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’m sure that your husband does everything correctly, but this sounds like the start of an MPRE hypo!

    • 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.

        • lucy stone :

          My demographic was too small to get a sample size – I feel like a special snowflake now.

      • 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?

    • This. We thought we would be independent operators with one joint account but then we got married and realized it was so much easier for us to just pool all our money.

      We still have our own separate cards, we just pay for it out of the same account.

  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.

    • We are common potters. I make about 2/3 of the income but it hasn’t always been that way. The years we were having babies he often made

  21. Common potters, almost 13 years of marriage. I actually floated the idea of a sometimes sharer plan when we were engaged, and was surprised that it really hurt his feelings (I’m sure that it really did and that this was not some sort of manipulation or guilt trip). It was really important to him that we be a full unit, which, now, I think I full agree with.

    I can see using the sometimes sharer for a few years, but can’t imagine how it could be continued through a lifetime, particularly if you’re changing jobs, having kids, buying houses, etc. It just doesn’t seem dynamic enough IMO (though I’m sure that it is for some people). (I’ll add that we married young, and had nothing at the time, so there have been a lot of changes – maybe it’s different for people more established at marriage.)

    One aside – we’ve both been the sole breadwinner at times (him while I was in law school and me now while he’s a SAHD). That really hasn’t changed things at all – we’ve always thought of it completely as “our” money. Even if only one person was earning it, the other was working towards the needs of the family in one way or another.

    • pilates princess :

      I missed all of the posts on this page before I posted below. But this is exactly my situation. We also married youngish, before we had much of anything, and have taken turns being the breadwinner.

  22. TO Lawyer :

    Obviously I’m not married or coupled up but when I had this conversation with past SOs, it seemed like an idea solution would be joint accounts but separate credit cards that were paid out of the joint account.

    But I have a question for you ladies – do you think your approach would change depending on when in life you got married? I have some friends that got married fairly young and they’ve combined everything (but they didn’t have much starting out). Some of those friends don’t even know the banking passwords or anything. Whereas by the time I probably end up getting married, I will have been on my own and saving/spending without any interference. I don’t know if it’ll be as easy to combine everything at a later stage. Thoughts?

    • Sydney Bristow :

      I think if I had gotten married when I was in my early 20s I’d have been more likely to do a common pot. At this point I have such huge student loan debt and am completely set in my ways of managing my money that it just seems too hard.

    • I was going to ask this exact same question. I’ve been married for 9 years, married when I was 23. We’ve combined everything other than 401Ks and always have. I think part of it is because we were broke students when we married and have combined everything together.

      We both make about the same now and it all goes into the joint checking account. We have a savings account that we’ll transfer money over to every now and again, but all bills are paid from checking. Pretty much everything we buy is on credit cards that we pay off every month, though. If I’m going to buy my husband a gift, I’ll just tell him not to look at the credit card statement for a month so he won’t see where it’s coming from (although it’s more than likely Amazon…).

      • This was our situation too. We married young (at 22) and were both broke students at the time. We combined everything.

    • I don’t think it would for me. I’m 25 and not married, but have been living with my boyfriend for since 22. We’re sometimes sharers in that we both put in about 60% of our respective incomes to cover all joint expenses (rent, eating out together, dates, joint vacations, joint gifts, everything) and use the rest to spend as we individually need. This has worked well for us and I really can’t imagine ever combining finances if we get married, even though we are so young and not really established financially.

    • I think this can be a very important factor. My husband and I got married in our very early 20s (20 & 21) and I don’t see how we could have done anything but the common pot system. At the time we got married, almost every cent we had was a wedding gift. For the first three years of our marriage he earned 100% of the income, while our biggest expense (law school) was mine. For the past three years of our marriage, I’ve earned 100% of the income, while the biggest expense is his (his tuition is much more than my student loan payments, in large part because I didn’t have to borrow everything because his income during law school covered our living expenses and some of my tuition).

      Having the working spouse give the nonworking spouse an allowance always seemed like a recipe for resentment on both sides, and by the time we both have an income (hopefully sometime next year) it would be next to impossible to disentangle our finances even if we wanted to.

      We do have separate credit cards from before our marriage that we pay off in full every month from the joint account, so we know how much each other has spent but not the exact breakdown (e.g., he knows I’ve spent $700 this month, but not that I bought a $100 pair of shoes and spent exactly the price of a iPad mini at the Apple store two weeks before his birthday).

    • We got married and combined everything at 30. My husband believes strongly in being common potters, and that wouldn’t have changed if we were 40 when we married. I personally don’t care that much and don’t think I would if I was older. Being common potters is the easiest option in my opinion. That said, if I was 40 and financially secure (instead of 30 and drowning in student loan debt v. my financially secure husband) I may have done a prenup to better protect my assets.

      • Philanthropy Girl :

        I was 28 and DH was 33 when we got married and put it all in one pot. What we do share with most young marrieds is neither of our careers had really taken off, so we were pretty poor.

    • Time, and relative position makes a difference. I think part of why my husband and I can’t see eye to eye on this is that when we married, my net worth was about $280,000 and his was about -$30,000. I found it impossible not to be suspicious and paranoid in that situation, especially because the reason for his low number was not something unavoidable, but just a lack of desire to have money in the bank (vs spending it).

    • Amelia Bedelia :

      I’m not sure. I was very young when I married (23) and just starting out. But my husband is much, much older than I am and was quite established in savings and lifestyle. But culturally/religiously it was very important to him that we be one unit. And I didn’t mind. I’m glad we did because now that he has switched paths (from practicing medicine to teaching full-time), I make more than twice what he does and I like that he doesn’t have to feel like he isn’t “pulling his weight.” We are one unit and both contribute in valuable ways. I like the common pot for that reason.

  23. newlywed anon :

    My husband and I are in a unique position. We are both attorneys (met in law school) and married about 5 months ago. I am in big law and he is an attorney for the city. I am the primary breadwinner. However, I also have law school loans, while my husband has a trust fund and anticipates a large inheritance. We signed an unusual pre-nup, in which everything in the marriage is considered joint property, except for a single account in my husband’s name for receipt of gifts, any inheritances and trust disbursements. As a couple, we agreed that marriage means joint everything. However, to appease his mother, the separate account was set up. Once money is put in the account, my husband has the power to transfer it to our joint account.

    So far we have not had any issues. We see each others’ purchases in the joint account. I pay my loans out of the joint account. However, as we have buy property, have kids, and grow older, I anticipate problems. Keeping his mother out of the conversation is by way the biggest thing so far.

