Tales from the Wallet: Different Money Management Methods for Marriage and Partnerships

Managing Money after Marriage or Partnership | CorporetteWe’ve talked about how to keep track of many accounts — but I don’t think we’ve ever talked about which money management method Corporette readers prefer, once married or partnered.  There are a number of different methods that I’ve heard about through the years, and I’m curious to hear from you guys (particularly those of you who are the breadwinners):  what is your family’s method for sharing money?  (Pictured: Cole Haan Parker Exotic Tech Snap Wallet, on sale at 6pm for $59 (was $128).)  There was a great series in Slate a few years ago (now available as a Kindle book) that defined these main types:

  • Common Potters – people who combine all of their money
  • Sometime Sharers – people who have both separate and joint accounts (usually with an automatic percentage going into the joint account)
  • Independent Operators – people who have completely separate accounts

For my $.02: my husband and I tried to be Sometime Sharers once we got married (almost five years ago) — our plan was to contribute 80% of our paychecks to a joint account, and then divert 20% of the paycheck to separate accounts, based on advice I remember reading from Suze Orman (although her advice in this link is a bit more complicated than the 80/20 system we tried).  It was important to me that we have enough to cover our basic bills in a joint account — I never wanted to feel like I was “chasing” my husband for “his share” of the bills; I’d had enough of THAT particular brand of fun with roommates.

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But we ran into problems immediately — if I bought him a sweater, was that our money? Or my money?  (What if it was a really, really good sale that I totally couldn’t pass up?) If he went out for drinks with our best man (who is my husband’s friend, but is now like family to both of us) and bought him a round or two of drinks, was that his money? Or our money?  It felt like the questions were never ending.  After a few months of marriage we decided to just keep all of the money in a joint account (Common Potters), and we haven’t looked back since.  (It probably helps matter here that I am both the primary spender in the family, as well as the person who manages our finances.)  That said, I do still have separate investment accounts that I opened before we got married where he may be only listed as the beneficiary instead of the joint owner (I need to check on this soon!) — but all new investments have gone to jointly held accounts.

Readers who are already partnered, do you consider yourselves Common Potters, Sometime Sharers, or Independent Operators?  Did you switch from one money management system to another?  Readers who are not yet partnered — which do you think you’ll choose?  Did breadwinner status (whether it was your partner or you) influence your decisions at all?  (Those of you who’ve gone through a dissolution like a divorce — anything to add here?)


N.B. PLEASE KEEP YOUR COMMENTS ON TOPIC; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments.  And so, although of course I highly value all comments by my readers, I’m going ask you to please respect some boundaries on substantive posts like this one. Thank you for your understanding!

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  1. We’ve become common potters, previously being independent operators before we were married. Opening a joint-bank account was one of the first things that we did after we tied the knot and we haven’t looked back since.

    The bills that we have are considered the family debt, regardless of who got it in the first place. It’s worked out well for us as we know where all of the money wanders off to.

    • Anon For This :

      All of these comments are great and are giving me good ideas. My problem is that I’m an attorney and I make 80% of our household income. My husband is a bartender and most of his money comes to him in cash. I have a ton of debt (undergrad, grad school, law school, credits cards) and I’m totally cool paying this as I accumulated it before marriage. My husband’s car is paid off and we paid for a year of car insurance with our income tax return. So his only monthly expenses are his cell phone and the cable bill. I pay EVERYTHING ELSE all by myself and I’m sick and tired of it! I give myself a $600 allowance to cover my monthly “discretionary” expenses – gas and car maintenance, meals out, groceries, dog/cat food and vet visits, entertainment, etc. He has no idea what he makes because it is 90% cash (he does get a small paycheck) and when he has cash in his pocket he spends it and he has no concept of budgeting (he also has no debt and no credit cards. But then again, he also has no savings except for like $5000 in a 401K). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to pull out the credit card to pay the 3months late cable bill when I try to go online to work only to find out the cable/internet has been cut off!

      I’m at my whit’s end. He “forgets” to give me money unless I beg on a weekly basis, which makes me feeling like a nagging *itch. On the hand, if I don’t do anything I’m stuck paying for everything myself and I feel like I’m totally being taken advantage of. Either way I feel like I lose. HELP!

      Does anyone have any ideas on a compromise I can propose to him? Any suggestions on how to budget when you get paid in cash vs a consistent paycheck deposited straight to a checking account?

      • Anon For This :

        Sorry, meant to post at the bottom of the current thread.

      • Anne Shirley :

        Is your husband an irresponsible petulant child about everything, or just money? If he’s otherwise on board with the notion that grown ups sometimes have to suck it up and do stuff because it’s responsible, then I think you tell him that you need to sit down together and figure out a way for him to contribute financially to the family, because his current method makes you feel like a mommy not a wife. Maybe he drops all his cash in a box when he gets home, and starts getting a spending allowance on a debit card.

        If he’s a child about everything skip tinkering over budget details and go to counseling to figure this out.

