Separate Ways

IT’S CLEAR I AM a dinosaur when it comes to my views on money matters—and apparently several other things as well, but let’s not go there.

When I read in blog posts and articles that a married couple should separate their finances into his money and her money, that one person pays for this and the other for that, and never the twain shall meet, I’m shocked. Some articles indicate a severe division of money matters. No joint bank accounts. One person saves diligently for retirement. The other is a non-saving spendthrift.

I read an advice column where a woman wanted to know what she should do because her husband had been wasting money, was behind on his credit card payments and couldn’t pay his share of the mortgage. His share, her share? Can this approach work for long? I say to myself, “Is this really a marriage?”

But, of course, my frame of reference is that of someone born between the Greatest Generation and the baby boomers. Nevertheless, such a divided view of money doesn’t strike me as healthy.

During our marriage of nearly 54 years, our income—with minor exceptions—has been what I earned. Even in retirement, our income is my pension, my Social Security, my wife’s Social Security based on my earnings record, and her tiny pension based on employment that ended in 1970.

Still, never during those 54 years was any of our money considered mine. Never was there separate anything when it came to money. All our bank accounts are joint. All our investments, except our IRAs, are joint holdings. Stock in my previous employer, which I obtained through stock options and bonus awards, was converted to joint ownership.

Several years ago, my wife inherited a few thousand dollars from an aunt. There is an emotional attachment to that inheritance. We agreed that we would isolate that money in a separate savings account for my wife to use as she saw fit. The money is still there—and, while we’ve agreed it’s my wife’s money, it still sits in a joint account.

When it comes to spending, anything significant is a joint decision. Actually, some rather insignificant spending is also discussed. There are some exceptions. My wife’s visits to Talbots, the salon and the makeup counter are exempt, and wisely so.

I struggle to understand why other couples handle their money differently. What are the issues that drive their thinking about ownership and use of money? Is it power, control, selfishness, lack of trust or simply a generational difference? I suspect it varies by couple and may be a combination of factors. But whatever it is, I don’t get it.

Read more by Richard Quinn on HumbleDollar where this article first appeared.

9 comments

  1. I imagine you pay the bills in your household and do the actual transaction of money between your various joint accounts – not your wife. You are in total control of your household’s finances. While the people you don’t understand have shared control of their households finances. They are better prepared for the possibility of divorce, while you see very little risk of that happening to your household.
    What I do not understand are the people who are worried about their spouse not being able to handle the finances after they die. They may have joint accounts, but don’t take a shared responsibility of their finances. I see that as a much bigger problem than the people who don’t make all their accounts joint accounts but do share responsibility of their households finances.

    Like

    1. I find it very sad that household finances are arranged in anticipation of possible divorce (cause and affect?) and if that is the driver of financial arrangements, that’s a good point. And you’re right, after 54 years that’s not a concern.

      During most of our marriage my wife paid all the bills. Since I retired nearly all bills are automatically deducted from bank accounts or charged to a credit card. The transfers among accounts each month are likewise automatic.

      What bills, donations are manual, my wife typically writes the checks.

      The very notion about sharing is interesting because from my viewpoint there is nothing to share as everything is one.

      You have a good point about finances after one spouse dies.

      Like

    2. For decades, my wife wrote the checks. For the last few, I wrote the checks. I use Quicken and keep both computerize records and paper. I always tell her about our finances. How much you retain until you actually have to pay the bills, I do not know.

      However for this reason, I insist on paper statements where they don’t charge me extra. When my mom died in 1998 we got a paper bill for a second mortgage payment due. My brothers and I didn’t know about it and I was doing her taxes. If it wasn’t for that bill, we wouldn’t have know about it for months. I had to go back and restate her taxes for three years to get more money back.

      I do pay 95% of my bills online. But if something happens to me, or my wife can’t find the right password to get into the account online or into my email to get the e-notices, at least a bill will show up in the mail box for her to investigate.

      Like

  2. I suspect it is a generation difference as much as anything. Today, cohabitation is much more common and probably each individual has one foot ready to go out the door. Even with marriages, with a 50 percent divorce rate you have to figure splitting up is as likely as staying married to the same person. Add in the increased number of women working and it doesn’t seem far fetched that couples would handle money now days.
    I don’t spend anytime pondering why it is different so that’s just my quick thoughts on the subject.

    Like

    1. James2 – According to the Institute for Family Studies, the divorce rate in the United States hit a 50-year low in 2019. The rate of divorce in 2019 was 14.9 divorces per 1,000 marriages. However, other sources significantly vary when analyzing divorce rates.

      No we do not have a 50% marriage failure rate.
      Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics. – Mark Twain.

      Like

      1. In 2022, expect the divorce rate to be at least 44.2%. This is based on a marriage rate of 6.1 people per 1,000 total population and a divorce rate of 2.7 people per 1,000 total population.Feb 23, 2022. Other sources give a similar percentage and higher if you count separations

        Like

      2. The problem with looking at divorce rates for one year vs marriage rates per one year does not look at total marriages vs total divorce over a generation, which will show a much lower divorce rate. Anyway it is still not 50%.

        Like

  3. I am not a lawyer, but I am sure that the law will see it differently for some kinds of debt. If there are any shared purchases, debt, or property, it jointly owned and owed.

    I bought my first house in my name only. My wife to be didn’t want here name on the house because of a divorce. When it came time to sell the house, she had to sign papers that it was ok to sell the house even though her name was not on the title.

    Also for my pension, if she wasn’t the designated survivor, she had to sign away those rights. (I don’t remember all those deals on the pension).

    So at least in NJ, I don’t think it matters much unless the debt can be proven before marriage. It all their money.

    Like

  4. Not all marriages are the same. Second marriages may have a very different dynamic, especially when there are two sets of children involved. One spouse may enter a marriage with significant assets that he (or she) wants to go to his children rather than his spouse’s children upon death. Many marriages end in divorce and this should be taken into consideration. Also, one spouse may not be able to handle money well. It is not difficult to envision many scenarios that are very different from the one that you lived. By the way, I have been married twice. In the first one of 50 plus years, we followed your model and it worked well, but in the second one we keep our finances separate. Different people, different relationships, different ways of handling money.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s