I’ve sat down with many married couples to discuss their finances. When finances are combined, it’s a simple process. We can figure out the best way forward, according to their financial goals within the realm of their marriage. When the finances are separate, it complicates the process. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it’s more difficult.
Why’s it more difficult? Because when the finances are separated, you’re really sitting down with two individuals and figuring out their financial goals — two financial appointments, not one. The problem is, married couples with completely separate finances still want to sit down and develop a plan together, but you can’t have it both ways.
To combine or to separate your finances: that is the question we will discuss today. First, let’s look at some statistics to see where we’re at in today’s world, where millennials are the prominent generation making these financial decisions 1:
- 17% of millennials have a secret bank account hidden from their spouse
- 28% of millennials choose to keep their finances completely separated
- 31% of millennials would leave their spouse if they discovered financial secrets
- 40% of millennials argue about money on a weekly basis
Hidden finances seems to be a problem, but that doesn’t mean separate finances are a problem — or does it? Of course, there are different levels of “separated” when it comes to finances, so that needs to be the first point of discussion…
Different Types of Separated Finances
When I say “separate finances,” I mean anything other than fully combined finances. I define fully combined finances as all accounts, money, assets, and liabilities being shared — mine is yours; yours is mine.
There are three types of separate finances (and the first doesn’t really count):
- Separate Accounts Only – In this scenario, your finances are fully combined, but you each have your own account for your own spending. This could be your “fun money,” or something you’re saving for individually. You can add an amount into your budget each month to fund these accounts. I still see this as combined finances, as long as everything other than this account is combined, and as long as this is only for extra purchases, not for bills.
- Separate Accounts for Bills – In this scenario, you have some combined finances — maybe the house. However, you also have your own bills — your cell phone, car payment, et cetera. You may pay the water bill, while your spouse pays for internet. You usually go dutch when you go out to dinner. This is partially separated, but partially together.
- Completely Separated – In this final scenario, your finances are completely separated. Financially, you live like roommates, splitting the electric bill, rent, and internet. You each pay for your own vehicle, groceries, and entertainment. If one of your is struggling, you may help the other, but more like a friend would than a spouse. Often in this scenario, if one is struggling, the other doesn’t help.
Since my wife and I see marriage as lifelong, and divorce as a non-option, we have fully combined accounts. She doesn’t bring an income right now because she is doing the work of multiple people by caring for our five kids. Sure, her work at home is more financially valuable than mine, but she doesn’t have a monetary income.
When one of you is a stay-at-home spouse, combined finances is typically the only option. If you both work, you have the option to separate the finances, but the real question is “why?”
It’s not a sin to have separate finances. It’s not necessarily morally wrong. But it’s also not going to get you to your financial goals as quickly as combined finances will. Not to mention, nothing says “I trust you” like combined finances.
Why People Separate Their Finances
I’ve heard plenty of reasons why people have separate finances:
- I don’t want to share my debt
- I earn more/less and combined finances wouldn’t be fair
- I’m afraid he/she will leave me
- I enjoy my financial independence
- I have a different money management style
A lot of millennials came from a background of divorce. Typically when your parents were divorced, you either resolve to “never get divorced like your parents did,” or to “make sure you protect yourself in case you do get divorced.” This is similar to a child with an alcoholic parent who typically either follows suit or never touches the stuff.
We—especially millennials—tend to think in extremes.
The fact is, separating your accounts doesn’t always protect your money if you do get divorced 2. Marital property, for example, includes all property acquired during marriage, regardless of whether both names or one name is on the contract (outside of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements).
Should You Have Separate Finances?
As someone who happily has combined finances with his spouse, I think combined is always the best way for a happily married couple. You can reach your goals quicker, and you’re truly in this life together. If you fear your spouse taking money in a divorce, you may not have financial problems so much as marital problem. In this case, I would recommend a marriage counselor to help with any trust issues.
A joint bank account is a way to grow closer and trust each other more. Sharing a bank account has had this effect on couples before 3. Let me just say, I do hold the Christian position here. If you look at other articles on this subject, you will find some telling you to keep separate accounts, but I have yet to find a Christian saying it’s a good idea as a whole. Matthew makes it clear:
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”Matthew 6:21
As Christians, we give ourselves fully to our spouse. That includes our heart. That includes our finances. There are plenty of examples of non-Christian perspectives, and if you’re not a Christian, I fully expect you to take those into consideration. But if you want to go all in and let the “two become one,” 4 that needs to include your finances.
What do some of the experts say? Dave Ramsey is against separating money. Here’s what he says about having separate finances:
“I think it’s a disaster. A lot of couples have separate checking accounts, and it is the core breakdown in communication and the core breakdown in their communication about money, too. Money flows to what’s important to you—saving, paying bills, investing, buying things, giving gifts. How you handle money reflects your value system. Jesus said, “Your treasure is where your heart is.” When you don’t have combined money in a marriage, it says very plainly you don’t have a combined marriage. You are lacking in unity. You are lacking in communication. You are lacking in cooperation that is gained when you force yourself to do that because you have to or you’re going to bounce a check.”Dave Ramsey
If you want a more secular source, here’s what Suze Orman thinks: if someone wants to separate finances entirely, she recommends having some finances combined and some separate, but she also endorses having fully combined finances in most cases.
The Most Important Thing
It’s up to you whether you combine or not, but there is an important takeaway for everyone here: talk about it. If you’re not married yet, you need to discuss what the finances will look like once you are married. If you’re already married, and you’re not totally sure about what the financial situation currently is, talk about the “whats” and “whys” behind your current financial situation.
You can choose whichever path you want, but if you’re not in agreement on it, it’s going to end in disaster. Make it an intentional choice, not a passive one.
Further Bible Reading
Further Book Reading
- These statistics were taken from the TD Bank 2019 Love & Money Survey and a Bank of America survey.
- M, Leonhardt. (2019, June 26). Separate Bank Accounts Will Not Protect Your Money in a Divorce. CNBC.
- Patch Staff. (2014, January 28). Is a Joint Bank Account the Secret to a Happy Marriage? Patch.
- “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24