Love & Money

Jessica Grose has a fascinating series up on Slate about marriage and money — how couples manage their money, whether they share, and why they split or merge their bank accounts. Part One lays out the inspiration for the piece: She’s recently married, and she and her husband are figuring out whether to maintain separate bank accounts, pool their money or do some hybrid of the two. In Part Two (Parts Three and Four are coming soon), she looks at couples she calls “Common Potters” — people who have joint accounts and pool their money.

I’m not so much in the marriage market, but if I were, I can’t imagine pooling finances into a single account. That said, Jessica’s detailed look at couples who do pool their finances is giving me second thoughts.

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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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45 Responses

  1. Clare
    Clare February 1, 2011 at 4:49 pm |

    Sometimes same-sex couples (even married ones) are required to submit proof of coupledom to employers or other potential benefit-providers, and this can include evidence of mutual financial support. I can say that my partner and I (legally married in some states, but not in our current state) joined our finances partly to lend some kind of structural legitimacy to our relationship.

  2. Caroline
    Caroline February 1, 2011 at 5:09 pm |

    I got married last May. Before that, we’d been a committed, cohabiting unmarried couple for years, and we’d kept our finances totally separate. But when we got married, we agreed to do what Jessica Grose calls “Sometimes Sharing” — keep joint accounts for joint expenses, and personal accounts for personal, no-questions-asked spending. We budget out our joint expenses/investments/savings, and then split the remainder equally as “fun money.”

    When we decided to make our commitment explicit by getting married, we both felt like it wouldn’t be cool if one of us had a lot more money to spend because he or she made more. (Right now he makes more; I used to make more and probably will again, once I graduate.) We felt like both of us should share equally in our combined income.

    However, we also hated the idea of having to ask permission for every purchase of, say, a video game or a movie. That could lead to power struggles. So we agreed that we’d each get an equal amount of money every month in a personal account to spend on whatever we wanted, no permission or explanations needed. You want to blow it all at the candy store, have at it.

    So far, it’s working well for us. Since we have to agree on a budgeted amount for fun money, it forces us to keep track of spending and at least sort of stick to a budget.

    However, I’ve seen both total sharing and total separation of finances work really well for different couples. I think it’s whether both members of a couple agree that makes it work or not.

  3. Caroline
    Caroline February 1, 2011 at 5:12 pm |

    P.S. For us, marriage was what we did to make our commitment to each other explicit and formalized. Obviously, marriage is not the only way to do so. But that’s why it was the trigger for us to change the way we handled finances — it was the moment where we said “Okay, we’re going to be together for a while, we’re probably not going to separate on a moment’s notice, let’s figure out how we want to handle money when we can rely on being a household together.”

  4. Jadey
    Jadey February 1, 2011 at 5:49 pm |

    I’ve been giving myself a crash course in finances and budgeting over the past year or so, and while I’m not in cohabiting partnership at the moment nor am I planning to be in one any time soon, based on what I’ve figured out so far my preference would be for “common potting”, unless for some reason it wasn’t working out for me and a given partner (e.g., incompatible spending/saving preferences). Just from a logistical standpoint, it’s so much more complicated to run a joint household with separate finances – you’re then dealing with two separate budgets and deciding who pays for what, etc, on top of the basic budget. Because of the additional complexity, it also can be less flexible for changes in income as well, if someone loses a job or if their income is highly seasonal. An alternative is three(+) accounts – one for each partner and one joint for the household, but that also adds to the complexity (unless at least one person is hella good with budgets).

    Generally a lot of money fights can be resolved up front by creating a budget together (which includes leeway for special things, when possible! Unrealistically difficult budgets are a pain in the ass and harder to stick to) and figuring out (and, if need be, fighting out) expectations and preferences *before* the money is spent. Surprises will always come up, but open communication and a working understanding of each others’ needs and desires goes a long way toward helping things run smoothly. Again, it helps if there’s reasonable compatibility on the relevant issues, and not overwhelming money stress *regardless* of joint accounts or not.

    For me and my hypothetical relationships, joint finances are the difference between having a roommate and having an actual living partner (again, with possible exceptions – every relationship has its quirks). I like roommates too, though! I wouldn’t share finances with someone unless I had a reasonable desire for and expectation of a relatively long-term involved partnership.

  5. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. February 1, 2011 at 6:10 pm |

    Hmmm…M and I have always been common potters. He hates dealing with bills and was chronically late paying everything when I met him. And at the end of the day he doesn’t care about money. Seriously…does not care. The man will adapt to any budgetary constraint or pick up extra work without even a question. So from around the time we moved in together he just handed me all of his checks to “cover our expenses” and asked what his expenditures budget is for the month. Some might call it laziness…but when I’ve said we’re broke we need more money, he’s gone out and gotten a second or even third job without hesitation. He just doesn’t want to make those decision. And since I’m fanatical about budgets it works for us.