  24. Shamed here before so now going nameless :

    I think this is a “once burned twice shy” thing. It also depends where you are in your life and who else your current spouse brought there to be with you (e.g., former spouses). For these and other reasons, we are Individual Operators. I really do not want to have to respond to discovery requests about my income and assets just because a certain former wife is nosy. Ditto having to redact a joint tax return before turning it over to her and having her then pore over it to back out my share. I contribute to my step kids’ educations and vacations, but I don’t want to report the details of that to her.

  25. Common potters. We were independent while we were living together before we got married, for about 3 years. We do keep some things a little separate, purely so we can each see how much we are spending on things just for ourselves. A set amount of our monthly budget is “fun money” and it’s split between the two of us to sort of do whatever we want, or save up for something. We do this by having 2 lower limit credit cards and one higher limit one that earns points, plus a debit card for everyday stuff. The higher limit one is for large purchases, purchases that are for the family, or for our daughter, Netflix and Amazon charge to it, etc. The other two CCs are what we each use if we go shopping just for ourselves, like my husband buying video games and books, or me buying shoes, handbags, and gadgets. We found it’s easier to limit ourselves and know what we are each spending. But both our names are on everything. Sometimes mine is the primary, sometimes his.

  26. Independent operator here. We talked about having a joint account for joint expenses (which is utilities and rent), but realized it would just be the same result we have now of splitting evenly, so why bother putting it into another account? We just add up shared expenses and split at the end of the month (this works because we put basically everything on credit cards that get paid off every month–easy to track, and you get rewards points). This worked when we both made roughly the same income. I recently got a new job where I now make more, so I don’t know if we’re going to reconfigure or not. If we do, I imagine we would do a contribution to a joint account based on our percentage of our total income, with the rest of the money in separate accounts (so separate with an allowance to joint, rather than joint with allowance to separate). Or just continue with entirely separate accounts and split based on the percentage. Not married, been together 10 years, no kids or plans to ever have any.

  27. We’re in the middle. We share finances and have a joint account that we don’t use but largely keep our money separate. It’s just so much easier that way for us. Also, I think – for me – it reduces tension. I don’t want to have to b*tch about Mr. AIMS taking cabs or how much he spends on X and I know I would, and I am sure he would rather not think about how much I spend on Y and Z either. We have a very similar approach to money management (never carry a balance, contribute 10% to a retirement account, etc.) so I don’t worry about things getting out of hand and we touch base about any big things, but I just find it easier to manage most of this small stuff separately. I’m sure this will be harder if we have a kid and maybe at that point we’ll switch to a different system but this works for us now with virtually no conflict.

    And as an aside, it’s also nice to not have to bother our friends when we want to make a surprise purchase for each other (as we’ve had to do for friends who have combined everything and who ask us to put surprise gifts like concert tickets on our card(s)).

    • Are you married? (Was confused by “Mr. AIMS”). This might be a naive question, but what right would either one of you have to b*tch about the other’s spending if you’re not legally attached to each other? (Assuming any shared bills are paid!)

  28. Anonymous :

    Does the way you share finances affect how much you decide to spend on shared expenses, like a mortgage? Do you take out a mortgage that’s X% of your combined income, even if that means one of you alone would have trouble affording the mortgage? Or do you get a smaller home so that one of you could cover the mortgage by yourself if something happened?

    My boyfriend (we don’t live together) asked me about this the other day and my knee jerk was that I would not want to live in a home that I could not afford on my own, but after some thought I’m not really sure how to feel about it. I’m interested to see how others handle this.

    • Meg Murry :

      We bought our first home with the understanding that we wanted it to be feasible on one income – because what if the other was laid off? We also have term life insurance purchased at the same time of the mortgage (coincidentally) that would be enough to pay off the mortgage if something were to happen to one of us. Or what if one of you decides to take a step back from your career in future (to start your own business, or be a SAH parent or whatever)?

      Buying more house than either of you could afford on your own is the prime example of the “Two Income Trap” (interesting book, by the way, although I don’t agree with all the author’s conclusions) or the “Golden Handcuffs” often referred to on this site.

      • I think that’s great if that is feasible but I’m not sure I agree with this in all situations. If you’re planning to live somewhere for a long time, presumably what you can afford when you are younger is less from what you could afford in ten years time. Obviously, you’ll have other expenses then, too, but if you’re buying a place to live in for the next 10-20 years, I think it’s not unreasonable to stretch a bit what you can comfortably pay now with the understanding that you should be in a better position later (I am not saying you should expect to earn more later and take on more than you can pay now, just to be super clear). Of course, best case scenario, you can afford your mortgage on one salary so you’ll be fine if one of you decided to step back or if one or the other gets laid off, but that might also mean you may not be able to afford to buy any place at all in some markets and I don’t think it’s always a better idea. My view might be colored by the NYC market where it’s just not realistic to buy a place you can grow into that you can also afford on one salary unless it’s a very large salary to begin with, but for us it just wouldn’t be very realistic to do it that way so I think your immediate surroundings play a big role in this sort of decision.

        • Meg Murry :

          Very true that your market will make a huge difference on this. Part of the reason we were more cautious is also because we bought our first house when mortgage brokers were handing out mortgages left and right for ridiculous amounts of money. Seriously, we were offered a HUGE mortgage despite the fact that we were very young, had a very low down payment, both had not-too-stable jobs that we had been at for a matter of months (and mine was even through a temp service). Today, I’m pretty sure we would have been laughed out of the bank for even applying for a mortgage, and our mortgage broker has since gone under.
          But yes, look at long term vs short term too – I’d definitely say you should each be able to afford a starter home payment on your own, whereas a 10-20 year family home might be ok with 1.5 incomes (but I wouldn’t go all the way to 2 incomes).
          After all, this willingness to go into debt up to your eyeballs for real estate is part of what caused the housing bubble in the first place.

      • Another Anon :

        We also decided to buy something that was affordable on one salary, even though we’re in a very expensive part of the country. According to the bank (and some of our friends) we could have afforded something twice as expensive, but living in a bigger house or a fancier neighborhood wasn’t worth the stress of a ridiculous monthly payment.

