Many married couples choose to keep their money separate.
These couples might settle monetary differences by paying half-and-half, or by diving different kinds of expenses between them as fairly as possible. Other couples choose to combine their bank accounts and merge their debts, savings, and expenses, sharing income(s) equally and paying for everything out of one account.
Husband and I chose the latter. It has been a struggle from day one. It is by far the most challenging component of our relationship. We fight about money constantly. We fight about everything, though. Passionate relationship.
I would choose to combine our money again in a heartbeat. As crappy as it can be for our relationship, it is equally as beneficial.
Here’s a quick summary of the steps I took to merge our accounts. Mistakes were made. Success was ultimate.
How to merge your bank accounts (my way)…
First, look into the benefits/programs/account types offered by both your bank and his bank (if they are different). Which one serves both your needs? That’s a question only you two can answer. Husband and I chose to open a Max Checking account through Lake Michigan Credit Union (LMCU). We earn 3% interest on the money we have in our checking account (up to $15,000). In order to earn the 3% interest, we have to do certain things each month:
- log into our online banking 4 times a month (easy for me)
- use our debit card(s) 10 times a month (easy for Husband)
- have at least one paycheck directly deposited into our checking account (we both do this).
I was tickled by the idea of making money off of the money I already have, so this was the perfect account for (me) us.
Second, create the new account at your chosen bank. My husband already had an account at LMCU, but mine was with another credit union. We opened up a brand new joint account (Max Checking) that allowed us equal access to transfers, withdrawals, everything.
Initially, I submitted an online application to open our new account, which was a big mistake. I should have just gone into the bank and asked to open one in person. That would have saved me weeks of waiting for my application to process and papers to arrive in the mail. Papers that would have told me I had to go to the bank to set up my account. I went the online-route first, though, because I am a hermit and a Millennial. But also because Husband and I are rarely in the same place during normal banking hours. ALSO, I was smack dab in the middle of changing my last name, and that lengthy process was interfering with everything. Waiting period of online setup = fine with me. Signing up online did serve me well, though, because they pulled everything up for me when I (finally) exposed myself to civilization and ventured into the bank.
I had to show up at the bank because the tellers needed copies of our IDs. I could have made these and mailed them in and continued down the road of online setup, but I had finally received my new driver’s license with my new last name, and I felt unstoppable with physical proof of my new existence.
I brought driver’s license copies, SSNs, and our marriage certificate (which, as a newlywed, I was bringing with me everywhere) with me, though only the IDs were required (thank you, hermit, for filling everything out online). I met with a consultant rather than a teller, and she brought me back to an office where I confirmed the online-setup information, gave her ID copies, signed some documents, picked out our debit card designs (Husband could change his if he hated it), and spotted a $20 bill (only needed $5, I think) to open the account. I still had to have Husband sign the sheet, too, which I did and returned the next day. Boom! Newlyweds + new account = new life.
Third, switch everything over from your old account(s) to your new account. The bank will give you a routing number and an account number for your new savings/checking accounts. You will use these numbers to link things to your new account. I switched everything over from my old account: credit card payments, PayPal, Amazon, Ebay, rent payments, and direct deposit (your workplace’s Human Resources department/supervisor will help you switch this). Husband switched his direct deposit over and I switched his credit card payments.
As for my old account, well…I left the money there and used it to pay my parents back for the down-payment money they loaned Husband and me. It’s practically empty now. Just need to cut the cord…
As for Husband’s old account, well…he still actively uses it. Much to my eye-twitching dismay. I agree with it’s use and necessity, but my eye still twitches. He needs it for money transfers to/from accounts that are already linked and to make payments on his loans. He begged me to leave his loan payments connected to his old account. I think watching me struggle horrendously to change my last name scared him into refusing to change his own stuff. Understandably – it sucked! So he keeps the account open…and I gaze at him from afar, squinting and scrutinizing the monies in his mystery account. I have control issues. I try not to show it, but I drive him crazy. I am so annoying sometimes.
Now, how to survive the merge…
Combining my money with my husband’s has been an emotionally draining process from the start. Money sucks. It sucks the life and spirit out of people. You don’t need me to tell you how little energy a spiritless, life-starved individual has left to work on his or her marriage. Money in marriage is a carefully-set bear trap. You will get snatched up and lose a foot if you don’t quickly learn to recognize it as one.
Do we stomp our foot down on a bear trap? No!
Should we poke at a bear trap with our fingers when we are bored? No!
May we reach our hand in a bear trap when no one is around and grab some money we think no one else sees? Sure!*
*You might pluck it out fast enough so the bear trap doesn’t catch, but if it does, you can bid your arm farewell as you bleed to death staring into the eyes of your lover who refuses to cauterize the gaping wounds of a money-sneaking sneak.
If you do treat money as a bear trap, you will avoid a lot of stress, resentment, and relationship poison, which is so hard to eradicate once it’s there.
How does one treat marriage money like a carefully-set bear trap? Here are some tips I’ve learned the hard way.