  6. apricoco
    apricoco February 1, 2011 at 6:11 pm |

    I’m now in my second marriage and we are common potters. Now, that’s partly due to the fact that he is supporting me while I go to school full time (I don’t work). But when I was married the first time and working we were (in theory) combo couples. One joint account, two separate accounts. This caused LOTS of fights. He made so much more money than I did and made me VERY resentful about not having ten bucks for lunch some days after I had spent all of my money on my own bills. When I would try and talk to him about this, he would be like, no it’s cool take 10 from the account to cover your lunch. But, that was not the point because I had to ask! For 10 bucks! And it was re-iterated that I should ask every time! Meanwhile, his spending was never discussed because he NEVER came up short. Come’on that’s no way to live (or love).

    Now that my current partner and I do the common pot thing it makes life easier. Sometimes I feel a little bad about spending what are essentially ‘his wages’ on my indulgences but he’s great about it. He’s re-iterated that it’s our money and even his paying for my schooling/support is really an investment in our future earnings and our future happiness.

    So, maybe the lesson here is that finding a partner that is supportive (and not in the financial way) is more important than how the money is split.

  7. La Lubu
    La Lubu February 1, 2011 at 6:32 pm |

    I cosign to Jadey; I’m a “common potter” too (but only for marriage; with that said, I’ve never heard of unmarried heterosexual partners combining finances—as in actual shared accounts. Expenses, yes; accounts—and access to one another’s money—no. Perhaps that’s a cultural difference?) I did like that she recognized class differences in money practices.

    I understand where some people are coming from in that they don’t want to be questioned about their “fun” purchases with their disposable income (as a reason for having a separate account)—but. If you have a partner who is going to “grill” you about how much you spent on a purchase you can afford*, it’s going to happen even if it comes from your personal account. You’re still going to hear, “why did you buy x? couldn’t you have waited until x went on sale, or until a good x showed up at Goodwill?”

    And me? I’m not having that. Period. I’m a saver. I take care of business first. So, I’m not going to listen to someone nit-pick the purchases I “treat” myself with—life is for enjoyment, too. If someone questions that—that’s a red flag for me. No amount of money-management is going to correct that kind of micromanaging personality.

    (* meaning: it’s entirely reasonable to question an unnecessary purchase that cuts into necessary bills. It’s unreasonable to question how a person spends his/her “mad money”—the expenses that add to the sensual pleasures of life. Who the hell wants to be a Puritan?)

    I suspect that working class people are more likely to be “common potters” for the reasons Jadey listed. In fact, I can’t think of anyone I know (among married heterosexuals, or long-term same-sex relationships) that isn’t a “common potter”.

  8. shah8
    shah8 February 1, 2011 at 6:41 pm |

    Hmmm, this is going to be even more interesting as intergenerational and employed on all parties households form at a greater rate. I also wonder about the comparison to traditional “go home to take care of Ma” common or split potters.

  9. Jadey
    Jadey February 1, 2011 at 7:10 pm |

    Ooh, another thing I just realized: for me, the biggest risk of joint finances would not so much be having my spending judged and controlled (although that definitely would suck), but feeling like I’m the person who’s supposed to be in charge of policing and controlling a partner’s spending. Control freak that I am, I still do not want that kind of lop-sided accountability. My assumption with joint finances is joint budget = joint responsibility. My mum and my dad were both very big earners, but he was (and is) a profligate spender, and part of the reason she finally left him was the stress of being maneuvered into the role of budget “bad guy” (a subtle power play on his part). So there’s another wrinkle in how these things can play out in a dysfunctional context.

  10. Jadey
    Jadey February 1, 2011 at 7:12 pm |

    La Lubu: with that said, I’ve never heard of unmarried heterosexual partners combining finances—as in actual shared accounts. Expenses, yes; accounts—and access to one another’s money—no. Perhaps that’s a cultural difference?

    Not everyone can or wants to get married. :) I’m coming from a queer poly perspective, which adds a few extra layers.

  11. sarah
    sarah February 1, 2011 at 7:23 pm |

    We (married this past year, all it’s changing is our tax returns) do the three-account thing. I find it simpler, really — my partner likes to balance his books weekly, I like to do it monthly.

    This is simplified a lot by the fact that we make similar amounts, and thus just contribute equally to the joint account and have similar amounts of personal money left over.

    I don’t think my partner would be the controlling sort if everything were shared, but there would be a lot of “…and what was this? And this?” every time either of us tried to check the hypothetical all-shared credit card bill and ran into purchases we didn’t recognize. Much hassle, especially when we use very different styles of accounting/budget planning. We both recognize that the other’s method works, but it makes the other one twitch to deal with it.

    We started the joint account when we bought a house, and did it for years before getting married.

    Before reading the comments here I assumed we were typical. Maybe not.