        (Sometime Sharers, btw)

      • I bought our house on my own 2 weeks before we got married, so that it would be mine (I had the money to buy it – he had nothing to contribute). Only my name is on the title and on the mortgage. It is definitely a ‘family home’ that I would never have bought if I were single, but I can afford it on my own although it’s more than I would like to spend (my mortgage payments, which include property taxes, are 20% of my monthly gross pay, 40% of my monthly take-home (after taxes, healthcare, and maxing out 401K)). If we got divorced I would sell it, but I can afford to pay for it solo in the interim without living on rice and beans. We have a term life insurance policy on me that will last as long as the mortgage that will more than cover it, so if I die he can pay off the house and continue to live there.

        • Oh, and my husband definitely could not afford it on his own, but we’re okay with that since it’s not ‘his’ house. If we decided to have me not work, it would have to go along with a much higher income for him or a major lifestyle change for our family.

  29. Meg Murry :

    Giant can of worms that is hard to describe but works for us. When we were first married we were a hybrid of independent operators and common potters in that we had 2 joint bank accounts at the 2 biggest banks in town, but we each had our paychecks go into our “personal” accounts, and we each had certain bills that we paid. I carried the checkbook and debit card for “my” account, he did the same for “his” and we were each responsible for balancing our own accounts. We also only had 1 car, worked at the same place, and only had “our” friends – so it was all “our” money, this was just our way of making sure I wasn’t writing a check for the rent at the exact same time he was making the car payment. The main reason we had 2 separate bank accounts is that we lived in a town that seemed to operate almost entirely on cash, and it wasn’t uncommon to have to try 3 different ATMs on a weekend to find one that had cash in it, so being able to go to 2 different banks and not have to pay ATM fees was worth it.

    Now we each have multiple income streams, and mortgages at 4 different banks due to our rental properties, so we’re again a tangled mess of all of the above in that we each have certain accounts that we each monitor separately and pay certain bills out of, plus our “everything else” account that pays for groceries, day to day expenses and all other bills that aren’t fixed amounts each month, like natural gas. I handle 75% or more of the day to day bills and login to all our accounts every few days – my husband does an occasion scan but doesn’t generally get to into the details other that monitoring the one account that is primarily “his”.

    The one thing that worked best for us though when we have a steady income with direct deposit is to have one account that all autopaying bills come out of, with just enough (plus extra for rounding) direct deposited from each check. Its so nice to just “set it and forget it” (ok, “set it and check on it every week”) when it comes to big bills like mortgages, car payments etc.

  30. Maddie Ross :

    We’re a blend of independent operators/sometimes sharers, if that makes sense. We have all separate accounts, in which our separate paychecks, but we each have access to all of the accounts (though not debit cards for each others). Right when we got married, we split the bills up and have generally worked along those same lines throughout the last nearly ten years. We have one common credit card, paid generally from his account. We discuss all of our financial goals and plans, but each have autonomy within that. I don’t think this would work if we didn’t trust each other and have the same goals in mind.

    • Manhattanite :

      We’re pretty much the same. We have the attitude of what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine, but we married in our mid/late 30’s and had just each gotten used to the way each of us has managed our own finances. It works for us because we consider the separate accounts as right and left hand pockets of the same entity. Probably would have to change if either of us were out of work for any period of time.

  31. Need to Improve :

    We are sometimes sharers. We each have a separate account and we have one joint account. We figured out how much money we need monthly to run our household–mortgage, groceries, child care, vacations, etc. We deposit that amount in the joint account every month, proportionally based on our incomes. (We just did a simple algorithm.) Everything leftover goes in our separate accounts.

    The separate accounts are for our totally discretionary spending and we can’t question each other’s choices. For example, I can buy $400 shoes and he can’t complain, or he can donate all of his to charity, no questions asked.

    It’s true that there are some fuzzy lines–my makeup is a separate expense I pay for, but what about shampoo? We just trust each other to use good judgment with those fuzzy questions and we don’t sweat. If I were buying a sweater for my husband, as mentioned above, I would pay with separate money because I love giving him “gifts” which are truly gifts because they are out of my separate pot.

    We have a large income disparity (I earn 3x more than he does) and this way we both have money that is our own and no one feels shafted or like they have to “ask” for money.

  32. Husband and I are Common Potters for the most part. Currently I make more than he does, but that will be changing drastically when he finished a post-grad program this summer. We lived together and had seperate finances for several years prior to getting married, and then once we got married we transitioned to a joint account; We have joint checking, savings, and travel accounts that I track on Mint. We have seperate credit cards, but they are also tracked on Mint with joint expenses, and paid from our joint checking.

    We do maintain individual checking accounts and we each keep a specific, pre-agreed upon dollar amount from pay checks there. This money can be used on whatever we want. For example, my husband desperately wanted an iPad but it just wasn’t isn’t in the joint budget. He purchased it from his personal account, no questions asked and everyone was happy.

    We do have a investment account that my husband had before we got married that’s still in his name with myself as the beneficiary, but all new accounts we open are jointly held.

  33. My experience was very similar to Kat’s. Except perhaps a little more extreme/silly, as in “do I use my money or our money to pay for my lunch?” (Answer: it depended on where I ate, how much it cost, and whether I was with anyone else.) Way too complicated. Now about 99% of our money goes into a common pot. In addition, we each have our own accounts because of associated loans–basically, he has an account out of which our car loan is paid and I have an account out of which a HELOC is paid and we each get about $200 per month into those accounts which we can then use for gifts for the other person. And gifts really just means birthday, Christmas, and anniversary. (So that people don’t figure out what their gifts are in advance based on the store it was purchased at.) Our joint account is used for dates, just because flowers, etc. All savings and investments (other than 401(k)s and IRAs) are joint.

  34. He makes the money and I spend it!! Just kidding, but my husband makes about 4x more money than I do. Basically we do this: His paycheck is deposited into our joint account, mine into my personal account. (He has no personal account.) We basically live off of his paycheck – mine goest 1) our retirement savings 2) repaying my car and my student loans 3) about $300 per month as my spending money. I do occasional free lance work as as well and spend that money as I choose. When I get my debts repaid in about a year, that amount of “my” money will go to his student loans, which will pay those off in another year. At the end of that time we will figure out what to do with that amount plus the amount that he is currently paying to his student loans. Sometimes I ponder whether an ‘expense’ – like getting my car fixed or something should be joint or mine, but it doesn’t end up ever mattering much.

    I enjoy discussing money with my husband and making plans for it, which is my only real advice. I have a husband who makes it easy though.

