When you move in with a significant other, there are plenty of questions. How will you split bills? How will you save money? Who’s responsible for what?
But first and foremost, will you get a joint bank account?
For my fiance and me, the answer was a resounding “NO.”
Combining finances seemed like it would present more problems than solutions, and it was important to us to maintain some financial independence. We’d already combined possessions, quirky habits and dirty laundry, so maybe we could keep just this one thing to ourselves.
How We Live Without a Joint Bank Account
We tend not to do things traditionally, and our financial decisions are no different. When we first moved in together, we talked about how our finances would work and agreed on a 50/50 split for all expenses. Bills, rent, vacations, gifts for mutual friends — we split them all down the middle.
We use the same bank, which conveniently has online transfer between accounts, so “send me $50 for the power bill” is a pretty normal text message for us to send one another.
When one of us has earned dramatically more than the other, we’ve adjusted accordingly. Two years ago when I did a low-paying internship, we split the rent in thirds.
The only things we tend not to split are food expenses. I pay for groceries, and he pays for meals out. This choice seemed like a no-brainer, since I’m usually the one who wants to cook at home, while he’s always pushing to go out.
And quite frankly, the elaborate vegan wraps I make for lunch cost a lot more than his can of soup, so that expense should really be on me. By the end of the month, food actually ends up being a rough 50/50 split.
Early on in the relationship, we considered a joint account for shared expenses but decided against it. We both would have kept a personal account as well, and it seemed like too much trouble to manage multiple accounts. Instead, we budget separately but save for the same goals and hold each other accountable for them.
Separate budgets allow us to prioritize our own spending, since we both make purchases the other would see as frivolous. But having joint saving goals means we’re always on the same page in terms of upcoming vacations, moves or other big expenses.
Last year, for example, we saved for a trip to California. We decided on the amount of money we needed for the trip (flights, hotels, other expenditures) and split that in half to get the amount each of us needed to save by the time we left.
We booked it all on one credit card — mine this time, but sometimes we use his — and when we got home, we split the total expenses in half. If one of us hadn’t been able to save that money (not because of unforeseen circumstances, but because of irresponsible spending), we would have had an unpleasant discussion about why.
Why This Couple Keeps Separate Bank Accounts
Sure, it would be easier if all our spending pulled from one account, rather than constantly transferring funds. But this method works for us. Here’s why we do it.
1. We Give Each Other Some Freedom
Having a strict budget and watching my savings account grow is something that brings me immense joy that none of my friends understand. Spending money on things he loves is something that brings my fiance immense joy.
It goes without saying that these two personality characteristics could easily clash.
Keeping things separate means that neither one of us can nag the other about what they chose to buy. It’s important to me that if I’m about to make an irresponsible purchase, which does happen every once in awhile, I use my own money and don’t affect anyone else.
Maybe I didn’t need to go out for drinks after work, and he didn’t need the “Star Wars” Blu-ray set, but our choices are our own, as long as we’ve taken care of all financial obligations.
2. My Mom Warned Me Against It (And I Still Listen to Her)
My mom shaped the way I look at the world in many ways, and one of the things she taught me was to never allow myself to be financially dependent on anyone.
I’m not preparing for the worst, necessarily, but I’m being pragmatic about the reality of relationships: They can be fickle, and bills are not.
Keeping our finances separate lets me know that if the proverbial crap hits the fan, I’ll be able to take care of myself. I’ve seen couples stay together because they felt financially obligated to, and that’s not something I ever want to feel.
3. It’s Easier to Surprise One Another
This shouldn’t necessarily be a primary reason to decide to keep finances separate, but it is an added bonus.
During this holiday season, I didn’t have to do any sneaking or strategic buying. I ordered all of my fiance’s gifts out of my own bank account, and he was none the wiser. Just like he didn’t have to explain away a Ticketmaster purchase when he surprised me with concert tickets for my birthday.
Our system has worked for years, so why rock the boat?
Your Turn: Do you prefer separate accounts or a joint one? Let us know in the comments.
Stephanie Ashe is a freelance writer and spreadsheet connoisseur, who spends way more money than she should at theme parks. Read her (sometimes) funny jokes and ramblings on Twitter @StephanieAshe_