improving. I worked in financial services for eight god-awful years and I don’t see women catching up to men any time soon over there. Where I am now, I think things are pretty equal. I don’t have a huge problem with computer science geeks making more than financial services minions, per se. I do have a big problem with men and women in the same field not being equally compensated when the biggest reason seems to be the lack of invitations for the women into fantasy-everything leagues or onto the golf course.

    • Zen

      “The couples I know who squabble the most about money are the ones who keep it separate and try to make everything “equal.””

      This makes me think of a line in Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time — “alike and equal are not the same thing”. When the premise is already that both parties are coming from different places it makes no sense to treat them the same; that’s just perpetuating inequality.

  • Nora

    Yes. Just yes. For us, we are saving for a life together, and money (like it or not) is part of that life. And regardless of who has what debt going in, it ultimately financially impacts both parties, whether or not you see those debts getting paid.

    That’s not to say I don’t think there are other right answers for other people. I do think, no matter your choice, money is hard. And having conversations and working out what you bring financially, what you spend financially, and how you save together for the life you want is not always fun. Having the money in one pot has been a way to ensure those conversations happen in a meaningful way. And those conversations can happen no matter which account the money is in, I just think you need to be intentional about those happening. Because knowing how your partner prioritizes spending money and each of your financial needs is really damn important.

    And I think we just need to get rid of this idea that “feminism” being about endorsing specific choices. Because if you want to change your last name or not, have kids or not, join finances or not, wear pants or not, you choose. That’s the point.

  • E

    As someone who makes significantly more than my (grad student) husband, it was a no-brainer for me to pool our finances. We’re a partnership, and I don’t feel that I have any more entitlement to the money than he does. What’s funny about the gender stereotypes is that, when it’s the woman making more, the man actually has to be a good feminist. Some men would feel emasculated or hurt by the fact that they weren’t the primary breadwinner, but a good feminist knows that women can play that role, too.

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      “We’re a partnership, and I don’t feel that I have any more entitlement to the money than he does”

      Yup. For richer or poorer, indeed — and not just in words only.

    • Esme

      I am in this exact same situation and I completely agree with you. It took us a while to realise it, but he now feels great that I am earning more than him! The situation is sure to change at some point and it shouldn’t be too much of problem since we will have been working through it for a while now.

      The main thing for me is that I cannot *stand* the idea of the husband giving the stay-at-home-wife an allowance. I wouldn’t give my still-studying-husband money for beer and books! It’s so insulting: our income (or not) should be the family’s income.

    • “What’s funny about the gender stereotypes is that, when it’s the woman making more, the man actually has to be a good feminist.”

      Awesome, awesome point, E!!

  • Great point here! I’ve been struggling with this too recently, as I am a starving student (well, not really starving) and my husband is not. The other day, while buying groceries, we started a typical conversation of who would pay. And then he said, “well, it’s our money now, so it doesn’t really matter.” Squee.

    It’s a slow process for me, but I am starting to let go and be okay with putting stuff together. He was already paying my health insurance. I just keep reminding myself that we have more power together. We’re going to sit down and do our budget once we’re done with taxes, and then I think I’ll feel better about the money. The only thing we want to keep maybe separate are our credit cards so we can do nice little things like surprise each other with a present.

  • Daynya

    I just LOVE this to pieces. This is something I had been fretting over for a long time (pre-engaged, through still engaged). When I got The Book, and got to the difficult discussions to have before you get married bit, we talked about the money thing more than we had up until that point. I was worried. He makes a lot more than I do, and has no debt. I make a tiny bit, and have a very large student loan. When we started discussing finances, and he said we’d work on combining them, I felt full of guilt. I explained my worries, about him being burdened by my debts, and me not feeling entitled to part of his larger paychecks. It was amazing to me that he was so reassuring, and it really let me know that we ARE building a new family, and families work together. Whether I work or not, whether he works or not, whether I do all of the ‘chores’ or not, we are a team, and it feels so solidifying to make this bold move. It was a fantastic reminder of just why I am marrying this man.

  • Dear Meg, you rock so much, and your posts always arrive when I need them the most. I have been feeling terribly guilty for not contributing any money for the past 4 years, despite the fact that I “contributed” twins, and do all the cooking, cleaning, planning, buying, and checking and writing legal documents (I didn’t stop being a lawyer when I stopped working as one for others). My husband thinks I am crazy for feeling this way and that I actually contribute more than he does by going to work, yet I feel the way I feel.But your article has helped me greatly and moved me in the right direction. Thank you very much for that. Now I’ll go buy new shoes, I need them.

  • A piece of this that I think is related and missing in this discussion is planning together on how you will support one another’s careers and earning potential. I have had a lot of support and a few lucky breaks in my career so far that have put me in the position of primary breadwinner. My fiancé has supported me, sometimes to the detriment of his own career potential, so now I have started looking with him at how I can support him in moving forward in his career. What combining finances is about is about making decisions together and trusting one another, which is as important on the side of money coming in as it is on the side of money going out.

    • meg

      Valid points! Different post! (And these are topics I’ve already written about extensively :)

      • Jo

        Totally fair. I just wanted to comment that clearly this whole financial discussion is grabbing everyone on APW! In the time it took me to write a comment, 50 more comments had appeared. Finances are a very important topic, thank you for covering it so well and so seriously. This is what’s SO valuable about APW!

        Also, side note –
        Sometimes topics have been previously covered, and they’re very comforting to go back and read. But as a community member, I think being a part of a current discussion is very comforting as well. And commenting on a dead thread doesn’t provide the same relief I guess.

    • I know over the course of our relationship, how we handle our money together, and how we envision handling it in the future, has had a big impact on how we support each other’s career goals.

      What I’ve come to really feel is that any decisions we make about money or career really come down to the life want to live together. For example, last summer my fiance quit a great job with terrible hours (it wasn’t unheard of for him to be in the office until midnight, or all weekend) to go back to school to do something that would pay less, but he loved and gave him a lot of great opportunities and much better hours – because that was a better fit into our vision of our future.

      BUT that wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t already had a lot of money talks, and the same ideology of the role that money and work and be handled in our relationship. We had to know that we valued time more than money, and that we were both truly committed to the idea that we would both be supporting each other in many different ways over the course of our lives.

  • Claire

    Such a good post. Combining finances was really hard for me for a lot of the reasons you mentioned. My student loans, credit card debt & remittances to family members made me think he shouldn’t be burdened with the financial baggage I’d acquired pre-relationship. Those were my crosses and it wouldn’t be fair to count them as joint expenses and ask him to pay half. The way I saw it, my side was all liabilities and his side was all sparkling assets and wise investments. Well, he convinced me that marriage is all about sharing each others burdens and blessings. Lightening the load by carrying it together, yada, yada, yada. Eventually, I agreed there was no glory in holding on to my own debt myself, and no shame in letting him help pay that shit off. Cause that’s whats best for both of us.

    Fast forward a few years and I found myself on the other side of the equation when my salary exceeded his, and his real estate assets essentially turned to liabilities due to the crappy housing market. Now it’s my turn to reassure him that our futures (financial and otherwise) are tied together for the long haul and, no, I don’t resent him or wish I had picked a better provider (eww).

    Although, just among friends, I have to admit that I secretly did have a moment of hesitation when it came to depositing my annual bonus in the joint account and divvying it up as usual. Wait, I can’t just spend MY bonus on travel and shopping? I have to share it? He gets to spend a part of my bonus on car and bicycle parts and Apple paraphernalia? Um yes. Because that’s how we’ve structured our financial partnership. And on the bright side, I’ll get to spend part of his (future) bonus on shoes.

    • Ahahahaha, I totes had similar emotions about my recent bonus… *How* much of this has to go to his student loans? …I can’t just spend it all on Etsy?

      • Alyssa

        My husband and I have had the same issue at different times; we just had to keep reminding ourselves that we could spend it fun now, or we could be solvent and have MORE fun later.
        It still sucked. Being grown BLOWS.

  • Victwa

    At the moment, engaged to a man with two children from a previous marriage, mine feels like a slightly different situation. We have talked about (and will, eventually– we’ve just been lazy about it) setting up a joint account for household finances. I don’t think I’ve figured out all my feelings about this one yet. We may end up pooling all our money– I’m not sure. I do know that it feels different to imagine a situation in which we were pooling money that both of us had equal opportunities to have input over how it’s spent. It’s not, though. They’re not OUR kids, they’re his kids, and the law never lets you forget that. I mean, I’m not suggesting I’m trying to replace their mom– they have a mom and she loves them very much. It just feels weird to think of setting up a “traditional” pooling of money, all while knowing that if, in the future, anything ended our marriage, or my fiancé died unexpectedly, I would have absolutely no link to the kids, which makes it hard to act like we’re all in this together forever, and when you talk about pooling money in a family, that family is supporting all the members. I mean, I pay for lots of stuff all the time for them now, but it feels different when it’s a choice and not assumed. I think for me, there is something about the lack of control and input that I have over so many aspects of our family life, particularly financial, that maybe there is part of me that needs to feel like I still have a part of my life that is not affected by the financial state of his ex, which his life IS, and will be at least until the kids are 18, maybe longer. I think this is one of the less-fun aspects of creating a stepfamily that no one really wants to talk about, but it’s there.

    • meg

      Tomorrow we discuss pre-nups, and while that may not be your particular situation, we’re still sort of dancing around these topics in more detail.

      • Amy March

        And not that APW’s pre-nup discussion will not be the bee’s knees, but see also Corporette earlier this week for an interesting pre-nup discussion.

    • Mirabillia

      Are you me??? This is my EXACT situation and these are also my feelings about it. Thank you for posting this. I would love further APW discussion on the emotional and financial challenges and power/control dynamics of creating a stepfamily!

      • Victwa

        Yes. It is a different thing, marrying someone who has children from a previous family. I, too, would love to see more posts on this topic…

    • This is super-interesting and one of the situations in which it seems like it might make sense not to combine finances entirely: there’s a big part of his financial life where you’re going to stay an outsider, and where you don’t fully share risk or reward.

      • Victwa

        Yes, although things are further complicated by the fact that I’m pregnant. Also for financial aid for college, it doesn’t matter– both incomes of adults in the home are calculated (whether they are biological parents or not, and whether they are legally married or not), so I’m responsible (well, not specifically, but might as well be, considering it’s calculated out of our joint budgets) for college costs according to the federal government. So maybe it doesn’t really matter, and only matters in my head? And is this an important enough reason to hold some part of our finances separate from each other? I DON’T KNOW!!!

        • Sounds like a good time to talk to a professional! Also, don’t retirement accounts get excluded from financial aid numbers?

        • Congratulations on the pregnancy. :)

  • Janet

    I needed this, seriously. I’ll be 30 in less than a month and for the first time in my life I am just now at the stage of moving in together with my beau as we’re making our way thru pre-engagement land to offical engagement land. So needless to say I’ve been supporting myself independently for the duration of my adult life and the idea of sharing finances has had me on edge. Part of me wants to just jump in and say go for it! You love him and you’re building a life together and its the right thing to do. The feminist, strong single girl side of me keeps shouting NO! Don’t do it! Your money belongs to you and you need to be able to take of yourself still.

    He does make more than I do and offers to pay for everything, which of course I disagree with him over. Even after dating for over a year I still try to split paying things with him 50/50 when it comes to certain things (ie grocceries, dinners out, shopping for household goods/projects). He tells me he wants to take care of me and that when we move in together we’ll figure it out, but I don’t want to mooch off him and not help support us….in truth I don’t want to EVER be like his ex-wife who didn’t work and didn’t financially help him. It was a huge burden on him, especially when he was laid off several years ago when the economy first tanked. She was content to let him struggle to pay the mortage and household bills, while she did nothing to contribute even in the worst times. This was one of the major reasons their marriage ended.

    I don’t want to be her. I don’t want to be a burden. I want to be his lover AND partner in our relationship and share the financial responsibilities of our life together. However I don’t want to be naive and think that things can’t go wrong and I’d be left with nothing to fall back on. [Life lessons of a child whose mother has been divorced twice and is on her third marriage.]

    So do I keep a little kitty of savings to myself, socked away for a day I hope never comes? Do I just go all in and trust things will always work out? Do I just agree that we both work together to pay off debt we both accumulated before we were a couple, moving towards marriage? I just don’t know. I don’t want to hurt him by not letting him “take care of me”, but I also want to take care of myself in some way should something terrible happen.

    You’ve given me so much to thing about with this one, thank you.

    • Victwa

      I totally feel you on this one. I get that marriage is supposed to be about risk and being willing to face the uncertain future, and we can’t ever predict what would happen, but being engaged to someone who had a situation that sounds like your fiancé’s for many years, well, it’s hard to not think about these things, because you know they CAN and DO happen.

    • Lana

      Anyone ever see the movie “The Waitress”? (I don’t know if I should be ashamed for liking it.) Janet, when you talk of keeping a kitty of savings hidden away, that’s what I though of–a movie where the main character is in an unhappy marriage to a controlling, emotionally abusive man who dreams of running away from him. If you think that’s where your relationship is headed, then by all means! Protect yourself! But it seems to me that, luckily (thankfully) (proudly), the APW community is full of strong, feminist (like you even called yourself) women who, if faced with that situation, would, yes, probably be a bit insecure and scared, but would also know that they deserved better and would fight fight fight fight fight their way out of it. (Because, d*mn it! They deserve better!)

      But I doubt that’s what your man is like. (Nor do I think you were suggesting it, it’s just where my mind went.) And don’t forget that part of that feminist fight fight fighting is simply talking. Talk with your partner and find something that works for you, and change it as often as you need to. You don’t HAVE to combine accounts. You don’t have to combine ALL accounts (you could do joint and personal accounts like others have talked about). You could find some completely random and new way of working out your finances, while still keeping the “greater good” in mind, and as long as your comfortable with it, then it’s great!

      ps. Just given the fact that you saw his ex’s treatment of him and money as a terrible burden and something you would never want to do, I can guarantee that you ARE already NOT like her, nor will you be…EVER.

      • Janet

        Thank you Lana, thank you. I would also give you a super big hug if possible so an internet sisterhood hug will have to suffice! *HUG*

    • And you don’t have to make ANY decision right now. Or when you are engaged. Or even before you are married. We waited about 10 or so months after getting married to make a decision about how to approach money in our relationship. But like changing/not changing your name, making a money decision doesn’t HAVE to happen at a particular time. Wait until you and your partner feel ready to make a joint decision. For us, that took some time… Good luck!

  • afrome

    Me and mine make roughly the same income, and are in very similar financial situations. Our decision, even before we were officially hitched, was to have one joint account for household bills, and our own personal accounts for “play” money. While we had once thought that we wanted some privacy, and not to be judged by the other for personal purchases, we know now that we are our own worst critics, and we never make the other person feel badly for spending – because we are both responsible and never spend beyond our means. In reality, there is no difference between me buying shoes from my “own” money, or using our “joint” money – it is all figurative. One day we will combine it all. The main benefit of it so far, though, is that we have been able to see quite clearly how much we are spending on household necessities and on vacations, vs how much we are each spending on non-necessities, like extra clothes, shoes, etc., since the money comes from separate accounts. I think for us it will be a step towards making smarter decisions about personal spending in the future.