  35. Baconpancakes :

    I have a few friends who seem to be completely Independent Operators, and I’ll admit, it’s a bit weird. Never cohabited myself, but when we’re all out to dinner, and Friend Anna says, “I only have $10 cash, can I give you the other $10 tomorrow?” to her husband Friend Bill, it’s a little startling. It does make them seem less like a unit, although I certainly don’t know their situation and they seem quite happy, so I don’t judge. Another couple, Friend Sarah and Friend Jake, cohabit in Friend Jake’s house, and Friend Sarah pays Friend Jake a check for rent and utilities every month, and they also seem to only pay for their own food and drinks when we’re out. My boyfriend and I don’t cohabit, but we switch off paying for dinner and entertainment when we’re together to make the date feel more like a date and less like friends grabbing dinner. Maybe it’s just my friends? Does anyone split everything so strictly?

    • Sydney Bristow :

      We alternate paying for meals out like that or try to put it on whoever’s credit card gets the best rewards at the moment. We also alternate groceries now and just assume it all evens out over time.

    • In college, my boyfriend’s parents (married 20+ years) took us out to dinner for his birthday. My parents were common potters, so it was baffling to hear them have a ten minute conversation about who was going to pay.

    • I have a two couple friends like that too and yeah i find it really odd.

  36. We’re common potters – I earn about 70% of our household income, and I’m also in charge of the budgeting. We’ve been doing it this way for about a year and really don’t have any issues – he’s not much of a spender. It’s only a tiny problem when it ruins surprises – I check our accounts daily, so if he’s gotten me a present, I at least know where it came from.

    • Haha, that’s happened to us a couple of times! We’ve gotten in the habit of putting gift purchases on our credit card and we’ll tell the other, “Don’t check the credit card account until after your birthday!”

  37. We are common potters and I’ve always been the money manager. My H is just not good with money and has little interest in managing the day-to-day stuff. When we were first married, I earned more but now he’s earning more.

    We laid out a budget and we review it periodically as money situations change (i.e. we pay off a debt or one of us gets a raise). We have $x in the monthly budget designated as fun money, so we both know about how much we can spend on our own hobbies or shopping. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to have separate accounts for allowances, we just don’t really question what the other spends unless it is wildly above the normal amount (and we usually bring those things up with the other before the purchase).

    It’s worked for us, but I think every couple and every situation is different. You just have to figure out what works for your particular combination of personalities and spending/saving styles.

  38. My husband and I have maintained separate accounts pretty much as we did before we got married. My paycheck goes into mine, his paycheck goes into his, and we pay our own bills out of our respective accounts, split utility bills and alternate who pays the rent (we lived together before marriage so we set up the alternating rent payment system when we were BF-GF). I pay for most big purchases and purchases made together (meals, etc) because I have a credit card with good reward points and he doesn’t. Before we were married, we’d add all those joint purchases I made and deduct his half from the rent I owed, but now we don’t. Despite our separate banking accounts, we view our money very much as “joint money” and consult each other over big purchases. We each have an idea of roughly what the other person spends each month and on what. Our system works well for us and we have no plans to change it in the near future.

  39. pilates princess :

    For those of you that do an allowance or discretionary funds, what are your “rules” for what is what? Purely recreational pursuits alone, independent outing with friends, gift for each other, I assume are “personal.” But what about lunches or coffee during the work day, clothes, discretionary items for the home (decor), discretionary items for the kids, family gifts or gifts to common friends, etc.

    We’ve tried to do allowances, but always end up going back to the common pot. Admittedly, this is at least as much because we are terrible about reconciling our accounts with our budget with regularity. But some of it comes from our difficulty coming up with parameters.

    I’d love to hear your strategies.

    • Senior Attorney :

      For us it was easy because we used a zero-based budget: Every dollar had a job to do and we had categories for everything including “his clothes,” “her clothes,” “house stuff,” “kid stuff,” and “gifts.” We set aside money in accounts for all those categories every month, and we’d spend from the joint checking account (or really on the joint cash-back credit card) and then transfer money to cover it from the appropriate account. Work lunches and related expenses were specifically agreed to be personal expenses.

      • pilates princess :

        We have had “create zero-based budget” on the to do list, for longer than I’d like to admit. But I think it’s going to happen soon.

        When we’ve tried to set it up before, we’d have categories/envelopes/buckets (we use MoneyWell), for “His Discretionary” and “Her Discretionary.” That’s where I’d put my work lunches and pilates lessons. He’d put his work lunches and golf club expenses. Do you recommend breaking those out further?

        I appreciate that you said you did this all from a joint credit card, because we have done the same thing, and I don’t want to loose that element. I think we just need to get better about inputting/reconciling.

        • Senior Attorney :

          I used MS Money (I know Microsoft hasn’t supported it for lo these many years but I can’t give it up) but you can use Quicken or You Need a Budget or just a spreadsheet. I sit down for a few minutes every day and reconcile my accounts and it’s totally worth it. Plus it makes me feel like I’m on top of that one thing, anyway, even when everything else is going to he!!.

          As for categories, the best way to figure out what categories you need is to track your spending for a while and see what expenses keep popping up.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      This is the tough part. Our side accounts are small but they are key so we don’t have to keep track of small purchases while the other is budgeting. We talk and amend our procedure at times. Right now, lunch out w/ friends goes on the personal card. Lunch out because you were stuck out at a client site with no choice goes on the joint account. General toiletries at the pharmacy or grocery store is joint. Fancy clinique make up is personal. We were doing hair cuts on the separate cards but decided that is unfair because mine are so much more than his. We now put those on joint, generally. I guess the way to look at it is if it is a need it is joint and if it is a want it is personal. If I’m getting four haircuts a year it is joint. If I start wanting highlights and trims every four weeks it is personal.

      If we do something together as a date it is joint. If we both need some new work stuff we go shop joint. If I decide I like a sweater on this site, it is personal. We put gifts on our credit cards and pay off out of joint.

      Massages were personal but I now need them frequently for a medical issue so they might become joint.

    • Philanthropy Girl :

      Our (very limited) discretionary funds do anything that isn’t budgeted. For example, I never budget for coffee, or lunch out during the week. So that’s my discretionary money. Clothing, joint meals out, haircuts, ect… are usually budgeted so it comes out of the joint account. I often put my discretionary money in with budgeted money to buy something more expensive than the budget can allow.

