1 Bank Account; 2 Bank Accounts

I have been listening to your podcasts for roughly about two years now and find them very insightful on God’s word and relevant to the times and seasons, thank you for being a blessing. I come from an African household where my father was the main provider as he had a very stable and well-paid job. We lived in houses mortgage-free and he took care of the household bills and essential expenses such as school fees, provisions and maintenance. My parents had separate bank accounts and no complete oversight of one’s income. My wife grew up in Europe where her parents had a joint account and all their income was paid into the account. Most of all the household bills are paid from the account and the account is managed by her father. In addition, they also maintain separate accounts for personal use.

Prior to us getting married, we agreed on having a joint account to use for payment of all household bills and expenses, saving accounts and personal accounts. I contribute higher to the joint account which is approx. 60% of my monthly income. We also maintain separate personal accounts which our salaries are paid in. At the time we got married, this worked well for both of us and we were able to save from the joint account to purchase our home. Initially when we got married, I was underpaid and mostly relied on credit cards and overdrafts for any major unexpected expenses; however, I have changed jobs and been promoted over the years. I recently paid off all my debts with a lump sum payment I received.

We are now over 5 years married and over the years, we have increased as a family which means additional costs such as childcare cost (Nursery) have taken a toll on our expenses leading to almost depletion of the funds in the joint account every month. This has led to us contributing more money to the joint account to keep the account in credit. This has caused arguments a few times as it is believed I should be contributing more to the joint account and handle other unexpected expenses which may arise.

However, I am worried if it is expected of me to handle all the major expenses in the household. Last Christmas we visited my siblings and my wife bought gifts for the kids with her own personal money and asked me to contribute towards the cost which I did. This is how we have done it in the past where we split the cost equally or I pay slightly higher. However, I bought drinks for the same occasion with my personal money and asked for her to contribute towards the cost but this did not go well as she was expecting me to cover the cost.

My question is, how do other like-minded couples manage their finances in the western world? Is it expected for a man to handle all the major costs and at the same time pay for the mortgage, bills, family holidays and maintenance costs? My parents’ situation was different to mine so I cannot use them as an example especially in the western world.

Emmanuel A.

Dear Emmanuel,

We think that many people including couples who come from the same country and culture will relate to your question. Most of us grow up assuming that money in a marriage “works” in one way. It is quite a shock when we marry and find out that our spouse has an entirely different picture.

The first step we would recommend is to make sure that your wife is open to talking about the topic. Before either of you recommend any specifics, both of you need to be on the same page, agreeing that it is time to rethink things. At this stage of your lives it is irrelevant what each of your parents did or, indeed, what the two of you did earlier in your marriage. Together, you need to work out what is best for the two of you and your children. Neither of you is going to “win” this discussion – the two of you and your family will win.

Congratulations on getting out of debt. That is a huge accomplishment and one that will stand you in good stead. It does concern us, however, that you speak of it as a solo idea and venture. Did you and your wife not discuss what to do with the lump sum payment you got? Marriage is more than a socio-economic relationship. It is the melding of two into one. Do you regularly have discussions about your children – about your concerns and hopes for them? Do you check the temperature of your marriage on a regular basis and adjust time spent at work, with friends, or on hobbies? From your letter, it doesn’t sound to us that you work as a team. Your wife bought gifts for your siblings’ children, and you bought drinks for the occasion, but you never talked about what the two of you should do for the get-together. The money question is secondary to our concern at your lack of communication and failure to act as a unit.

Emmanuel, there are so many questions we have and that we hope the two of you will discuss. You say that it worries you to be responsible for the major expenses of the household. Why does that worry you? Is your wife working because she wants to, because the family needs her income, or because you want her to work? Do you consider yourselves equally responsible for housework and taking care of your children? How does your marriage function in all areas, of which finance is just one?

There are certainly different cultural and family expectations for marriage. We suggest that the two of you stop thinking of “mine” and “yours” and work to think of “ours.” That doesn’t mean that neither of you can spend a small amount without the other’s involvement, or that you have to split expenses 50/50. It means that you work to manage whatever money there is together. We will be expanding on this in our forthcoming book from Wiley Publishers, but think of both of you earning the money in your paycheck, and both of you earning the money in your wife’s paycheck because that is really how it is.

What is important once we are married, is to figure out together what is best for our own marriage. We are certainly influenced by our parents and we can and should learn from others but we must make deliberate decisions and choose our own path. This is not a one-time conversation, it is a continuing education project.