    • We used to have a joint account and an individual account each. I just closed mine, because I never used it and there was no point paying bank fees on it. David keeps his only for ebay/paypal purchases so that if there’s a problem with security, there’s less than $200 that could be compromised.
      For us, it makes no real difference what account the money is in. I’ll spend cash from the joint on Starbucks, and he’ll buy hockey cards from his personal account, but not for a sexond do we pretend it’s not all joint money.

      • Ha, I thought you typed ‘sexond’ on purpose!

    • We used to have a joint account and an individual account each. I just closed mine, because I never used it and there was no point paying bank fees on it. David keeps his only for ebay/paypal purchases so that if there’s a problem with security, there’s less than $200 that could be compromised.
      For us, it makes no real difference what account the money is in. I’ll spend cash from the joint on Starbucks, and he’ll buy hockey cards from his personal account, but not for a second do we pretend it’s not all joint money.

      And yeah, this makes is REALLY easy to track spending and savings and vacations.

  • NF

    One of the first things that happened after I got married is that we took a bunch of money out of my pre-marriage savings and paid off his student loans a week before they would have started accumulating interest. It was an easy decision-a month into dating we decided that we would have joint finances if we got married.

    And yet, despite the fact that we fully merged finances, I keep finding myself falling into the trap of thinking about money in non-joint ways (at least some of the time). I haven’t worked since a couple months before the wedding, and about a year after the wedding, I realized that I hadn’t spent any money on buying non-necessities for myself, because I felt guilty that I wasn’t contributing financially. I told my husband, and he told me that was crazy and put a bunch of money into an account for me–it’s not an allowance but having it be separate means I can feel more comfortable about spending money on fun things for myself.

  • Amy

    My parents, happily married for 30 years, kept their finances mostly separate for a very, very long time. Mostly at my mother’s insistence.

    I’m not 100% sure exactly how they chose to divide it up, but it always seemed to work well for them.

    Meanwhile, my significant other is coming from a broken family. His stepdad took financial advantage of his mother and when they divorced, he left her in a significant amount of debt.

    As a result, my significant other is determined not to take advantage of anyone this way.

    Which puts us in a really strange position, as he is currently unemployed and I am making more money than most of my peers. Certainly well enough to support us both.

    It pains me that he feels like he is not “pulling his weight”… that he owes me money. (And he does technically… I “sold” him my old car when his broke down early in our relationship and that money has never been repaid, although I have tried at least a few times in the relationship to forgive the “debt” because I don’t feel like he owes me at all.)

    But I don’t know how to change his perspective on the subject either. I have had conversations with him about how him not allowing me to help with his debts hurts us both as a unit, how we need to think of ourselves as a team financially, and he gets it cognitively, but I think his history with his parents is factoring in heavily. I think emotionally he’s having a hard time, particularly since I have been the one supporting him the entire time we have been together (almost 5 years now).

    I know something has to change, but I don’t think combining finances 100% is the answer. (He HAS agreed to a joint account that we contribute to proportionally according to our incomes, but doesn’t want to figure out the particulars until he has actual income to contribute.) I think the problem is more of a mental shift than a finances shift. I’d love some advice from everyone here on what to do.

  • ambi

    Wow, this really strikes a cord with me. For the past several days, I have read all these posts and comments about partners and husbands who stepped in and supportively helped pay down debt. And it made me really sad about my own relationship. We aren’t married yet, and my debt has been a huge issue for us. I have credit card debt (that is almost paid off) and student loan debt (which is a LONG way from being paid off). He has almost identical educational background, but came through it with zero debt of any kind (due to several factors, including a trust fund to pay for his education, much smarter money management on his part, and a very lucrative job straight out of school while I struggled with unemployment for 6 months). He’s talked to me several times about how my debt really worries him. Essentially, although he has never come out and said this explicitly, I think that instead of looking at my debt as something we need to tackle together in order to build a better life together, he views it as a fault, a character flaw, that really bothers him about me. He has never viewed it as something he should step in and help with, but instead has pushed me to get it paid off on my own. Until this week, our dynamic seemed normal and rational – I had never imagined the scenario that so many of you describe, with a partner volunteering to help pay off debt. I think my boyfriend harbors deep-seated emotions (frustration, anger, disgust?) over me wracking up the credit card debt that I did. Hell, I feel the same way about it. I feel angry and ashamed that I did it. But now it really stings that other people’s partners step in and help, view the debt as “our problem,” and contribute to paying it off. I would say that my boyfriend agrees with just about everything Meg has written in this post. He comes from a family with a stay at home mom who is also a very smart, funny, and outspoken feminist, so he absolutely gets the idea of marraige as mini socialism. But that’s just not how he views debt that one person brings into the relationship, I guess. It really troubles me. Before this week, I just assumed that, of course I should pay off my own debts on my own. I contribute to all our household bills, then I have these bills to take care of by myself. It made sense, until now. Now I wish he viewed them as our debts and wanted to take them on together . . .

    • EM

      Ambi, I’m so sorry that this conversation is making you sad. I’ve seen your comments over the past week, and the thing has struck me about what you’ve shared is how brave you’ve been. Brave in terms of facing the challenges you’ve had, brave in terms of sharing that with your fiance (and US!) and brave in terms of coming up with a plan to improve your security. You get serious credit for that, okay?

      It also sounds to me as though your fiance has been a positive force in your life in terms of helping you to be brave. I guess what I want to say is that figuring out how to tackle it, looking that scary debt in the face and emerging from it, is a big f*cking deal. The knowledge that you can do that — and the skills that are required to do so — are a lot more valuable, long-term, than the money itself. And the dynamic between you two? It’s totally normal and rational. Debt is really scary, and it’s scary for different people in different ways. Merging finances with another autonomous human being is f*cking terrifying, even when there’s no debt in the picture. I promise you two are not alone in your reactions to it.

    • People have so many feelings about money, but the secret is that it’s just dirty paper. Useful dirty paper, dirty paper you need sometimes, but it’s not a sign of your value as a person. Managing it well or poorly does not make you a better or worse person. So many people get stuck with the idea that debt or income or whatever Means Something.

      But I think it’s important for all of us to get over that. It’s just money. It has no moral weight, and you’re not a better person if you spend less or make more or whatever.

      Also, your boyfriend is really, truly showing his privilege. Not everyone gets their education paid for, and it’s much harder to save and avoid more debt when you have big payments every month.

      Also also, I think this something where it matters what relationship stage you’ve gotten to. I could never have convinced my partner to fully combine finances until we decided to get married (i.e. til we were sure we were in it for the long haul).

      • EM

        Right on, Laurel — about the moral weight of money, and also about the privilege. But whatever the reason for it, I think it’s great that Ambi and her boyfriend are both able to talk so openly about their actual reactions and worries. Money conversations are often not actually about money — but sometimes it takes a lot of talking to figure out what dynamics are in play.

        My mom always tells me about this “aha” moment she and my dad had when I was very small. She was always looking for ways to cut costs and be thrifty, and he’s much more of a spender. She’s the primary breadwinner. It caused a lot of tension. Eventually (read: after several years of talking) my mom realized that what she was really saying was, “I hate my job, and I want to feel like we’d be okay if I decided I had to quit.” And once she said that, my dad was like “oh! of *course* you don’t have to work at a job you hate! let’s figure this out!”

        • Lana

          Maybe it is a matter of crossed signals, even if it’s so small as the difference between the fact that you have debt, and WHY you have debt. Student loans are almost a necessary evil in todays world and maybe he needs to be reminded of that. It sounds like that’s the majority of your debt, AMBI, it’s not because you’re a big spender who enjoys living outside of your means, but because you wanted an education to better your life in the future. But the word “debt” is so heavy, and if he’s never had any himself, he may not understand the intricacies of (so called) “good” debt and might just need a basic tutorial/reminder of the “whys” of your debt/educational investment.

          • ambi

            In his defense, the debt he is worried about is the credit card debt, not the student loan debt. He understands the need for that debt and supports my educational decisions. It’s the credit card debt, much of it caused by living outside my means and spending money rather stupidly on stuff I DID NOT NEED (hello department store credit cards! NEVER A GOOD IDEA!). But you are right that he has never had to deal with debt, so it really freaks him out. I grew up in a family and a community where everyone carried debt, it was just a fact of life. When I was younger, I was obviously TOO comfortable with it, and I am now paying that off. I think our real crossed signals come from him not recognizing that other people have different understandings about money and different financial cultures – He did grow up privileged, not only because his family had money, but because they were financially educated and were good about teaching their kids to be smart with money from an early age. I don’t think he can separate himself from that worldview enough to recognize that for many others, living paycheck to paycheck, incurring debt, and not having retirement savings are all considered normal. I didn’t understand just how dangerous and unproductive this type of financial tunnel vision was until I graduated from law school and started earning real money – seeing my friends and roommates putting money away in retirement accounts, buying life insurance, buying houses, etc., made me realize that I had NO IDEA what I was doing with my money. Then, honestly, I kind of hid my head in the sand. I went back to school (good decision, but I incurred more debt), and I am only now really getting my finances in order. I think he kind of looks at it like, how can you be a smart and successful professional woman in your thirties with no savings and credit card debt? Why and how did you do that to yourself? And can I trust you not to do it to us when we’re married? That is the big thing – he worries that my finances mean that he can’t trust me to be an equal partner in managing our families finances when we are married.

            It really is a mess, and it’s hard. Paying the credit cards off helps me forgive myself. And EM’s comment above about how money is messy, and people react differently to dealing with debt – that helped a lot. For the past few days, I was feeling like, if he loved me as much as the other people’s partners love them, he’d swoop in and say “this is our debt now, and I am going to write you a big check to pay it off .” But that isn’t really what it is about – he wants to watch me be a good manager of my own money so he can know that he can trust me with our money. That may sound harsh, but the truth is, I have a bit of trust to earn back. I got myself into this situation by overspending on stuff I didn’t need and shouldn’t have bought, and I have to learn, for both of us, to be more responsible with money.

          • AMBI, the financial cultures thing is HUGE. Honestly, knowing how to manage money is itself a privilege. The way you budget and save when there’s a realistic chance of being debt-free and owning assets is pretty different from the way you deal with money when debt is permanent and savings are unlikely.

            Also: it’s not like the credit card debt makes you a bad person. Yeah, it sounds like there are better choices you could have made (for YOU), but the only person you were hurting at the time was yourself. I continue to believe that our culture puts too much emphasis on how you deal with money as a guide to whether you’re a responsible person. Sure, being able to manage your finances is good — for you, for your family, etc. But ultimately it’s only one of many good qualities a person can have, and it’s easy to make small mistakes and get stuck with the consequences for a long time.

            Finally, it sounds like you two are in a position where you’re trying to make sure you’re totally 100% right for each other. (Sorry if that’s somehow not true…) The decisions you make while you’re working that out aren’t the same ones you make once you’re sure. At one point I made my partner a loan and we wrote out the terms and set an interest rate and stuff, which would be an entertaining thing to do now.

      • Lizzie

        Laurel – I just realized that I know you! I read this comment and thought “Damn she sounds like a Swattie” and you in fact are. Nice to run into you again after a number of years!

        Now that I’m over that, you’re right of course that money itself has no moral weight, but what you choose to do with it (if you’re in the position to be making choices) does. I think that’s one of the reasons we get ourselves so tied in knots about it and start ascribing meaning to it (in addition to the simple equation of money = industrious = virtuous that we have bred into us in this country). In one of the various loony paroxysms of guilt I had around quitting my job, my train of thought went something like this: “It’s okay to quit my job, I’ve been planning to and I’ve built a cushion of savings for that purpose… But I could just keep working and have that cushion in reserve and keep adding to it… Why would I do that? My job is making me wildly unhappy and I profess to care more about happiness than money… Okay, right, I don’t need the money right now – but someone does! And I have the opportunity to earn it! For the good of society, I should just keep working and turn my entire salary over to some good cause at this point since I’ve established that I don’t need it right now! What is wrong with me that I’m so selfish!” Ridiculous, yes, but even knowing this truth, in the space of about 20 seconds, I managed to make my reasonable monetary choice into an apparent matter of broken morals…

        • I’m going to confess that I can’t figure out your last name and I can’t see your avatar well enough to see the picture. But hi! Also, I stand by what I said. Obviously don’t hire hit squads, and there’s some virtue to being thoughtful about consumption, and giving money away is a good idea if you can, but how you manage your money? Whether you have debt? Doesn’t make you a better or worse person in general. Has way more to do with luck and personal history and family culture than with your moral standing. Not to mention that I have never seen someone get better at managing money by taking on a lot of moral weight about it.

          • Lizzie

            Ha. Rothwell – class of 02. We didn’t know each other that well, but we had some overlapping circles of friends. You would definitely recognize some faces from my wedding grad post earlier this week.

            Anyway, yes, I agree with everything you said – especially if we are talking purely about managing money, an amoral act if there ever was one. I was mostly just trying to sort out why I am still so quickly able to forget all of that when I’m thinking about my own finances…

          • Oh hey I do remember. Also, I went back and looked and did indeed recognize some faces, and figured out why you’d looked so naggingly familiar. Funny thing is I’d read the post but I usually skim the photos and hadn’t realized at. all. Love the Forster quote.

    • MC

      First off, congratulations on having the credit card debt almost paid off! That’s awesome! :-)

      Also: everyone has screwed up somewhere (not all debt is due to bad choices, but it sounds like you categorize part of yours there and have some guilt tagging along with it); it’s okay. Learn from it, pay it off, move on.

      I’m wondering if some of your partner’s fear/worry may be due to examples in his life; I know in my family, there are a) people who have needed help with money as a once-or-twice sort of thing and b) people who get into debt over and over and over and over (not for medical or school reasons, but for “I’m going to take a cruise and buy fancy clothes even though my income is more a camping-and-thrift-stores sort of income” reasons). Financially interacting with the people in category b is really, really hard; on round 3 or 4 you start to wonder if they’d be better off you hadn’t been immediately bailing them out all the time (whether they might have successfully addressed the issues that were getting them into these holes), and mutual resentment builds up really fast, and it gets really ugly all around. These are otherwise *awesome* people, but it can still turn into a giant mess.

      If the only people he’s known with debt were people who had really, really chronic can’t-keep-expenses-below-even-a-pretty-high-income money issues (which is a chance, if his family and friends are on the more-wealthy side), and if he hasn’t known anyone who has worked through that and beaten those habits (or anyone who has successfully helped someone with debt without relationship disaster), then his fear maybe makes more sense. Not as applied to you, necessarily (you’re paying down the debt! hooray! you’re winning!), but as a sort of knee-jerk response due to the only things he’s seen.

      And in general, if you have different perspectives on money (spender vs. saver; savings as a security blanket vs. you can’t take it with you), then it can be really scary to merge, and certain kinds of debt can seem like an indicator of different priorities, especially to someone who hasn’t ever experienced a “I can either stay out of debt *or* I can pay rent/tuition” sort of situation (which, um, it sounds like he hasn’t) but who has sacrificed a few “want”s to get where they wanted to go (“if I rode the bus instead of driving, to save money, why couldn’t you?” sorts of things can come up with that, which are sometimes fair and sometimes not [public transit after midnight: not always a good plan for women, depending on location]).

