Managing checking and savings accounts: It's a family affair

July 28, 2011

| MoneyRates.com Senior Financial Analyst, CFA

Marriage is based on sharing, and yet there are aspects of your household finances that are better off kept separate.

To be sure, participation and openness by both partners in a marriage are important aspects of a successful financial plan. Still, both division of labor and personal space suggest there is also room for not merging every aspect of personal finances. The following are some suggestions on what aspect of personal finances a couple should share - and what they shouldn't.

What to share: vision and savings accounts

Different people can have widely different attitudes towards money and financial responsibility, and compatibility in this regard is an important part of a good marriage. Therefore, you really should have in-depth conversations about finances before you get married. Goals you should be working towards by the time you tie the knot include these three things:

  1. Full disclosure. Get any problems on the table up front, so you can deal with them constructively.
  2. Long-term vision. Agreement on long-term goals well help shape how you work and how you save.
  3. Joint savings accounts. Long-term savings accounts should be the tangible result of your shared vision, so both the legal ownership and regular information about those accounts should be shared by both partners in a marriage.

What to keep separate: checking accounts

For all the positives of sharing, there is one area of household finances you should consider keeping separate: checking accounts. There are two good reasons for this:

  1. Record keeping. Especially in the age of debit cards, it is difficult to keep up-to-date on an account's balance if you are both drawing from the same account.
  2. Individual choice. Even in the best of marriages, you should have the freedom to make personal decisions that aren't subject to minute scrutiny. Not all your purchases will seem necessary, and neither will your spouse's. However, if you each stay within a budget, you should not have to justify each individual purchase.

To put it simply, if you allow yourselves individual checking accounts while building shared savings accounts, it will help you achieve the right balance between individuality and union.

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