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11 Mar 2019

Why We Keep Our Accounts Separate

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by Charlene Kennebeck

The secret to never arguing about money with your sweetie? YNAB.

Hi there! I’m Charlene, and I work on the customer support team, here at YNAB. I want to let you in on a little secret about my life:

My husband and I have separate accounts, and we never fight about money.

I don’t say this to brag—we have our fair share of marital disagreements. Money just doesn’t happen to be one of them. Since this is a bit of a rogue approach here at YNAB (where we advise coupled YNABers to keep joint accounts), I’d like to take some time to explain why it works for us.

First, a Little Context …

I’ve been married to my husband, Joe, for ten years. From the get-go, it felt completely natural to keep our accounts separate. There wasn’t much discussion about it, really. Just a quick ‘this-is-working-let’s-keep-doing-it’ exchange a couple times a year.

As a couple, we had a few advantages that made the logistics very straightforward. When we met and married, we were both teachers with similar salaries. Neither of us had credit card debt, but we did have comparable amounts of student loan debt. We didn’t hold any real assets, beyond meager savings accounts.

On paper, we were a financial match made in heaven, and that made the math incredibly simple: we split shared expenses 50/50.

The Nitty Gritty

Here’s our current account breakdown:

Side note: We can access each other’s accounts at any time, but we don’t ever need to. This would only happen in the case of an emergency, but when you embrace your true expenses, emergencies rarely happen.

How We Currently Manage Our Expenses

With joint expenses, we try to be fair, but we also don’t sweat the small stuff. We split our mortgage and childcare bills 50/50. When a home repair or project comes up, we each pay half. I buy groceries, and he pays for gas, cell phones and utilities. He pays for our daughter to play hockey, and I pay for dance and piano lessons. He pays for date nights, I don’t. (I mean, I would, but these are a rarity to begin with. No sweating the small stuff!)

Nowadays, he makes more money than I do. We could choose to pay bills based on a percentage of our incomes, but we don’t. Quite frankly, it’s too much math for us. To combat any resentment on my end, he picks up the tab on a few extras (diapers for our new baby, for instance), and we rest easy.

Joint Accounts Can Come In Handy

There are a couple areas where we find it helpful to have joint accounts—a savings account dedicated to travel is one of them. Traveling is important to us, and we don’t ever want to cut it from our budgets. Depending on where we plan to go, we’ll each contribute similar amounts to this account each month.

It’s gratifying to watch the money grow throughout the year, and freeing to spend it without guilt when it’s vacation time. There’s no arguing about where the money’s coming from for our next trip to Paris. Thailand. Hawaii. (Okay, so we don’t squabble over the money, but destinations are a different story.)

Another shared priority is funding college for our kids. We each entered the workforce with about $40,000 in student loan debt, and we want a different story for our children. We’ve set up joint savings accounts for each of our two children, and transfer money to them regularly. (Once we hit a certain threshold, we invest the money for greater returns.) We prioritize this as we would any immediate obligation—it’s non-negotiable.

Discretionary Spending

Beyond all of this, we have total freedom with whatever money is leftover from our paychecks. We’re both relatively frugal, so we don’t spend much. But when we do, there’s no stress or arguing—we trust each other, and spend as we please. There’s no obsessing about what’s coming and going from the other person’s account. For us, this is golden.

For instance, I just purchased a new treadmill. He’ll never use it, so I don’t want or expect him to put any money toward it. On the other hand, he bought NHL tickets for a game in March. I’m not a hockey fan, unless my daughter is playing, so it’s the same story. As long as we’re aligning our money with our priorities, we spend our discretionary money however we want.

Could we consolidate our accounts and simplify our financial lives a bit? Probably. And even then, we may only argue a little about money. (I still buy too many shoes, and ignorance is probably bliss.) But we have a system in place that’s worked for the last decade, and we generally try not to fix what isn’t broken.

Is Our Approach Any Better Than Joint Accounts?

Nope. And, can you coordinate your finances in a similar manner with joint accounts? Of course! Plenty of married couples have them, and also never argue about money (probably because they’re YNABers!).

Our system isn’t one-size-fits-all, but it works for us. The reason it works for us, though, is because we’re on the same page about money as a whole. No matter how you have your accounts structured, that’s the most important thing.

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Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)

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