      I would also note that, while money is a BIG and very common area of disagreement and stress, there are very good odds that other couples who have commented with “yay, we’re a team on this issue!” have a non-money area somewhere of different perspectives or suspicion or stress (in-laws? levels of personal risk considered appropriate? time priorities? children? irritating friends? sex?). It would of course be good to work this out (maybe talking about priorities and maybe finding out what, specifically, he’s afraid of?), but I also wanted to note that not every partner is going to do everything perfectly partnery and romantic and “we’re a team” all the time; it’s okay, he may still be a good one, and you may still have a good relationship. :-)

      I guess, this might be your bit of sandpaper to get rough edges scraped off both of you in this area, where other people have sandpaper somewhere else sometimes?

      Good luck! (and again, congrats on all your progress in beating the Debt Monster!)

      • EM

        Exactly to all you guys — ambi, laurel, lizzie, mc — you guys are making so much sense! I’m not sure exactly if/how this fits, in, but as I was reading your totally thoughtful posts, I kept thinking about this pattern I’ve noticed in my own life. The pattern is this: when I’m feeling broke, I am awesome at managing my money — but as soon as I feel more secure, I stop being careful and I get sloppy with it. Every poor financial decision I’ve made has been when I’m feeling relatively flush. It’s like I have two speeds: “holy shit, how am I going to pay this?!” and “wheeee!!! drinks are on me!!!!!!!” This hasn’t caused troubles with my partner…but only because he is exactly the same way — which, man-oh-man, could be bad. Luckily, we are able to talk about budgets and making plans together for the future helps us both resist the urge.

        I think a big part of the problem for both of us is that our parents taught us how to be frugal, but they didn’t teach us how to deal with money once we actually had it. Stocks? money market? investments? CDs? I’ve found it so confusing to figure out where to start that my money just ends up sitting there where I can access it, burning a hole in my checking account.

        • Lizzie

          Oh holy god. If anything I said here made sense up until now, great, but I will sorely disappoint on the topic of stocks, CDs, etc. I mean, we have some savings, and whenever there’s an opportunity to, we check the little box for socially conscious investments, but the whole topic – from whether it’s enough, to what is being done with the money in the meantime, to whether I even believe the system in place now will make any sense at all by the time we get around to retirement age – scares the crap out of me.

          Honestly, whenever I talk about what I’d really like to do with savings money, I start sounding like somebody who should be featured on one of those doomsday hoarder reality shows. I would like to buy a nice big piece of property somewhere in a (currently) temperate-to-cool climate and build the most energy-efficient house possible then start putting every renewable on the roof that I can think of…

        • If you know you want savings but the idea of figuring out how to invest them makes you crazy, you need a savings account at a different bank. I have my checking account, from which I get spending money and pay bills, and like 17 savings accounts (seriously, I’m an account hoarder) at a separate bank (ING) where it takes 3 days to transfer me the money. That money is NOT FOR SPENDING. So I don’t spend it, except for the specific purposes each account is for: travel, dog emergency, car emergency, academic expenses, whatever. It’s not exactly the best thing to do — I could invest it in something probably — but it’s simple, it’s close to zero risk, and ING pays fair interest for a deposit account.

          The fact of saving is more important than where you stash it. Ignore the paralyzing array of options.

          • EM

            this is awesome advice

          • p.s. another thing I do to manage the savings is to have a frivolity fund, which gets a little bit each month and which I can spend however I want. It helps keep saving from feeling like the enemy of fun.

        • MC

          *Yes* to Laurel’s if-investments-make-you-crazy-start-with-a-savings-account. Depending on how your mental categories work, you can even just have a savings account linked to your checking account at the very same bank and think “checking: spendable money; savings: not spendable money”, although some people need more physical separation than that. If you figure out budgets, you can shuffle the money-not-needed-this-month over into savings every month or whatever (although, leave a bit of slush, so you don’t get into the habit of transferring money back from savings into checking). If it helps to label the savings with your eventual goal (A house! Being able to retire together! Being able to start a business! Trip to Siberia! A kid! A goat!), then you can do that.

          Also, pay down debt, either smallest-account-first (snowball method? It apparently works really well?) or highest-interest-rate-first.

          If, then, sometime in the future, you have enough space in your head to be able to figure out how you feel about risk, you can then put the money that you have already saved (hooray!) into whatever you decide is appropriate at that point. Usually things have rates of return strongly related to their risk, so you can decide on general categories for some of your money based on how risk-averse (or not) you are (FDIC-insured savings: very, very low risk; CDs: very low risk; money market: low-ish risk; stocks: usually higher risk; real estate/businesses: highly variable). Usually a mix is good; if a mix of investments is scary, though, I’d suggest a money market account at a credit union (credit unions can be awesome and friendly and the people are usually very helpful).

          But getting into the habit of not letting your money vanish like water through your fingers is the first step, I think, and you don’t need to know investment strategies to get there. :-) You can do it! :-)

          • EM

            Thanks, MC — this is super useful, too! Right now, Laurel’s point about an ING account that takes a couple days to transfer would be super helpful — sometimes it feels like my savings is just an overflow of my checking account. But I will totally be following up on your advice once I get comfortable with not touching the savings. It hadn’t occurred to me that my credit union might have investment accounts — I love them! I’m totally comfortable putting my money with them!

        • Not Sarah

          After you’re good with savings and want to dabble in investing, Target Date index funds are AWESOME. They basically pick an age-based asset allocation so that more of your money is in stocks if you’re far, far away from retirement and some of it is in bonds (lower risk, lower return). That takes the research out of investing. Nicoleandmaggie had a really awesome primer on Target Date funds earlier this month:

    • My partner and I are in the same boat. I’m drowning in loan debts that would rent me a fine apartment each month, while she is completely 100% debt free. Though I struggle every month with the ridiculous interest I pay, and she is in a position to easily help me pay it off, it has never been an option for her to pay off my loans. It’s not something we’ve explicitly discussed in terms of WHY it’s not an option, but she has admitted that she is just protective of her finances. We find many other ways to balance out our expenses and support each other (she bought our house and pays our monthly mortgage), so we are essentially spending the same each month. But the idea that interest is building up on my loans galls me, and I don’t think she thinks much about it because debt has never been an issue for her ever because of her history and family financial picture. So Ambi, I feel you on this one. What do we do now??

      • ambi

        Your situation sounds so much like mine. He bought the house, but we both pay the mortgage. We talked explicitly when he bought the house about how we were choosing (together) the house that would be our home together for a long time. The home we will probably start a family in. And we were pretty explicit about the fact that me paying off my debts was kind of equivilent to our family’s future as him buying the house for us. I didn’t really remember that until you commented – I was so caught up in feeling bad because my partner would probably balk at the idea that he should help pay off my debts, when all these other people apparently have partners willing to do so. But at the same time, he does recognize my debt payments as contributions to the family. But you know, I am pretty broke each month after paying an equal share of the mortgage and all our bills and then also trying ot pay off my debt too. It would sure be nice if he would at least take a heavier load of the mortgage payments or bills so I would have more cash to spend on debt . . .

        I think MC made a great point earlier that everyone handles this stuff differently, and there is no right way. We are doing what works for us. I guess the important thing is that, even when dealing with something as awful as debt, and all the emotions that come with it (shame, guilt, anger, frustration, distrust, etc.), we have somehow managed to talk about these issues openly and deal with them in a respectful and loving way. Would I prefer it if he said “we’re a team, what’s mine is your and whats yours is mine, and for the future of our family, I want to pay off your debts?” Yeah, that would be great. But that isn’t honestly how we feel right now, so we are just taking things as they come and doing the best we can.

        • Leanne

          So true, Ambi. I was just thrilled to see I wasn’t the only one out there with a partner who wasn’t jumping to pay my bills! It’s been a source of stress for me, but I have to understand that it’s just the way we’ve negotiated this aspect of our lives. It’s open to revision and improvement as our life circumstances change, and it’s also likely ripe for a more forthcoming conversation between the two of us!

          • ambi

            I agree completely. I was feeling pretty crappy about all this yesterday, feeling like well, if he isn’t viewing this as “our” debt, obviously he isn’t thinking about our financial future in the same way I am. But we talked a bit about it last night. Honestly, I still didn’t feel comfortable even bringing up the idea that some people’s partners step in and pay each others debts. But I did talk in general about marraige as mini socialism, about combining finances, and about how even if you have wildly unequal earners, they still have to be equal partners. And he agreed 110%. So, I think for us, this is just where we are on things. When we are married, everything will be combined. But right now, my debt is my debt, and it is my responsibility to pay it off. I’d feel uncomfortable with asking him to help, and I think he’d probably be uncomfortable with it too. But I feel better having thought about these things, and having talked to him a bit about them (although, admittedly, I still wasn’t in a place where I felt like I could bring up the fact that I wish he would view my debt as our debt).

  • FINALLY. Thank you for speaking up about this. I’ve seen chatter in the feminist blog world and among my married friends about His money, My money and I think it’s a load of crap. As feminists, don’t we want to be equal with our partners? The only way to truly do that is to combine finances. The choice to get married is the choice to accept the other person completely as they are: high salary, low salary, student loans, family baggage, annoying habits – all of it. I feel sad for people who’s partners don’t want to contribute to their debts. It’s almost like saying, “Yes, I love you, but I don’t love you enough to help you. You’re on your own.” In marriage, we aren’t on our own, isn’t that why most of us decided to get married in the first place? To have a support system? To have someone to fall back on, emotionally and financially, no matter what? To feel accepted and not judged based on student loans and credit cards and stupid decisions we might have made in our past? I call bullshit on separate finances.

    • meg

      THIS (though, I mean, there are exceptions, but in general this is really how I feel. When did we stop wanting to help each other… or more to the point as women, be comfortable accepting help from people we chose to make a family with?)

      • Agreed. Or, as anyone of any gender, not wanting to help out the person we’ve decided and VOWED to support no matter what? I don’t believe that marriage should come with exceptions.

    • PA

      What’s interesting to me is that I don’t think we have a very well-defined cultural dialogue around this topic. For so long (at least in Western society), a woman owned next to nothing in her own right, and then more recently, women were expected to contribute to the household in ways that were not measured in money because, to great extent, they were not industries as such: prepared food, clothing, cleaning, child care.

      Now that more women are working outside the home, and more goods and services have become part of an established industry, we have a situation that has no real precedent. So many things CAN be measured in terms of cost, and we’re tempted to do so.

      I completely agree with your convictions on the matter, but I think the points of view in the dialogue are understandable because we haven’t had time (or, as a culture, purposeful discussion) around expectations of how we handle this sort of thing.

  • Mary Jane

    I have to chime in and say that I 100% agree with Meg. I’m getting married in one month, and I’m truly viewing this as the start of my new family. It’s all “ours” now, come hell or high water.

    In my mind, keeping separate finances is a way of keeping your partner from really being family.

  • I just want to exactly the whole post. Taking care of each other in the ways that each can and that works best for the balance is what makes marriage great, because it is what makes possible to go farther together. Thanks Meg.

  • Rachel

    I was really happy to read this today.

    I want to combine our finances. For whatever it is worth, I make 3-4x what my fiance makes and have a LOT of educational debt, but otherwise have my finances pretty together. My fiance has a lower paying job that he loves, a not huge but not small amount credit card debt and some student loans, but knows/cares little about understanding things financial. But he grew up in a much more financially stable home than I did, and has an “it will all work out” attitude about money that I just don’t have. His parents are a real team. Frankly my father was a real drag on my mother and on our family’s finances the whole time they were married (through my mid 20s), and also made little effort to be supportive of the family in other ways (housework, cooking, what have you). My mom ran the whole ship on her modest salary, and my dad’s unwillingness/inability to contribute still makes me angry.

    When fiance and I talked about moving to full merging of finances, I was expecting a more of a discussion than we had. Possibly related to my high debt or his desire to pay off his credit cards himself (which he has been working hard on over the past couple years), just a discussion of options, pros/cons, I don’t really know… He listened to me, and why I wanted to combine (because I want to feel like a united front and I think it will make sense because I want to do things like have more of his salary go into a retirement fund- his employer matches, have him pay the insurance- much cheaper through his job, have shared savings goals for our future, pay off the high interest debt first, etc).

    His response was “well why would we do it any other way? What would be the reason?” I talked about my high debt. He said “well we have to pay it off.” I talked about not wanting to micromanage eachothers fun money. He said “well neither of us wastes money. It’s not like we are going to start buying crazy amounts of stuff all of a sudden.” He sees the team part only. I also feel fear, which does not relate directly to feelings of independence, but to knowledge that if my parents had not had separate bank accounts, we’d have been in real trouble (like, no money for rent or food trouble). And I KNOW that is about thier relationship, and how they were not a team at all, not just when it comes to money, and that my fiance is not my dad and I am not my mom. But for me it is still scary, even thougn it is what I want- to be a team in ways they were not, financial and otherwise.

    The one thing we are not going to do is get a joint credit card though. Bills will be paid from the joint funds, but my credit is much better and I want to keep it that way in case it makes sense for me to apply alone for a home loan when the time comes. If anyone has any insight or a source that would explain maintaining your own credit history in marriage I’d love to know about it.

    • Caroline

      If anyone has any insight or a source that would explain maintaining your own credit history in marriage I’d love to know about it.

      You do maintain your individual credit history after you get married. You do not have a “joint” credit report or credit score. You do not become responsible for debt your spouse incurred before marriage, nor does it affect your credit score.

      If you are in the U.S., some states have “community property” laws, which mean that you can be held responsible for any debt your spouse incurs during your marriage, even if they incurred it only under their own name. In other states, the law is different and you’re only responsible for joint debts during marriage. I don’t know about the law in other countries.

      If you have a joint credit card, that card will appear on both of your individual credit reports. The only reason not to get a joint credit card is if you don’t think your spouse will use it responsibly — anything he does with that card will affect your credit report, since your name is on that card too.

      If you two jointly apply for a loan, then the lender will check both of your individual credit reports and scores. If you have very different credit scores, loan approval and terms will likely be made on the basis of the lower credit score.


    • Meredith

      I’m not sure about specifics but my parents definitely have separate credit cards (they’ve been married 35 years). Every other financial aspect of their lives is mixed, except credit cards. So it’s certainly possible. In fact, my mom has a better credit rating than my dad (which is hilarious, because my Dad does ALL the financial accounting, including both their credit cards). As you mentioned above, they used her name on one of their home loans to get a better interest rate.

  • Caroline

    Before we got married, we lived together, maintained totally separate finances, and split the bills equally. We traded off things like taking each other out for dinner — and that was the most stressful part for me, because he’d say something like “Could you get dinner this time? I’ve been getting it the past few times” and I’d feel horribly guilty and worry that he felt like I was sponging. It was also a hassle to sit down every month, work out a spreadsheet of who owed who how much for bills and groceries, and deal with transferring the money.