  40. Pa Gov Atty :

    This is a very timely post as we are currently transitioning who pays all the bills and I’d like to take that opportunity to change up how we do things. Currently, my husband pays all of the household bills and his student loans and credit cards. I’m responsible for paying for my student loans and credit cards. I told my husband I think it would be better if one person (me) paid everything because it’s easier to watch where everything is going and we could budget better. Now, we are sometimes sharers and I’d like to transition more to common potters. We split all the household bills 50/50, which we started doing when we made the same amount. However, my husband has a new job and he makes significantly more than me. He does pick up other expenses along the way to make up for it, but it seems like at this point being sometimes sharers is not worth it anymore. I do think a small monthly allowance would be helpful though. I feel like I would feel guilty every time I bought clothing or something silly like that even though my husband spends more throughout the week on lunches and coffee out. This post and the responses have given me some great ideas on how to move forward with this! Thanks!

  41. PinkKeyboard :

    We are independent operators. We split everything 5050 and I pay and tally up his debts on our wall calendar (paper) in the kitchen. He then cuts me a check every week or so. He also pays me a portion for health insurance which is deducted from my pay through work. Neither of us are very frugal and we both think the other person buys silly things so this is the best way to keep things fair and avoid arguments over individual purchases. I am the one buying the house (he has horrendous credit) so my name is on the mortgage but he is also going on the deed.

  42. yet another anon :

    We are independent operators, but we are sharing a YNAB budget that is continually updated through a Dropbox account that links our personal laptops. This system is about as close to shared as I am willing to go at the moment. During law school, I experienced an unpleasant divorce from a depressed and increasingly abusive ex, and in that relationship I had been responsible for paying for everything. In my current relationship, I care a great deal about keeping my own accounts and drawing strict lines about which expenses I am responsible for in our household. However, we set financial goals together and we have a lot of fun discussing the minutiae of our respective budgets. It helps that we’re both finance nerds, but I find it interesting that he got into budgeting as a teenager just because he likes it, and I was only really turned on to the importance of financial decisions thanks to my divorce.

  43. Amelia Bedelia :

    We are common potters all the way. We’ve been married over ten years, and when we first married, he had pretty sizeable savings, but tons of student loans (like five times mine). I had very little savings and much less loans. But it just made sense to us to be joint. I made quite a bit less the first four years of our marriage, but now I make more than twice what he makes. But it works for us (wow. I hadn’t realised that until just now). We simply have our money. it all goes in the common pot and we have a rule that we must “consult” each other before we buy anything that costs more than a set amount (reevaluated every few years). Honestly, we tend to mention any spending to each other because it’s easier. The only stressers we have had with money tend to be with outside family members, but it is never a “your” family and “my” money situation. It’s more “should we be still helping deadbeats” discussion.

    I was pretty young when we married, and he had much more than I did and was more established. I’m not sure if I would do it the same way again if I were in my 30s when I married. But I’m glad we do it this way. If both people are TRULY on board, I think it makes for a great “we’re in this together” approach. But that’s just what works best for me.

    • This is exactly our approach. We don’t require “pre-approval” for any discretionary spending unless it’s over a set amount. I think it works for us because we basically have the same spending/saving tendencies. My husband is very much a saver and I’m more of a shopper, but my “splurges” on clothes are usually at Old Navy/Gap for casual clothes and work clothes on sale at Nordstrom or Lands End. So even when I’m splurging, it’s not that expensive in the grand scheme of things.

      We also are very transparent and open about what we spend money on and why it’s necessary/wanted.

  44. Marriedoneyear :

    This is timely as my one year anniversary was Sunday! We are independent operators and it works so well for us. We lived together for almost three years before we got married and had separate finances then with a split of all household bills (we rented) and with me making sure everything was paid (he moved in with me so everything was in my name). About a month before our wedding we bought a house and switched gears. Everything is in my husband’s name and he pays the mortgage and household bills. I pay for groceries and whatever bills I have like my car payment. My husband earns more than I do and also has no debt. I have major debt from undergrad and law school. This way I can funnel my money towards that debt. He can spend his money on whatever he wants (which is really just race cars). It works for us because we usually always agree. When we go out or travel he usually pays but I kick in when I can. This may sound old fashioned but I also do all of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, etc. and I feel like that makes up for any imbalance because those non-monetary contributions are important, too.

  45. MiddleCoast :

    Common potters for 32 years, but this is changing. My DH has been diagnosed with a slow moving but fatal medical condition. It took a while to digest that news and face the facts; we recently met with an estate planner and are beginning the process of making decisions and moving things around in terms of asset ownership and trusts. This is complicated as he/I/we have different businesses under various types of ownership which made sense at the time they were set up, but not now. All of this needs to be sorted out and dealt with. We own our cars and house jointly I have my retirement plans which he is listed as the beneficiary/survivor, but I am reconsidering. He is a trust fund baby and we have to align our new plans with his trusts.

    On the day-to-day stuff, we have joint checking and savings accounts. We have way too many credit cards, held separately and jointly depending on what the best frequent flyer mileage deal was at the time it was opened. His hobby is collecting frequent flyer miles, so we charge everything we possibly can; he strategizes on the best “capture” as he calls it. We pay them off each month. Due to this, I rarely use cash or debit cards.

    He is in a field in which his income can be very flexible. It was rather nonexistent when he was first starting out, so we have always lived off of my income and invested his whenever it came in. I am in government; I tend to think of budgets in terms of Operations & Management and Capital. So our O&M budget is funded by my income. Our Capital budget is his income and the income from our various businesses. I handle the bill paying; we make joint decisions on the big stuff. We try to sit down once a month and go over it all, using YNAB.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      I’m very sorry to hear about your husband’s diagnosis. It is also a reminder that everyone should have their affairs in order just in case. My state is one of the few where a spouse is not an automatic next of kin w/ decision making ability. It is a reminder to get some POA’s done soon.

      • Spirograph :

        I’m also sorry, MiddleCoast to hear about your husband’s diagnosis. I hope it moves so slowly that you have many happy years still ahead!

        On Blonde Lawyer’s point, though, I would love love love to see a thread about estate planning. Not that I need to get all my financial advice from a fashion blog, but this is something I know I would get an F from Suze Orman on. I just have no idea where to start.

  46. We are sometimes sharers and have been for a decade with few problems. We have our bank automatically move money from our individual accounts to our joint account and pay for almost everything with the joint funds: mortgage, cable, cell phones, vacations, family Christmas gifts, etc. Our single accounts are used for individual lunches, happy hours, and misc. shopping. I love not having to explain just how much I shop and he doesn’t get nagged for going out to lunch every day. It’s also great when we want to surprise each other with gifts. We contribute the same amount but since I make slightly more, I pay for the family insurance through work.

