Separate Ways

Richard Quinn

IT’S CLEAR I AM a dinosaur when it comes to my views on money matters—and apparently several other things as well, but let’s not go there.

When I read in blog posts and articles that a married couple should separate their finances into his money and her money, that one person pays for this and the other for that, and never the twain shall meet, I’m shocked. Some articles indicate a severe division of money matters. No joint bank accounts. One person saves diligently for retirement. The other is a non-saving spendthrift.

I read an advice column where a woman wanted to know what she should do because her husband had been wasting money, was behind on his credit card payments and couldn’t pay his share of the mortgage. His share, her share? Can this approach work for long? I say to myself, “Is this really a marriage?”

But, of course, my frame of reference is that of someone born between the Greatest Generation and the baby boomers. Nevertheless, such a divided view of money doesn’t strike me as healthy.

During our marriage of nearly 54 years, our income—with minor exceptions—has been what I earned. Even in retirement, our income is my pension, my Social Security, my wife’s Social Security based on my earnings record, and her tiny pension based on employment that ended in 1970.

Still, never during those 54 years was any of our money considered mine. Never was there separate anything when it came to money. All our bank accounts are joint. All our investments, except our IRAs, are joint holdings. Stock in my previous employer, which I obtained through stock options and bonus awards, was converted to joint ownership.

Several years ago, my wife inherited a few thousand dollars from an aunt. There is an emotional attachment to that inheritance. We agreed that we would isolate that money in a separate savings account for my wife to use as she saw fit. The money is still there—and, while we’ve agreed it’s my wife’s money, it still sits in a joint account.

When it comes to spending, anything significant is a joint decision. Actually, some rather insignificant spending is also discussed. There are some exceptions. My wife’s visits to Talbots, the salon and the makeup counter are exempt, and wisely so.

I struggle to understand why other couples handle their money differently. What are the issues that drive their thinking about ownership and use of money? Is it power, control, selfishness, lack of trust or simply a generational difference? I suspect it varies by couple and may be a combination of factors. But whatever it is, I don’t get it.

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