    I felt very strongly that I didn’t want to entangle our finances unless we were legally married. I worried that if we broke up, it would be hard to adjudicate who owned the assets and debts unless we had the legal structure of marriage and divorce. (I’m actually not sure it would be any easier with that legal structure in place, but it seemed like some protection.)

    When we got engaged, we both agreed that we wanted to pool our incomes, have one joint checking account to pay bills and other shared expenses, and then each get an equal “fun money” allowance per month out of that pool, to be put in a separate checking account.

    Both of us had heard about couples where one person made more money than the other, and kept the finances separate to wield their larger salary as a tool of power and control — buying expensive clothes, gadgets, meals for themselves, while their partner struggled. We both hated that idea. If we were married, we were in it together. If one of us got richer, then the household as a whole got richer.

    But he also didn’t want to have all spending be jointly decided on. His parents have a single joint checking account, and he’d seen them struggle with communication and issues of control. How much money could you spend without asking your partner first? If you spent money on a hobby your partner thought was silly, could they scold you for it? How do you buy surprise gifts for your partner if they can see all your transactions?

    I agreed — I didn’t think we should always have to get approval from each other. We figured the easiest way to handle it was to just decide on an equal fun money budget for each of us, and as long as we each stayed within budget — no questions asked.

    This system has been working well so far. The only real downside: Without the forced monthly review that would happen when we evened up, we’re not as on top of our budgeting as we used to be.

    The biggest upside: No more stress over who pays for dinner when we go out, no more arguing over who got it last time. Almost two years later, every time we eat out and the check comes — I still feel a great sense of relief that who pays it isn’t an Issue.

  • Mertle

    This is something that has really been on my mind lately- we’ve been together for 8+ years, living together for almost 5, and are getting married in less than two months (ahhhhhhhhhh) and have yet to combine finances. We’ve worked out our system over the years perfectly, and have total transparency, but we DO want to combine. The thing that is stopping us is the logistics- we have our main accounts at two different banks (where we’ve each been for 13+ years), and neither of us really want to give up that history at that bank… does anyone have advice for this? Should we just keep our personal accounts at our respective banks, pick one of them, and open additional accounts (as our joint accounts) there? Should one of us suck it up and move over? I know I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but it seems like an exhausting process to take on in addition to eeeverything else right now.

    • NF

      What we did was have me keep open (with a tiny amount of money) my long-term bank account to keep that history, and move the rest of our money to his account which we made joint, because his bank had better savings rates etc. It’s worked just fine, but I did cry the day I wrote a check moving all of the money in my account into his.

      • Vee

        Honestly, going joint with my money (which we did after our engagement) was scarier than actual marriage. I remember sitting in the bank shaking, thinking, “Do I really want to go through with this? Do I really trust this man?” And of course I did, and do, but handing your money over to someone – even someone who loves you and has your best interest at heart – SHOULD be scary.

    • that’s pretty much what we did! except I was weird and had 2 different checking accounts already, so I closed one of them, kept the other for my personal checking, and then we picked his bank to open a new, separate joint account. he still has his personal account at that bank, I still have my personal acct at a different one. we sort of arbitrarily picked his bank, and now we both think maybe we should have stuck with mine for the joint acct, but generally it’s working out great.

      the personal accts are for our monthly allowances, but sometimes it just seems silly and we should just do cash allowances and skip the extra accounts. we’ll see what the situation is a few years down the road..

    • kathleen

      We’ve decided to move our money to a new bank, but mostly due to the fact that both of our banks have changed their policies and fees since we’ve been members. It gave us a chance to do some research about what we most want (him: no atm fees, me: high savings interest rates) and then move in that direction. We haven’t made the move yet (not yet married), but that’s our plan.

  • Amy

    DUDE. This post is fantastic. My boyfriend and I are not engaged yet, but we are discussing all the things (ALL THE THINGS) you’re supposed to discuss before getting engaged/married. (Including the list from The Book.) I love these posts because they give smart, helpful language precisely for those discussions.

  • kathleen

    We’re pre-engaged, and we’ve maybe spent more time talking money than anything else– our current realities (going line by line through accounts, investments, debt, etc), how we want to combine, and the legal setting up of all of that. We’ve met with a lawyer re: pre-nups and financial planning, and we aren’t even engaged yet. (The lawyer was like: Congrats! And we said: Oh not yet, we’re just getting things in order. And lawyer said: You guys are the most BUSINESS TIME clients ever. Which we loved)

    But for us, it somehow feels like getting this stuff right, really being thoughtful about how we combine and then how we plan and dream and set financial goals together is such a huge and important part of the foundation of our marriage and partnership. It feels like taking the time to get this right– and that does mean lot of conversations and revisiting old assumptions and talking family habits– is some of the best groundwork we can lay for our partnership.

    Also, call me geeky, but its really really fun to plan finances (everything from weekly budget to the big goals) WITH someone else.

    • Not Sarah

      I think that even though the idea of sharing finances with someone scares me more than the idea of eventually getting married (disclaimer: I’m most definitely single), the idea of having a team for my finances seems pretty freaking awesome!

  • Granola

    Thanks for talking about this. The fiance and I haven’t quite ironed out the details, but perhaps it’s a good time to talk it over again.

    Plus, realizing that I’ve really been a “stay at home fiance who works part time” instead of “full-time freelancing from home,” which is how I wanted to see myself, has been oddly freeing. Working full time is the goal, but holding on to the fiction just kept me from feeling like I could contribute in other ways and talking about what those were.

  • NF

    Also, thank you Meg for including “jokes! hugs! planning!” in the list of non-monetary contributions to a marriage. It’s a lot easier to think about chores being an important contribution, and it’s hard to remember that there are other things that are really important too! (I’m not working, so I always make it a point to read the news-political and sports primarily-so I can tell my husband about things that he will think are interesting when he gets home!)

    • melissa

      I was off work the entire summer. I quit an awful job for an awful boss and, very luckily, got another pretty quickly. But I postponed my start date another 6 weeks. I was the best wife for those three months: jokes! hugs! planning! as well as chores!

      Now, I am back to typical crabby pants.

  • Allison

    A timely post, as we’re about to open our first joint account together. Our plan right now is to contribute equal amounts to the joint account, which will be used for rent, food and utilities. Eventually (once we’re legally hitched) we’ll open up a joint savings as well, for big stuff like travel and a hopeful eventual house down payment. We make roughly equal salaries, which takes some of the inequality stuff out of the equation. If one of us made a lot more, I’m not sure how that would change my feelings if at all. We have different financial obligations that we bring to marriage – my student loan, his payments for his daughter’s school expenses and health insurance, my credit card debt, his car that will need replacement soon. I’m not sure how we’ll work all that out yet. Pooling in one pot would be simplest in a lot of ways, but more complicated in others.

    Meanwhile, I definitely do want us each to maintain a separate stash of mad money and savings. And I want us each to know how to pay all the bills, where the records are, etc. My dad got sick a couple of years ago, and my mom didn’t know what bills were due, how to access online payment systems or anything. I firmly believe that both people need to know all the ins and outs of their joint finances.

    I also believe that everyone, male or female, should maintain an emergency stash in their own name, whether it’s a couple of thousand in the bank or $100 stuck in the back of your wallet. You never know when it might be needed for any unforeseeable reason.

  • Kate

    Like a couple people here, I make more money than my newly-minted fiance (St Patrick’s day is our official start date!). Right now it’s because I just started a new job and he’s just starting grad school–but I’m in video game design and he’s going to be a public high school teacher, so chances are as long as I’m successful I’ll be making significantly more than he will. While he’s in grad school it makes no sense to me for him to pay an equal share, since that just means we’ll be increasing our shared debt down the line.

    When we’re married, I fully expect to merge finances, with our own spending accounts we don’t have to answer to each other for. We’re saving for the same things–house, kid-related stuff (my notions of the cost of kids are vague and whimsical at the moment), dog (okay, mostly that’s me), retirement. The plan is to be together through all of that.

    The fact that I’m the one making more money definitely makes it easier. Since I’m in the more lucrative career, I’ll have a better safety net should things fall apart.

    On a side note? This “she makes more” thing is apparently mind-breaking to some people. I’ve had people totally appalled (already!) that I’m paying for most of my engagement ring. I want a pretty ring. He’d be using student loans (which he would then bring into the marriage). Of course we’re using my income. Sheesh.

    • It’s sad how little things change. When my parents got engaged in 1979, my aunt told my mother she should quit her job as a geologist because she was making more than my father was as an accountant. My mother was deeply offended, and my father thought it was beyond absurd. Why wouldn’t you want your family to do as well as you can, as long as everyone is happy??

  • Diana

    THANK YOU for this discussion!

    My parents were in marriage counseling for years (they never tried to pretend to have a perfect marriage for the kids, which I truly appreciated because it made me see that a partnership is a lot of work, but worth it for the right person) and in talking to them as an adult they both conceded that 90% of the problems or the roots of their arguments were about money. People have complicated relationships with money for all sorts of reasons (grew up with it or didn’t, saver vs. spender, man to be provider, etc.), regardless of gender, so to magically believe that the person you love has the exact same values on money is absurd. It needs to be an ongoing discussion. The solution my parents reached, and my fiance and I will be using (at least at the beginning) is similar to what other commenters (Melissa?) have suggested: put all the money in the same pot, use that to pay bills, put money into savings, students loans, and then have “allowances.” If he wants to spend his money on beer-making equipment and I want to go out for an expensive meal with my friends, it’s still “my” money, or “his” money, and we will refrain judgment, regardless of who acquired it. I think it’s when you resent the other for making choices with “our” money that fights start. [BUT, lawyer tip: even the separate accounts should be in both names so that it stays out of the taxable estate when one person dies (not to be morbid, we’re just talking ’till death do us part commitment).]

    I am also one of the women who makes significantly more than her SO. I also have a lot more to lose should this go south. I own property, have no student loans (he has tons), etc. BUT, marriage is a life investment that I am eager to make. As I have told him multiple times, I am sure that down the road he will need to carry the team, in a financial or other manner. I am treating him the way I expect to be treated: as a valued, contributing, supportive team member.

  • What a great post! It (and the comments) have given me a lot to think about this morning. My wife and I have separate accounts and while reading, I kept thinking: “but that’s not how it is for us!” We have had a debt repayment plan since before we were engaged – but after we bought a house together – and have each paid towards each other’s debts (we did a debt snowball and overpaid on one debt at a time). It worked – now our only debt is our mortgage!

    Anyway, what I think I have come up to describe our system is separate accounts, but joined finances. We definitely plan and budget from our joint total of income, and who pays what has changed over time as our situations have changed (for example, we used to split the mortgage 50/50, but now that we have a baby, my wife pays 100% of the mortgage, and I pay for our family health insurance and will pay for childcare when I return to work). In the big picture all money is OURS and we figure out what do with it together. In the small picture, I enjoy having my own account. I definitely makes me feel less guilty about buying myself little indulgences (and keeps me from being annoyed when my wife spends money on something that I totally would not have spent money on).

    I love this money week. Definitely something we should all talk about more.

  • Jo

    I have so much to say I don’t know where to start. Well, of course I can start with, Meg, you nailed it. I got scared when you said you asked people about why they kept finances separate, since I knew my punch line… but I was a little worried we might not end up on the same page. But you did. Color me not surprised at all.

    The emotional vulnerability part is huge. My husband looked my debt square in the eye (after paying (his own, hard-earned) cash for every car and every school tuition bill he had since the age of 16) and said, yup, I’m marrying that too. It about broke my heart open with joy. I carried that nasty shit for a decade, and now we are a couple months away from erasing it. No chance it would have happened this way if I’d had to go it alone, not just because he contributes financially to it, but because he helped me face where it came from and therefore how to deal with it (living within your means helps a bit, as does smart career choices). I couldn’t have gotten where I am now alone. It would have taken me much, much longer. And the emotional gift of him accepting that part of me and my history was immense.

    This is also why it freaks me out that people are saying, I don’t want my partner to have a say in how I spend my money. Really??? Do you also have that attitude about other parts of your life together?? Because Yuck! That sounds awful. Yeah, we all have money baggage of one sort or another (tangible, emotional, or both). Just like we have other kinds of baggage. That we promise to work on as a team to improve during our partnership/marriage. As a team. Did I say as a team yet? And if you don’t think you have baggage but your partner does, well again, the team thing comes back in.

    I guess I should note that people have many different ideas of what marriage is and should be, and I don’t mean to impose my values on anyone else. But if you agree with the principles of what I’m saying, I hope you will consider my suggestions. And if you don’t agree with the principles, then I would love to hear more about your marriage because I’m sure it’s fascinating!

    I could go on and on, but I’ll end with this last thought. Do you really think your partner measures or should measure your contribution to the marriage based on how society measures the monetary value of your profession? Because I think society tends to have some messed up ideas about what various jobs are worth, which is reflected in some messed up pay scales/lack of pay for some pretty key jobs.

    Thanks, APW, for rocking out as usual.

  • I started reading APW while I was pre-engaged, and David and I split everything 50/50 like roommates. Since getting engaged, we have transitioned to partially combining finances (each contributing earner percentage to joint checking account, as well as joint wedding savings and joint general savings). We are talking about and moving toward combining finances completely (my personal ideal). All along the way, I have shown David these posts about married money as they come up, and they have been SO helpful in framing these conversations for us. My ideas about married money line up almost identically with Meg’s, but sometimes it’s been hard for me to articulate WHY.

    These posts have been an amazing communication tool for my relationship, so thank you so very much for continuing the conversation.

  • Love this post. I always wanted the joint + personal accounts. Since getting married, we got the joint, almost as a necessity because we moved to the UK where I had a bank account and he didn’t. We’ve been going with joint-only for about two months, and I’m not sure we really need the personal as well, even though I was the one really pushing for it. As others have said, it’s been very freeing, and I don’t feel the guilt that I thought I would, even though he makes about twice as much. Part of this may be that he leaves me to handle the finances, so he knows that he comes out better at the end of the day (though various retirement/savings decisions that I’m better versed in).

    And! We also have a prenup. How does that work? Anything that’s joint gets split up 50/50 if we divorce (obviously the whole point of a prenup). Anything we had before in our own names (assets like stocks holdings, and debts, like student loans and mortgage) remain individual, but if they ever get moved to a joint account, then it’s like they were always joint.

    • We used to have joint and personal accounts, but I got rid of my personal one because I stopped needing it/wanting to pay service fees. To me, it felt like a nice training wheel step that was great, but no longer needed.

  • Thank you so much for writing this. This is something that I struggle with nearly everyday. The boyfriend and I are in that living together/pre-engaged state where we know we’ll be married one day but we haven’t transitioned into actually engaged yet. When we were both working in law firms, I never thought twice about my financial contributions to our relationship. But now that I’ve left that career path to start my own business, I constantly think about how I’m able to contribute and worry that my worth within our relationship has somehow diminished because I’m not earning and contributing as much to our household. I was raised by a single mother and have spent a lot of my life struggling with the thought of being dependent on a man. I know I need to transition my line of thinking from “I don’t want to be dependent on him so I have to keep everything separate” to “I am contributing equally but in different ways” but it’s much easier said than done. I feel somewhat comforted in knowing I’m not the only one struggling with this!