  12. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin February 1, 2011 at 7:29 pm |

    As a matter of fact, my soon-to-be wife and I were just discussing that. We both believe that having separate checking accounts makes the most sense to us. Right now, I personally want some degree of financial autonomy. I don’t make much money, but it’s still mine. She makes far more than me and is largely supporting me right now, and may always, provided I still have substantial health problems.

    However, as she adds, the expense is coming out of someone’s pocket. I receive food stamps and can cover the grocery bill for around 7-10 days with those. When those run out, I cover groceries out of pocket. I also do most of the cooking. I also pay my share towards the cable internet and the rent, as well.

    Though it’s entirely feasible that if we had a joint account, it wouldn’t really make much of a difference, I still would be more comfortable with separate finances. My parents had a joint account a long time, but my Father was the one who always managed the budget, and my Mother was absolutely hopeless with numbers. In my relationship, my partner is the sort of person who is obsessive about crunching numbers, filing taxes, and negotiating interest rates for credit cards. I’m glad she is, because that kind of stuff has always confused me.

  13. La Lubu
    La Lubu February 1, 2011 at 7:35 pm |

    Well, sure…not everyone wants to be married—just sayin’, that among folks who don’t want to be married, I’ve never heard of anyone having joint accounts! There’s an assumption in my world that if you’re not married, you have separate accounts even if you have joint expenses.

  14. Jadey
    Jadey February 1, 2011 at 7:54 pm |

    La Lubu: Well, sure…not everyone wants to be married—just sayin’, that among folks who don’t want to be married, I’ve never heard of anyone having joint accounts! There’s an assumption in my world that if you’re not married, you have separate accounts even if you have joint expenses.  

    I guess I meant not everyone who wants to have a long-term cohabiting romantic intimate sexual etc. (“married-like”, basically) relationship of the kind where pooling finances would make sense actually wants to or can get officially married at a given point in time (although common-law marriage can kick in for some couples whether they want it to or not), and that’s not unheard of in my experience. Whether that’s a “cultural” difference I’m not sure because I don’t know what the comparison is and whether my experience is cultural or more generational or something else related. I’m a white middle-class mid-twenties Canadian, and my friends are from various backgrounds, though generally similar age and nationality.

  15. ScaryJoann
    ScaryJoann February 1, 2011 at 8:13 pm |

    My partner and I are not married and never plan to be, but wanted to get a joint account in the town I go to college in. One of the tellers, or the greeter I think, warned us that by getting a joint account somehow we might accidently become common law married. Scared the joint account right out of us.
    We tried, we were discouraged immediately.

  16. NS
    NS February 1, 2011 at 8:25 pm |

    Probably a year before we were even engaged my now-husband and I opened a joint account (not our sole account) for the reason someone mentioned above – for some benefits, in our case to live together in graduate student housing, if you weren’t going to be legally married you had to show that you had a joint bank account for at least 2 years. Now that we’re married all our accounts are joint (except credit cards, which we already had set up in our own names long before marriage). I can’t imagine the added headache of running a house – paying mortgage, bills, buying groceries, etc. and having to tally up who owes what. If you have similar financial sensibilities and you don’t have one partner that would want to spend all the money while the other wants to save it all, why not pool it? And if you do have such different attitudes towards money I feel like even with separate accounts you’ll run into the same struggles over when to spend and when to save.

  17. Angel
    Angel February 1, 2011 at 8:57 pm |

    The assumption seems to be that if you aren’t common potters then you’re tallying up every joint expense and nickel and diming each other. For my husband and I its not like that at all. We have a set monthly budget of expenses rent, gas, water etc., we each put in our half of those expenses (I make more so its really a 60/40 split) and everything is paid from that. Once those expenses are paid, I don’t really care where his money goes, nor does he question me on mine. We both contribute to a joint savings account for emergencies, and if a major purchase that’s out of the ordinary comes up (new TV, mattress etc.,) then we budget for it and add it to our expenses.
    To me, its too important for us to have our own separate accounts based on retirement and employment statistics to combine everything. If we ever have kids, I’m sure some of that will change, but not enough to be full potters.

  18. Lottie
    Lottie February 1, 2011 at 9:33 pm |

    I’m not really in that stage of life yet, but what happens if you are single potting and then you get a divorce? Does that question even make any sense?

  19. flimby
    flimby February 1, 2011 at 10:06 pm |

    a question that intrigues me, but hasn’t been mentioned in the article yet, regards debt incurred before the couple met. is the obligation to repay student loans split between partners? should one partner subsidizes the choices the other made long before they every even met?

    i’m really curious what people think about this, because it is something i’ve thought about but never actually discussed.

  20. David
    David February 1, 2011 at 10:36 pm |

    flimby:
    a question that intrigues me, but hasn’t been mentioned in the article yet, regards debt incurred before the couple met. is the obligation to repay student loans split between partners? should one partner subsidizes the choices the other made long before they every even met?
    i’m really curious what people think about this, because it is something i’ve thought about but never actually discussed.  

    Willingness to help future wife with paying off student loans = love / principal balance.

