Ok, so you’re working together to create a financial plan acceptable to both of you. Why not begin with the checkbook?
Ask yourselves this question about how to handle the checkbook–do you want one checkbook–or three?
Let’s say you like the first option, of having just one checkbook. So you’ve got a joint account. The premise behind it is a strong one. It assumes that responsible partners can operate freely, and don’t feel the need to keep their spending private. Sounds good, right? Just remember that this requires complete openness. Communicating about what you want to buy makes you a better steward of your money. And, truthfully, if you can’t justify a purchase to a reasonable spouse, maybe it’s simply not a wise choice.
Sometimes couples think the second option, of having three checkbooks, will simplify the stress inherent in the complete transparency of one account. So you’ve got a His, a Hers, and an Ours, and it’s either an equal split, or it’s pro-rated in terms of income. There’s a few things you should keep in mind if you’re leaning toward this option. And this may be the most crucial one: It does not eliminate money fights.
I’ve seen it enough to know that little jealousies arouse regularly. Often they come in the guise of who got more “special stuff.” And things can deteriorate from there. If I buy a new laptop from my account, do you get to use it? Really. It happens.
Also, there’s a financial veil inherent in this solution–neither partner knows the whole picture.
Ask yourself, if you’re leaning toward the three checkbook solution: is this financial approach really a coping strategy for your emotional push for autonomy? You just might think to yourself, “I don’t want him dictating what I spend!” If so, it’s of the utmost importance that you talk about what your emotional reasons are for wanting this distance, and to really examine what nourishes it? Is it something from your family of origin creeping into your own marriage? Is it your personal history of compulsive spending that you’re trying to hide? Is it shame for some other reason?
So I’d recommend a best practice that some “three-checkbookers” might not like to hear: Never keep your account secret; provide complete visibility. If you have to hide your financial practices, something is wrong in your marriage.
For my next entry, I’d like you to think about what three rules should be for checking accounts in a strong marriage.