When we first got married many (many!) years ago, my wife Jeaneth and I made the decision to pool all our funds together. Our individual savings accounts and cash gifts from the wedding all got merged into one joint account. Our paycheques went into one savings account and we opened a chequing account to fund our expenses.
Technology has changed how we do banking — back then the banks issued us a passbook where transactions were individually printed out each bank visit. Now we do our banking online, deposit cheques through an app, make e-transfers, and receive instant transaction notifications. Though dealing with finances is more convenient now, money is money. That’s one thing technology hasn’t changed!
So why did we decide on a joint bank account all those years ago?
Two Become One
I wasn’t a Christian when we got married, but I still felt that what was mine was hers, and what was hers was mine. We didn’t have that much to begin with so it was an easy step to take.
After I came to faith, it became clearer that there were to be no secrets between us — she knew exactly how much I made, how much debt we were carrying and what I was buying! And vice versa!
The biggest advantage to having a joint bank account is that it allows couples to manage their financial goals and objectives together. The couple may consist of two very different personalities, values and spending habits… which is why money is often a source of conflict. However, I would argue that with the right conversations, attitudes and boundaries, discussions around money can actually bring a couple closer together.
Because Jeaneth and I both have access to our joint accounts, we decided that rather than sticking to a budget, we would each commit to following some mutually-agreed upon guidelines:
1. We allow each other to make smaller purchases under a certain threshold, no questions asked. This means an Amazon package arriving at our door does not bring on the Filipino-Chinese Inquisition!
2. We make major financial decisions together. We discuss whether we should take a flight with a layover or stay at a lower tiered hotel on vacation if it would be more convenient and comfortable. Or whether it’s worth it to splurge a little. It’s much easier to arrive at the same conclusion because we both know how much money is sitting in the bank and how much is coming in every two weeks.
3. We allow each other to verbalize our wants. In many ways we likely spend on what we want, not what we need. Do I want a new pair of waterproof hiking shoes? Heck yeah! Do I need them? Of course not. I don’t even hike that much. Would we want to join our senior pastor when he leads a group to the Holy Land next year? Of course! But would it be the best use of our finances? Probably not. Through discussing our desires with each other, we are able to decide whether our wants are fiscally responsible and justifiable — or not!
4. We know our financial limits. For example, there is still room for spontaneous decisions to join friends in dining out, but because we know how much money we have in our account, we know we can’t say yes every time. Or we could balance a sit down experience with a cheap and cheerful food court meal to average out the costs. Understanding how much debt we are carrying due to our mortgage and knowing the exact amounts coming in each month definitely help us avoid financial conflict, as we both are committed to the same financial goals.
Early in our marriage, I decided it was more practical to let my wife manage our finances since she was known as the human calculator in university. Plus, she really enjoyed working with numbers and finance — unlike me.
Many years later Jeaneth insisted that I should take a more active role in how we handled our investments. For someone like me who detests numbers, that is never a fun task. It still isn’t. But it made a lot of sense, because we are a team after all. I tried to familiarize myself with various mutual funds, learned to look at fund price history and began to build a better understanding of risk versus return.
A shared bank account allows us to keep an eye on our Tax-Free Savings Accounts at any given time. We are able to make joint decisions on how much or how little we can put away. And because we both are on the same page, a mutually-agreed upon investment position is much easier to take.
[Point of disclosure: Jeaneth can still do the mental math and calculate the approximate return a certain interest percentage would provide — right in front of the financial adviser! Isn’t she amazing!?]
In marriage, the perfect bottom line is not just a balanced chequebook. It’s having clear expectations and boundaries about income, expenses and financial goals. It’s making decisions together. It’s operating as a team.
If being on the same page financially seems overwhelming, start by having a conversation that seeks to clarify each of your issues and objectives. Maybe you need to create your own set of spending guidelines like us, or you need to discuss what your investment goals are. Or maybe you need to take the plunge and open up a joint bank account.
Whatever it is, create space for both of you to come up with a plan that works. If you need outside help, consider contacting a trusted financial expert who can assist you in this task.