Check out any money-related message board, and chances are that someone will have posted asking about the pros & cons of joint vs. separate finances for married couples. In many cases the responses received will contain a strong sentiment that once you’re married, what’s his is hers and vice versa — debts & income alike — and that any way other than 100% joint everything is somehow “wrong”.

I disagree.

I believe that people should do what works for them, as long as it works for BOTH of them. And I don’t understand the judgment about someone else’s personal decisions that only affect them.

I’ve been married previously, and my ex-husband and I had joint finances. We had nothing but trouble with money. Many times a month, every month, for our entire marriage. Rightly or wrongly, this made me a little leery of joint finances.

I’m re-married, and my husband and I chose to have mainly separate finances. We pay our individual bills individually, spend and save our individual money however we choose, and each contribute the same amount of money to a joint account that is used strictly for joint expenses. (We sat down together and decided what would constitute a “joint bill”, which in our case also includes some entertainment/eating out.)

We have had almost no issues at all regarding money. The times we have were basically due to miscommunication, and they certainly haven’t been several times a month. I’m not even sure they’ve been yearly. I realize that separate finances is not a popular view in many circles, but it works for us. We both feel equal in the relationship. We have pretty similar goals and priorities — not identical, but pretty similar. I don’t feel guilty when I buy things he wouldn’t spend money on, and vice versa.

Many people argue that they wouldn’t like the “keeping track” part of separate finances, but that’s exactly why it works for us. We DON’T keep track. Sure, we pay each other back for things now and then, but we don’t ever have conversations like this:

“Well you spend all that money on getting your hair done every month so I deserve a night in Vegas with the guys”.

“You spent a lot more in Vegas than I ever did getting my hair done, so I’m going out for a night with the girls”.

“You wound up paying for everyone’s cabfare that night so I’m gonna buy that cool new stereo”.

“You bought that stereo, so…”

OR

“Why should I skip lunch every week so that we can pay the bills when YOU’RE not skipping lunch?”

“You REALLY need to write your receipts in, we’re overdrawn again!”

“But I thought YOU were in charge of the checkbook. Anyway if YOU hadn’t bought that one thing we wouldn’t have been overdrawn!”

etc.

Maybe it’s just that we’re different people, and we wouldn’t have those kinds of conversations anyway, but I know I would have felt guilty buying that $75 pair of boots that I bought yesterday if it hadn’t been MY money that I spent. I would have had to justify it in my head. I would have had to have mentally kept track to be sure I wasn’t doing something “unfair”. And maybe my husband would have been upset that I spent $75 on a pair of boots (that I certainly don’t need weather-wise) when he could have saved that money toward a new stereo. This way, I just bought them because they fit, looked good, and I wanted them, and maybe he thought something along the lines of “well, I wouldn’t have done that, but whatever, I hope they last a long time”.

I think that confusing morals and marriage with how money is handled is a mistake. Separate finances don’t make us any less married. It makes us worry less, and work together more. It’s not better, or worse, any more than 100% joint finances are. I do not understand the moralistic arguments against it. For me, marriage is like this quote from Bai Juyi:

“In heaven may we be like birds
that wing to wing do fly;
on earth like aged trees,
whose sturdy branches intertwine.”

Birds fly together from tree to tree because they want to, not because they’re forced to due to circumstances or because they’re afraid they can’t make it to their destination on their own. Trees with intertwining branches support one another, grow together, live together, share their lives, and celebrate both their togetherness and their individuality.