In homes across the country, couples are arguing about money — how they’re spending it, how they’re earning it, how well they’re saving it.
About a third of all couples — even the happiest ones — argue about finances at least once a month, and 73 percent say they have money management styles that are different from their partners, according to a 2016 study by Ameriprise Financial Inc. Another study, by Money Magazine, found that 70 percent of married couples fight about money more than chores, snoring, sex or deciding what’s for dinner.
That’s why some couples have raised the white flag and are axing their money issues — by keeping separate accounts.
When they were dating, Cynthia Burgos’ husband was bad with his finances, she said.
“He got himself into a few pickles,” said Burgos, 29, a teacher, who had always been a good saver. “I basically told him to shape up or we couldn’t be together.”
Her husband, Julio, a medical assistant, got better at managing his money, but the pair decided to keep their finances separate, so they wouldn’t argue about money.
“It worked when we bought our house together, and I figured, why should we fix something that isn’t broken when we get married?” Burgos said.
More couples are choosing to separate at least some of their bank accounts.
A survey by TD Bank found that nearly half of couples with joint bank accounts also have individual bank accounts.
Couples most commonly cited independence for the reason they wanted separate accounts, though independence was more important for women than men.
But while many couples have carved out their own solutions, financial experts and marriage counselors aren’t so sure that keeping money separate is a good idea.
“By having a joint account, a couple declares to one another that the rewards of their individual endeavors are jointly owned — they work for one another, not just themselves — and their dreams are inexorably intertwined,” said Forrest Talley, a clinical psychologist with Invictus Psychological Services in California.
When done well, Talley said, a joint account can lead to a stronger relationship in the same way that a team that practices together and wins the championship becomes closer: They’re both heading toward a common goal.
But if communication is lacking or monetary trust is broken, the joint bank account can be the thing that creates endless friction and can even lead to divorce, Talley said.
If one person is skipping her daily Starbucks run so they can save money for a house, while the other is going on weekly shopping sprees, then friction could disrupt their common saving strategy.
If that can’t be resolved, an option is to pool all the money into a joint account to pay the bills and to save money — and then set up separate accounts with an equal and agreed-upon amount of discretionary money, said Dusty Williams, a psychotherapist in Jacksonville, Fla.
“This approach allows for independence and fairness, and often eliminates the conflict around the issue,” Williams said.
Marital finances are never one-size-fits-all, said Merle Yost, a marriage and family therapist in Santa Barbara, Calif.
“The American fantasy is that once you couple and marry, you merge everything: family, money, households and food,” Yost said. “But if two people have very different diets, does that mean they cannot or should not eat together?”
The amount that each couple will merge will vary, depending on their individual situation.
But, Yost said, “a red flag would be feeling pressured into doing what is expected to make the other person comfortable, even if it does not make you comfortable.”
That goes for every marital situation.