As one of the most common causes of marital strife is finances, I wanted to share a strategy my wife, Brooke, and I employed a number of years ago that has had a profound impact on the quality of our relationship.
While airing intimate details about our personal finances is a bit uncomfortable, I’ve seen the impact that this strategy has had on our relationship, as well as many of our friends’ marriages, so I wanted to share.
Shortly before Brooke and I got married seven-and-a-half years ago, like many newlyweds before us, we went to the bank to open a joint checking account and credit card. We agreed at the time that being a union and team meant that “what’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine”, and our finances were no exception. Especially both coming from parents who are happily married with completely combined assets (and an implicit trust in the other partner’s spending), this model of money management really aligned with our vision of a successful marriage.
At first, having joint accounts was actually pretty awesome - it turns out that it’s not really twice as expensive to sustain the life of two people, and there’s something nice about seeing four paychecks deposited into your account each month instead of two. The majority of the things we were buying were for both of us and/or our new home, and if it was something that only one of us wanted or would use, we’d have a quick conversation about it, and the other partner was usually on board.
As time went on, however, these spending conversations started to get more and more difficult. Unlike our parents, who seemed to be okay with whatever the other person bought, Brooke and I realized that the things we valued spending money on were pretty different - while I love smart home tech and music gear, Brooke would much rather spend on experiences and eating out.
Additionally, what became even more clear to us is that I tend to be more of a “spender”, and Brooke is more of a “saver”. The more conversations we had about finances, the more I felt like I had to sell Brooke on whatever I wanted to buy; likewise, Brooke dreaded each time she’d get a “sales pitch”, especially because she was usually telling me “no”.
While it didn't happen right away, what started out as reasonable conversations about a purchase, devolved into frustrating exchanges where I felt like Brooke wasn’t okay with me enjoying the money I was working so hard for, and Brooke felt like I had blatant disregard for the money she was working so hard for.
Eventually, we knew the honeymoon was over and something had to change.
About two years after our prior visit to meet with a banker, Brooke and I headed back to Chase; however, this time, instead of opening joint accounts, we were there to open completely separate and private accounts.
We agreed that each month, $250 from each of our paychecks would be deposited into our respective personal checking accounts, totaling $500 each per month (the minimum amount Chase required to avoid account fees). The remainder from our paychecks continued to go to our joint account.
We referred to these separate accounts as our “Splurge Accounts”, and we decided that these are the accounts we’d use to buy things each of us wanted and enjoyed. We each had our own debit cards, individual Chase.com logins, and most importantly, the flexibility to spend this money on whatever we wanted.
For our communal expenses, which constituted the majority of our total spending, we continued to use our joint accounts, but now, when one of us wanted to spend on something the other person didn’t value, we didn’t have to ask them for approval or permission.
If I wanted to buy a new gadget or even save up to buy a guitar, I could do that, and if Brooke wanted to go on a trip with her girlfriends, she had the budget for it. And best of all, the guilt associated with spending the money on things we enjoyed was gone. (As an added bonus, it was finally possible to buy the other person a gift without them seeing the transaction ahead of time!)
As most of our funds and spending are still combined, we continue to actively communicate about finances, but now when one of us wants to buy something that the other person doesn’t think we need, we have the option of paying for it from our individual accounts. Or, we may even agree that our joint account will pay for part of a purchase and the rest will be paid for from one of our personal accounts. Ultimately, the conversations we have now about money are much easier than those we had before.
If you decide that a system like ours may be right for you and your significant other, you’ll need to figure out the specifics that work for you, but for Brooke and me, having splurge accounts makes perfect cents!
Mark Khazanovich is Director of Operations for KORE Accounting Solutions, a future-focused management accounting firm specializing in providing legal professionals and business owners with the data and insights they need to stay compliant and run more profitable businesses.