Marriage finance: Having joint plus separate accounts.

How couples manage their money.
Feb. 2 2011 3:46 AM

Separate/Together

Do couples who share some but not all of their money have a lot of hassle or the perfect compromise?

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Melanie's biweekly pay goes toward the couple's savings and to their separate allowances: 20 percent is Melanie's allowance, 20 percent is David's allowance, 20 percent is vacation savings, 20 percent emergency savings, and the last 20 percent is used for beer, wine, gifts to others, and meals out. She has set up an automatic deposit so that one-fifth of her salary goes into the separate accounts for each of these things. David's biweekly pay covers student loans, the mortgage, credit cards, groceries, and utilities. Melanie tried using Mint.com to keep track of their elaborate system but found that the personal-finance software wasn't accurately identifying the transfers between accounts. Now she just balances the checkbook twice a week online using her bank's Web site.

With this arrangement, David and Melanie have a lot of benefits of the Common Pot—feeling a sense of closeness and a shared financial mission—but without the one big drawback of feeling controlled. "It's given me personal freedom with my expenses while still being able to take care of my husband, our responsibilities to each other, and our home," Melanie says.

I like the rough outlines of David and Melanie's arrangement, but I confess to having Betty Draper-ish spasms when I start thinking about how intricate their grapevine of accounts seems. My first instinct is to tear up my plans of economic independence and just chuck all my money into a Common Pot for Mike to manage. My big strong husband is so much better at math, after all!

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However, there's an obvious way to pare down this method that would give us the psychological closeness of a Common Pot, but still allow us our teaspoon of autonomy. Mike and I could deposit both of our salaries into one account and have allowances shoot off into individual pots. This is an extremely simplified variation of what Melanie and David do—and it's easy-peasy enough to save me from the fainting couch.

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