  21. stonebiscuit
    stonebiscuit February 1, 2011 at 11:25 pm |

    mr. biscuit and I are common potters. Our paychecks go into a joint checking account which covers all the bills, including my student loans, as well as expenses like groceries, gas, charitable contributions, and our weekly trips for Mexican on Sundays. Technically we have separate checking accounts as well, but we rarely use them. We each get a weekly allowance, from which we pay for our own stuff, including meals not prepared at home and fun purchases (which for me means biscuits and books and for him means sale-bin movies and popcorn). If I wanted to save my allowance separate from our savings I could…or I could spend every last penny on two yards of silk velvet. Regardless, the bills will still get paid.

    Of course, this arrangement requires a great deal of trust on both our parts–moreso on mr. biscuit’s part than mine, because I have a talent for spending money. When we started dating, I was in college and struggling under the weight of some really shit decisions, whereas he had a good job and good budgeting skills and was doing quite well. For a while I felt really, really guilty about the amount of money he spent on me. There were days when I wouldn’t have been able to eat if not for him. Many years later he told me he used to slip cash in my purse when I wasn’t looking, because I wouldn’t accept it any other way. It wasn’t until pre-marital counseling that I began to understand that my contribution to the relationship was more than the sum of my paycheck.

    flimby: I don’t know the legal obligation for spouses wrt student loans incurred before the marriage. Couples who can chose to marry, or even couples who can’t make that choice but are able to buy property together, will be affected by each others’ debt. Personally, I’m of the opinion that if a couple has decided to go in for the long haul, whatever that means for them, that means whole hog. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and I’ve got student debt and mr. biscuit doesn’t. He’s never complained about it.

    And finally, I could not get past the $400 blouse in Part Two. Unless said blouse also reduces cellulite, solves the problem of world hunger, and massages your shoulders, I’d call that a gigantic fucking ripoff.

  22. stonebiscuit
    stonebiscuit February 1, 2011 at 11:29 pm |

    ScaryJoann, check the common law marriage laws in your state. They vary pretty wildly, and it doesn’t even exist in some places. I’m pretty sure it requires more than a single joint bank account, though.

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  24. ACG
    ACG February 2, 2011 at 1:53 am |

    I’m unmarried (with no plans to get married, unless he wants to go back to school on my benefits) and cohabitating, but otherwise, my situation is pretty much like Angel’s. We have separate accounts, and we divide things right down the middle–the mortgage payment usually equals the rest of the recurring bills, so I pay the former and he pays the latter. He makes a lot more money than I do, so he buys most of the food and I chip in proportionately. He pays for his car, I pay for my scooter. It doesn’t get complicated or nickel-and-dimey, because everything we do generally falls into fairly clear categories. And for one-offs like vacations and holiday gifts, we just communicate and figure out how to handle it–I get the hotel and he gets the plane tickets; I buy my family’s gifts and he buys his, etc.

    What got me about the article was the comments (ugh–never read the comments), almost always by married common-potters, that anything short of common-pottery is a sign of distrust and weakness and a relationship that’s doomed to fail. Well, sure. Or alternately, as in our case, it’s a sign that we see each other as mature adults who can be trusted to hold up their ends. There’s never a question of secret purchases* or any deviousness; he’s grown, and when those three boxes from Think Geek cross the door sill, I can trust that the gas bill is already taken care of. It’s certainly easier on both of us than wondering who’s been dipping too deeply into the common till.

    And this isn’t to say that common-potters or sometimes-sharers are mistrustful and doin’ it rong–everyone has their own thing, and there’s no one rigid system that guarantees relationship success.

  25. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. February 2, 2011 at 9:30 am |

    flimby: a question that intrigues me, but hasn’t been mentioned in the article yet, regards debt incurred before the couple met. is the obligation to repay student loans split between partners? should one partner subsidizes the choices the other made long before they every even met?

    Lottie: I’m not really in that stage of life yet, but what happens if you are single potting and then you get a divorce? Does that question even make any sense? Lottie

    Different states have different rules. Most often debt incurred prior to marriage are the property of spouse that incurred the debt, but in some states the debt will be considered community property and divided equally or equitably between the partners. This is one reason its critically important to have a pre-nup and not just in the case of divorce but also in the case of death.

  26. Florence
    Florence February 2, 2011 at 9:36 am |

    I took my married joint account budget from my unmarried, long-term partnered hetero friends. They budget EVERYTHING from bills to pets to Saturday brunch to gadgets so they can use their money for what they want. I also used their “allowance” system when we had extra money so that we each got an equal amount of fun money in separate accounts to spend as we pleased without question.

    I will say that a dynamic developed between me and the husband, he says because he has always earned so much less than I do, that he felt guilty keeping back his earnings. Thus I happily kept and spent my fun money and he put his paycheck all in and went without. Personally, I think that’s his hang-up. It doesn’t matter now because we’re so broke there is no fun money to be had. C’est la vie!

