How Should Married Couples Manage Their Bank Accounts?

Marshall Rathmell |

Couples often ask me how best to manage their bank accounts. It seems that lots of couples, from newlyweds to longtime loves—and everyone in-between—wonder about this topic.

There is no textbook right or wrong way for couples to manage their bank accounts. Different things work for different people, but the two most common ways I see are:

A) Spouses keep their money completely separate from one other and decide on who pays which bills, or

B) They dump all the money into one account and hope nobody spends too much.

However, there is a third option which really works for me and my wife, Susan.

We have three joint bank accounts. One is the “family account” and both our incomes are deposited there. We use it to pay family expenses, like daycare, groceries, and the mortgage.

Both of us have different things that we like to splurge on but the other sees it as frivolous. For example, I tend to eat out for lunch more often than she thinks is reasonable. In order to reduce potential conflict over what we buy, we each have our own checking account and each of us gets a monthly allowance. And you thought allowances were only for kids!

I pay most of the family bills each month, and when I’m paying the bills, I transfer our allowances from our family account to our individual accounts. We have a rule that we can’t tell each other what to--or what NOT to--spend our money on.

If we both decide we need something and agree it’s appropriate for the family to purchase it, we purchase it from the family account; however, if we don’t both feel the family should purchase it, then one of us can buy it with their allowance money. This past year we wanted to take our kids on a Disney Cruise. We agreed that “our family” had the ability and desire to pay for it so we used the family account.

On the other end of the spectrum, Susan decided that she wanted to work with an interior designer to redo the front are of our house. It wasn’t a part of our family’s budget but it was something she really wanted so she saved her allowance and got it done. At the same time I felt that a new front area needed a new big screen TV. Again it was not a part of the budget (and something Susan definitely saw as frivolous) so I used my allowance and now we have one .

This system not only prevents a lot of conflict, but it has another benefit. As people get older, bill paying can change and how to handle bank accounts adapts accordingly. This can be scary for a lot of people, especially those who haven’t been the primary bill payer for years. Since Susan handles her own bills, bank accounts and credit cards, I know that if something happened to me, she knows how the system works and would have no problem taking over for the family.

Our system may not work for everyone, but it does prove that with a little creativity, handling bank accounts doesn’t have to be a sore spot between couples.

-Marshall Rathmell-