  • I think everyone should read this Bitch, Ph.D. piece about marriage and money and equality. EVERYONE. One of the most useful things about money and chores and family I’ve ever read.

    • NF

      Bitch, Ph.D is/was awesome!

      • She’s been writing at Crooked Timber occasionally under her real name (Tedra Osell). Still awesome. I particularly love her for her take on personal feminism and daily life.

  • Ariel

    Amen sister!

    A wonderful, thoughtful, thought-provoking post.

  • Amanda

    YES YES YES YES YES. Thank you. Thank you for this. My husband is currently unemployed, by his own doing. He was going absolutely insane at a job that treated him like crap and we made the decision that for his own sanity, he needed to leave. With no other job lined up. He’s been looking for a long time and we’ve been living on my salary ever since. We are doing okay, not great, but we aren’t homeless and we can buy groceries. The more important part is that my partner isn’t constantly angry and depressed every day.

    A few months ago I was out with some girlfriends having a few drinks and catching up. They know what my situation is but at this point in our lives (our 20’s) we’re all sort of broke all the time so it’s not a huge deal. We decided to hit up another bar after leaving the first and I made some sort of comment about not wanting to spend all our money (meaning the $40 or so we probably had for an entire month’s worth of “entertainment” which in New York is two drinks and takeout). And my newly single friend snapped back “Don’t you mean YOUR money??”. Hooooo boy, I am still really mad at myself for not responding. I was just so taken aback by her presumption that because my husband isn’t earning anything right now, he gets no say in how we spend our household money. If the tables had been turned and someone had said that to a man about his stay-at-home wife/mom I think people would have a lot to say about it. It still makes me so angry!!

    I plan on going to vet school in the next year or two, which means I’ll be out of the earning pool for a good four years. My husband will be the one solely paying the rent and buying groceries but that’s still OUR money. Because that’s how marriage works. He won’t be unemployed for the entirety of our marriage and I won’t be at school full-time for the entirety of our marriage. Thank you for writing this piece today. I’m all about mini-socialism and I was excited to combine our finances. Granted, we’re both pretty terrible with money so we weren’t in the awkward situation of one person brining in a lot of debt and the other bringing in huge savings but the idea of everything being, collectively, “ours” makes me very happy in a weird way (and for the record both my husband and I consider ourselves to be staunch feminists! So there!).

  • E

    Thanks for this post! Very timely as we have been discussing merging our finances after our spring wedding. I completely agree that each partner should contribute according to what they have and spend according to what they need. We are a team, and it takes both of us to make our team work. If my partner lost his job, I’d support him financially. And I’d expect him to do the same for me.
    When he got a really great job opportunity in a city across the country, I quit a job I really liked on two weeks notice so that we could move together. I found a new job here that paid a little less. I shouldn’t “receive less spending money” when I have made some career sacrifices to do what’s best for our team as a whole.
    And I will help him pay down his debt (even though I deliberately chose a debt-free path) because I’m grateful that his choices put him on the path where we met and because practically we need to pay it down so that we can afford other things in the future. It’s a transition for sure and I’m sure we’ll face hiccups along the way, but I’m glad we’ll be sharing everything.

  • Amen to all of this. From someone on the other side of the equation who makes twice as much as her husband (let’s talk about how criminally underpaid teachers are) and whose husband has school debt, I say we’re in this marriage together. We combined finanaces immediately. What thrill do I get living like a princess while my husband either lives like a pauper or accrues more debt? As a teacher, his job is arguably more valuable to society than what I do as a writer, it just doesn’t pay as much as it should. Is he somehow less of a person because of that?

  • Kathryn

    Though I’ve taken the same approach to finances as celebrated here, I think I’m chafing a bit at this post, partially because it’s written as What is Right and Good and Feminist, which is something that I think APW is usually so good at deconstructing. For example, I think that the reasons for financial separation cited here are skewed to the unusually worrisome. There’s choice and grey area and value at play here, and I think that’s missing from this post.

    While I dearly love the idea of community and communal finances and throwing your lot in with people around you, I also worry that it’s largely women who are championing that idea, women who don’t have equal pay scales, women who still largely opt out of the workforce to care for children, and women who lose out financially in a divorce.

    Meg, I love what you do and how you do it, but in this instance I’ve got a quibble, which just goes to show how much your posts make me think! Iwould have stood behind this post if you’d written it as your personal financial manifesto–what you believe to be true and good and supportive about the financial choices that you’ve made–and the things that you’d like all women to consider in marriage, without elevating those choices to The Feminist Way.

    • CM

      I also found myself chafing a bit at the idea that totally combining finances is The Only Legitimate Approach to Marital Finances, or the idea that us not doing this means that we don’t care for each other.

      My fiancé and I opened a joint checking account 8 months into dating when we decided to move in together, to share future housing expense and to put an end to endless check splitting. We’ve tweaked the amount that gets automatically transferred there (once when we started sharing rent, and once our bar-going habits started to leave that account balance dangerously low), but have no plans to abandon our separate checking, retirement, and other investment accounts once we get married. Perhaps because both of my parents strongly advocated for this approach, or perhaps because we make the same amount of money and have no debt, this feels approach feels right to me—maybe we’ll reassess in the future if something else feels right then.

      • Amanda

        CM, but you have combined finances (joint checking account). Meg isn’t saying that “totally combining finances is The Only Legitimate Approach to Marital Finance” as she and her husband have separate accounts for gifts and personal expenses. I think the bigger issue here is that one’s contribution to a marriage should not be decided solely by their financial contribution. And how the whole paying your share based on your salary as a percentage of the other partner’s salary/who is picking up the groceries this time/etc. etc. can really lead to a lot of stress in a marriage. I trust my husband to make the right decisions with our money and he trusts me to do the same. Regardless, depending on your state laws and how your specific accounts are set up (and barring a pre-nup), your individual investments and savings could be considered as belonging to both partners under the eyes of the law anyway (and since you’ll probably want to retire together, is that really such a big deal?).

        • CM

          My understanding from Meg’s earlier posts is that all of the money that comes into the household is combined and then they get allowances, so I guess that’s what I hear when she says “combining.” Like Steamnerd I have a hard time articulating why this complete combining of finances bothers me, but it does–maybe because I think my father would be rolling in his grave if I did that? Maybe because I don’t see why my fiance should have to pay for half of my quilting supplies/fancy cheese/other various and sundry items that are of no benefit to him?

          I totally agree that one’s contribution to marriage should not be measured by one’s financial contribution, absolutely.

          Question–Is it really true that upon marriage all his assets also become mine, if we don’t live in a community property state? I can see that happening in the event of death or divorce, but if we are alive and married I don’t think I could use his credit card, or call up and make transactions on his account, right?

          • Amanda

            Honestly, I have no idea what the specific state laws are concerning community property or otherwise. I know that my husband’s student loan debt will always be HIS debt but we are both working on paying it off just as we will both be working to pay off my student loan debt when I finish vet school.

            I know there is no “right” answer and I’m sure how you were raised affects the discussion a lot. My parents have joint everything so for me, that is “normal” and I have a hard time understanding why anyone else would do it differently (again, barring any kind of pre-nup or one person having a large inheritance or trust, etc.). When both spouses are working I think it’s a lot easier to keep things separate. My yarn purchases are made from my separate account. However, if I were to become suddenly unemployed and subsequently was in charge of the majority of the housework and laundry instead of contributing money, then yes, husband should pay for my damn yarn (if we are still able to afford unnecessary niceties like that on one salary). Shit happens over the course of a marriage. And I guess I just feel like if everything is combined from the get go, it’s a heck of a lot easier to weather those crappy times (like prolonged unemployment).

          • Kess

            Your fiance actually benefits greatly from those quilting supplies and fancy cheese. Just as you benefit greatly from his hobbies/likes!

            Hobbies and enjoyment make a better person. I’m much calmer and happier when I knit, and my SO enjoys playing games (video and otherwise) alone or with his friends and feels much better after that.

            So if he wants to buy Skyrim, I know it will create enjoyment for him, and he knows that if I buy 10 skeins of wool for a sweater, I’ll be happier overall.

    • Jennie

      I’ve been finding myself with similar chaffing in a few post recently regarding what is/isn’t feminist (perhaps a future topic in the APW world?). There are many facets that fall under the umbrella of the feminist movement (guess what? some feminists do hate men; some feminists believe that separate finances are the appropriate method to combat what they perceive as patriarchal economic systems; some feminists wear lipstick and high heels; some don’t). We need to be careful about how we dismiss those who don’t ascribe to our ideology as not feminist. They may not ascribe to the kind of feminism I identify with, but I’m doing all of us a disservice if I choose to close them out or tear them down.

      • ambi

        You know, I have been pretty vocal about this on other posts . . . but I just didn’t get that vibe from this post.

  • Janna

    Yes, yes, yes! My husband and I didn’t combine finances at first, and then he was unemployed for a year, and the stress of “your” money and “my” money drove us crazy. Now it’s all in one pot, and I’m the one in law school and he is supporting me. Even though it’s the same money, sometimes just the act of him using his card to pay at dinner feels like he’s treating me to dinner, and vise versa. It really is one of the best things we’ve done to become one family is to view money as “ours”. (We also try to be considerate and talk to each other before making big purchases, since it is communal, but that doesn’t mean I call him every time I buy a pair of shoes. Actually, more often than not, he’s with me and tells me to stop being so practical and buy the damn shoes because they’re pretty. Now I’m just bragging about my husband being the best…)

  • pixie_moxie

    Thank you for writing this. Husband and I have a joint account that we contribute the same amount to monthly but hold our own separate accounts still and it is really starting to make me itch that I do not feel we have fully joined together in this partnership. He has a business account because he is self employed and thus “pays” himself out of that. I know this is part of what is holding him back, not knowing how joining together would affect this process.
    Thank you for kick starting me into having a conversation about finances. We both work in the arts and as you know the summers can be lean months. Join and conquer the jobless summers!
    I love that APW is not afraid of having these conversations!

  • mimi

    Like everyone else, loved this post. My guy and I are living together and pre-engaged. I make more than he does and I own the house, so currently, I pay the bills each month and he pays me for a set amount towards the mortgage and then half the utilities. I buy all the groceries and he usually pays when we go out. This post gives me a great place to start the talk on combining finances. I love the team/socialist mentality. We are talking about both getting new cars and I was trying to figure out who would pay for the more expensive one… but it makes so much more sense just to combine and share. Thanks Meg! Definitely bookmarking this post for use in the near future.

  • Kay

    I haven’t even begun to read through all the comments on here, but let me just say THANK YOU for saying all of this. I absolutely agree with your stance on finances in a marriage and I find all of the “his money, my money” stuff in our generation to be really…. sad, I guess. We aren’t roommates, we are one household.

    We were totally (geekily) excited to combine finances. And, even though my husband makes a lot more than me, he was just as jazzed about it as I was. There was never any question about what we would do. As soon as we were married, we began chucking “his” income at MY school loan. It felt a little weird at first, but a year and a half in, it feels completely normal and I can’t imagine the stress and hassle we would have if we were trying to keep things separate. I feel that it has really helped to solidify our partnership quickly.

    Funny side story: I was talking with my mom about how well my husband’s company is doing (we’re lucky enough that he is in a pretty lucrative, high-demand industry). My mom said, “He is going to be a millionaire someday, isn’t he?” And I responded with, “No. WE’RE going to be millionaires someday.”

    (Maybe. Maybe not. The point being that my husband’s gain, is my gain, and vice versa. It was especially funny considering that my mom is very much pro-combining-finances.)

  • Lynn

    This is really, really hard for me.

    I told him a couple of nights ago that one of my crazy-making irritations is feeling like I’m in this alone. That not only am I the one who is paying all the bills and working more hours, I’m coming home and still having to cook and clean and feed the dog and remind him to feed the cats and all these other things that have to get done in order for our household to function…and if for whatever reason he doesn’t want to find a job that will pay more, then he has to pick up in other areas. If this is going to be a joint relationship, then it needs to be a joint relationship…not just monetarily.

    • ambi

      Lynn, I remember your comments from the other day, and I know you are really struggling with this, first *hugs* and support. You have a community here to listen to you, talk it out, and offer several points of view.

      I completely understand where you are coming from. We often talk about how one partner (usually the woman) may not earn as much, or may stay home, but she contributes just as much to the family by doing other things. It can be natural to view it as a simple trade off – money into the bank account, or services around the house. But I think a big part of Meg’s post is really about not keeping score like that. The person making less shouldn’t feel like they have to do more work around the house to make up for it. On the flip side though, one partner shouldn’t feel like they are doing everything alone. My two cents (and this is just my opinion), is that you should approach this with your boyfriend based on how your are feeling, not based on a calculation regarding income and chores. I think he would probably respond a lot better to “I really need more help and support because I am overwhelmed with work and household chores and life in general,” rather than “because I am out there earning more and financially supporting us, you need to pull your weight by doing x,y,and z chores – it’s only fair.” At least for me, the idea behind mini socialism is that you don’t keep score. Each person does what they can, contributes what they can, and circumstances change over time.

      • ambi

        Just a thought, Lynn. In my comment, I say “each person does what they can,” and I think your issue may boil down to the fact that you don’t really think your boyfriend is actually doing what he can for the family (either financially or around the house).

        This bring up a REALLY interesting and difficult question: How does marraige as mini socialism work if one partner isn’t interested or willing to do what they can to support and advance the family as a whole? A whole lot of our discussion so far has been based on the assumption that, despite different earnings, both partners contribute equally to the relationship. How do you approach marraige as mini socialism if you don’t feel like your partner (or yourself) is living up to his potential or contributing what he could be contributing?

        This is a bigger question than I am prepared to answer. Anyone else have suggestions?

        • Lynn

          This gets to the heart of it. Leaving money out of it completely, he is not doing what he can. He will admit that he is not.

          • ambi

            Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. I just had a lightbulb moment and realized that the way you are feeling about your boyfriend may be (and probably is) how my boyfriend feels about me incurring the credit card debt that I did and not getting it paid off sooner. Shit. I kind of get it now in a way I didn’t before, but that doesn’t mean it feels better. By wracking up debt and not being determined enough to get it paid off years ago (we’ve been together for about 7 years now), I haven’t been “doing what I can” to move our baby family forward. Well, honestly, that makes me feel like crap, but it’s also motivating.

          • Lynn

            I’m sorry Ambi. :(

            I love him dearly. He is such a good man. My life is better with him in it–he centers me, calms me, brings me back to what is right. He is patient and kind and understanding–he works with children who have behavioral and emotional disorders and he is excellent at working with them. He supports me and encourages me but he does not let me walk all over him. He knows when to reel me in.

            The piece about moving our baby family forward is what it is. We don’t need more money for the sake of having more money. Where we are is comfortable. It’s tight, but the bills are paid. I get stressed about it but it always turns out OK. But he wants to be able to send something to his grandmother every month (& I’m OK with that). There are places we want to go and see, things we want to do. Children we’d like to have. If we’re going to be able to do any of those things, he has to help. I can’t do it by myself.

