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Joint bank account or separate finances for a happy marriage?

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A question I see debated a lot online is ‘should couples get joint bank accounts?’  The idea of combining finances with your other half can be quite a scary thought to some.  For my husband and I we decided to share a bank account once we were married, had two children and owned a house together.  It just made financial sense.  It is traditional for married couples to get joint bank accounts, but many people argue the key to a happy relationship is separate finances.

I’ll be honest with you - we also have separate bank accounts too.  So really, my answer is both.  The key to our happy marriage is to have both a joint bank account and separate bank accounts too. 

I’m totally in favour of a joint bank account for organisation of family finances.  Read on to see how we manage our finances as a married couple with children and why I believe financial honesty is important.

It was never about money

When Ben and I got together we were roughly on the same wage.  I think Ben made around £1000 more than me per year.  I regularly did overtime, so I expect I probably made more because of this.  Our relationship never has been and never will be based on income. 

That said, I would never have dated someone who was unemployed through choice with no motivation to get a job, but that’s simply because I know we would not share the same interests and future goals.  But if Ben had earned half as much as me then it wouldn’t have mattered.  I believe he would have felt the same vice-versa.  Income wasn’t a deciding factor for either of us when it came to choosing a partner.

There’s actually a funny money story about our second date.  Ben invited me to his house for a romantic meal one night after work.  We worked at the same company so we left my car at work and took his.  He needed to pick up some ingredients on the way home.  I went in to the supermarket with him and rather embarrassingly, for him, his card was declined at the checkout!  I found it quite comical and offered to pay for the ingredients.  It turned out he had maxed out his overdraft!

I think from this experience we both knew we weren’t with each other for money!

Deciding to open a joint bank account

Despite Ben’s date disaster in the first couple of weeks we were together, our relationship thrived and we ended up married with two children and bought a home together, all in the first four years of our relationship!  Things progressed very quickly and even though we had separate bank accounts until we got married, we have always been very open and honest about our financial situations and earnings to make money decisions together.  There was no other way for our relationship to work so well.

Before we were married and had children we had separate bank accounts and we never really considered having a joint account.  It was strange really as we always shared all our money anyway.  We always discussed finances and if Ben ran out and needed money then I’d give him some and likewise he would for me.  We were always shifting money between our accounts and having to ask each other how much money we had, which bills had gone out and so on to see where we were financially all the time. 

We never had money left at the end of the month and honestly, it was a bit of a shambles.  Ben had all the bills going out of his account and I had no clue how much any of them were.  I constantly had to ask.

Once we bought our house together and had two children, we decided to write a will.  It was at this point it was suggested to have a joint bank account to make everything easier if one of us died.  I can’t remember the exact details, but if Ben had died and all the bills were going out of his account, then it would have been slightly complicated for me to get access to the account.  A type of hassle you really don’t need if your husband dies.

This planted the seed and we decided it was probably a good idea to open a joint bank account for all our wages to go into and all of our bills out of.  Combining all our finances suddenly seemed to make sense.  If it didn’t work out then we’d revert back to separate accounts, or even just keep one main joint account for bills and separate the rest.

How we’ve benefitted from a joint bank account

Luckily, the joint account has been a success!  It’s been around three or four years since we opened a joint account and it makes our lives so much easier.  Well, it makes Ben’s life so much easier!

I don’t think Ben was ever particularly good at the budgeting, nor did he enjoy it.  In fact I don’t think he budgeted at all.  He was happy for me to just take over the money side of things and create a monthly budget.

It was easiest for Ben to add me to his account as all the direct debits for the house were already set up here, so I was added as a joint account holder to his existing bank account.   I was able to see how much all of our bills were and see where we were spending.  I created a spreadsheet for our incomings and outgoings to see exactly what we had left at the end of each month.

Now I manage all the finances, but Ben obviously can still access them too and has his own card.  I update our spreadsheet as bills go out and we put a lump sum into our joint savings each month.  Before sharing an account we had no savings at all.  Ben would never keep an eye on our incomings or outgoings - we’d just constantly spend at the supermarket willy-nilly without ever knowing how much money we ever had.  Like I said, it was previously a shambles.

Now we have a joint account we can both see what is coming in and what is going out.  We can hold each other accountable and we don’t spend money unnecessarily.  It’s enabling us to build some savings and be more careful with our money.   We previously shared our money anyway, so a joint account makes our finances a lot easier to manage.

Having separate spending money

At first we never had separate spending money as we were doing up our home.  We still are doing up our home, but in those first couple of years every spare penny we had went on the house.  This meant we had no spending money really, but as time went on and we started spending less on the house Ben said he wanted spending money.

He wanted to be able to buy himself something for lunch at work if he so desired, or grab himself some clothes or tools without having to ask all the time.  This was totally fair enough and even though I felt a bit guilty of having spending money for ourselves at first, and not just the family as a whole, I decided it was a good idea.

After paying the bills, budgeting for fuel and food, and putting a chunk into our savings, we decided the rest would be split three ways as spending money for the family, Ben and me.  Our own spending money is ours to do what we want with – we can spend it, save it, whatever we like with no judgement on each other for what it’s spent on.  It’s our own personal allowance! 

It might sound silly as most adults have their own money and do with it what they wish, which we did pre-kids and pre-house, but our money responsibilities changed once we had these things.  Now we have some money to spend on ourselves again each month there is a slight feeling of guilt, but also it’s so exciting on payday, like how a child feels getting their pocket money!

