When I got divorced in my late 20s, I was overwhelmed and in the dark about money. Sure, I had a full-time job (and sometimes a side hustle), so I had a steady income—and I lived within my means. But I was suddenly staring at questions I never had to answer: How much apartment could I afford? Were my student loan payments automatic? And which account did loan payments come out of? How much was I saving for retirement? I was swimming in spreadsheets, feeling that maybe, just maybe, I did myself a disservice when I handed over the budget and logins nearly a decade earlier to my now ex-husband.
I grew up thinking that combined finances would mean pressure off my shoulders and the freedom to focus on the things I was better at within my partnership. But after my first marriage ended, I learned it really meant I was too removed from understanding how money was actually working in my life. Without a more involved role, I was able to ignore the financial decisions being made, for better or worse.
Fast-forward to today: I’m in my mid-30s and recently remarried. From the start of our relationship, my husband and I have kept our finances separate.
My husband and I are kids of divorce. We watched how finances played a central role in the post-married lives our parents carved out for themselves. And yet, despite it all, when we both married at a young age to other partners, each of us combined finances with our respective spouses. We relinquished a bit of control to that other person and didn’t imagine doing it any other way. It felt typical, like what we were “supposed to do.” When our prior marriages ended, we found ourselves facing our finances from complicated vantage points. This emotional money baggage came with me, and when my now husband and I met, we came to the table openly and honestly about what we’d do (and not do) in the future. Top of the list: keeping our accounts separate. It became a running joke that I had a credit union account in a state I hadn’t lived in for years; we laughed when we realized his accounts were earning dismal returns. But these money decisions were our own—and it was nice to truly own them.
Like many couples, we had common bills when we moved in together: rent, utilities, and all the other fun cohabiting stuff. While we are deeply committed to each other and our relationship, we hesitated on joining any accounts because we didn’t want to fall into old patterns. I wanted to stay involved, and we wanted to preserve insight into how we were rebuilding our savings individually. We instead divvied up the bills, with me covering utilities and him taking the lead on our rent. We became budget buddies, keeping tabs on what was coming in, and what was going out, and made sure to even up each month (thanks, Venmo). Then, we got engaged and bought our first home.
At this point, we both wondered if combined finances would be the natural next step of our shared financial journey. We felt the pressure of people asking why we didn’t have a joint bank account and if a lack of combined finances meant a lack of trust (it didn’t). We were wading in the sometimes murky waters of “Did you pay that bill or did I, and which account did it come from?” But you know what? We had a rhythm. We had a system that worked for us, and we were equally involved. And we realized that just because our arrangement wasn’t what everyone else did (or at least said they did) didn’t mean it couldn’t work perfectly fine for us.
I’ll admit: There are moments when I wish all our finances were combined, so we could delete our bill-splitting app and just let each other know when we made any big purchases. But I’ve found the best way to stay active in my finances is to truly stay active. For us, and for me, that means having a big incentive to budget each month, to see what’s going in and out, and to understand how we’re both contributing to our goals. Keeping things separate means we’re splitting the time behind the wheel, each in control of a different part of our shared expenses.
Just because my husband and I keep our accounts separate doesn’t mean we don’t have insight into what we’re saving and spending—we often spend Saturday mornings watching soccer, sipping coffee, and going through our bank statements and budget spreadsheet. (Yes, we know how to have a good time.) We’ve discussed how we’d handle an unexpected job loss and balance the difference with our emergency savings. And hey, separate credit cards mean we rarely spoil a birthday or holiday surprise.
For my husband and me, it’s simple: Separate finances means shared responsibility. Each of us is in charge of our budget, staying on top of our spending, and contributing to the goals we’re setting for both the short and long term. The fundamentals that we’ve built our partnership on—trust, understanding, stability—all translate to how we’re dealing with our finances.
Want to see the other side of this coin? Here's why one couple decided to combine all their finances. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing for you and your partner. You could go halfsies and combine some, but not 100%, of your accounts.