    • EM

      Lynn, it sounds as though you’re already thinking in terms of the monetary value of all that work you’re doing. Maybe it’s worth having a conversation about hiring someone to help out around the house.

      I know this can be a hard thing to imagine doing when you’re already feeling the pinch, and you may decide that it’s not a good option — but make that decision together.

      You can say, “I’m unhappy with this situation, and it’s affecting our relationship. So far we haven’t been able to figure this out in a way that’s works for me. Here’s another possible solution — let’s sit down with our budget and see what we’d have to do to be able to afford that.” Get some real numbers, and then put it all on the table — would it mean not saving for a vacation you both want to go on? Turning off the cable and subsisting on dried beans?

      Of course, hiring someone to help you clean every few weeks, or to take the cooking pressure off, is not going to address all the day-to-day stuff that’s making you crazy. It doesn’t have to — it’s just a way to open up the conversation, to move from “fine you didn’t do it so I will harass you or do it myself” to making intentional decisions, together.

  • It was very important to me to combine our finances when we got married, although it has definitely been one of the more challenging aspects of marriage! We opened a joint checking account when we moved in together, two years earlier, because I wanted to avoid the whole “who’s paying for groceries this week?” issue. At the time, we each put in half. Now our system is similar to Meg’s–everything goes into joint accounts except for a bit of spending money (same amount for each of us) each month. It has been working really well for us, and seems like a good long-term solution, in the event that one of us takes a break from working (for school or child-rearing).

    I thought that merging our finances would be harder on me, but I love that all of our financial goals are now joint goals, and decisions become joint decisions. It also helps that I get to be in charge of the joint accounts, because I am the one who is interested and knowledgeable about that sort of thing. It would be interesting to hear how couples manage when both partners are equally interested in being in charge of financial decisions.

    • kathleen

      I totally agree with you on the joint decisions thing– we are going to combine our accounts when we get married, but are already talking in terms of ‘our goals’ ‘our budget’, etc. It’s been very fun for me to have someone else to talk and dream and plan all these things with— especially as we both really respect each other, and think the other is smart and good with money. It’s so geeky, but I love it.

  • Dawn

    As others have said, this is great timing. Lately I’ve been struggling with the issue of merging finances with my boyfriend. When we moved in together a year ago (into my house) we had talked about setting up a joint account but it never really made sense to do so as all of the shared bills were in my name on auto draft from my account and he’s paid every other week while I’m paid every month which we quickly discovered would make ensuring the joint account had enough money to cover all the bills at the beginning of the month tricky (so I pay all the bills at the beginning of the month and then he pays me his share within two weeks once he gets paid again). And that seemed like a good plan. But over the last year, more and more, every time we’re at the grocery store or at dinner or buying plants for our new garden and one of us has to say “you want to pay for this or you want me to?” it bugs me. All of the bills go into a spreadsheet so he always knows what he owes me but just that whole concept of him owing me, like they’re all my bills and he’s just helping me out, is really starting to bother me.

    And now I’m refinancing the house and initially my plan was to roll the savings on one mortgage into the other to pay it off quicker and still ‘charge’ him the same ‘rent’. But I know he has higher interest credit card debt so that doesn’t make sense if we’re in this together. I’ve always thought that if I ever got married I would want to pay off all of my debt on my own (kind of as a point of pride) but I’m really realizing now that it makes no sense to view things as separate because if he has much higher credit card rates than I do and is paying tons of money each year in interest, that’s money that could be going to vacations or a new kitchen.

    So a finances discussion is definitely on the horizon (he’s already been given the heads up that we need to reassess the joint account situation — I’ve discovered we do better discussing big issues when he’s had some warning and time to process) and this post (and a reread of past money posts) had given me some good talking points. Because the way we have things set up right now is causing some resentment on my part at feeling like everything is my responsibilty and he’s just helping me out when it’s convenient for him (which is not how he’s treating it but functionally that’s how it ends up working out).

    On a slightly side note: has anyone ever watched Til Debt do us Part? That somehow became one of our guilty viewing pleasures and it’s created many opportunities to discuss our values and philosophies about money (if only by us both saying at the exact same time “holy kamoley that’s the dumbest waste of money I’ve ever seen!”)

  • streamnerd

    This whole week of money topics has been great thus far.

    I am having trouble with the idea of combining our finances completely but I am also having trouble figuring out and/or expressing why. We are lucky that we are actually going to enter into our marriage with surprisingly very similar financial situations so it should be easy really. We’ve decided to open a joint account to pay for necessities but keep the rest of our individual incomes in our existing accounts. We’ll see how it works. I think this will be an evolving process that adapts as situations arise.

    I am curious about one thing though. I do not really consider the household “work” that I do a contribution to our relationship. If it is something I would have to do anyway if I were single like cooking, cleaning, paying bills…then I do not see how it is an extra work contribution to our relationship. I don’t clean the tub more often than if I lived alone. Cooking for 2 is not any more work than cooking for 1. Doing laundry for 2 half the time is the same as doing laundry for 1 all the time. Just like I do not value my fiance for the money he brings to our household, I do not value him for the household work he does or does not do, I value him for the person that he is and his companionship. I understand that this situation may be different if there is child care involved or the division of work in the home and outside the home is very skewed but I just figured I would share my opinion/experience on this topic which struck me as odd.

    • ambi

      I’d just say that I have REALLY appreciated having my boyfriend’s help with household work. While we don’t clean the tub twice as much or cook twice as much or any of that, it really makes a difference to have another person helping. I remember nights when I was living alone that I was so exhausted and burnt out that the idea of taking out the trash, doing laundry, and cooking before I could crawl into bed was just overwhelming. Having another person to help me out when I feel like that, or when we do a quick Saturday morning house cleaning session, really makes a difference. My personal experience has been that when you have two people working on the housework, each person has to do a little less. That, combined with the emotional support, has really freed me up and given me more energy for tackling other parts of my life (professional, fitness, friendships, etc.). So I do really value the contributions that we each make around the house.

      • EM

        Totally. When I’m feeling frustrated about him not pitching in as much as I’d like, I try to remember to think about it as “me with you versus me without you” instead of “me versus you.” it’s easy to over-value the work that we’re doing, and forget about the things our partner does. for example: last time I was feeling like a scullery maid and let him know it, he snapped back, “okay, and when was the last time you went to the grocery store?” Um, right. Guilty as charged.

        Since then, I’ve been doing a much better job thanking him when he does something I would have had to do myself if I were single. Two observations: 1) it’s easier to remember the stuff he does now that I’m acknowledging it out loud and 2) he returns the favor a lot more often when I cook or empty the dishwasher.

        That being said, sometimes couples do fall into patterns of contributing unequally around the house, and if it’s going on for long enough and you mix in the pressures of feeling broke and stressful jobs, it can feel really shitty. I think the key is finding some way to acknowledge, together, that you’re a team.

        • I so agree about the acknowledging/thanking out loud thing! Since we figured out that little secret, domestic life has been much more pleasant. We do it often and it’s funny how such small very praise or acknowledgment really lifts the mood in our home. It also makes it much easier to request help on some things. If I remind him to do one of “his” chores, or if he asks me to pick up some slack on something, we no longer feel defensive about it, because we are fully aware that our partner appreciates what we do.

          • ambi

            I’ll just add that there are a lot of chores that I absolutely HATE to do. Many of my friends have recently resolved huge conflicts in their marraiges by simply hiring people to clean their houses. (Seriously, three of my best friends have told me that the decision to hire a maid saved their marraiges because chores were the main thing they fought about). Neither my boyfriend nor I are really comfortable with hiring someone (and we couldn’t afford it if we wanted to), but thinking about how much I would pay to have someone do the chores I hate helps me appreciate my boyfriend’s contributions. I know that I would probably be willing to shell out some cash for someone to do all the yard work, vacuum, and scrub the bathroom. He would probably pay to have all his laundry done if I didn’t do it for him (not really, he’d do it I guess, but he’d hate it).

        • Yes to saying thank you! It’s my “job” to cook, and his “job” to do the dishes, because it works well for us. It takes so little to say thank you, or great dinner, or the kitchen looks great. It makes everyone happier, and I really fail to believe that if I thank him for doing the dishes every time, it will devalue it. We’re each doing something the other doesn’t like to do, so why not be gracious about it?

    • streamnerd

      I agree, I really appreciate the help I get from my fiance with household stuff. I was specifically referring to this line: “When we think we deserve less spending money because we make less, we’re devaluing all the things we do to make our household run (chores! cooking! jokes! hugs! planning!).” What didn’t make sense to me is the rationale behind the comment that Partner B should feel entitled to an equal share of the joint money pool because they contribute chores, cooking, jokes… Seems to me that you deserve equal parts because the two partners decided to make it a joint pool of money not because of these other things one does at home.

      In my situation, we both work full time at typical jobs and I make a bit more (1.33 X) than he does. This is all hypothetical for us but if we combined finances I wouldn’t expect him to contribute more to household work than I do because I would contribute more to the pool of money. I think household work / chores should be divided up equally regardless of income situation.

      • ambi

        I completely agree with you on that. I didn’t understand your point earlier.

      • Jo

        Meg said something way back when (can’t remember when) about how it’s not about comparing individual contributions in money vs effort but instead maybe in hours contributing to the home. If your partner goes to work all day and you stay home, and you don’t spend any of those hours while they’re working doing anything for the family (childcare, housework, bill-paying, whatevs), then are you really contributing equally? I don’t think my husband would appreciate me saying that since he’s in grad school and making less money than I am that he has to do more chores…

    • Kess

      But at the same time, you have to think of what your partner is gaining. They don’t have to do the chores you are. Yes, you might not have to do all that many more than you would if you were single, but your partner doesn’t have to do any of the things you do! So say you cook – which is pretty much equally difficult/time consuming for one as for two. It doesn’t take any of your extra time, but it give your partner extra time.

  • We merged finances when we bough our house (pre-engagement). We’d poured our savings into the house and I was the only one with a steady income. I was depositing some money in his account for general spending every couple of weeks and it made me crazy uncomfortable. It was totally an ALLOWANCE in the strictest little kid sense of the word.

    We were both hesitant to do so pre-marriage but ultimately we decided we were buying the house together (in both of our names) and were going to have a legal mess on our hands anyway if we were to part ways. (We each have our own credit cards/small savings accounts.)

    What occasionally kills me is that I’m the sole wage earner almost two years later. We’re going to be married in September with our house TOTALLY paid off. Sometimes I get a little internally grumpy and martyr-y thinking “I PAID THIS OFF” which is totally counter productive. It means we might have some talking to do about money. It means I have some growing up to do about money.

    There’s many ways to go about sharing finances and building your life with your partner. But I think it comes down to “Remember, you’re building a life together, not buying one.”

    • I have nothing concrete to say other than, DAMN GIRL, you (be it the singular or plural) paid off your house in two years! That is freaking awesome and inspiring.

      • haha…We live in a really inexpensive area and bought a house that needed A LOT of work. And put 50% down. And had kept ourselves on a tight budget so we could make bid payments.

        But hell yeah, we did it. While also paying on our dream vacation property. :-)

        • Doesn’t matter how you did it – that’s really awesome!

    • Not Sarah

      WOO! Congrats at paying your house off so quickly! That is amaaazing!

  • nicole

    Wow — thank you so much for this. I needed it today … and has definitely pushed me into a different mindset (OK, honesty: at least to consider a different mindset) about all of this. I’ve been married < 6 months, have always been fiercely independent esp. when it comes to money, my husband makes a lot more than me, and I am just starting to realize I have some mental work to do to – at least for me – see this more as a partnership rather than 'what I have' and 'what he has.' I'm hoping to get to 'our' in not too long.

    So yeah — thanks.

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  • Sarah

    Totally on board with joint finances. We do this and it has been the single thing that makes me feel like we have become a family. However, speaking as a former financial counselor, please keep (or get) a credit card in your own name to continue to build and maintain your own credit. You can each use it to buy $5 of whatever every month, and pay it off in full. This is critical – a separate savings account will do nothing for your credit.

  • ambi

    This is kind of a tangent, but I have a very close friend who is about to marry one of those wall street ceo types (despite the fact that he is criminally overpaid, he’s actually a really nice guy). She has been financially idependant (although struggling) for so long that she is really wrestling with what this drastic change in her financial status is going mean. Much of her life is based on what she has needed to do to support herself (the job she’s in but doesn’t really enjoy, the apartment that she can afford, etc.) Now that she is about to marry someone that not only makes many times what she makes, but has built a very comfortable financial cushion as well, she is confused, excited, ashamed, and guilt-ridden about how drastically her life will change based solely on her fiance’s money. She can quit her job if she wants. Working is suddenly optional, and she could choose to start a business or volunteer or take a job that is fulfilling but not financially lucrative. She is angry and frustrated by the stereotypes and assumptions that people are suddenly making about her. A year ago, everyone saw her as a smart and capable woman making ends meet on her own in a very competitive and difficult field. Now she is suddenly viewed as a stepford wife or gold digger. She was talking to me the other day about how much of her identity has been related to money, class, and financial circumstances, and how all of that is suddenly changing. She is happy that she and her fiance both view marraige in the way Meg described above, and he is happy that his financial success will allow her to pursue whatever type of life will make her happy (whether that ultimately means finding a job she loves or staying home and raising children or something else entirely). But I was surprised to learn how much guilt and shame she feels about this.

    • kathleen

      Ambi– thanks so much for sharing this, as I see myself in your friend, but hadn’t yet articulated these feelings. I’m soon to be engaged, and then very soon thereafter married, to a man that made (literally, to the dollar) ten times what I made last year. I’ve taken such pride in being someone who made a great life on a relatively small amount of money- I’ve bought a car and house and graduate degree while working my tail off….and funnily enough, it’s that side of me that attracted him, he loves how capable I am. But yes, there’s about to be a HUGE self-identity switch that I haven’t really thought about. Hmmm…I’ve got some thinking to do.

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      I’ve written and re-written my response to this to make it not be as… over the top… as it first was, but (your friend’s circumstances aside) as a person from (very) modest means who has constantly worked, I keep telling myself that in 10 years when I’m finally NOT POOR any more, I won’t feel guilty for not being poor. Because, after all , that’s the goal, right? Stability?

      I want to tell your friend to recognize that she is entering a situation that (1) does not say anything about her character that she’s getting there (unless, you know, she clubbed a bunch of baby seals or something), and (2) it does NOT have affect her personality/beliefs/identity. The fact that she worked hard to get where she is does not come from nowhere, and does not cease to exist when all of a sudden she doesn’t need money anymore! Some things just stick with you, and working hard because you both have to and want to is one of those fundamental, character-altering things.

      • kathleen

        upteenth sarah- I so needed to read this. thank you thank you thank you.

    • Gigi59

      Your friend would be in the same situation if she suddenly inherited money (or won the lottery). Sarah is right – it doesn’t change who she is, it just gives her stability and maybe more toys. I think that the lessons she (and you too, Kathleen) has learned from making her own life will help her to NOT fall in to those awful stereotypes. And no one should ever feel guilty about enjoying the good life they have worked hard to achieve.