      • Need to Improve :

        See my separate sharing system below. For you, you would apply the algorithm on a monthly basis based on his and your income the previous month. he would have to keep track of the cash and you would have to trust him to be honest and keep track. I have worked for cash tips before and it’s not that hard. Sounds like he does not want to do it though . . .

        • Anon for this :

          Sadly, this is the cycle we were in before we fixed it, though we had steady, reliable income–we just didn’t know where our money was going.

          The way I see it, and you can figure out a method to implement this yourself, but if you earn 80% of the household income, it seems to me that you should be responsible for 80% of the household expenditures.

          You have to include things like “gas and car maintenance, meals out, groceries, dog/cat food and vet visits, entertainment, etc” in your budget. It may take a month or two to figure out how much you actually spend on these things, but you need to know your monthly expenses for the things that aren’t fixed like utility bills can be.

          So, say you spend $1000/month on groceries for you and your family. You should be responsible for 80% of that cost. He should be responsible for 20%.

          If he isn’t contributing to the household expenses at all, then that is a come-to-jesus talk that you may have to have with him. My suggestion would be that he has to deposit his previous night’s cash into a checking account every.next.morning. Will absolutely be a PITA, but how else do you manage cash? If he is resistant to an account, for whatever reason, then you need to set aside a jar or an envelope that he has to fill every time he gets paid, to contribute to his portion of the expenses. Maybe you pay for everything, and he pays the cable. Doesn’t matter how much or when or what method he uses to fill that jar–maybe it’s a few dollars out of every cash payment, or maybe it’s an entire night’s bartending–that’s for him to figure out. But then, he (and you) will have physical evidence of the money that is being set aside every month for the cable bill.

          I wish I had more to offer you, but I can commiserate, as I have been on both sides of that table before.

          • anon for this--i'm not the OP :

            Posting because this could lead to confusion: Anon for this @2:21 pm is not the OP. SOrry! Should have picked a different handle.

      • If your husband isn’t on board with contributing there is not a lot you can do, short of trying counseling to get him on board. If he is on board and is just forgetful, doesn’t realize he is taking advantage of you, etc. then you need to get a system in place. If he is not good with money (and can’t control himself enough not to spend the cash) then he probably needs to turn it over to you and let you manage the money. The suggestion above where he turns it over at the end of every night is a good one. I would suggest having him keep a certain amount for personal expenses so you don’t end up in a situation where he is coming to you asking for money (awkward parental dynamic). There is no reason you should be paying all the bills. Different systems work for different couples based on income, debt, division of household labor, etc., but if you are both working there is no reason he should not be contributing something to the household bills.

      • lucy stone :

        I’m a salaried attorney, my husband is a solo who frequently gets paid in cash thanks to the type of client he represents. What we worked out is that he goes to the bank every week to make a deposit of all his cash, checks, and trust account stuff, and then every month “gives” me a set amount from his business account for his share of the bills. This way he remembers to get to the bank and deposit stuff rather than leaving a wad of $100 bills on his desk for a week, and I know I can count on him for some of the expenses. We try to live off my salary and save his with the exception of his monthly payment to me, since as a solo his checks fluctuate wildly. Could you ask your husband to deposit his tips once a week?

    • I agree with this! When I get MARRIED, which I hope is VERY soon, I will have everything transfered from my dad’s power of attorney into mine and my HUSBAND’s in Joint account. Even if it is joint account, my dad wants HIM to handel all that stuff so that I can just focus my attention on our marrage and our children and my job as long as I keep it. Right now dad is doeing all this stuff and he says he is tired of being my “husband”. So I told him that I will make sure my husband is as smart as he is, but so far, the looser’s I have tried to marry do NOT measure UP to him and therefore I am still NOT married even tho I do have a good job and an apartement that dad handel’s for me and a broekearage account at Merrill Lynch (through Ed) and some other stuff that dad has for me that he manage’s in MY name.

      The IRS guy keep’s texteing me but I am worried that he could NOT suport me and he want’s to live in DC. I was there for many year’s and even tho it is pretty there now, it get’s VERY hot in the summer, but NOT in a nice way. I do NOT like to sweat to much so DC is not the place for me. FOOEY! Mabye if he lived in NYC and had a better job, mabye with a big accounting firm or a law firm makeing more money, I might consider that but I do NOT want to work after I am MARRIED. FOOEY on that! I did NOT go to law school, study hard, take and maintain my status as a member of the Bar of the State of New York in good standing just to WORK. DOUBEL FOOEY! I want to get MARRIED NOW while my body can handel children. Where in the world is my prince? All I meet now are differnt speceis of Frog’s, some from the European Union even! TRIPEL FOOEY!

    • LawyerMomOfFour :

      Married almost thirty years, four kids (19, 17, 14, 12), about 80/20 income split (mine is higher). We have always had joint accounts and view our assets and liabilities as shared. Which they are! It has never been a problem for us, although it helps that our income is high enough and our debt low enough that we have never had serious money issues.