  47. Currently co-habitating so my BF and I are independent operators. We split expenses – rent, groceries, utilities, etc. Some people up-thread were asking about ways to monitor splitting expenses and I want to mention Splitwise. It’s an app for iPhone and Android and will keep track and split all expenses. For instance, my BF and I order-in food for dinner a lot. One of us will pay with our credit card but enter the expense into Splitwise. Splitwise charges 50% to each of us and keeps a running total for the month. At the end of the month, whoever owes money writes a check to the other one. It’s been great for us! I will say it helps that we remind each other to “splitwise” things, that way neither of us feel guilty about entering in an expense.

  48. Great timing :

    I actually was just thinking about this! I work in Big Law with lots of loans. My husband is in a field with a big upside, but right now he makes about 1/4 of what I do, though he has no loans. However, he comes from a very wealthy family and as a result has a lot of nice things and pre-marital accounts with substantial assets.

    For everything post-marriage, we are common potters, with a “fun” allowance each of about $1000/month. We have kept our pre-marriage assets separate. The only thing is, his pre-marriage assets are substantial, and mine are next-to-none, since I concentrated heavily on paying off loans during my single years. My husband rarely spends from his pre-marital funds, but he knows they’re there if he wants to buy something outside of his allowance that I don’t think is necessary. While I don’t love this, since I don’t have similar flexibility to spend outside of my allowance, I do also benefit from his money in that he isn’t always spending solely our joint money (i.e., he spends less in general from our joint pot than he would otherwise; for me, when I go over, I go over, and it comes from joint funds).

    Here’s my current rub: I have about $45k left in loans (of $200k originally). We are working hard to pay this off (from our joint incomes–i.e., mostly mine) by the end of this year. My husband is very adamant that I can’t even consider a lower paying job until the loans are gone. At the same time, he is planning to spend a significant amount of money from his pre-marital accounts to purchase himself a luxury car for an upcoming big birthday, despite the fact that he has a perfectly nice luxury car that his parents gave him 5 years ago. I feel somewhat irked about this because if he has extra money to spend why not help our marriage out by getting rid of the student loans once and for all and giving me freedom to pursue whatever job I want! But then again, his separate accounts are not my money, the purchase doesn’t affect our joint money, and I currently drive a different luxury car that is my husband’s from before we were married. And also, there is something to be said for paying off my student loans on my own, without any help from his family or pre-marital funds.

    What do you think? Do I have any grounds for feeling miffed about the planned car purchase? (I know that this is a first world/rich person’s kind of problem… but I guess it’s just the power dynamic/priorities issue that has me feeling weird about it.)

    • It would bug me a lot, whether it’s reasonable or not. I’m bothered by him trying to dictate you staying in a job because of the pay, as well as the fact that despite that he makes a quarter of your salary, you both have the same “fun” allowance. If he has substantial enough assets, that should be his fun money, and I’d suggest using that extra 1K a month on your loans. I’m not suggesting you should get anything from his pre-marital accounts, but it also seems like he’s only common pot when it serves him.

    • Baconpancakes :

      If he had asked you whether you wanted the money to pay off the loans, and when you’d said no, you wanted to do it yourself, he bought a car, it would be annoying, but perfectly reasonable. As it is, he’s not giving you a choice, and is putting a new car over your happiness. The actual actions aren’t really that important here – it’s the motivations behind them.

  49. Manhattanite :

    We’re independant operators in name, but a hybrid in practice. Married for 2.5 yrs, together for 10 yrs. Everything is separate in name. But hubs has the password and manages most of my IRA and investment accounts. I have an independent investment account as well that he does not manage. He pays rent. I pay the nanny. He makes about 2X my salary. He keeps meticulous records of our financial lives. We each pay for food, restaurants, clothes, and other expenses as it comes up without thinking about it. It works for us because we have similar spending habits (both savers) and each have steady incomes. We each consider all of our finances as joint, even though we have separate accounts. From an estate planning and disaster preparedness perspective, we should probably pay more attention to legalities. Also, I think our arrangement would have to be altered should one of us be unemployed for an extended period of time or if we were to go on a tighter budget.

  50. Another Anon :

    We’ve been married for about a year and are Sometimes Sharers with a joint account to cover joint expenses (I put in a little more for day to day expenses, because I make more, but big purchases, e.g., car, downpayment, we split from our own savings account).

    He’d grumbles sometimes about how we should be Common Potters, but I’m reluctant because I don’t want to feel like I have to justify what I think are perfectly reasonable expenditures, even though that may never be an issue — I just know I don’t feel bad spending frivolous money when it’s from MY account, but would if was from OUR account. Also, he has a child from a previous relationship, which just adds a layer of complexity (I’d love to hear how other blended families deal with this).

    To be honest, I’m not sure how much of his paycheck he has left over in his personal account after taxes, child support, retirement, and our joint, but that’s something we should probably talk about.

    One money issue that did get uncomfortable was when we were doing our taxes, it turned out we owed a lot more than expected — and about 90% of it was from a premarital investment of his that was sold and the profits went to his personal account. Before we knew the tax bill would be that high, we had informally agreed we’d split the bill, since it was a joint return. Although he suggested that he pay the majority of it first, he did so only somewhat begrudgingly. He did eventually realize on his own that the assets were his, not ours, therefore the taxes should be as well, but it was a little frustrating.

    The other potential issue is future child-care costs, now that we’re expecting. It may be that I end up paying the bulk of them at first, since my cash-flow is better than his for now.

  51. Diana Barry :

    We have everything 100% in common, except retirement accounts that are required to be in one person’s name only. We moved to a joint account and 100% deposited into it when we moved in together (this was 2 years before we got married). We also bought a house together (joint) before we got married. This makes it easy for us – all of the kids’ stuff and all of our stuff comes out of the one account and there is no bean-counting.

    I think it is helpful that (1) we’ve never fought about money and (2) we both have a tendency to be frugal, so neither of us is a really big spender.

  52. Spirograph :

    I’m really interested in how everyone else handles their money. DH and I are Common Potters, although I have an investment account in only my name from before we were married. Our earnings are about equal, and I’m the primary money manager from a strategic perspective, but from a bill-paying standpoint, we both have taken responsibility on kind of an ad hoc basis. We have only a joint credit card, which we use for just about everything and pay off every month out of our joint checking account, and all our other automatic debits come out of the joint checking account as well.