For this reason, Ben opened his own bank account.  At first we were both having cash, but Ben often buys tools and DIY bits and pieces online, so he wanted to be able to pay by card.  Of course he could use our card, but he is terrible at tracking how much he is spending when making lots of little purchases and would have no idea how much money he had left.  It’s been easier to just pay ourselves an allowance each month that is separate from the joint bank account.

So as well as having a joint bank account, we now have separate bank accounts too for our own individual spending money from what is left over after all bills, savings and family expenses each month.

What’s mine is yours

For our finances to work how they do, we have to see each other as equal.  We share our money regardless of how much the other one earns.  At the moment we earn a similar wage again so it isn’t a big deal.  I do wonder if that will ever change if one of us earns a lot more, but I like to think it wouldn’t.  I’m sure if my wage doubled then I’d still be happy to share this equally between us all.

Obviously we haven’t always earned the same.  We did in the beginning and now we are close again.  But having had two children my financial family contributions dropped drastically at times.

We had our first child only 16 months after our relationship started, so quite quickly we had to deal with me being on maternity leave and then making the decision for me not to return to work.  Instead I worked a part time job whilst trying to start my own business at home. 

Even though Ben was earning a lot more than me at this point, we still always shared all our money.  I never felt like this was unfair as I provided full time care for our baby whilst Ben worked.  I then worked in the evenings as much as possible.  We saw it as an equal partnership.

I also worked hard to start my own business and over the next couple of years I ended up working two more part time jobs to supplement our income when needed, especially after having our second child.

Giving up my job meant I lost a lot of benefits such as a workplace pension, pay rises and climbing up the career ladder.  Of course I could have kept that job, but we’d have been more financially worse off than me getting a part-time minimum wage job, due to full-time childcare costs.  It made more sense for me to quit my full-time job and be a stay-at-home mum to our daughter in the daytimes and work an evening job outside of my husband’s work hours.  This meant we avoided childcare costs and actually got to retain all the money I was earning.

Now we have a three year old and a six year old and I’m self-employed which gives me the flexibility to work around nursery, pre-school, school hours and school holidays.  I make a commitment to the family doing this and so if Ben earns slightly more than me then that’s his commitment to the family.  We are still in an equal partnership. 

I have finally started to save money for a pension for myself now I’m in my thirties and this is the first pension savings I’ve ever had.   I’ve definitely missed out on a few years of starting to build a pension in an employed role and so Ben is much better off than me pension-wise as he has a workplace pension.  I’ve also taken a big step back on the career ladder and would have to start from scratch if I needed to enter the employed workforce again.  (Please note, there are lots of different types of pensions and it’s important to know that the value of your pension can go down as well as up and you may get back less than has been paid in.  Do always check the terms and conditions for any pensions you are signing up for.)

For all these reasons we see ourselves as equal when it comes to finances.  We will share our bank accounts with each other, our pensions, savings and our debts. 

Honesty is the best policy

I’ve read online articles before that claim some people keep a secret bank account from their partner and some women even have a runaway fund!  Personally I find that a little bit crazy.  As far as I’m aware my husband and I have no secret bank accounts from each other, well at least I don’t.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t either as we are very open about our money with all our wages going into the shared bank account on payday.

I read an article in the Daily Mail once and the writer said ‘few marriages would survive if both parties were completely honest about finance.’  I totally disagree.  I think it’s important to be honest about money in a marriage and that it’s something you both need to be on the same page with. 

Of course everyone will spend money on some things that the other wouldn’t.  Ben would never spend money on beauty treatments, the same as I wouldn’t think of spending mine on tools.  But for the bigger picture I think for a relationship to be successful then you need to share roughly the same spending and saving goals or it will never work. 

I once read a quote along the lines of the key to a happy marriage is being in agreement of how to spend your time and money.  I believe that’s so true as otherwise you will always clash with one another.

Luckily as you can probably tell from this entire blog post, we are transparent with each other and open about all aspects of money.  I would have thought it to be the other way around to how the above writer feels– that a marriage would not survive unless both parties were honest about finances.

If you’re going to have a runaway fund then fine, though I’d call it something else!  But if I had one then my husband would know about it.  I wouldn’t need a secret fund that I didn’t tell him about.  If someone wants savings for their own security in the future then I’d think that was sensible and it wouldn’t need to be concealed.

What about financial separation?

To be honest, I’ve never really thought about what would happen if the relationship breaks down with regards to our joint bank accounts, but I would automatically assume that everything would be divided equally.  We’ve never discussed it, so hopefully it’s a sign it won’t happen, but obviously we are realistic too and know things don’t last forever.  I’d like to think we’d be amicable and sort things out fairly.

We have a joints savings account and if we were to ever split up then it would be divided 50-50.  I have no worries about that.

As for the joint current bank account we can easily move direct debits around, cancel them and arrange for our wages to be paid into our own separate accounts instead.  We always make sure we stay in credit on our joint account, so there’s no issue of having an overdraft to pay back.  We own a home and have equity, so if we ever did have debt on joint accounts then we’d have a way of paying it back.

Final word

In conclusion I think a joint bank account is a great way to stay on top of family finances and to hold each other accountable for frivolous spending.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t also have your own bank accounts too.  Ultimately it’s up to each couple to work out what makes financial sense for their own situation, but I believe transparency and honesty about money will make a happy relationship no matter whether you choose shared or separate bank accounts.