      We actually did inherit some money – a little from my family and a LOT from hers. Suddenly, I can retire early if I want to; we have a new car, we paid off the mortgage. And the comments from all sides have been irritating, funny and disturbing. My experience is that for every person who is happy for you that you’ve ‘made it’, there will be at least one who will be jealous and say stupid things. Sort of like being engaged or pregnant…

      • ambi

        A lot of her guilt comes from the fact that she doesn’t view this as something she earned, but as something she is being given based upon her romantic and sexual relationship. Essentially, she is struggling with how to allow her to be really happy and excited about this without buying into the whole history of women seeking rich husbands and trying to “marry well.” She knows in her head that if the situation were reversed, she’d be happy to marry him and offer him a much wealthier lifestyle. But there is just something about a younger woman marrying an older, much wealthier man that makes her feel a bit ashamed of her situation. She loves her guy for reasons completely unrelated to his money, but she IS really happy about the fact tha they are going to be financially comfortable, and she has very confused feelings around being happy about his money.

        • OMG, who would NOT be (at least partly) happy to suddenly be extremely financially comfortable? Of course she’s happy about it! Even if it’s not what she looked for in him.

          I do think there’s a weird cultural position there and I understand that sense of feeling like what people see when they look at her isn’t actually who she is. And I think for her it’s worth thinking about that carefully, and whether there are traps or incentives that might lead her to make choices she dislikes. For example, if they have kids: would she want to stay home? or would she want to work but feel guilty not making much more than it’d cost to pay for childcare? (Eff that second one, btw. See the above Bitch, Ph.D. piece for why.) Will she accept less time with him than she wants because it’s non-negotiable for his job? Etc. But presumably she’s thought about those things, and it’s TOTALLY REASONABLE for her to be happy about the money even if it’s not driving the decision.

  • Anon for this

    Someone touched on the idea briefly – of taking care of sick/incapacitated relatives. We joined our finances when we got married, and see everything as “ours” – debt, savings, bonuses(!). We both lost a parent when we were younger, and have acknowledged that our remaining two parents may need some financial help down the road, which we will begin to budget/save for sooner, rather than later. What I wonder – and frankly, *worry* – about is what happens if/when other family members need money? There is a bit of history of this with my partner’s family, and I am seriously worried about how to protect ourselves if we don’t want to help out? I’m not talking illness – I’m talking lazy-won’t-get-a-job-can’-t-pay-my-bills-need-money-or-will-lose-home. We are both on the same page now, and have set strict boundaries (with ourselves) regarding situations in which we will/will not help, but I know we can’t plan for all situations, and if someone is about to lose their home and knocking on our door for help, we might get caught up in promises to be paid back. I guess this is a bit of a tangent… but do others have experience with this? I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a terrible person, I am really overly generous with my money and have always been. But working hard now for our future won’t be worth it if we have to give our hard-earned money away to others who won’t work now to help themselves in the long run. End ramble.

    • ambi

      This is a VERY interesting comment. I come from one of those families where people often turn to each other for financial support. It is just kind of ingrained in the culture of my extended family that if someone is down on their luck, people who are doing better financially step in to help. This has taken many forms. Not just direct loans of money, but also things like selling an old car to a cousin at a deeply discounted price, helping a sister-in-law get a job, renting out your garage apartment to the uncle going through a divorce, providing childcare for the family who can’t afford it over the summer while the kids are out of school, etc. It can be taken advantage of, and this definitely causes problems, but I think the overall view of money in my extended family is a bit like “Family as Mini Socialism.” It gets complicated, though, when you have one family member who rises to a higher economic level and suddenly the requests for assistance are all focused on them rather than spread around amoung family members that are all basically on the same level.

      Your comment made me realize that I am pretty sure my partner’s family does not approach money in this way. He has always talked about taking care of his parents when they get older (and now we are talking about also taking care of mine). But I suddenly see that we need to discuss this issue. Like almost everything related to money and finances, I feel this is another area where I (and my family) are going to be a drain or a burden . . .

    • Claire

      Oh yes! I have a ton of experience with this. It’s a super long story,but lets’s just oversimplify it by saying the heritage of poverty runs deep in my family and most of my family have what I’ll call bohemian tendencies. I’m the only one who has pursued higher education and traditional corporate employment, so naturally I’m the one who tends to cover the financial gaps experienced by other family members. Over the last decade I have helped my parents with expensive home repairs (thanks, Hurricane Katrina!), raised siblings and nieces, and financially supported other siblings and nieces. At this point, we will likely be financially supporting my nieces for the foreseeable future.

      My husband and I are 100% in agreement about the appropriateness of these remittances. For us, supporting the nieces is absolutely the right thing to do. But we have had to have honest conversations about what those financial commitments mean for our overall financial plan and future goals. There are still trade-offs that have to be made.

      However, I feel much more anxiety when I think about other likely scenarios when in the future we might be expected/asked to care for other family members who have simply made poor decisions throughout their adult lives. Where is the line between enabling and caring for family?

    • Marina

      I have a personal policy of not giving loans to people I love. I give gifts, and maybe if they want they can give me a gift later. But having a creditor/debtor relationship with someone I love is something I never, ever want to do again.

  • Hannah

    Oh wow — great topic. Why do women talk so little about how we handle money in our relationships? I feel like I’ve been inventing the wheel sometimes, with no models from my own parents and no friends in similar boats to talk with. I’m glad this conversation is happening here.

    We’ve been through many iterations of financial balancing as our relationship’s progressed. There were the early days, both of us working way too many hours for too little money, taking jobs on the side and always saying yes to overtime, when we both paid in the same amount to a joint account each month and then kept whatever was left in our own accounts. We liked the idea of being able to treat one another to dinners, flowers, presents without it coming from joint funds. I didn’t want to stress about how much lift tickets cost, nor did I want to feel guilty about buying new shoes. That worked for us — then.

    Then there was the return to school, incurring huge debts, buying a house, and we had to reevaluate the financial situation. Were my loans just mine, or were they an investment in our family’s future, would my degree benefit us both, and were they therefore going to be considered a shared debt that we both paid for? Luckily, he felt strongly that it was the latter, so we’ve been chipping away at them with whatever money we can save as a family, both living a frugal life to prioritize paying off loans even though he makes a decent salary and buying new mountain bikes is way more fun than eating at home to save money.

    Just this week we had another money talk. While the money’s still mostly shared, our adherence to a budget has been slacking lately and we’re spending way more than we agreed to. Credit cards make it easy to not keep track of all the things we spend on until the total makes us gasp at the end of the month. We’re going to try a new tactic: continue to put all money in the joint account, but each get an ‘allowance’ of $50 cash each month. For our lifestyle right now, that’s enough to cover the random snacks, a lunch with a friend, etc. Having cash in our wallets will help us keep track of how much is left and not go over. For bigger personal purchases we’ll just check in with one another about it ahead of time — we’re not going to deny one another new clothes, or soccer team registration, but at least we’ll both feel ownership over how the money is spent and it won’t be such a surprise.

    And next year, when I’m graduated and hopefully employed? A new iteration for a new phase in our relationship.

  • This is frickin awesome. Thank you for calling attention to a subject that I think a lot of women are just plain afraid to discuss with other women.

    I know I was afraid to talk about it. I’m a librarian, and my fiance is a lawyer. Can you guess who makes more? I finished graduate school last June and have had a heck of a time finding full-time employment. In the meantime, I work 2 part time jobs, but of course I will never make 80k per year even in a high paying position in my field.

    Talking to my friends about this was enormously awkward. None of my friends are married or are in cohabitating relationships, so the only people I can really talk to are…my parents, who are very conservative and traditional. I used to think they were crazy. My dad was the main breadwinner, and my mom stayed home with my brother and me until we were fully grown. (Which is something I respect and admire, and plan to do the same for my children, by choice.) When I asked them about it, they told me that my fiance would need to support us both–but that I would fill a role of support that would not necessarily bring in financial income, but instead would add value to our household nonetheless (cooking, cleaning, paying bills–things that are important, and if you hired someone else to do them, it would cost you a small fortune.)

    Anyways, I think this whole finances thing is really important. Like, when we were dating, the word ‘budget’ might have come up once or twice in casual conversation. Now as we prepare for our upcoming wedding, money is a big topic of discussion for both of us. It’s really, really important and my advice to any bride-to-be is to not be afraid and do not hesitate when talking about money. Be totally honest about your debt, spending habits, and the expectations you have in terms of lifestyle. There are scarifices to be had and compromises to be made, but in the end, it’s worth it. Our relationship actually deepened because of these honest discussions. It was great.

    In marriage preparation, I learned something that really helped me get over my obsession with what’s ‘mine.’ Our priest reminded us that keeping score does nothing but create resentment in a marriage. (I don’t mean the kind where one has a serious spending problem that needs to be addressed—just keeping score about little things.) Things in a marriage will never be ’50-50’…both people have to give 100% of what they have emotionally, financially, spiritually, to make a marriage work. And it sounds easy, but I think the practical application of giving everything we have to our partner is relevant to discussions about money.

  • Elsie

    I won’t go into more commentary now, but just wanted to say that this is a great articulation of why the thought of keeping separate finances in marriage makes me so uneasy. Thanks, Meg.

  • Spines

    Yes to joint finances!

    When my fiance and I moved in together, we did the one joint account that we both contributed a set amount to, whcih covered rent, groceries, bills etc. This was all well and good, except that I earn quite a bit more and so had more fun money and could put away way more savings. So although techincally we were contributing equally, it didn’t feel like the most efficient way to work towards our goals (like a house deposit and paying for a wedding).

    Once we got engaged, we decided to have totally joint finances. We still have our own account for our weekly allowance which is the same for each of us, but other than that, it’s all the same.

    What we’re trying to do though, is live off my (larger) income, and put all of his into savings. We figured it’d be good practice for when we have a mortgage and have to live off less, or when we have a kid/s and will be donw to one income for a while.

    And for me, it was the easiest decision to make! It was such a feeling of relief and stress-release when we combined it all-no more worrying about who’s paying what. I don’t know if I’d feel the same if I was the partner earning less, but I think my fiance was equally relieved!

    One thing that it has also made me do is cut back on my spending. I am a fiend for shoes and clothes, but when I know that he can see what I’m buying, it definitely makes me stop. I still get new things, but I run it past him (well, we run stuff past each other) and it really helps me to distinguish “needs” from wants”-so tricky when it comes to shoes, haha!

  • Elemjay

    I have to say that I disagree with this post. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you need to share everything – different choices are possible (and desirable in some cases). My husband’s savings are his own to do with as he chooses. When I had an overdraft it was my responsibility to manage as I saw fit.

    Meg you have written in other posts that every marriage ends – either in death or divorce. Keeping financial autonomy is not an unwise move given these circumstances.

  • Lau

    Ok, let me preface this by saying that I am not married and I do not live in the US. I am in a long term relationaship and live in Australia.

    It’s my understanding that here, legally, and even after marriage, my partner’s debts and assets do not become mine unless they are picked up after we get married/partnered or I take them on explicitly. So the situation is different.

    Also, from a pracical rather than legal perspective, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with running things your own way. My partner has alot of assets, some debt and a very high salary. I have no assets, zero debt and a very low salary. I think it would be ridiculous to either expect me to contribute to his debts/assets or for him to say, pay all our rent because he makes more money.

    Obviously we indirectly impact on each others’ ability to do things like pay down debt – for example, the most damaging thing either of us could do is lose our jobs, we are totally interdependant, and if that happened, we would rethink the arrangement for sure. But we keep our finances mostly separate and don’t sweat the small stuff – these days, if I pay for groceries, he doesn’t ‘owe’ me. He picks up the tab more than I do, for sure.

    I 100% believe that couples have so many advantages (and not just financially) and it would be kind of stupid not to use those advantages, where they fit with the ethos of your relationship. But in our situation, it makes sense not to combine our finances. That doesn’t mean we are not looking after each other. That’s just ho we do things, and it works for us. And we value every kind of contribution we each make to the relationship, and it all comes out ‘mostly fair, most of the time’ which is fine.

    “Sure, you can not combine finances and let your partner “treat” you to dinner (something I find deeply unsettling, and reminiscent of when women didn’t have equal access to family earning power).”

    I actually find that statement incredibly judgemental. We ‘treat’ each other to things all the time, it’s lovely, it’s romantic, it shows we care. Maybe I can’t ‘treat’ him to super expensive stuff, while he can ‘treat’ me to a fancy dinner. But he’s at that foncy dinner too, enjoying every morsel.

  • You really needs to write a book about being amazing and a feminist and not being a crazy person in the year 2012. I was always afraid of being labelled a feminist because I love to be domestic and I didn’t think I could do both. APW is amazing for reinforcing that feminism is about being strong and being a woman at the same time, without a stereotype of not wearing bras (though its fine too ;)) and being whatever media portrayal of feminism is. I came to APW for the weddings and I stay because of posts like this and everything else. Keep being amazing!

  • Jessica

    This. All of it. We feel EXACTLY the same way, but so many of our married friends don’t, and I thought we were weird or not getting something. I’m so glad you wrote this.

  • Erin

    I just wanted to share the money strategy that works REALLY well for my honey & I. We have joint checking & savings accounts, but we kept our personal checking & savings accounts. We budgetted out our joint expenses (rent, groceries, going out to eat, electricity, etc.) to determine how much money we needed in the joint account per month (plus a little extra for wiggle room). Then we compared our two incomes to determine a fair ratio for us to each contribute towards our joint expenses. For example, I make 60% of our total household income & he makes 40%. If our total joint monthly expenses are $1000 (I wish!), I put in $600 & he puts in $400. We just have that amout auto deposited from our paychecks. That way we can go out & do fun stuff together, pay for it on the joint account, and it doesn’t have to be a “well I’ll pay because I make more than you” type of situation. Also, if we’re buying something big, say a piece of furniture, we can each transfer our share of the cost from our personal accouts into the joint account which makes payment easy.

    It’s really nice to have our personal accounts on the side. He can buy 10 video games, if he wants, & I’m free to buy new clothes without feeling guilty. Plus it makes it easier to buy each other presents without the other finding out :)

    • Amanda

      My fiance and I did the same exact thing when we moved in together and I could not believe how EASY it made the whole experience. The only difference in our approach was how we decided how much to contribute to the joint accounts. What we did was look at our monthly individual expenses (student loans, car payments from before we met and, before we got on one plan, cell phone bills). We each kept enough money to pay our personal monthly expenses and then decided on an amount that each of us should keep each week for our personal “fun money”. Everything else went in the joint checking, with which we paid all of our household bills, groceries, gas and joint entertainment….we also dedicated a specific amount each month that went straight to our joint savings and put any money left over from our general checking fund into a “slush fund” for bigger splurges. I was really nervous about the idea of merging finances when we were first talking about moving in together but the system has worked like a dream and I think has really reinforced our foundation as a solid partnership. We are on completely even ground as a family. My fiance is 7 years older than me so he is a bit further along in his career and making a bit more money but by combining our finances we feel like we are living equal lives and that gives us a lot of motivation to work harder and save more to contribute to the general good of our mini-family. We make decisions that are best for us, as a unit, and what we can afford and what our goals are….and I don’t have to feel bad when I want to go out and buy 3 new pairs of boots or a mini girls vacation because I have my own money too.