      • bankermom :

        This. Our approach from right when we got married was “what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine” – there was never a minute of discussion over who would pay for what, or owed what. We pay it, whatever it is, together.

        We’ve been married 15 years, now have 3 kids. I manage our money & finances. We have one joint checking account, established right after we were married. All our income goes into it, all bills are paid from it. We are each the primary beneficiaries on each others’ other tax-deferred accounts (IRA, 401k) with a trust as secondary. We have one joint credit card, each have 2 independent cards (mainly for points or work use), but they are paid off monthly, and I see all the bills, so it’s hard to pull off surprises. The couple of non-tax deferred investment/savings accounts are all JTROS. Major assets (houses) have always been co-owned, I think the cars are in individual names (based basically on who happened to go to the dealership and buy it).

        The approach has always worked for us, probably partly as LawyerMomOfFour says because we don’t carry debt/have $$ issues in general; major purchases get discussed in advance, and neither of us cares much or tries to track it if the other spends a little at Cabela’s or Nordstroms. % contribution of income has shifted back and forth over the years, depending on bonuses or whatnot, it’s about 60/40 now (him) – that’s one of the reasons a % approach would be hard to work out.

        That said – and I know I will get burned for this – if you are married, and view it as a lifetime commitment, I have a hard time understanding the “you pay for this, and I pay for that, that’s your debt and I won’t contribute, we have secret money” approach. It seems to create a divide, and is hard to administer, especially post-kids. One caveat, we both came into the marriage young and with essentially no assets; had we been older with meaningful assets, or children from a prior marriage, etc., I completely understand taking a more guarded or structured approach.

        • Jackie Grow :

          Bankermom – wholeheartedly seconded on not being 100% comfortable with the implications of the separate accounts approach. I’ve been married 3 years, but no kids yet, but I had the only income while my husband finished up school. Not that I particularly wanted to, but once we were in the shared pot approach, I saw no easy way to undo the pattern of shared everything that had already been established.

          And I like it that way! We’re on each other’s team for everything else in life – why wouldn’t we share our financial lives as well? To me, barring unique situations of kids from a prior marriage or significant assets accumulated before the wedding, that kind of bean counting would lead to some resentment.

          Ultimately, I chose my partner well. We have enough mutual respect and trust in each other’s decisions that we never have to justify our spending choices, and the big items are always shared.

  2. I love this topic and can’t wait to see the replies. My SO and I will be combining our finances soon, and are trying to figure out our “sweet spot”. I would like to have completely joined everything, and he would like to have one main joint account, plus a side “fun” account for each of us… which honestly, I don’t totally see the point of.

    • Wildkitten :

      I would want a main join account and a side fun account. (Currently I co-habitate and we have totally separate finances). Why? So I can charge whatever I want at JCrew and he can charge whatever he wants at JCrew and we would know that we still had the agreed upon amount left for rent. I’m sure you could have allowances through YNAB or such, but having separate accounts seems less oppressive than calling it an allowance.

      • Wildkitten :

        Wow I did the Slate quiz and 0% of people in my relationship/demographic share their money.

      • I think it depends on your personality. DH and I are mainly common potters (both paychecks go into our joint checking/savings accounts), but we both have a separate checking account for our “allowance”/fun account (money gets autotransferred out of joint checking into our individual accounts). I LOVE having an allowance in a separate account because as long as the balance is positive, neither of us can say anything about how or when the other person spent that money. I find it really freeing and it makes it much easier for me to stick to his budget in other common areas of spending (groceries, etc.) because I have one account where I spend what I want when I want to. I am the breadwinner, but he handles all the finances because he controls spending much better than I do. That being said, any large financial decisions (where to put our money, how much needs to go into savings each month, how to pay for upcoming large purchases, etc.) are jointly decided upon. He just figures out how we’ll get there and tells me how much I can spend on household items. He likes the allowance method because it makes it easier for him to budget for incidentals and fun stuff knowing that X amount of money is going into our individual accounts each month. I’m sure it doesn’t work for everyone but we’re really happy with this method.

      • I'm Just Me :

        That’s basically what hubby and I do. We have been common potters since our marriage (I’m the primary breadwinner) and we each have a fun money savings account and a cash allowance. He’s saved a lot of his allowance and has a hefty sum that he is going to use to restore an antique sports car. I’m a more frivolous spender and rarely carry a large balance in my account.

        We consider all of our bills to be family bills (our only real debt is our mortgage).

        We have joint credit cards and each have an individual card.

        We each have retirement money in our own names, but everything else is joint money.

