Among the exciting conversations you and your soon-to-be spouse will have about your future marriage is one that’s a tad more sober and serious, albeit extremely important. It revolves around finances and how you two plan to handle them throughout your lifetime together—and whether combining your bank accounts or keeping finances separate in marriage is right for you. While not the most romantic of topics, knowing how each other feels about handling finances overall will help you solve potential problems down the line, explains Suzanne Wheeler, certified financial transitionist and senior wealth advisor.
The major decision that you should make upfront, and ideally before you say “I do,” is whether to combine your finances or keep them separate. “When keeping finances separate in marriage, each party has their own bank account, and their spouse does not have access to it,” says Wheeler. “Often when couples go this route, they divide their living expenses and decide who will pay certain bills.” Combining finances, on the other hand, translates to “yours and mine” in the same account. “Each party has authority to deposit or withdrawal without the knowledge of the other party and all living expenses are then paid out of this joint account,” Wheeler adds.
Not sure which is best for you and your significant other? Here, we asked financial experts to share the pros and cons to keeping finances separate in marriage.
Pro: You have more personal freedom.
The biggest benefits to keeping things separate, according to Byron Ellis, certified financial planner with United Capital Financial Advisers, are really non-financial. In fact, personal freedom to spend what you want, when you want and how you want is the major reason couples keep things separate. Freedom to spend what you want. “You will still need to communicate about your money...the bills, who pays for what, how much each partner saves...but keeping things separate will give you a level of freedom that you may be used to,” says Ellis.
Con: It might complicate things.
Some couples find the whole concept of keeping finances separate in marriage as easy, especially given the fact that your financial habits and routine has rarely changed from how they were prior to marriage. However, others may find that the separation leads to more complicated conversations—i.e. who covers groceries, rent, dinners out, household goods, etc. It might create “more work” for you both to have to split all of those tasks up rather than take funds from one shared account.
Pro: You have more privacy.
Some couples want to keep their finances separate because they would prefer to decide to pay all household expenses 50/50 or a different percentage they have agreed upon, explains Wheeler. “This could be due to a difference in salaries, or it could be two high-earning professionals wanting to save in different ways (i.e. maybe one is a spender and one is very frugal),” she says. “Couples may decide they don’t want to debate the purchase of every handbag or wristwatch, but rather decide ‘you spend your money as you wish.’”
Con: Hurt feelings may result.
Keeping finances separate in marriage could create hard feelings between a couple and lead to trust issues, as well as insecurity, notes Wheeler. “A spouse may feel like the other spouse is entering the marriage thinking ‘it won’t last,’” she says. “There are so many emotions when joining two lives together and hurt feelings might be unintentional, but damage can be done.”
Pro: Gifts can remain separate.
As Wheeler explains, one part of the couple could be entering into the marriage with gifts or inheritance that should be separate for many reasons. “With a legacy gift, the recipient may have specific goals in mind for what they want to do with the money—give to a charity that they love or buy a piece of jewelry that will remind them of their loved one,” he says. “In the event the marriage is dissolved, the other party has no right to these gifted or inherited funds.”
Con: The marriage may not feel “equal”.
Although marriage is a long-term partnership, if one partner has more than another, it might not feel totally equal or fair. “The ‘what is mine is yours’ thoughts are out the door if you aren’t sharing everything,” says Wheeler. “The salaries may not be similar and the spending habits may be totally different, but these items need to be addressed before marriage.”