Grow together,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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11 thoughts on “1 Bank Account; 2 Bank Accounts”

  1. Wow That was a good read! I realize done couples do not consider marriage as “ one” together. My hubby, Vic who had passed on into Eternity, and I have always had joint accounts. Always conferred with each other on purchases and loans and debt payments. Yo have separate: mine and yours accounts seems strange when God’s plan got marriage is two becoming one.
    Marsha , wife of Victor

    1. Hi Grace Marsha. I’m sure you miss Vic terribly. Your final sentence really says a lot. Thanks for chiming in. I think a lot of couples today need to hear that real people have/had long, happy marriages.

  2. Great answer. Here is how we did it. We had one account, the family’s basically. When we married we agreed to not buy anything, unless we agreed on it. Not little things. The other part of that agreement was there can be situations where there cannot ever be agreement and I reserved the right to make the final choice. We agreed on that before marriage. I used it 3 to 4 times in our 35 years marriage so far. They weren’t big things, those we agreed on or did nothing. Waiting to agree saved us from making a lot of bad decisions. Many times, one of us would see what the other could not. The other thing we agreed on, and for good reason, I let my wife handle the finances, you know, paying the bills, saving what we could. I worked a lot of hours, most of our working lives I had two jobs and was usually tired. She focused on the home, the kids and taking care of our finances which was difficult at times. We also ran a business out of our house so it could be challenging. Overall, ours was a success story. We paid our house off, sold high in the Bay Area and bought low in southern Oregon. We both have our strengths and weaknesses and that was one area we both encouraged each other on.

    1. That sounds like it worked well for you, Larry. I hope your area of Oregon is still lovely. We have been greatly saddened at what has happened in Portland and other cities we used to enjoy visiting.

  3. “Ours” has always been Karen and my attitude about finances. I came from a broken home, Karen from a dysfunctional home (what home isnt somewhat dysfunctional). Anyway for me it has always been issues of trust and shared dreams and goals. Do I trust my spouse? Boy is life so much easier when you do. Are we 2 made into one? We did the candle thing when we got married and have taken it seriously for 41 years. No we are not that old, we got married in middle school. Just kidding, we are that old. God bless this couple and may they find the joy of oneness.

    1. I hope you and Karen share your story with others, Jerry. So many young people are afraid of committing to marriage because they did not have an example of a strong one. They need to hear that we don’t have to replicate our parents’ weaknesses.

    2. I relate to your comment, Jerry. I came from a broken home and was raised by my maternal grandparents. My grandfather ran a successful delicatessen in Brooklyn Heights and my grandmother took care of everything around the house including most of the yard work. My grandmother also managed the finances for the three of us because my grandfather worked very long hours and only took every other Sunday off. I also married a man who worked very long hours. He often worked 12 hours a day including every other weekend so I followed my grandmother’s lead even though I worked full time up until we had children. I stayed home for two years with the first-born and cut back to part-time work after that until the baby went off to college. We’ve always had a joint account at a local bank for all our household expenses. However, my husband’s employer offered a credit union that was very convenient for saving money b/c the money could be deducted from his paycheck before it was direct deposited into our joint account. This made it slightly more difficult to withdraw or transfer money from our savings accounts to our joint checking account and really helped facilitate our saving. We had three credit union savings accounts all in his name. We had an emergency savings account, a college savings account, and a vacation savings account. My husband could have run off with quite a bit money if he wanted to but as you said, “Do I TRUST my spouse?” I did. After the baby went off to college, I went back to school and started my own business. Now it was my husband’s turn to trust me because I had to have a separate business checking account and business savings account as a business owner. We have always discussed our financial situation, week-to-week, month-to-month and when necessary during hard times day-to day. Including how much money was in our individual accounts. We have never made a major purchase without consulting the other with the exception of my 40th birthday when my husband surprised me with a beautiful string of pearls and matching pearl and diamond earrings. I wasn’t going to get mad about that … lol.

      1. Thank you for sharing your story, Deborah. Most times, I’m afraid the stories young people hear go, “I trusted my husband and now I am penniless and on the street…”

        1. Thank you, Susan. Sadly, my husband and I were not the norm. Many of the children my children played with growing up were from broken homes. I think the fact that my husband and I both came from broken homes made us very determined be honest with one another and to stay together. Still, I waited six years to have a child. I really wanted to be sure. The second child was six years after that but that wasn’t my plan. I would have liked to have had my two children closer together but it worked out great. According to my great aunt, I have a “millionaire’s family” because my son is the firstborn and my daughter is the baby and the two of them are the best of friends and very supportive of one another. Speaking of millionaires, I am far from a financial millionaire but that could change as I am reading “Thou Shall Prosper” and loving it!

  4. You’re one flesh. That’s the beauty of marriage. Whatever you bring in is not yours but “ours.” There’s no “his” money and “her” money. A married couple should have two accounts- One for the couple and one to hold your tithe to God. That’s it.

    1. That is such an important point, to make sure to put aside the money that does not belong to you, but to charity.

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