  27. timothynakayama
    timothynakayama February 2, 2011 at 10:09 am |

    Sorry…maybe because I’m not in the US…but I don’t really get it…is there some sort of financial or tax benefit for having a Joint Account? Because I can’t wrap my head around why anyone would have one if there were no financial/tax benefits.

    I mean…the thought of people pooling their money, and then someone using that pooled money for a haircut or something…just seems alien to me. Your haircut, you pay. Your spa session, you pay. Why would I pay for my partners personal purchases? Why should she pay for my mine?

    I can get understand if it’s something like having a joint account to pay shared expenses like rent or shared loan repayments (on your shared house, car, TV, etc). I guess it would be quite convenient in that case. But if each partner has their own account, they can still make payments to these shared expenses, can’t they? And even if it’s an offline payment, like say, buying groceries, you can agree before hand to only spend X amount on groceries per month and thus, each person chips in X/2 amount.

    I don’t know…I enjoy being independent, and if I were to ever get married, I’d just pay my share on all shared expenses, but everything that I buy for myself would be paid by only one person – me.

  28. Marle
    Marle February 2, 2011 at 10:44 am |

    My husband and I have been married 5 years, living together 9, and we still have separate accounts. Both our names are on all accounts, just in case, but there’s clearly my accounts and his accounts. I just have no idea how to work common potting. How do you balance the account when you have someone else spending money you don’t always know about? The three account system, one for bills and then one for each for personal expenses seems like it would work fine, but why have 3 accounts when two work fine? What we do is just transfer a reasonable amount of money from his account (he makes less than me and his income isn’t always steady) to my account and I take care of the bills. Simple.

  29. La Lubu
    La Lubu February 2, 2011 at 10:55 am |

    Because I can’t wrap my head around why anyone would have one if there were no financial/tax benefits

    The biggest benefit I can think of is….say one partner becomes incapacitated—car accident or stroke or something. Full access to all household money becomes very important, very fast when bills start piling up. In the US, most people don’t have any paid vacation or paid sick leave, so if someone is in the hospital…..they aren’t earning any money to contribute to the shared household expenses—which have just increased astronomically because of the medical crisis.

    Now, if you have national healthcare and generous sick leave and/or paid vacation that can be used during such times, it may not be an issue (well…if you had direct deposit into a “shared account” if your partner didn’t earn enough singlehandedly to pay all the rent and utilities if you were incapacitated). Hell, most people in the US who have a long-term medical event and/or disability end up losing their jobs…and that’s a whole ‘nother conversation right there.

    There are tax benefits to filing taxes jointly for most people; that’s one of the issues brought up for same-sex marriage—it’s a tax hit for same-sex couples who don’t have the ability to file jointly—but that doesn’t really have anything to do with joint banking accounts. (a lot of space is given in the media to the “marriage penalty”, but that’s kind of like the space granted to “the death tax”—most people don’t earn enough jointly to fall under the so-called marriage penalty, just as most people don’t have enough assets to pay the “death tax”).

  30. La Lubu
    La Lubu February 2, 2011 at 11:03 am |

    Both our names are on all accounts, just in case, but there’s clearly my accounts and his accounts.

    Technically, those aren’t separate accounts. But I know what you’re saying, and that sounds like a workable system. Just want to throw one more thing in the mix, though (from the working-class perspective). A lot of banks charge fees for accounts with smaller monthly balances; depending on a person’s income level (relative to their monthly expenses), that can be an issue—keeping enough in the account to escape the surcharges. There’s a reason why check-cashing outlets and title loans (sharks) are a feature in low-income neighborhoods—folks are priced out of being able to use a bank. Most banks have special no-fee accounts for students….but not for low-income non-students (who aren’t senior citizens).

  31. Rachey
    Rachey February 2, 2011 at 11:41 am |

    Oh, just thinking about all of this makes me a nervous wreck. Like, nothing else makes me panic quite like money talk.

    Me and my husband had a joint account before we got married, along with our already established personal accounts. It worked out well, we had the same bank for all three, so when bills came up, we just transferred the amount needed to the joint.

    This all happened because I got pregnant and we were sort of rushed together. Long story short, we got married and moved to another state for his job. Being six months pregnant, I didn’t find another job. So now we have one account in which his paychecks go into. Now, I’m staying home with the baby and waiting until April so I can get my drivers license and hopefully get a job.

    I still think of it as his money. He pays for everything–bills, student loans, food, etc. I still say that he buys me things–even though it is ‘our’ money. We get in major fights because I won’t call it ‘our’ money. Especially now, paying my hospital bills for the birth, I am wracked with uncontrollable guilt over the fact that we are going broke because of it. I deferred some of my student loans, but some we’re paying now–I think I get a panic attack every time I click the button to pay it.

    The new problem is… if I do get a job, it has to be financially worth it. If it doesn’t cover day care, then there really is no point to do it. Which means I’ll have to come to terms with the fact that I am not making money. It sucks, I’m still hormonal as shit from the pregnancy and I’ve got this to worry about.