    • Anonathon :

      That’s basically what we do. We have common checking, savings, investments, etc. But then we both keep a small separate checking account for whatever. My main arguments in favor of this set-up is that I want to hide the extent of my midday diet soda habit and I don’t like to buy my S.O. birthday presents from our shared money. That seems circular :)

    • We are basically common potters, and we automatically transfer a set amount (same for each of us) into a short-term savings account, for whatever we want with no justification or permission necessary. That means books, gizmos, hobbies, solo eating/drinking, etc. all come out of our “allowance”. If I wanted to spend all of mine on chocolate, that would be fine. (I’d spend the next month’s at the gym, but that’s a different matter…)

    • Married and we do this. Everything goes into our joint checking, then we get a set dollar amount (equal number, not a %) that goes into our “fun” accounts. This works out because if he wants to buy some gadget and I want to purchase new clothes, we don’t have to check in with one another. You either have the money or you don’t (and then you either resist buying it or discuss it). This is helpful for us because we have aggressive savings goals so we’re not just letting ourselves spend our “left over money” which is actually for savings.

  3. Common potters after marriage as well and shared credit cards. There are a few accounts (investments, retirement) that are only in one person’s name although the other is listed as a beneficiary when possible. It’s all still family money in our minds. We each have our cars in our own names but that is for annual state tax purposes.

    • pilates princess :

      Same for us.

    • hoola hoopa :

      Same for us, also. Same as anoness above that pre-existing debt was assumed as a mutual burden upon marriage regardless of who’s name is on the statement. We both have access to everything, even the odd account that’s still (after almost a decade) in one name only.

      I earn 50-100% of the household income depending on the year. Typically 80-90%. At time of marriage, it was the reverse.

    • Philanthropy Girl :

      Yes, this. I generally make 90-95% of the family income (my husband is a freelancer, and soon will be caring for Philanthropy Baby). After we got married it was a bit of a challenge to recognize that “my” money was paying “his” bills. Once we adjusted to family money and family bills, we never looked back. Joint bank & joint cc both. We each get a small amount of walking around money every pay day that doesn’t go into the family pot – but even this money was agreed on jointly.

  4. Zwitterion :

    I am not yet partnered but plan on becoming a sometimes sharer where my partner and I will have a joint account for household expenses, mortgage, etc. but we will each have our own discretionary checking accounts with about $2-3k in each at all times. Breadwinner status kind of influenced this but not really in that I expect my future partner to work (and I will continue to work) so we will both be contributing (outside of our separate 401k/retirement accounts with each other as a beneficiary and the discretionary checking accounts) the remainder of our income. So, even if I or my partner ends up making significantly more than one another (and assuming neither of us needs expensive items for work on a constant basis), we will each contribute equally towards our retirement and checking accounts, and whatever is left over will be sent to joint accounts. I feel like this arrangement allows for some private spending (i.e. for gifts!) but that it also will allow us to feel like marriage partners and not business partners.

    On a side note, has anyone ever gotten a hair gloss or glaze? Did it help with frizz/maintaining waves at all or not? Alternatively, if you’ve ever gotten a keratin hair treatment up, I’d love to hear about your experience (formaldehyde vs not, etc).

  5. People's Republic :

    We’re a bit of a twist on the “sometimes sharers.” The thing I don’t choose (but am not judging!) about that model is that 20% of my salary is different than 20% of my husbands (mine is more, for now, but who knows how that might change). Our view was that if it’s “play money,” there’s no reason for it to be different. So, we each get $200 out of our own paycheck for “play.” I tend to spend mine on haircuts, shopping, and drinks with ladies when DH is not around. He tends to spend his on bike gear, and drinks with gents. We also buy each other presents (which we do very little of) from our own accounts. We’ll be married 5 years this summer, and the line between “joint” and “individual” has never caused tension — e.g., my hair color should be covered because he gets the benefit of a happier, less gray wife. :) For us, it just works.

    • This is what we do too, for the same reasons you stated. Percentages just wouldn’t work for us because they would be totally unfair. We try not to be too strict on spending out of the “house account” if neccessary (right now all surplus goes towards paying down debt), so if we are shopping and want to buy new clothes but don’t have the money in our “personal” funds, we will occasionally mutually agree to “expense it” from the house account.

  6. Rural Juror :

    Sometimes sharers – we contribute to a joint account in the same percentage that we earn (for example if total household income is 100k and it is earned 40k/60k, we contribute to the joint account on a 40% 60% split). We have automatic deductions going from our personal accounts to the joint account each pay and the joint account always has enough to cover mortgage/bills/car/food/home repairs etc. Personal money is used for clothes, gifts, dining out without spouse, etc. We have separate credit cards but are looking to get a joint one. We also use our personal money to repay our student loans.

    • This is exactly what we do. We have a joint credit card for “family” expenses so we can earn points for groceries and things like that. Money leftover after the family budget is covered is for clothes, haircuts, whatever we want to save for. I am the breadwinner and generally cover vacations. We each have a lot of privacy in our finances, which works because we are both savers – if one of us was prone to running up hidden debts that would be a problem.

