I'm a horror-movie fan, and my partner is most definitely not, so I spend time talking thrills and chills with other like-minded weirdos in a Facebook group where we're all happy to argue endlessly over Aronofsky's "Mother!" As Facebook groups go, there are way more men than women chatting there, and I've noticed a trend among these guys: Getting "in trouble" with their wives for spending money on horror-movie schlock. It's a regular feature of my 20K-strong Facebook group for the guys to explain to each other how they "hid" a purchase of a new director's cut of "Nightmare on Elm Street" from their wives.
The "horror guys," as I refer to them, have, by dint of numbers alone, convinced me that in 2018, it's still common for spouses and even people in long-term relationships to combine finances. I was shocked. I didn't think people shared money anymore. Apparently, they do. Although it's less common now than ever before, "Across all generations, 76 percent of couples share at least one bank account," according to a TD Bank survey. That takes into account a few different arrangements though, including couples who use one combined bank account for everything as well as couples that share one account for household expenses but also maintain their own separate accounts.
My grandmother taught me never to share financial accounts with anyone (friend or lover) — so I didn't realize this was a "new" idea. Maybe it's because she grew up in a time when it was difficult for a woman to have her own bank accounts, let alone get a line of credit. (It wasn't until 1974 that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed, allowing women to have credit cards in their own name.) Or maybe it's because she had been married and divorced twice, both times with significant financial implications.
But it would never have occurred to me to share money with my partner, and I didn't realize other people still did that. I was in a relationship for seven years and we never shared accounts — and never fought about money, either. We broke up because we got together very young and outgrew each other, and when we went our separate ways, there were no hard feelings or arguments about cash, since we had kept our accounts separate.
Separate, but equal
In my current relationship, we've been together for eight years and we've always split everything 50/50 — and we both feel really strongly about this. Were there times when I couldn't pay my share? Yup, and I borrowed from him and paid it back. Recently, he borrowed from me and is almost done paying me back. So there's certainly flexibility in our situation, but at the end of the day/month/year, the idea is to split things fairly. That might eventually mean that we don't literally split expenses in half; we've already talked about what happens if, one day, one of us makes significantly more than the other. In that case, we would split finances along those lines — so if together we make $100 a year, and I made $70 and he made $30, I would pay a proportional share of the bills, meaning 70 percent. (In the video above, blogger Jessica Moorhouse and her husband talk about a similar formula and why it has worked for them.)
It's not that complicated or difficult — and it sure beats fighting about the silly stuff one partner might want to spend their money on. What I buy with my money is my business, as long as I'm meeting my obligations when it comes to shared household bills. We do what Charlotte Cowles, a finance writer at New York magazine, suggests below:
"My own husband and I still keep all of our accounts separate, and Venmo each other when our collective expenses get uneven. Some might say it's unromantic, more like a roommate arrangement than a marital one, but I think it reflects a mutual good faith — he doesn’t need to know the whereabouts of my money to be confident in my ability to handle it, and vice versa."
I think this is a really simple, fair way to do things, and not feeling annoyed when my partner spends money on something I find silly is certainly valuable. I'm sure I buy things he thinks are unnecessary too, but you know what? His money is his to do with as he likes, so it's honestly none of my business if he buys an expensive plane ticket instead of the budget one. But I can admit (as a frugal traveler) that it would make me mad, and feed resentment, if we shared accounts and I thought he was spending money on something I didn't value.
I can understand on an intellectual level that everyone spends their money in different ways, but I know in day-to-day real life, I would get resentful if we shared accounts. It's that simple. I earned my money, and I want to spend it how I see fit and not have anyone looking over my shoulder or — this is an upsetting thought — questioning me about it. I also don't want my credit to be affected if my partner makes a bad choice down the line, which could affect both of us. Let's say he does have a credit mishap; well, my credit will still be perfectly good since our finances aren't connected.
Let's talk about trust
Some say that not having a shared bank account shows that a couple doesn't trust each other. But to me, the opposite is true. I trust my partner and he trusts me to each pay our share of the bills each month, and to talk about if either of us is having an issue with cash flow. I also trust him to make mostly good decisions with his money and he does the same with me — while at the same time allowing each other to splurge or save in our own unique ways.
We're not alone — as Caroline Kitchener discovered in writing this Atlantic article. Among millennials, it's increasingly common to keep bank accounts separate. "There has been a generational change. The research we have shows that, cross-culturally, more people are keeping money separate," Joanna Pepin, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, told The Atlantic.
Honesty and trust have nothing to do with bank accounts; it's about the people in the relationship and how they communicate. Think about this fact: about 7 million coupled Americans keep "secret" bank accounts or credit cards so they can spend without their spouse knowing. Accountants refer to this as "financial infidelity." Talk about dishonest!
Fewer (or no) conflicts about money is common among people with separate accounts, which is incentive enough for us to keep doing what we've been doing, especially since studies of relationship stressors routinely point to money as the most common reason to fight. Having your own cash also has another small, but significant benefit. When I buy my partner a gift, or vice versa, it really feels like one, since I'm using my own money to purchase whatever it is.
If combining accounts works for you, great. But it's not for everyone.