Over the weekend, I read an article on Yahoo! Finance: Why married couples should have separate bank accounts.
And it’s not completely horrible advice. At least, I can see the “competing to see who can rack up the most savings first” working for some people. And… um. Actually, that’s pretty much all I’ve got, because the article is so amazingly, deeply flawed.
So let me start by saying: I really don’t give a crap whether you have a shared account, separate accounts, or both. Not my relationship. You do you, and whatever works for you; life, love and marriage are difficult enough without trying to figure out how you’re doing it wrong based on what I think.
That said, the arguments this guy makes are really, really crappy.
First Issue: He takes an insanely specific case, and tries to apply it generally.
You notice something everyone in the article mentions? They’re rich. Even more specifically, not a single one of them seems to stretch for a budget at all; the issue is how much goes into fun versus savings versus whatever else that isn’t core expenses. Which is great for these people, and being wealthy does in fact come with its own toils and pitfalls! But… can we have just the slightest acknowledgement that you’re dealing in a specific subset, rather than pretending you’re talking about couples in general?
(This is particularly egregious at the stay-at-home-mom section, the one where you’re supposed to take the median income of your city and take it out of your account, giving it to your stay-at-home spouse because they’re worth it. Well, they might be. But half the city makes less than the median income… and that’s before bills. And yeah, some of those houses have stay-at-home moms.)
That said, this one’s a pretty minor issue. We can assume most people reading financial columns are pretty well-off, right? So speaking of all couples when you really mean couples living the high life is forgivable.
Which brings us to…
Second Issue: He’s framing a communication issue as a money issue
Miscommunication, mismatched priorities, seething resentments—when you look at what the separate bank accounts are supposed to solve, all of them lead back to one of these items. None of which are in the least helped by the separate bank accounts, and several of which are exacerbated.
I don’t usually like making blanket statements regarding relationships; God knows that there’s little enough that applies to all of them. But I think that this is on that list: If you’re in a marriage, or at least a marriage where you share a household, you have to be able to come to an accord on financial priorities, and you have to be able to agree on a budget. You’re sharing expenses, you’re sharing responsibility, you’re sharing a life; expenses and direction just aren’t his and hers anymore, but theirs.
And it kind of seems like, with the exception of the folks challenging each other to save more, none of the examples he mentioned even start to have come to an accord on any of it. The hidden separate bank accounts that having an open separate bank account is supposed to solve is an outright admission of it!
And it’s nuts. How do you operate at all without having a vague sense of how much of the household income can be set aside for frippery? I don’t know. But the fact is, this separate-accounts business as described in the article seems to be completely an issue of papering-over the fact that you never did come to an accord.
Which brings us to…
Third Issue: Public Expenses, Private Profit
There’s a pernicious assumption underlying all of this. I find it’s most obvious in the stay-at-home-mom section. Specifically:
Now take that monthly salary and subtract it from the day job working spouse’s salary, and that figure should be his or her income which can be spent however he or she chooses. Of course, it’s a good idea not to spend it all. The money should be allocated similarly to the way the day job working spouse’s money is allocated in terms of savings, investing, spending, and so forth. And of course, you don’t have to give a salary/allowance. You can just agree to earmark this money in a joint account as his/her right to spend at will.
What am I talking about specifically? What’s yours is ours and what’s mine is mine.
There’s a brief aside about allocating this amount similarly to the other spouse’s. But it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t actually believe it, at least not when it comes to subtracting household expenses; he spends three times as much talking about how it ought to be spent however she chooses, to spend at will.
And it bleeds through the whole piece, not just here. The non-budgeting spouse needs a separate account in order to have the freedom to spend on things that the budgeting spouse wouldn’t approve of. Expenses and bills are the budgeter’s/higher earner’s problem; this is my money and I deserve to spend it.
And it’s bollocks.
You have formed a marriage. Both of your earnings are literally marital assets. (As an aside, it’s rather surprisingly underhanded, the way he refuses to talk about divorce while continually insinuating it—he doesn’t know a goddamn thing about how either divorce or probate works (or else is being maliciously misinforming), and if you take his insinuations here at face value you’ll get in trouble. Separate accounts protects you from your spouse illegally clearing out your account before divorcing you; it does not protect your account from equitable distribution or being community property.)
Anyway, where was I? Everything you make belongs to the marriage. Pretending that everything you worked for is just yours to do with to do as you see fit—and he’s controlling meaniepants if he wants any input over that—is frelling stupid.
Have separate accounts if you want to. Every relationship handles the issues facing it differently, and so long as the fundamentals are there—that you agree on the broad strokes of how much money needs to go toward what items (including individual leisure budget items for both spouses)—any individual path of reaching your goals is more than okay with me.
But this obsession with independence in a fundamentally interdependent structure is crazy.
And it’s going to explode into a million itty bitty teeny tiny fragments the exact first moment that you have to give up something you want in order to cover an expense.
Now, onto writing news…
The bad news is I think I’m not going to be able to use much of the snippet I posted on Saturday. The good news is because I think I’ve found my feet on the story and it’s going well.
(I had assumed that mad scientist meant either superhero or horror, and I didn’t really feel like horror. But… well, it looks like the guy I’ve actually got chasing my mad scientist is a hard-boiled detective. Which means I’ve got a particular reality-warping element in a mostly-realistic world. Which means I lose the cybernetic arm and the dramatic lab accident that disfigured my villain, like every Batman villain in the world. Alas.)
(Also, my husband said, “So, Dr. Poison?” and I went “Goddamn it, you’re right, aren’t you.” What’s funny is I was actually channeling Dr. Blight from the old Captain Planet… but still, I can see the issue.)
So! That’s going well. And I think once I finish my short, I can get to editing my novel, so that’s good, too.
Today, we have Queen Froggy.