  7. Husband and I have been married almost a year, together for about three before that. We are common potters. Like Kat, I am the primary spender and money manager. I like the mindset that goes along with the common pot approach- what’s mine is yours (and vice versa), we’re in this together, etc. I feel a little guilty about our debt situation- we graduated from law school with roughly the same amount of student loans, but I had way more from undergrad than he did. But I like to think that long-term he stands to benefit from our partnership :)

  8. Sydney Bristow :

    We are independent operators and plan to continue that way after we get married. I’m completely neurotic about tracking every penny I spend and my fiancé just keeps a cushion in his checking account so he doesn’t have to keep careful track.

    We split our living expenses 50/50 even though I generally make more than he does (although the amount can vary pretty widely from year to year). This works for us because I have more student loans than he does and we each just pay our own. We’ve become really comfortable with this system so we are going to keep it after we get married. Better to stick with what we know works!

    One twist on this though. We split travel expenses 50/50 as well but split that from the total of everything. This means that even if one of us can cash in points for a free ticket, we still ultimately end up splitting the cost of the other ticket. On our recent Europe trip, he cashed in his miles but only had enough for one ticket and so we ended up splitting the cost of mine. We can still use our own points for ourselves on solo travel too. I think adding each other as authorized users on our credit cards to maximize points/miles might be the only place we would combine accounts. Not sure if we ever will though.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      Oh I should add that this works out easily for us. I use Chase QuikPay to send him my share of rent, etc once a month when I pay all of my other bills. He does the same when we put our travel expenses on my credit cards. It’s really simple to do and doesn’t feel like either of us needs to nag the other for their half.

    • Anonymous :

      My husband and I, married one year this coming June, also continue to be independent operators, for the same reasons but roles reversed – I keep a ‘cushion’ and a general eye on my checking, which I use only to pay utilities, and he uses his debit card more frequently and balances to the penny. We just started to combine a couple of credit card accounts, one in his name, one in mine, more to maximize our rewards than to combine finances. I pay him back for what I spend on his account, and he on mine. I pay all the bills, and he writes me a set amount each month to cover an average for bills and the mortgage. This ‘average’ saves me the frustration of having to divide everything perfectly, and honestly, I don’t care if I pay a bit more one month, because he might pay more the next. We make within $5,000-$10,000 of each other, so that isn’t an issue. I also have big student loans, and he pays child support, so it works best for us if we manages our finances independently. We are on the similar wavelength as far as savings/investing, and keep each other updated as to the status of our individual finances so both of us know the big picture.

    • If I may, it might be better to diversify your reward credit cards (one has hotel, one has miles) because then you can cover more as a couple. Alternatively, if you still do a lot of non-SO trips, you could get the same airline/hotel cards because often you can transfer points between the two if you’re short on one account. And there are ways to transfer with no fees (as I’m slowly learning!)

      • Sydney Bristow :

        We actually have a variety between us. We’ve got US Air, United, Delta, Amtrak, and Starwood between us as well as Chase Ultimate Rewards. We might add another hotel card, but for now we rely on the Hotels.com free night for every 10 booked when we stay at non-Starwood properties. I’ve become a little obsessive about miles and points!

  9. We are a blend of common potters and sometimes sharers. I pay all of our bills out of my account (which his paycheck gets transferred into) and we each have a set amount of money to use for whatever we want (allowance, personal money, whatever you want to call it). We have a joint account but the only thing we use it for is to direct deposit his paycheck or any checks we get made out to both of us. This is primarily because he does almost everything in cash, although he does have a debit card to the joint account for emergencies. We are married but this was our system when we lived together when we were engaged also, because we wanted to get on a budget and get a jump start on paying down debt.

  10. Senior Attorney :

    Pretty much the only thing in my marriage that worked really well was the money aspect. We were a hybrid of common potters/sometime sharers: Everything was treated as joint (so, nobody got more money because he or she made more than the other), but we each got a weekly spending allowance to use as we chose, and also we each had a separate savings account that got funded every pay period. In addition, we had separate savings accounts for various items that were of interest to one or both of us, like vacations (both), electronic equipment (mostly him), clothing (we each had an account for this but mine got more because I spent more on clothes), etc.

    We never had any joint credit cards — all our cards were in one name or the other, and on some of them we added the other spouse as an authorized user. Cars were in our individual names as well. The bank accounts were joint but I handled all the finances and kept him apprised of what was happening. (He had access, he just never was interested.)

    It was great while we were doing it and we never fought about money. Now that we are divorcing I am super happy that none of the credit cards or cars were joint because it made it much easier to unwind things.

    The biggest mistake I ever made was to put him on title to the house I bought before we were married. Gah.

    In the alternate universe in which I were to marry again, I’d do something similar with the day-to-day income and expenses but I’d also make very sure that my retirement and other substantial savings remain separate and would go to my son, and not my hypothetical new husband, upon my death. And I’d certainly never put a husband on title to my house again.

    • That’s interesting, Senior Attorney. My ex and I were common potters but I don’t know if I would do that again. We started out making similar amounts of money but he had so much debt (student loans and credit cards) and I didn’t do as much as I should have to know all I could about his financial status (really dumb, I know). In retrospect, I wish I had kept closer track of our finances in general, and also wish I could have put better brakes on his spending.