    Shit ain’t easy.

  32. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. February 2, 2011 at 12:06 pm |

    @Rachey

    You know I felt that way when I was in law school and was prohibited from working for that first year. M was working two jobs to keep us afloat (and this was before we married) and I felt that all of the money he was earning was his. And I know a few years later when I was working in BigLaw and he was back finishing his degree, he felt that all the money I earned was my money. The thing we finally figured out together was that we’re a team working on shared life and financial goals. Sometimes that means that one of us will be earning more while the other is pursuing one of our other goals.

    You’re both working towards the shared goals you have with your partner…raising a healthy child. Your partner gets to share indivisibly in the job of having a beautiful and loved child, right? So why shouldn’t you share indivisibly in the fruits of his contributions to your shared goals (i.e., cash)?

  33. AshKW
    AshKW February 2, 2011 at 2:12 pm |

    My Spousal Unit and I are common potters for a variety of reasons. First, he is and always has been really really bad with money. Doesn’t budget, doesn’t track, doesn’t balance a checkbook, way overly generous — when we first started cohabitating he asked if I’d take over his checkbook because he was tired of the banking and overdraw fees. When I was trying to manage both our accounts, it was way too complicated.

    Secondly, he makes significantly more than I do. Almost twice as much, in fact, but owes nothing. He never finished college and has no other debt; I have a car payment, two horses to pay board and care for and debt to my parents for college. Add to that, his job requires a uniform paid for by his company while mine is business casual attire that I must provide, and there are significantly more costs for my transportation; we live 30 minutes from my office and 10 minutes from his. It’s much easier, psychologically speaking, to make those debts and obligations “ours” with joint accounts. And SU is determined that those are ours, since everything we’ve done we have done together.

    I also still manage the money and balance the checkbook. What we’ve learned is that because we each maintain a single separate credit card, plus a couple of other joint ones, there’s no nitpicking about expenditures. We have a rule that we talk about our purchases over $30; and we both know what the budget is since he was with me while I set it up. It just so happens that my hobby, my horses, cost significantly more than his, video games, do. The separate credit cards keep us from nitpicking, but the joint ones bring us together.

  34. Lynnsey
    Lynnsey February 2, 2011 at 3:17 pm |

    My husband and I had a joint savings account 6 months after we met and he joined my prior checking account at least 6 months before we got married. I stay home with our son now, but when we were both earning an outside income, mine went directly into our savings and we lived on his income. He’s bad a paying things on time, so I handle all that. We can both buy whatever we want, but we do discuss large purchases (more than a couple hundred). We’ve been slowly chipping away at the credit card debt my first husband left me with, but since he owes $60K more than I do in student loans I don’t have a lot of guilt about that.

    My ex-husband was a different story. I had to open above checking account to protect myself from his spending. He spent so much on crap he didn’t need that I didn’t have enough to pay the bills. Then he had the gall to get mad at me when I asked him for his portion.

  35. Rachey
    Rachey February 2, 2011 at 10:47 pm |

    @Kristen J

    You’re completely right, and in my heart I know this. I am extremely lucky to be in the situation that I am.

    That being said though, I think money comes to stand in for certain anxieties. For me, “money” (I use this as an overall blanket term, since it seems to be used as such) stands in for my loss of autonomy right now and the lack of control I have (or so I feel). For my husband, “money” stands in for the transition from college student with few worries to adult with bills and responsibilities. I think couples use “money” as an out for other anxieties, since financial problems seem tangible.

    I know there are many different situations for different people, but from my experiences–this seems to be the case. Which is unfortunate but sometimes inevitable.

  36. exholt
    exholt February 3, 2011 at 8:43 am |

    Discussions like this remind me of the discussions on some forums I frequent about how some people feel the need to hide their hobby purchases(i.e. electric guitars) from their spouses because he/she does not understand and/or feels it is too expensive and wants them to cease it altogether (Hobbies are perceived as “too immature” by spouse). Mind you, these are 40-60 year olds who are acting like adolescents trying to sneak something forbidden into the house.

    As for common-potting vs. separate personal accounts-one joint, I’d probably prefer the latter at this point for two reasons.

    First, so there will hopefully be no argument about my personal purchases so long as the joint expenses are paid off.

    Second to mitigate the effects of having someone with different spending styles especially since I tend to be a saver while most acquaintances and friends who are also 20 and 30 somethings have accumulated thousands of dollars in credit card debt for what they themselves termed “irresponsible discretionary spending”.

    As someone who was raised to prioritize paying off debt/bills to head off the debt monster ASAP, it feels strange to actually know people with upper-middle class incomes who’d spend hundreds or even thousands on what they’d admit are “fun” discretionary items/services and yet, fail to fully pay off/completely ignore bills for their basic expenses(i.e. rent, gas, electric, etc) when they could easily be covered if there was a reduction or even temporary elimination of the discretionary spending.