- Don’t demand things when it comes to money. No matter how entitled you feel to do whatever you want with your hard-earned income, and no matter how badly you want to tell your spouse how to spend his or her income, you simply cannot. You get married and you share. Period. Treat your income like you are sharing it and treat your spouse’s like he or she is sharing it with you. There are probably some relationships in which hording and bossiness work. I haven’t encountered one, but I’ve heard legends.
- Discuss with each other how to spend “our money.” You married each other, so you trust each other. Now, you have to learn how to trust each other’s choices with money. It’s a different kind of trust. Money is a necessity, while love is not. Trusting someone to love you is much easier than trusting someone to spend your money wisely (wisely = the same way you do). The best way to establishing mutual-money-trust is to talk about how to spend it. Discuss your spending priorities and learn to respect the differences in your spending habits. You can alter each other’s habits, but you can’t drastically change them.
- Establish your own way of finding your marriage-money MIDDLE GROUND. It is equally important if not more to learn to be satisfied with that middle ground. “Middle ground” = it is your combined best attempt to make a decision that falls right between each of your pillars of need/desire. You are both important, and it is very easy to forget this. Each of you wants what you want just as badly as the other. I know that compromise is one of the worst ways to resolve conflict. (Neither party gets what they want in a compromise.) Well, in the combined-accounts situation, sometimes there is no better alternative. Practice finding that middle ground and love what you find!
- Expect to hate each other. This is a huge one. Lucky for me, I married a man I had loved and hated for nearly a decade before the big day, so I had a taste of what I was in for. A taste. The rage that man brings out of me surprises even me, sometimes. Why do you and your spouse end up hating each other when it comes to money? Because of basic math.
- Money = security. INsecurity = vulnerability. Money = INvulnerability. Money literally protects your selfhood. The panicky feeling of WHO AM I?!? can be soothed by a fat stack of bills. It’s weird because it’s true. People are least likely to be open to change when it comes to their money because money is protection. It is our means to everything. How we spend it is very much who we are. In marriage, many of us unwittingly sit on our haunches and wrap our arms around our cash, drooling on it as we growl at our lover. This monster inside you exists and will show its face. Tame it. It will not go away, so tame it. Remember that it is the monster you hate, not your spouse. The monster makes you crazy, not your spouse (most of the time).
How to thrive in the merge…
Through a lot of trial and error, we have found a pace of spending/saving that works for us. Works = we don’t fight about money as often. But the differences in our views persist, and every disagreement must be sorted out until it dies and is reborn as a solution. For us, it’s a grueling business. But, we knew that life together wouldn’t be easy.
Husband spends now and pays later. I spend now and pay now. I also prefer to spend never. It took me a very long time to understand that his way of spending wasn’t wrong, but different. And different is okay. *eye twitch*
Because my parents explicitly denounced credit card debt and praised any effort to save money, that is how I desire to live. Because Husband’s parents explicitly denounced saving money at the cost of traveling and praising for pennies well-spent, that is how Husband desires to live. To him, spending is living. To me, saving is living. He spends because he doesn’t want to miss out on life and die with a bunch of money un-spent. I save because it makes my soul feel better knowing I have thousands in case of an emergency. Fear-based, mine is. I just haven’t quite found a way through that fear, yet.
So, Husband and I are drastically different when it comes to money. And the way we fight about it is the same reason many couples divorce. We are getting better at using “I feel” statements and expressing our concerns before them have time to ferment and explode. I force Husband to sit down and discuss money disagreements with me. I force Husband to communicate often. Lots of tears have been shed (by me), lots of words have been shouted (by us), and we’ve achieved lots of understandings (together). We are a work-in-progress and always will be. I married the most stubborn man in the whole world, and I am the most stubborn woman alive. We knew this when we married. We butt heads so often we sometimes lose sight of each other. But we find our way back.
Combining our money has forced us to learn how to get along in ways we never would have otherwise. We have endured so many arguments and survived so many disputes I’ve lost count. What we are now, though, is strong. We are learning how to be partners. We are learning how to make sacrifices for each other. We are learning how to enjoy making sacrifices. Most importantly – we are learning how to communicate with each other. Communication is never finished. You must work it like a muscle to keep it strong. The wear and tear of our arguments has strengthened our relationship. We literally feel like champions when we no longer want to rip each other’s heads off. How do we make it through to the other side? Well, it’s different every time.
It is the freedom/imprisonment brought about by money that draws so many lovers into the thicket of spousal war. Only those spouses who recognize their own insecurities as fuel for the fire have the ability to thwart a battle before it begins. We must get to know our spouses well and ourselves, even better. Only because I know I am a crazy, control-starved, aggressive monster when it comes to money am I able to stop being one before it’s too late. And only because I know that Husband was raised differently am I able to calm down and understand how I make him feel when I am stomping around in the bear trap like an idiot.
Now, we thrive together. Sometimes, sharing money choices is fun. Paying bills is easier. Streamlining everything into one account made it possible to track expenses and consider new purchases. Learning to trust each other with money has given us confidence that we can love each other forever.
How did you survive the merge? What was it like for your relationship? If you chose to keep your monies separate, please tell me how it works for you! What kind of tactics do you use with your spouse to resolve money disagreements? Do you communicate a specific way to make sure you communicate well? Obviously I am very curious about all of this. Please share your wisdom and suggestions in the comments below!