No separate bank accounts after you’re married? No secret shopping sprees with your best friend?
I’m not sure I agree with those statements from Washington Post financial columnist Michelle Singletary, in her new book, Your Money And Your Man. I like my independence — and my freedom. But I do believe she has some relationship-wise concepts that should be adopted by all serious, long-term couples.
Even when it comes to matters of personal finances, it’s extremely important to be honest with your partner, and to lay things clearly on the table when discussing a merger. You should know what your partner does for a living and exactly how much he or she earns for that work. And vice versa.
But from there, how you deal with your finances is an open discussion, specific to every couple. Many couples who manage on only one income have all their money together in a joint account. That makes sense — it’d be unfair for the person who’s earning to have a separate account. That would be like saying, “I’ve got money and you don’t!” Even unintentionally, it gives power and control to only one partner.
But if both people make a decent living, then I believe they’re entitled to use their disposable income as they so choose. As long as — and only as long as — there’s always enough money to pay for those financial responsibilities they share, such as the mortgage on the house, car payments, house insurance, children’s needs, etc.
Many couples figure out how much they need for monthly bills and payments, divide that between them however they see fit, and put that money into a joint account. The rest they keep for themselves to spend as they please. Personally, I think this system works well because it gives each partner some autonomy, which is crucial to maintaining a sense of self-worth and self-respect.
I’d loathe it if every time I wanted to buy a gift for a friend, or an extra pair of socks, I had to justify myself to my partner. That feels demeaning to me.
But on the flip side, it’s neither fair nor healthy for the relationship to have secret bank accounts from your partner. In my estimation, that’s a form of cheating. It’s a dirty secret saved up for a what-if scenario or quick escape. It’s just bad ju-ju.
Singletary’s book discusses how to handle your money when you’re single, dating, married, having children, through to retirement. Each stage takes different planning, and each commands different expectations — of yourself and your partner.
The most important advice Singletary gives is to be open with your partner and communicate. That doesn’t mean you have to tell him how many cappuccinos you drink each day, or about those new shoes you just had to buy that one time. But you do have to see the total money between you as part of the bigger picture of your union.