  37. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. February 3, 2011 at 9:35 am |

    Rachey: That being said though, I think money comes to stand in for certain anxieties. For me, “money” (I use this as an overall blanket term, since it seems to be used as such) stands in for my loss of autonomy right now and the lack of control I have (or so I feel). For my husband, “money” stands in for the transition from college student with few worries to adult with bills and responsibilities. I think couples use “money” as an out for other anxieties, since financial problems seem tangible.

    I have the same psychological response to money so I completely understand. One thing recommended to us that we tried but thatcompletely didn’t work for us because M doesn’t care about money was paying me for the stuff I did. It made me feel better, but he thought it was much too much work. And for you, I mean taking care of a child is a great deal of actual labor regardless of whether its a labor of love. So perhaps if you had him pay you for child care to a separate account and then you both contributed to a joint account for bills that might help? I know a friend of mine switched to that method when she had a baby for different reasons and it helped her feel better about her contributions and make the decision to go back to work.

  38. La Lubu
    La Lubu February 3, 2011 at 9:39 am |

    exholt, that blows my mind too—-the folks that earn so much they could easily accommodate bill-paying and discretionary “fun” spending, but end up neglecting the bills and spending far more than they earn.

    I’ve done “common potting” when I was married, and separate accounts (no joint account) when I cohabited—either way, the problem of arguments over personal expenses was still there (translation: arguments over my personal spending, despite the fact I was the only fiscally responsible person in the house!). I don’t think it was necessarily sexist; both of those relationships were with men who—like me—were raised in working-class “common potter” two-income families where Mom handled the finances. Perhaps it was projection.

    In any case, I learned to think of that as a “fatal flaw”, and is something I screen for in relationships. Criticizing the purchases that bring a great deal of joy and sensual pleasure into my life ranks right up there with…oh, I dunno…those guys that really, really like certain sexual activities, but cop an attitude later because it doesn’t jibe with their Madonna/Whore complex. Not. workable. I also don’t think I could share living quarters and expenses with someone that didn’t have my same saving and spending styles—and I think that’s a function of my age (I’m 43) and general loss of patience for those who stubbornly don’t want to grow up.

  39. La Lubu
    La Lubu February 3, 2011 at 10:03 am |

    Rachey, what you said about anxiety over money being a stand-in for loss of autonomy made perfect sense. But I also think that there’s a lot of internalized sexism over child care (in the US anyway…more civilized nations have recognized how important child care is to the overall economy with practices like paid family leave and/or universal daycare). If you live in the midst of a culture that says caretaking is non-productive, it’s harder to keep one’s head up as a caretaker—you’re constantly told you’re a drain on resources, the work you do is unimportant, motherhood is a privilege, etc.

    And that’s fucked up. I’m a single mother. My daughter was premature. If my mother had not been retired and able to help me out during the period when my daughter was too medically fragile to be admitted to daycare—I’d’a been shit out of luck.

    So. Trust me—you are contributing a crucial financial resource to your household. Your husband would have an extremely difficult time keeping it together without your help. If you weren’t in the picture, and he couldn’t find or afford day care, he would be ass-out in the street.

    Please don’t feel guilty that you’re not “earning” at this time; your husband’s ability to earn relies on your support. Every time you start the round of anxiety and self-doubt, remind yourself that it’s only internalized sexism and a devaluation of your actual, objective, measurable contributions…..a devaluation of “women’s work” not because of the labor itself, but because of who (for the most part) is doing it.

  40. amyt
    amyt February 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm |

    I think I prefer common potting in my own marriage partly because of how I saw (and still see) my parents financial situations. They are upper-middle class, and my mom didn’t work. My dad was a lawyer and my mom had her own little account that she got “allowance” in. Now she works since all the kids are grown (although they are unexpectedly raising a baby since one of my siblings thinks babies are fun to have but only until you see the responsibilities and then hand it over to mom and dad and leave to have fun) and her money goes into her account. But my dad makes much more money, so if my mom needs extra she still has to ask. She finds out about his purchases sometimes years after…he has cars and boats and other crap hidden away in storage that she doesn’t always know about. I can’t stand that.

    I don’t want to have to ask for money if I make less, and I don’t want my hubby to ask if he makes less. We just throw it all into an account and only ask if it’s an expensive purchase or we need to see if we even have any money in the account. (since now we can check everything online it’s not as difficult to balance checkbooks together…it’s all right there) We are usually broke anyways (both students) so it doesn’t matter either way. I think it is just easier for us if it’s all in one pool. I’ve never felt that the money was any more his than mine or mine than his (even though I’m not working now and he is, and at times he didn’t work and i did).