  • RJ

    I have another situation, not mentioned so far.

    My ex and I (who split with minimal money problems) started by sharing a credit card to cover the expenses involved in one of us flying to be with the other.

    We progressed to a joint account, joint savings , and then individual accounts too.

    But… even though we paid the credit card jointly I really liked for him to take his credit card up to the cashier or take care of the bill. I’d do it sometimes, but on balance I liked it being him..

    We weren’t the only couple like that – a friend who has always out-earned her husband is the same. He takes out his joint credit card and takes care of the act of payment.

    But then…. we’re each 110% on top of what is actually spent – so it isn’t a situation where we let our husband take over our finances. He just takes care of the physical act of payment.

    One of my love languages is Gifts, so him taking care of paying feels like a gift.

    But there’s no way I’d ever be anything other than 110% on top of what’s actually in the accounts, and budgeting.

    I heard Germaine Greer the other day and she said that wanting to be equal wasn’t what feminism was about, but wanting to have women’s experience and lives valued, and for women to have autonomy and choice was.

    • streamnerd

      But this perpetuates the expectation/assumption that the man pays. It makes me so mad when I go out to eat with my fiance and the waiter/waitress assumes the man pays and puts the bill in front of him. I work damn hard for my money and the graduate degree that allows me to make a good salary. I am proud to pay the bill when we go out to eat.

      • EM

        Streamnerd, I’m with you about how frustrating it is when others assume what your relationship dynamics might be like — and there are times that I will jump in for the check (or insist on being the one to select and taste a bottle of wine if we’re ordering one!) *However,* I’m not comfortable telling RJ that it’s her job to behave in a certain way so that servers will start acting differently. There are enough things we’re *supposed* to do in this world.

        My partner and I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to who’s picking up what, since it’s *our* money. And I’m with RJ about it feeling like a gift when he is willing to deal with paying. Sometimes I’m just too tired to figure out a tip — or I’m having a fit of introversion and I’d just rather not make chitchat with a stranger. When he takes care of the logistics, it does feel like a gift — and I don’t think there’s anything anti-Feminist about that!

        • streamnerd

          I didn’t mean to tell RJ it is her job to act a certain way and I am not one to say what is or isn’t feminist. Just offering a different perspective.

      • Not Sarah

        When I go out for dinner with a male FRIEND who I am NOT dating, it drives me bonkers that the waiter will bring us just ONE bill and put it in front of him. We are not dating!!!! What about those two guys sitting next to us – why did they get two checks and we got one?!

        Even funnier – I put my card down for me + a guy friend once and the waitress put the signing slips down in front of my (male) friend. It was MY card.


  • Casey

    Yes! Your spouse is (probably) the only member of your family you choose, and (in theory, at least) your choosing to merge your lives together. Merging your earning/saving/dreaming/vacationing power is a huge part of the practical aspects of merging your lives. Sure, it’s scary, but that’s why we are really really careful about who we choose to marry right?

  • Holy comments! I want to just say, combining finances has been the single most stressful thing my fiance and I have done. I took over the finances because he isn’t good with money and has a huge debt load. I make sure everything is paid on time and we each get a weekly allowance to do whatever we want with. Joint savings, joint bills, seperate allowances. Works for us but I can’t stress enough getting over that initial couple of months where we were trying to figure it all out was shitty. Great post, thank you!

  • This is something my husband and I definitely struggle with. We’ve been married 1.5 years and have chosen to keep separate accounts, thinking it the financially prudent thing to do. I am a writer, so make very little money and in the past have damaged my credit pretty brutally. He, on the other hand, has always been fiscally responsible, so we didn’t want to bring down his credit by smushing it together with mine.

    But it’s weird. And you’re right, it’s fraught with confusion and guilt and all sorts of emotions that shouldn’t be involved.

    We have tried to think of the money in both accounts as truly “ours” by labelling them either the B Account or the L Account…dumb, I know, but I still always feel incredibly silly and uncomfortable when I’m in between paychecks and can’t scrape enough together for gas or groceries.

    Isn’t totally weird and wrong that one of us is totally comfortable money-wise and the other is living like Winona Ryder’s character in “Reality Bites”? I don’t know what the answer is either, except to put it aside for now and tell myself to grow up. Thanks for this post, APW, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

  • Danielle

    I’ve been nervous about combining our incomes into one bank account, he’s wanted to for years and I haven’t. We’re getting married in under a month (excited!) and I have no plans on changing my mind on the topic.

    My reasoning is as follows, we both left college together with a horrendous amount of student loan debt (equal amounts amusing enough) and let’s just say that no couple should have student loan debt that equals the price of a house they’d like to purchase (no house for you!). I do alright in my career but don’t make enough money to pay any more than interest-only in my loans, he makes a lot less than me.

    It is not a breadwinner concern that we keep our money separate. It’s the loans. His loan provider actually subtracted an additional payment out of his account once without his knowledge and overdrew. I told him point blank I didn’t want to combine accounts for that reason alone. What if our rent money (which comes from my account) was taken away because of the evil student loan industry?

    I make it clear that my money is his and neither of us are afraid to spend on things we want, though that’s a rare opportunity as is. It’s unfortunate, I’m so afraid to share our accounts because of our life circumstances.

  • Tonya

    I’m trying to decide how I feel about this issue. We are newly married (3 months) but lived together for two years. When we moved in together, we made a split on the finances for who pays what (he does big ticket items, mortgage, and dinner/drinks out/I do smaller household items, utilities, groceries.) Money has never been an issue between us or something we even talk about on a regular basis. We both know we will have to talk about it when we have kids, but do we need to change how we do it now? Prior to reading this post I was really content with our situation, but now I’m wondering if we should get through the difficulty of making that change before we even get pregnant or just enjoy the money-issue free bliss as long as possible?

  • We have been married for 8 months and still haven’t got the money figured out. I pay the mortgage and the bills, he pays me. Yes, it is functional. No, it does not make me happy. I think we have a plan to work more towards us, less me and him. We are still going to have control over our own money because we’re just not ready for the big plunge. Baby steps, even if we are married. We’ll get there.

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  • Aqua

    What a brilliant post! Its time someone said it! And good for you for listening to your mother and being open to her thoughts. It can be so easy to overlook opinions that seem out dated on the surface.

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  • Megan

    I know this is an old article but I only recently found it while searching for answers… hopefully someone here has been through something similar and can sympathise or offer advice or comfort?
    This is something that is currently weighing on my mind in my relationship… I’ve been living with my boyfriend for 2 years, with him for nearly 3 & 1/2, we currently live with his mother after living in a rental for 12 months and deciding we wanted to pay off debt and save for a house. I’m 25 and hes 28. We’re not married or even engaged, though i’d like to be… I doubt its on the cards anytime soon at the moment considering I’m having such huge doubts regarding issues over feeling neglected emotionally and romantically, and unsupported financially.
    We have a joint loan which we pay off according to how much of the debt we contributed to – i had 5000 in debt and he had 10000 so I pay roughly 45% and he pays the rest, we also have a car loan which we pay 50-50, and we have a joint savings account that the idea behind was to periodically put whatever we could into it each until at least the joint loan was paid off and we could put the loan money in there instead each fortnight.
    However, we’ve had some major set backs. I finally got myself a full time job which would have made our incomes roughly more even – he earns about 20% more than I would have upon starting the new job – but then I was involved in a car accident, which left me injured and I have not been able to work for the past 3 months. So I wasn’t able to start the new job and since then things have gone from bad to worse – My previous job paid out my annual leave but accidentally over paid me and I didn’t double check it (a mistake, I admit, but who doesn’t make mistakes?). When they caught on to their mistake- afterIi’d used what I thought was my pay out money on fixing my car, spoiling my man for our anniversary and valentines day, getting some expensive dental work done and helping my chronically ill brother pay some medical bills – they asked me for $860 back by the end of the Australian financial year – which is roughly 4 months away.
    I am definitely not able to make that amount of money on the income i have from the TAC (transport accident commission), which is roughly 80% of what the previous job paid me (so now he makes almost 60% more than I do… at least until I can return to work after my injuries have healed… if the job is still waiting for me!). I was devestated and worked out that with fortnightly installments I could pay off nearly half of that by the time the end of the financial year rolled around, but no more. When I told my partner, he looked concerned and made sympathetic noises — but didn’t jump in to offer to support me at all. So my best friend of 20 years offered instead, and he looked relieved. I confronted him about it later, well I say confronted but basically I just told him I had been disappointed in his response. His answer was to say that “well, then I’D have no money. And your best friend offered anyway.”
    I was beyond shocked. Where had my sweet, generous, supportive and helpful partner gone?? Why should it be the responsibility of my friends to support me when i hit hard times? Isn’t that part of why we form relationships – to support each other in the good and the bad times? When he had a car accident a year before I had my accident and needed to repair his car, I happily loaned him $800 to help him meet the cost of repair and didn’t think about him ever giving it back to me (though he eventually did without me asking for it). I also helped his mother by paying for air con to be installed in her house when we first moved in because her house is a sauna and she never had the money to buy an air con unit.
    I explained to him that I hadn’t expected him to offer to pay the whole thing out for me, but I had at least had some expectation that he would have offered to help me make fortnightly repayments until the amout was due, which would mean that it was paid off in time. And if he had wanted to be paid back I would have paid him back over the remainder of the year or with my tax return. He then later that week told me thast his mother had told him she was worried she couldn’t pay her car registration fees (which she pays every six months instead of yearly and she has a concession because she’s a pensioner – though she has two cash jobs that the government don’t know about and neither do they know that my partner and I also pay her $400 a fortnight in board, so she has a full pension, two cash paying jobs and an extra income from our boarding with her) and he said he’d offered to pay it for her – she didn’t ask, he offered. I was gobsmacked and beyond hurt. I now have all these doubts about whether he is really committed to our relationship or if he’s only been coasting along because its comfortable…
    I’m worried that he only moved out with me because he realised he was 26 and still living at home and he didn’t want to still be living there when he was 30, but look at us 12 months after moving out and we’ve moved back in! I’m worried that he’s never going to be financially supportive, even when we buy a house. IF we buy a house! I’m not even sure he’s going to do that… he seems to lack initiative, drive… and since we’ve moved back in he’s fallen into the routine he had before he met me – work on his project car (spending thousands of dollars on that in the last 6 months) in the afternoons after work, watching TV with his mum all night before crawling into bed and falling asleep straight away without talking to me much if at all, then two nights a week he’s off at band practice for 4-6 hours straight leaving me stranded at home with his mum all night because all my family and friends work late (its the nature of the field we all work in – disability support. Shift work. Late nights, long shifts, early mornings and all that, so I understand why they don’t have time for me on those nights that he’s away) and I’m unable to travel!
    Then the nights he is home he gets grumpy when I do make plans to go see my friends (some of which are only free one night a week) because I’m not home with him – and if I stayed home I’d probably feel ignored anyway! I feel so neglected and lonely in my relationship, its been so wonderful until now… the romance is gone, I feel neglected, I feel like an option and not a piority, and I’m definitely the last option on his list! I feel like a financial burden even though despite my limited income I’ve still managed to pay board, bills and loan repayments. I feel I have to justify any purchase I make to him, even friends have pointed out that I call him and tell him what I’m buying before I actually purchase it and if he feels negatively about it I don’t go through with it!
    I love him, I really love him… with all my heart and soul, but I’m truly terrified that I’m never going to feel safe in the relationship with him because I’m starting to feel he isn’t as committed as I am, that he’s not as invested or maybe he’s not in love with me anymore. I’m scared that he doesn’t mean it when he says he can’t wait till we get engaged, married, have kids and have our own house. I’m scared that even if he does propose and we get married, I’m not going to feel financially supported because if something happens like another accident or an unexpected debt is incurred, he won’t step up and help me pay it off.
    I’ve always wanted a relationship like my parents, which is exactly as described in the above article… 100% there for each other in all aspects, all for one and one for all. Its not “dads money” and “mum’s money”, its “their money”, despite dad earning less than mum by half. It doesn’t matter who pays for what, as long as things get paid. There is no judgement or feeling of needing to pay the other back. Thats what I want for us, a true partnership. I don’t need it today, or next week or even next year, but I need to know that its going to happen eventually, that by the time we’re engaged or married or living in our own house (whichever comes first or whichever stage he is more comfortable having a financial arrangement like that), we will be sharing finances completely without boundaries. I’m more than happy to compromise. I’m more than happy to contribute from our joint finances if he needs to buy a part for his project car, etc. So I don’t feel like I’m being unreasonable.
    He clearly feels capable of doing that with his mother, but obviously not with me… I want to bring this up with him but i don’t know how or what to say without hurting him. I don’t think he has this behaviour deliberately to hurt me, he’s a sweet, generous, supportive person by nature. Am i just being overly nit-picky and needy or am I right to feel neglected and unsupported?? and what can i do about it? I realise this is not an advice forum but if anyone has anything they can say that can ease the heavy burden resting on my heart and give me hope and faith or something I can do or say to bring this up and sort it out with my partner fairly and without judgement or hurting him, I’d be very grateful.

    • Meg

      Oh gosh I’m trying to figure out how to respond to this without being too harsh…but I really think you need a wake up call. You are in WAY over your head and need to start planning a way to get out of this mess. You are not living in a partnership here. He is showing you his true colors in a BIG way (and probably has for years and you’ve ignored it, like many women do). Instead of standing up for yourself or demanding what you deserve, you are worried about looking needy and being “nit picky.” Listen to the words you used: You say you are “truly terrified” “scared” “not financially supported” “neglected and unsupported” “worried” “gobsmacked” “beyond shocked” and on and on. This is not a healthy relationship! Why would you want to stay in it when this is how you feel and he doesn’t even understand or care?

      The problem is that you are financially entwined so you are in essence stuck with each other. It sounds like he is taking advantage of you. Why would he dump you? You are paying for half the car loan and 45% of the other loan (even though you only contributed to 33% of the total debt…which is off base anyhow). And he gets to work on his projects and watch TV with his mom and do whatever he wants and not even have to have any hard talks with you since you’re too scared to bring anything up. He’s getting regular sex when he wants it (I’m betting) and somebody to help him pay HIS bills – and what are you getting out of it again? Someone who won’t even help take care of your expenses for a couple of months when you are INJURED and going through a career trauma?
      WAKE UP! Heal, get a job, and move out of there. Live with your own family or friends or live alone if you can. Either way, learn how to stand on your own and let him figure it out on his own too without you enabling him. I don’t think you should even consider marrying this guy – but if you want to continue dating him at least take care of yourself first and foremost. Become independent, quit sharing finances and living together, and then reevaluate. You can still pay for half the debt that your name is on. But if he keeps the car and the title and loan are in his name then just forget about that and let him keep it.
      If you learn how to stand on your own two feet you will realize you were crazy to ever put up with any of this.

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