Newlyweds' dilemma: Mine, yours, or ours?

April 18, 1993|By Brenda Richardson | Brenda Richardson,Chicago Tribune

Chicago -- If there's one thing Timothy Abrams learned earl in his marriage, it's that a joint lifestyle is one thing; a joint financial lifestyle is quite another.

After marrying in October, Mr. Abrams, a sales representative for a Chicago area printing company, and his wife, Lisa, a second-grade teacher, still viewed their financial lives as separate. "It took us a couple of months to say, 'Look, this is our money, and we should use it for the same goal,' " he said.

Now, said Mr. Abrams, 25, "Lisa gives me her paycheck every month, and I put it with mine into a bill-paying account. It's a lot easier to control the overall finances. It gives us a feeling that we are working together as a team rather than she is taking care of her half and me taking care of my half."

Indeed, with two-paycheck couples accounting for 60 percent of all U.S. households, one of the biggest decisions many newlyweds face is whether or not to pool their resources.

Some couples can't imagine combining finances, while others can't imagine not doing it.

About 80 percent of married couples pool their finances, said University of Washington sociologist Pepper Schwartz, coauthor with Philip Blumstein of the book "American Couples: Money, Work, Sex" (Pocket Books, 1985).

"Couples can have small separate accounts of their own and put most of their income into a joint account. They can have large accounts of their own with only a minimal joint fund. Or they can have absolutely no joint account or absolutely no separate money," she said.

At one end of the spectrum are those couples who keep their finances completely separate. They divvy up whatever expenses they agree should be commonly paid.

Ms. Schwartz, who has done extensive studies on the impact of money on relationships, said about 20 percent of married couples keep their money separate because they feel strongly about the freedom it gives them.

It's usually the women who prefer to keep money separate "so they can have some individual power," she said. "A wife usually has a smaller income than her husband, and if pooling occurs, her money gets lost in the larger pot and gets called 'ours' and she loses control over it."

Couples who live together before marriage also are less willing to mix finances, Ms. Schwartz said. And a sizable number of couples who have been married before favor economic separation.

Whatever the reasons, "if you can't reconcile your differences, .. maybe you have to be independent. If you can still walk around the house and smile at each other and give each other a kiss, it works," said David Perry, a financial planner in Homewood, Ill.

Somewhere in between are couples with disparate incomes who decide to contribute disproportionate amounts into a common pot.

For example, say your partner earns $60,000 annually and your income is $35,000. You may decide that he will pay the rent, and you will cover utilities. You each put your share into the joint account.

Many financial advisers suggest keeping separate bank accounts as well as a joint account -- his, hers and ours. The common account might go for rent, savings, groceries and recreation.

"All those things inherent to running a household should be paid out of a common account so you can review your budget and see where problems lie," Mr. Perry explained.

Then there's the tug of war over who will handle the finances. Frequently, a spouse's desire to manage record-keeping is grounded in tradition. The husband might say, "I'll do the bills because my dad always did the bills."

But if you are always getting late-due notices from creditors, set tradition aside and let your spouse handle the finances. Whoever is the most disciplined at paying bills should take care of them.

Obviously, different strategies work for different couples.

Most people who get married are not used to restrictions or somebody else having an impact on their finances," Mr. Perry said. "They have developed their own spending habits and peculiarities that are not necessarily bad, just different."

If you try to impose your financial habits on your partner, the accountant said, "you'll create a nightmare." And once you come to a financial understanding, "allow leniency for tradition and habits.

"I shouldn't have to stand over my wife and look at where every dollar goes. She should be able to spend something in confidence. You were doing this before you married, and those habits should continue to an agreed-upon level."

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