    Everything is different for everyone, but having to see such dishonesty and secrecy with my dad’s spending, and my mom having such little control, I just can’t see myself having separate accounts. We only have one credit card, and it’s in my name with him as an allowed user. He has student loans and I don’t, (public/private) but I will probably rack some up in Grad school while he works…and I’ve never thought of the loans as his…I’ve thought of them as ours. We both love college, we both feel it will help us to achieve some of our common goals…so it’s important to both of us. That’s us though. We all have our reasons for however we choose to manage money, those are mine.

    I don’t even worry about kids right now…that won’t be for ten or so more years…pets right now are enough. I want to plan ahead for kids and have a financial plan set out, but since I don’t even plan on having kids for so long, I”ll think about it then. (and just for the record…I HATE it when friends of family say (when I say I don’t want kids till my early thirties) “well these things sometimes just happen! You can’t ever control when babies come!”…yes I realize that my family and all their friends are anti-choice religious people, but it just annoys the hell out of me. I am very pro-choice (have to hide that fact though…I’d rather not become the talk of my hometown church…they’d seriously probably hold a prayer vigil for me to “come to God” if they found out)…and I would have an abortion if I got pregnant now. So yes, I do know I won’t have kids for a long time, I have more important things to do now.

    Sorry bout that last part. Pet peeve of mine. The next two peeves are “how old are you? You don’t look old enough to be married…” and then “how many kids do you have?”…I guess getting married young MUST mean I got knocked up. WTF.

  41. Azalea
    Azalea February 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm |

    My husband and I have a joint account that we place an equal percentage of our income in, a savings account we place an agreed upon amount in and the remainder goes into seperate accounts. We also have checking and savings accounts for the kids. I manage them but we both equaly contribute. Sometimes one or the other of us can have significantly more spending money than the other in our account but we have the kind of relationship where neither of us are shy about asking if one of us wants something our sepearte accounts cant afford. In the beginning he made more, then I caught up and made significantly more and now he makes significantly more but once my promotion is finalized I will be making more again. It may always be that way ( at least I hope so) where our incomes continue to jump. I have seen more heartache and headache come out of ONLY having a joint account vs seperate and joint/seperate accounts.

  42. BHuesca
    BHuesca February 4, 2011 at 11:33 am |

    My husband and I are common potters for a couple reasons:

    1. Many recurring bills which only happen once in one household will only allow one name on the account (electric, heat, cable, internet, even the cellphone bill for our *family* plan, my car insurance) so it’s easier to just use online billing and direct it to our joint debit card…that way the bills get paid, automatically, on time, they’re both of our bills & responsibility, *and* either of us can call to complain when the cable goes out.

    2. I can’t imagine marrying someone who would nitpick me about small purchases which make me happy *unless* they made it so we couldn’t pay for nondiscretionary spending (rent, heat, food).

    3. I can’t imagine marryng someone who would make a bunch of discretionary purchases *to the extent that* we couldn’t pay for nondiscretionary spending (rent, heat, food).

    4. I can’t imagine marrying someone I didn’t trust. About money, forthrightness about purchases, forthrightnessness about STI status, etc.

  43. Rachey
    Rachey February 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm |

    I just want to end on this because I didn’t explain myself very well apparently. I didn’t mean for my comments to become about the woman staying home with the child and her contributions to the household. Me and my husband moved 800 miles because he worked his butt off and got an amazing job that would support our growing family. The fact is, the daycare we want our daughter to go to is expensive. If I was to get a job, it would only be financially viable if my income covered childcare. If we had moved 800 miles for my job, it would be the same for my husband–daycare is only worth it if his job would cover it. This is not about me staying home and feeling worthless because I cannot contribute financially to this family. My anxiety lies in the fact that for many many years I worked hard and was active in a big city. Now, I only interact with the baby and the cat during the day and am somewhat confined by living in a smaller town with not much to do. I am incredibly fortunate to spend so much time with my baby. But the fact of the matter is, I am confident that I will find a job. Not only to contribute to our finances, but to be an active member of society. That is my personal choice. It is something that my husband and I have discussed throughly, but he supports me whether I stay home or am out in the workforce. We’ll figure it out somehow.

  44. wondering
    wondering February 6, 2011 at 11:11 pm |

    It often makes sense to pool finances, at least to a degree. But it is also extremely important for each person to have their own accounts and credit history. Women in heterosexual couples who have not built their own credit history get screwed if their partner dies or the relationship breaks down. You may have been working your whole life but if the credit card is not in your name you may lose your house.

    My mom discovered it just in the nick of time – she innocently went to co-sign a loan for my younger brother and found that she had no credit history, despite being the major breadwinner in the household for 30 years. She established her own accounts and credit history only 5 years before the death of my dad. If she hadn’t, she probably would have lost the farm; as it was, the bank was very nasty about the outstanding loans.

  45. Amanda
    Amanda February 8, 2011 at 9:22 pm |

    we do the common pot with an “allowance” for each of us each month. it works for us and we’re happy. the only time it would concern me to hear that a couple didn’t have a joint account for expenses would be if the reason was some kind of trust issue. for me in that case, the problem is not the money – it’s the relationship.

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