    I think I like the idea of an allowance that many people have mentioned… I’ve brought it up to DH before, and he agrees, but we haven’t implemented it — I get the feeling that as soon as one of us didn’t have enough in our allowance account, we’d just use the joint credit card, anyway. We need to be more disciplined. Maybe I’ll make another try this week.

    One thing that’s driven me crazy is the online account management. Both of us have individual logins for our bank where we can view and manipulate joint accounts, but mortgage, car loan, utilities, cable, phones, insurance, etc have only one login. Some of the accounts are tied to my e-mail address, some to his e-mail address, some only one of us has login information for… How has everyone else handled this? If you’re the primary manager, do you just have EVERYTHING linked to your e-mail and you are the keeper of all the login info? I tried setting up a “joint e-mail account” that also auto-forwards to both of our personal e-mail accounts, so that in theory we have everything consolidated in one place, but we’re also both notified when a bill has been paid (and what the amount was if it’s variable like utilities). It hasn’t worked out so well, though. I kind of wish we just got paper bills for everything, but I’m trying not to kill trees and all. I’d love other ideas!

    • Electronic bill pay eliminates some of this. We have one log-in for the “operating account” and all bills get paid out of that.

  53. I am 44 and have never been married. This topic is a big scary place for me. I have supported myself my entire adult life and the thought of combining finances with someone is the stuff of nightmares. I am so relieved that many of you who have spouses/partners that are actually good with money are still independent contractors. To my surprise, I am finally in a relationship that could lead to marriage. Unfortunately, he is terrible with money and has even thought about hiring someone to pay his bills for him. I don’t want to be seen as a complete control freak about my money, nor do I want him to think that my probable desire to keep things separate is any reflection on my feelings for him. Thanks to everyone for sharing.

  54. When we first moved in together, we were Sometime Sharers – one account for household expenses (mortgage/rent, utilities, grocery & joint outings) and also two independent accounts for our own use. I think that our paychecks went to the individual accounts and we auto-transferred funds to the joint account each month. We tried to use separate credit cards for joint vs individual purchases, which got complicated. When I started grad school we moved to the Common Pot (since I was earning very little) and haven’t looked back (that was 8 years ago). We have auto-transfers to all of our various savings/investment accounts, reviewed every so often, and we also have budget reviews occasionally if we feel that our balance is a bit low for a few months.But we’re both relatively laid back about money and don’t spend out of our means, so we rarely have contention.

    • After reading through the earlier posts, I remembered that we also have the rule that we run any purchase above ~$250 or so by the other person as a courtesy.

  55. When my boyfriend first moved in it was really hard to get the money part straight. I own my condo and pay mortgage and was hesitant to make him pay me for part of that since it was MY house and MY credit score. I’d pay bills and he’d pay me back for utilities. The thing is, he’s terrible about paying me back, never looks at bills and just doesn’t care about finances as much as I do.

    In January we finally opened a joint account. I figured up all of the shared bills and that is the total that goes into it every month. Our income is about 65%/35% (mine is higher, I’m definitely seeing a trend here), so I put in 65% of the money to cover joint expenses, and he puts in 35%. So if we need $1000 for monthly expenses (easy math) I’m contributing $650 and he’s contributing $350.It is automatically drafted from our accounts on payday.

    I pay all of our shared bills but he has access to the account at any time and can see where the money is going every month. We had an extra pay period in April so we both just took out what we had contributed and did with it what we pleased. (Paid down some debt for me, part of a car down payment for him.)

    I LOVE THIS SYSTEM and I have never looked back. I don’t worry about the mortgage thing anymore- I consider it rent and so does he.

    As for other expenses- we split groceries since we usually grocery shop together. We also take turns paying when we eat at restaurants. It seems to work itself out.

  56. We are sometimes sharers – have a joint account for mortgage & household expenses, including gas & groceries, with separate individual accounts for discretionary spending and individual cars. Spouse is fine with carrying a car payment, I prefer to save up instead.

    One particular reason this works for us is that we each have children from previous marriages, so we each pay for our kids’ expenses out of our own individual accounts, including their college tuition. We earn a similar amount now but in the past have sometimes had one party contributing less to the joint account than the other. We do some saving together, for house and vacation stuff, and other saving apart, for our own savings goals.

    Since we met as independent adults it was an easier integration for us this way. I can see how other arrangements suit different situations.

  57. Sometime sharers for 15+ years. I don’t understand why it’s so hard – the things that are shared are easy to define: housing & anything connected to the house (like furniture, decor, repairs), groceries (& no, we don’t nitpick who eats or uses what; if he throws in his deodorant & I throw in tampons with our food for the week, fine, it’s all paid from our joint account); utilities; insurance; also our car & gas bec. that benefits both of us. Really, that’s the underlying principle: stuff that benefits both of us is paid for out of the joint account. Don’t overthink it.

    Our incomes have varied over time. He’s made more, then I’ve made more, only occasionally have we earned the same. So we’ve adjusted how much we each contribute to our joint account. It ends up being 60-75% of each of our incomes, & we can each do whatever we want with the rest. We each have personal bills, like our own cellphones, & of course clothes & hobbies. Sometimes we’ll make a joint goal of saving up for something big, like travel or a house remodel project, & that comes from our individual accounts.

    I can’t imagine combining everything — no freedom, no independence, always having to check with my partner if it’s ok to buy a pair of shoes or spend money on dinner with friends? Yuck.

    We tried both keeping totally separate accounts for a while, but the hassle of splitting every last monthly bill 50/50 was annoying. A little bit of sharing is just enough for convenience, but still lets us each keep some of what we earn.

  58. This is a really interesting discussion. We are independent operators but we do not yet have kids, which i think probably will change the situation. It also helps that we both work in biglaw and while my husband makes more than b/c he is a few years more senior, we still make comfortable enough salaries that having separate accounts work for us. The initial reasons why we decided to separate finances was (1) i owned a condo prior to us getting married that i needed to sell and thought it would be easier to keep things separate while that sale was going on and (2) i had a lot of student loans from law school while he had paid his back by the time we got married. I wanted to pay off my student loans myself but we also wanted to pay the loans down as quickly as possible so our solution was to separate finances. He does end up with more of the financial burden since he pays our mortgage and car expenses. I pay for all utilities and any groceries/eating-out expenses. I used to pay him a certain amount each month to help pay for the mortgage/car but since i’m close to paying down my loans this year, i have stopped making extra payments to him. Sorry this turned into a novel but i think it’s nice to hear that there are other independent operators out there (no one i know does this). But i recognize this only works for us b/c we both make somewhat similar salaries and we have no problem paying for the other if necessary. I do think we think of money in each of our accounts as “ours” rather than the individual’s but we haven’t really had any issues where we’ve had to delve into this too much.

