Do You Separate or Merge Finances with Your Partner?

I’ve always been fascinated by the psychology of money: what it means for people; how it shape-shifts into power, security, love or status; how that complicates relationships and can translate into wildly irrational (and mostly secretive) financial behavior. That’s why I couldn’t put down "The Secret Currency of Love: The Unabashed Truth About Women, Money and Relationships," an anthology edited by Hilary Black and just issued in paperback.

Twenty-seven essayists contributed to "The Secret Currency of Love," a candid romp through the hilarious, tragic and taboo: A young woman falls for a penniless heroine addict; breadwinners yearn for Cinderella-like rescues; a dying mother re-writes her will to skip over her daughter and benefit a grandson, trying to manipulate relationships from beyond the grave; an aggressive hoarder shoplifts Camembert from the grocery store and delegates everything financial to her partner; a couple receives a huge windfall from the sale of a business, but then argues over the status statement made by buying a luxury vehicle ("I guess I just didn’t see us as a Lexus kind of family").

I came across the book in my research for a story on young couples who keep their finances entirely separate. These couples are more likely to fight, practice financial infidelity, and have financial regrets, according to a recent survey.

In one essay, the novelist Anne Hood writes of a relationship that imploded because her stingy boyfriend separated finances to an extreme, buying her cough medicine as she lay ill with the flu, and asking for immediate reimbursement. "I remember looking at him through my feverish eyes, his hand outstretched, the receipt laid out on the pillow beside me, and knowing it was over. The emphasis on money became symbolic of something deeply wrong in this relationship."

Editor Hilary Black told me when it comes to money problems in relationships, "there is no magic bullet for protecting yourself. If it were as simple as combining or separating finances everyone would be okay. It’s more important to discuss the attitudes you have about money – whether going out to dinner three times a week is excessive or not enough – and to make sure you’re on the same page about spending. The best way to navigate is to not have secrets about what you have or how you value money."

Personally, I am a fan of budgeting tools that create a neutral third-party manager in the relationship, and take the friction out of money discussions. (Research shows people who stay married end up wealthier than those who split.)

Did you and your partner merge your finances when you got together, or do you keep them entirely separate? Do you have strategy that keeps the peace and helps you make progress toward your goals?

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