      As for the retirement, I was told that if I were married in a community property state, my husband had to be at least a 50% beneficiary of my retirement. When we divorced, we renounced all claims on each other’s retirement (at my request). I had a lot of retirement savings and he had very little because of his spotty employment history, but it looked equal to the judge. I had to show my divorce decree to my retirement fund company to prove that he no longer had to be a beneficiary. Sad but true.

    • My biggest financial take-aways from my first marriage were:

      (i) For me, personally, I need some specific amount of money (whether in a separate account or not) that I can spend on anything I want, no questions asked. We were common potters, but somehow, when I wanted to buy work clothes or fun kitchen stuff, that was a frivolous discretionary expense, but when he wanted to buy work clothes or tools that was a necessary business/home expense (he was in private equity, just to be clear, so those tools were not needed for his job).

      (ii) Even if your spouse pays the bills, do NOT check out of the family finances (only when I was taking over handling the utilities did I realize that my husband had just spaced out and failed to pay the gas bill so many times that they had taken a $200 deposit. Not because we were poor, but because he wasn’t paying attention).

      (iii) Next time, I’m getting a pre-nup. Because the financial aspects of our divorce were easy, but only because our finances were uncomplicated. It’s very, VERY easy for me to see how and why that becomes an acrimonious mess in the event of a divorce. I would far rather have all of that handled upfront and then never have to worry about it again.

    • Senior Attorney :

      The arrangement I described worked for me because I was in charge of all the finances and I tracked everything to the penny, pretty much every day. Also we paid off all our debt early in the marriage and never took on any non-mortgage debt, so that was never an issue. Certainly I would never join finances with (or marry, for that matter) anybody who had debt or who wasn’t on the same page as I was with respect to money management in general.

      And yet for all that, the divorce is still dragging on because Mr. Senior Attorney never paid attention to the finances, and now apparently he doesn’t trust me to tell him the truth about our (really ridiculously simple) finances. It’s maddening.

    • I’m curious to know how you would handle the house on the second time around. I’m not married, seeing someone, and pretty established in my financial life, including owning a pretty great home. Should we marry, part of me thinks it would be insane to add his name to the house. But does that mean I’m not all in on the marriage? And would I not expect him to contribute to the mortgage? I guess my question is, how could I *not* add him to the title and mortgage? Truly curious — not being snarky.

      • Senior Attorney :

        My answer is, what if it does mean you’re not “all in?” I think that’s a reasonable position to take in this day and age. And if it bothers him, does that mean he’s not “all in” because he’s expecting to divorce and take half your house? It works both ways.

        What I plan to do (in the alternate universe in which I manage to find a suitable man at my advanced age) is to have a prenup drawn up that addresses all this. I think it’s reasonable for a person to contribute to joint housing expenses. Whether that includes him accumulating a partial ownership interest in the house is something to be negotiated between the two of you and your respective lawyers. In California, the default is that even if he’s not added to the title he acquires an ownership interest to the extent the mortgage is paid with community funds (i.e. the earnings of either party), absent an agreement to the contrary. That seems not-unreasonable, but it also seems not-unreasonable to have an agreement that he would not accumulate an equity interest, perhaps in exchange for other financial concessions such as you giving up an interest in his retirement or whatever.

        But I feel like it is insane to make an unconditional gift of an interest in real estate to one’s spouse. If I had it to do over again, maybe I’d have still put him on title but only if it could have been structured so that that full title and equity reverted to me in the event of a divorce.

        I dunno. It’s all above my pay grade but if there is a next time I plan to get great legal advice before I do anything.

  11. Common potters since marriage, although we have separate credit cards (paid from the joint account) so we don’t necessarily see each other’s day to day spending choices. I am the only one with student loans, and they are paid from the joint account too. I am the slightly lower earner.

    • Same here. I like the separate credit cards because there’s still leeway for a) surprise gifts for each other and b) the I-don’t-feel-like-explaining-everything-all-the-time factor. We have never questioned each other’s purchases or CC bills, but I do think when you’ve been a financially independent adult for long enough it’s just more comfortable to retain some kind of autonomous feeling about (reasonable) discretionary spending after getting married.

    • Maudie Atkinson :

      This is our system too. I earn slightly more than my husband now, but he does most of the money management. We both pay our student loans out of the joint account. Our only other debt is our mortgage.
      I like the separate credit cards because it eliminates the tendency to fuss over how we each spend our relatively small shares of discretionary, “fun” money, and it has the added benefit of being administratively easier than separate accounts, at least in my mind.
      We’ve basically been using this system since we moved in together, a couple of years before we got married. Our accounts were technically separate then, but we lived and spent as though they weren’t. I realize this pre-marriage sharing might have been a risky proposition, but it worked for us.