  59. We are Sometimes Sharers. The hubs assumed we would be Common Potters when we got married and I really wanted the arrangement we have now (joint checking/savings/investment/cc, but also separate accounts for discretionary spending). DH really doesn’t care how much I spend on clothes and hair, but I know I would be controlling and bossy about his spending. A big thank you to my parents for fighting about money for 45 years so I could learn that I have some of their tendencies! I earn slightly more and everything is based on percentages. Now that we have a kid, our personal share is very small, but I still like having it. I also like having it for bachelorette festivities, gifts to friends, personal travel, etc. It would drive me crazy to know any of my $$ went to bachelor party activities…. Our incomes are about to change, so we might go to more of a set dollar amount allowance, with some accommodation for the fact that he still has a student loan left.

  60. anon for this :

    Great topic. Yesterday i was reading another message board that I frequent, and it seemed like everyone was a common potter and made judgmental comments about being all-in to those of us who think differently.

    I am not married yet, but live with my SO. I consider us Sometimes Sharers. Out arrangement is definitely odd because we have VERY different (like polar opposites) values about money. It is definitely the main stressor of our relationship, but we each acknowledge it. We make about the same amount, I like to save and am frugal, he likes to spend and like status symbols. Our situation is this: he owns our house and I pay him rent. Initially, we wanted to do a common account with 15% each for small combined household items, like cleaning supplies, pet stuff, and shared food (and we pay for separate meals w/ friends, at work etc separately) and also contribute jointly to a shared savings account. However, dear SO kept spending too much money and would not contribute what he committed to me to our savings. So, he now contributes his entire paycheck out shared account and pays the bills from that. I contribute both my rent and my 15% to the joint account from which he pays bills. It is working much better – he still has a tendency to overspend though. I think when we get married I may need to take over all bills and give him an allowance. I know that sounds completely insane and controlling, but he is not opposed to it. He is really not good with money and even carried a credit card balance until I made him pay it off. Before he met me, he had no savings (although he does have a decent 401K) because he feels he can rely on his parents for emergencies. Of course I am cautious about entering marriage with someone like this; however, he does usually listen and implement what I am asking for.

    • Senior Attorney :

      We did the “I handle everything and give him an allowance” thing and it was the one and only thing in our marriage that worked spectacularly well.

  61. Not yet married :

    We’re engaged and planning to become mostly sharers. We’ll be common potters for all paychecks and credit cards going forward, so expenses will be commonly shared without dividing those up. We haven’t figured out the details on how we’ll handle our separate savings accounts that we’ve accumulated pre-wedding. We’ll likely keep them as separate accounts with each other named as the beneficiary (401k, Roth, etc.). Mortgage-wise, it’s under my name (as well as title), and we’ll probably mostly follow CA community property rules in our pre-nup. Fortunately for us, talking about money is easy since we share the same attitude and saving habits, and communicating is stress-free and open.

  62. Blue Anne :

    My husband and I are Independent Operators at the moment. The rent and utilities come out of his account, and I have standing order set up to send him my half every month. Some of the smaller bills come off my account. We do have a joint savings account which we both try to chunk money into regularly, but that’s about it. Everything else we figure out from our own paychecks and bank accounts.

    It works pretty well for us, because it makes it necessary to talk to the other person. If my husband is getting a wedding present for friends of ours, he’ll ask if I could contribute towards it, and we’ll talk about budget. If I have a big purchase coming up, I’ll check that he’s not expecting any big bills I need to contribute towards that month before I make it, etc.

  63. oedipa maas :

    For those who are sometimes sharers (what I think I want to be if I ever get married), how do you handle things like makeup and clothing? As I see it, some makeup and clothing is necessary, but some of it is for fun. And women tend to require higher clothing expenses than men, and we almost always require infinitely more makeup than men. So it doesn’t seem fair to me to say that all makeup/clothing comes out of the joint account or that it all comes out of the individual’s account.
    And while I’m at it, if you’re at the grocery store buying joint necessities and you also purchase fun individual items, how do you handle that?

    • We pay for our own clothing as that’s more of an individual expense. With shopping that includes both, we look to see what the majority of the tab is so if I’m buying a bunch of makeup and happen to pickup a tube of toothpaste, I’ll pay for the whole thing.

    • Clothing is a separate expense for us. I think we actually spend the same amount on clothes, but I resented his super expensive suits and shoes (even though he only buys once a year). Grocery bills and drug store bills are almost always a joint expense, even though it might be a mix of things for me and things for him. If I am going to the drug store just to buy make up, I might put that on my personal card (he does the same if he just picks up power bars and razors). I definitely would use my personal card for department store make-up.

  64. We have all our finances separate but we have a joint credit card on which we put all our shared expenses (groceries, vacations, utility bill, etc.). This works for us because we were older when we got married so already had our finances in order and it just seemed like a pain in the ass to combine things that were already working for us. It’s also easy because we don’t have kids and make relatively the same amount of money. We just each spend what we want and at the end of the month, each write a check for half the credit card and half the rent. I recognize this only works if you are both pretty much on the same page about spending, but we are. Neither of us are misers or spendthrifts.

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  66. Independent Operators: I am newly engaged and have been living with my fiance for a year, dating for about 2.5. When we moved in together we made the decision to split our bills 50/50 and it has worked splendidly so far. We each have our individual accounts and credit cards, but we have one joint account for bills, which I pay each month.

    We discussed moving to a common system once we marry, but we don’t see the point just yet. We don’t own any property yet, nor do we have children. We are both relatively new to our blooming careers and have chosen to live far, far below our means. We kind of enjoy just splitting the necessities down the middle, saving some, and doing whatever we want with the rest, no questions asked.

    We alternate who pays when we go out on dates, and it works so well for us. No tension. Everything is 100% fair. We both make sure we have sizeable emergency funds that would cover a year of expenses in case one of us loses their job… until our living situation becomes more complicated we like it this way.

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