5 Reasons to Keep Your Money Separated After Marriage

By Brittany Lyte on 20 April 2016 3 comments

Money may not be the root of all evil — but it's the clincher in a great many relationships gone haywire. Research shows that arguing about money is by far the top predictor of divorce. "It's not children, sex, in-laws, or anything else. It's money — for both men and women," says Sonya Britt, an assistant professor at Kansas State University who conducted a study of 4,500 couples about the interplay between financial arguments and relationship satisfaction.

We all have deeply ingrained beliefs about how money should be spent, when it's appropriate to splurge, and how much we should have stowed away in savings. And it can be difficult to the point of deal-breaking to try and mesh our own attitudes about money with another person's financial beliefs, which very well may differ drastically from our own. That's why a large number of financial advisers urge couples to remain financially independent.

Read on for our roundup of the top reasons why it pays to keep money matters separate in your relationship. (See also: 6 Ways Regular Budget Meetings Might Save Your Marriage)

1. You'll Avoid a Power Imbalance

Merging finances means there's no more "yours" and "mine" in the money department. The divisions blur and it all goes into the same piggy bank. But what if your partner earns much more than you, and now you're suddenly living a lifestyle you can afford only with your partner's assist? What if the opposite is true, and you're subsidizing your partner's income with your own earnings? When your relationship is healthy and sparkling, you might not be bothered by either of these scenarios. But what about in the wake of a blowout fight?

Or let's say you're the breadwinner in the relationship and you subsidize a good chunk of your partner's lifestyle because he or she isn't earning enough to keep up. Then, suddenly, you lose your job and your partner's income isn't enough to pick up the slack. Would you feel resentful? How would you cope with that? This is the kind of financial imbalance that has a tendency to instigate the fights that ultimately tear couples apart. Luckily, you can avoid them by keeping your financials separate from your sweetie's.

2. We're More Accustomed to Financial Independence Than Ever

Young adults are delaying marriage longer than ever before. The average age of people at their first marriage in the U.S. today is about 27, which means many people rack up six or more years of complete financial independence before saying their vows. The money habits we develop during our years as single adults become so deeply ingrained in us that it's difficult to shift them in an attempt to mesh with the financial habits of our partner.

And, unfortunately, finding common ground on financial matters is not necessarily something that gets better with practice. When asked how much they will need to save to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement, for example, nearly half of all couples are in disagreement about the amount needed. This level of disagreement is highest, however, among those who are closest to retirement.

3. It Promotes Healthy Spending Habits

Financially independent couples tend to practice better discipline when it comes to paying off their own debts. And that makes for a healthy relationship. When one partner starts to feel like their partner's pockets are deep enough to offset the burden of their own financial risks, they sometimes become irresponsible in their spending and saving habits. And that can create the kind of friction that could start a fiery argument later on down the road.

4. It Balances the Burden of Money Stress

When one partner becomes the sole organizer of a couple's fiscal matters, he or she runs the risk of becoming overwhelmed by the responsibility — and that can throw an entire relationship off balance. But when both partners take charge of their separate finances and contribute to mutual expenses fairly, any money stress that arises is shared, making it much more manageable to find relief as a team.

5. A Breakup Won't Mean Financial Chaos

When you maintain financial independence, you avoid the risk of your personal financial situation falling apart just because your relationship did. Paying your fair share in a relationship also makes for a cleaner emotional break if you one day decide to split. When one partner consistently treats the other to dinners and vacations, or pays the majority of the bills, resentment is bound to brew during a breakup. The partner who paid more might even feel entitled to reimbursement.

Separate or apart — how do you manage money with your partner?

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SC guy

My wife and I have never merged accounts, we've been married for 20+ years. We haven't really ever had an argument about money either.

Her car is in her name and there are some bills in the house that are only in her name. We did this b/c I had a neighbor that had her husband die at an early age and everything was in his name. She had a HARD time with things after his death b/c she had no real credit history because everything was in his name.

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Wouldn't a joint account be easier to manage when one spouse dies?

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I find your arguments for separation personally ridiculous. I've been married 20 years and my husband has been the main breadwinner the entire time. I've been home a large chunk of that time rearing our children, but have recently started working again. We have always used "his" paycheck as the basis of our budget, never relying on whatever I might (or might not) make. We are a team and use our resources to fulfill our goals and dreams together. We started long ago using the cash in envelopes system and therefore each have our "own" money to spend every month, but it's an even amount. His job might be outside of the home, but even when I was a stay-at-home wife and mother, my job was to keep our household on budget and on track -- keeping the bills paid, food in the fridge, and a myriad of other tasks that are needed to keep a household functioning. Thankfully, my husband is amazing and realizes that without either one of us, the whole household suffers. I do have quite a bit in my name because I'm the one that pays the bills and calls when there's a problem, so it's easier than having him call during work hours. Divorce is never even mentioned as an option, we made a commitment and will be together until "death do us part". That's what marriage is: a commitment.

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Having one account works great for some and horribly for others. If it isn't broken then don't fix it. Personally it wouldn't work for my spouse and I so we contribute equally to a joint account then have our separate accounts to do with as we please. I'm much more frugal than she is so this arrangement works well for us.