Issues with debt are often cited when couples split. Writer Gwen Rockwood explores the complicated relationship between love and money and debt in this regular feature.
Marriage is about coming together – two minds, hearts, souls. But it’s not just the warm and fuzzy stuff fusing together. Marriage also involves a co-mingling of money, and that’s where things often go from romantic hearts and flowers to dreadful dollars and cents.
Money is the reported number one cause of stress in relationships, so it’s only natural to wonder if couples should merge their money in the first place. Does it make sense to share a bed but keep your money in separate accounts?
Many couples say yes, and some experts agree with that strategy. Kelley Long, a CPA and financial planner, was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article saying “[Control of separate accounts] gives each partner a sense of autonomy and financial independence, potentially saving them from endless hours of petty money fights.”
While the idea of avoiding “endless hours of petty money fights” sounds great, most married couples choose to pool their income. When my husband and I said “I do” 17 years ago, we agreed on one house and one bank account. Something about the idea of living separate financial lives bothered me. Marriage is about being “all in.” Separate accounts would have made me feel as though we were willing to share everything – except this one major aspect of our day-to-day lives.
Financial guru, author and radio show host Dave Ramsey has fielded questions about separate accounts for decades, and he remains steadfast in his advice for married couples to live as one – physically, spiritually and financially:
“It is vital in a marriage for you to learn to work together, set goals together and deal with your fears and challenges together, not just have a roommate that you happen to sleep with.”
He says when a couple can talk about money, they can talk about everything.
Ramsey often talks about how working through money conflicts can bring a couple closer together because it forces them to deal with some of their most important issues. He says when a couple can talk about money, they can talk about everything. He warns that keeping one important area of life separate can sometimes lead to others.
That being said, experts on both sides of the issue agree that a hybrid approach often works well. Couples agree on a budget and run their household out of a joint account, but they also maintain separate, smaller “fun money” accounts to be used for personal, guilt-free spending (within agreed-on limits).
When hearts and flowers live in harmony with dollars and cents, marriages not only survive, they can thrive.