First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the joint chequing account. At least, that’s how it went back in the olden times, circa last millennium.
The concept of a joint bank account or credit card stems from the days of family breadwinners – when one person (usually the husband) would provide an income, and the spouse would make sure the bills got paid on time. It was all about efficiency.
Or was it? Sharing one account or one credit card means another pair of eyes on every Amazon purchase you make. For 21st century couples, who typically come into marriage with their own income and autonomy, there can be a discomfort with the lack of privacy in sharing financial accounts.
Maggie Germano, a women’s financial coach based in Washington, D.C. told The Atlantic that “many women getting married for the first time nowadays are keenly aware of how easily wives can lose control of their own finances.” This is particularly so for women who “grew up in homes where their parents shared a joint account, which meant that their fathers handled all the money.”
According to a 2018 Bank of America survey, 28% of millennial couples keep their finances separate, versus 13% of Baby Boomers. Strangely GenX couples share finances with each other the most: only 11% of couples surveyed keep things separate.
Yet, isn’t a huge lack of privacy what love and marriage is about? Allowing oneself to be vulnerable, lowering boundaries, and making a commitment to sharing and transparency. (Hey, I’m kinda using the bathroom here, but yeah, of course I see how your need to tweeze that nose hair is essential right now…)
Interestingly, the Bank of America study also revealed that nearly one in five millennials don’t know how much their spouse or partner earns. While talking about money is an old-timey social taboo, it seems it’s getting increasingly awkward to do so even with one’s lifelong partner.
After a while though, sending Interac transfers back and forth to one another all day can get annoying. A separate-but-equal approach is often the modern compromise. Everyone keeps their own accounts while regularly contributing to a joint account, which is used to cover shared expenses such as household bills, childcare or vacations.
Similarly, sharing a credit card can be more lucrative than not. By consolidating all purchases on one card, rather than splitting them across several, couples can rapidly accumulate far more travel points or cash back rewards than collecting them individually.
There are no right or wrongs here. Every couple creates their own unique permutation of how they handle their money – personally and as a couple. If you and your partner are struggling to find the right system – or to get that money conversation going – a consultation with a financial planner can be a great investment to get you both working toward the same goals.