  12. We have a joint account, a joint credit card and a separate credit card (but paid from the joint account), and we discuss all major purchases before making them. We honestly don’t spend that much “play money” because we are in rather serious save mode and had been in serious pay off debt mode right now (and also have 3 kids. . . any “play” money we once had goes to dance lessons, T-Ball, gymnastics, etc.–which is fine. I’m not complaining.) We have managed to pay off all credit cards and we don’t have car payments, so we typically save for one big goal (typically a vacation, sometimes new appliances/furntiture/used car) in addition to retirement and an emergency fund. In our 8 years of marriage, we have had various times where he made more or where I made more, but we have always considered it family money. It works well for us.

    • hoola hoopa :

      Second the notion that having children makes the common potter scenario make so much more sense. I suppose kid purchases could come out of the joint account, but the ‘play’ money really does get spent on them anyway!

      It does seem like most of the people who are independent do not have children. I’m surprised now that it wasn’t a question on the Slate quiz.

  13. We were totally separate before we got married, and moved to common potters shortly after. I just love the simplicity of not having to be constantly moving money around. Although we did make an effort to clear our individual debt before getting married so we were coming into the marriage making roughly equal salaries and with relatively little debt.

  14. Miz Swizz :

    We’re Common Potters with a twist: we each get an allowance to spend each month on whatever we want. Meals and nights out together are split 50/50 between our allowances but living expenses come out of joint money. I like the allowance system because we each get an equal amount of money each month and the money rolls over so you can save up for something big.

    When we first moved in together, we were Sometime Sharers and we contributed equally to our household account. The impetus for switching to Common Potters was us moving and him closing his account with our local bank before we left. Having done both, I like combining all our money. It works out really well because he gets paid bi-monthly and I get paid monthly so it helps us maintain a steady cash flow and it’s easier to maintain fewer accounts.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      How do you keep track of the allowances? Do you use any budgeting software to keep track of things?

      • Miz Swizz :

        We use a spreadsheet in Google Drive with a category for me and a category for him. It’s very low-budget but it’s the easiest way we’ve found to track our spending. About once a week we’ll go through receipts/credit card activity and input our expenses.

  15. Medic Maggie :

    Can of worms for me! We started out as independent operators, though we did have a joint checking account–we weren’t using it for joint purchases, though. A few months ago, I took over (begrudgingly) the finances, and we’re Sometimes Sharers now. We’re on a tight budget, and we’re learning to be very cognizant of our spending. We let things spiral out of control for a bit, and have had trouble catching back up, but we’re in a better place now. Now, we need to let the process keep working for us, but we also need to study our income and figure out where we can start saving more money for investments. We aren’t contributing to retirement right now, but we both are vested with the state and will have a good retirement benefit, but there’s always room for more. We also aren’t contributing regularly to our kids’ 529s either, but they’re growing through gifts and our occasional contribution.

    We run into the same problems that Kat mentioned, but also, we both have a “fear” of dipping into that joint account as it covers all of our recurring expenses plus things like home maintenance & that sort of thing. So, we might need one or two things at the grocery store, and both of us are afraid to use that joint account, even though that’s what it’s there for. We each have separate checking accounts (I also have a separate savings account) that we use for discretionary income–lately I’ve been using mine to eat with friends, sometimes it’s shopping.

    We contribute to the joint account based on percentage of total family income–we’re at a 55/45 split with hubs earning more.

    • This is pretty much what we’re going to (I just got a full time post-law school job)

      We will have a joint account, which we will put our ‘average’ monthly expenses +100 each (for bills that go up unexpectedly) in a joint account, each of us contributing according to our pro rata share of the household income.
      The rest of his money is his and my money is mine. Right now we’re totally separate, but he covers the majority of the household bills (I buy groceries and pay 1/2 the rent)because I wasn’t working full time. Our accounts are joint in as much as both names are on all of them, to make it easy in case something happened to either of us. But, we don’t use them as joint accounts, except for the “house” account.

      • Medic Maggie :

        Congrats on your job!

        So far, it has worked pretty well for us. I am totally paranoid about the balance in the joint account and get all anxious when it drops below a mortgage payment. In the few months we’ve been doing this, it has only happened once, but we also somewhat saw it coming, simply because we knew there would be hiccups.

        It was a process, let me tell you. From getting all of the auto-deduct utility bills to change over to a different debit card (it used to be DH’s, now it’s the joint), to ensuring that stuff gets paid on time, and not slipping through the cracks. We get paid every 2 weeks, and of course, no one bills like that, so we had to basically build a cushion in the joint account to cover the lack of overlap. We ended up essentially paying everything twice: we paid the gas bill outright, but we also deposited our allotment of the expense into the joint account at the same time. It made for some lean times for a month or two, but I am guessing it is what made it work. If you all know where ALL of your money goes, it will be easier. We did not have any kind of a system prior to this, so I was basically starting from scratch, but not with a clean plate, if you know what I mean. We were mid-billing-cycle, mid-pay-cycle, and I didn’t know where some of the less-frequent (quarterly insurance bill, annual satellite radio bill, etc…) stood in terms of paid or not.

        It required a lot of work, and a lot of management/babysitting on my part at the beginning. We also had some communication issues at the outset–he thought he would just be able to hand everything over to me, and then not have to say another word. In reality, I needed him to change over some things, provide some anecdotal history, monitor other things…it was a difference of expectations where I thought that we were in this together, and he was hoping just to unload. We’ve worked that out, now, and have a happy medium. But, due to my anxious tendencies, the transition period, which lasted about 2-3 months, caused me great distress. Hubs kept trying to talk me down by telling me, honestly and truthfully, that even though we were in a particularly rocky period of transition, we were still in a far better place than we had been before we started. It is true, but it didn’t make it any easier for me.

  16. We are completely independent, and it works for us as we both have the same attitudes towards money. I earn more, so I pay a higher share of the bills, but he pays for some. We each pay our own credit cards, but if I buy him something, it’s on mine, no problem. If he has paid fir a big bill, such as getting my car serviced, or an expensive vet visit for a cat, I’ll pay him back. The unexpected major expenses come to me, but sometimes he’ll chip in.

    We have complete transparency about our money, I manage the investments but he knows the strategy and how much we have. My husband tracks everything he spends, but I just track that I hit my savings goals and then I don’t over worry about what happens with what is left.

    I do think this all works because we are both conservative with money and have a common retirement goal. If you agree on the big stuff, the day to day tactics are easier.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      I think the transparency part might be the key, regardless of what system you use. While we have things completely separate, we each know what the other owes in student loans, has in savings, has in retirement, etc.

  17. Not partnered, but I like the idea of Sometimes Sharers. I agree with Zwitterion: it would be so hard to buy gifts if everything was shared! And I like the idea of putting a set dollar amount in separate accounts rather than a percentage.

    Another reason I like the idea of keeping some money separate is that in my culture and family background, men are known for wasting money: my grandfather was an alcoholic an my grandmother a SAHM and my mother grew up without electricity because of his wastefulness. My mother was the financially savvy one when my parents were still married. And so I always have it in the back of my mind that I should protect myself if I ever got married. It would take a lot of trust (and therapy!) to share everything!

  18. Boston Legal Eagle :

    About to get married, so we are currently mostly Independent Operators, with one joint savings account. I thought we would just open up a joint checking account through our mutual bank while keeping our individuals accounts and become Sometimes Sharers, but I track everything we both receive and spend on mint so there wouldn’t be any surprises even if we retained our separate accounts! Now that I think about it, Common Potters probably makes the most sense for us. We each have our own credit cards though, any thoughts as to whether it makes sense to add both of our names on here or is it too much of a hassle/not worth it?

  19. Timely topic!

    We got married ~7 months ago and were living together in an apartment beforehand. Now we have a house and are married so things are different. Biggest struggle for us is DH is self employed so no steady income — his income comes in bursts: no income one month, $10K the next so we end up budgeting on my income and then “deciding” what to do with his. He pays some of the bills regularly and I pay the rest from my income. We have a joint account and savings but really, I think we need to merge.

    I told DH last night actually that I want to merge our money fully so that I can see how much he has in his account and think about our money situation more comprehensively. I think sometimes only works if both have a predictable, steady, income.

    • I have the same issue, except that my husband (with the unpredictable income) wants to budget to his ‘expected’ income PLUS my salary (always the same) PLUS my bonus (variable, only hits once a year, usually about equal to my annual salary). And I just can’t make myself comfortable with that. I want to budget just to my salary and consider his income plus my bonus as ‘extra’ to be spent on discretionary items if we wish. My salary alone is enough to cover our basic expenses but nothing extra at all (so something like vacations, or gifts, would come from the ‘extra’ money.)

      He says a budget is ‘meaningless’ and ‘impossible to use or understand’ if it doesn’t include every theoretical dollar of income. I say that planning to spend money that you may or may not have is reckless. We both steadfastly refuse to change. If anything breaks us up it’s going to be this. We just can’t agree.

      Keeping everything totally separate doesn’t work because of kid-related expenses, and because I would end up being the only one saving anything and funding e.g. our retirement, so it’s even worse for me than sharing. We also anticipate periods where one or the other of us will be ‘leaning out’ career-wise to take care of kids, and it’s not fair to that person if the finances are anything other than pooled (we do totally agree on this point, thankfully.)

      • Silvercurls :

        Can you create two budgets: One, measured in monthly units, for the predictable income (your salary) and one, designed to cover the entire year, for the unpredictable (his salary)? That way you can relax knowing that basic expenses and savings are guaranteed and he can feel satisfied that his contributions to vacations and gifts are also acknowledged. I’m not sure where you’d put your bonuses in this system. Maybe you’d have a third budget just for them.

        My usual disclaimer, x 10: NO expertise on this subject!
        My other suggestion is to mutually agree on a therapist with whom you can work to find common ground. You two don’t sound totally stuck so IMHO your overall situation doesn’t seem hopeless. Anyway, kudos and good luck.

  20. We’re common porters. We both have the same values and ideas about money so it works really well.

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