How Should You Structure your Accounts as a Married Couple?

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So today is my anniversary! My wife and I got married 11 years ago on September 2nd, 2005.

Part (most?) of me can’t believe that it’s been that long. We’ve been together for even longer. About 14 and a half years!

I actually just realized that we have another anniversary that we can celebrate the day before ours as well. September 1st, 2001, a date that is the same as my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding anniversary, is the first day that my wife rejected me. She wanted nothing to do with me.

So there’s that anniversary on September 1st, and then September 2nd is our wedding anniversary.

I’d say I won that battle with her. 😉

I’ve always felt that personal finance is way too personal. If we talked about finance a little bit more, I think a lot of people struggling with their finances would be doing quite a bit better.

If there was ever a time when personal finance is no longer personal, it’s when you get married.

After marriage, your partner should now being considered in every major financial decision you make. Even with the small decisions, there should be at least some consideration there.

If you spend money on small things like coffees or snacks or lunches and then get mad when your spouse does the same thing, then that’s going to cause issues. Add in things like joint account, life insurance policies, and wondering if your spouse is planning to kill you because you may have gotten too much insurance (kidding), there isn’t much that’s personal about it.

So what can you do?

The first thing is to make sure you and your spouse are on the same page financially. But beyond that, what should a couples’ finances look like?

I’ve heard of this more so in recent times, but it seems like couples are getting away from having joint accounts. While having separate accounts isn’t necessarily a bad idea, it can be very easy to keep things from your spouse, unintentionally or otherwise.

Why not have a joint account and separate accounts?

Here are the accounts I recommend setting up as a married couple.

Me and My Wife.
Me and My Wife.

Joint Checking Account

This will be your main account where bills get paid from and most of your budgets are located. Having this as a joint account ensures both of you have access in case something happens to one of you. It’s also an easier way to keep track of your money, since you will be using this account for a lot. You won’t have to worry about having more than one account paying bills.

Joint Savings Account (one or more)

I recommend having at least 1 joint savings account for your emergency fund. Again, God forbid anything happens to you, but if something does happen to one of you, it’ll be a lot easier to access funds if you are both on the account.

Beyond that, you can open any number of savings or money market accounts to save for any of your mutual goals. There are some online banks that will allow you to have sub-accounts under the same savings account to keep the money together but separate.

Individual Checking Accounts (one for each of you)

This is where your fun money goes. Open up a checking account for each of you that is just for your money. Set yourself a budget, and once you get paid, put some money in that account until you reach your budget for the month. Then, you can use it for whatever you want! My wife and I are about to do this ourselves now that we’ve paid off a ton of debt.

Now this isn’t to say that your spouse shouldn’t be even listed on these accounts or vice versa for the same reason as having the joint accounts. The important thing is that your individual accounts will be used only for one of you for spending money. No matter who is in charge of managing the money in the family, you would be in charge of managing your own spending account. Having separate accounts for this is much easier to manage than trying to manage it out of your joint account.

One more important reason for having separate accounts for spending–Gifts! If you are able to purchase gifts for your honey, the managing your own account is the best way for that to be a surprise. In fact, my wife has mentioned on several occasions that she isn’t really able to surprise me with any gifts because I manage all of our finances.

401K/Investement Accounts (one for each of you, one joint) 

I think it’s a great idea to have a joint investment account. Open up a Roth IRA or Roth 401k specifically for retirement and put after-tax dollars in your fund. This is a great way to make sure you aren’t paying taxes later on when taxes may be higher.

With all good strategies, though, there are multiple angles. Not only do you want to have money for retirement that you can pull tax free later, you want to maximize your pre-tax contributions now.

This is where your 401K comes in. If your employer offers a 401K, this can be taken straight from your paycheck pre-tax.

The reason why it’s a great idea to have a separate 401K account for each of you is twofold. First, it allows you both to have money directly taken from your paycheck on a pre-tax basis. Secondly, and more importantly, it allows you both to take advantage of any program your employer offers where they will match your 401K contributions up to a certain percentage. This is literally free money and will provide you a great return even if your 401K investment portfolio remains flat.

Get a Will

Now this isn’t an account per se, but it’s a great idea to have in order to be able to take care of all of your accounts.

If something happens to you, having a Will is going to speed up any legal process to ensure your family gets all of your assets in a timely manner. The last thing you want is something to be tied up in the legal system in addition to your spouse and family having to mourn you.

It will cost a little bit of money to have a Will done. However, that little bit of cost involved in having a lawyer draw up a Will for you is nothing compared to the peace of mind you get from having one.

Here’s to 11 More Years (and hopefully A LOT more!)

After 11 years of marriage, I can tell you two things.

First, marriage is like a fine wine. It gets better with age and may get you drunk on love.

Secondly, it takes A LOT of work. Finances aren’t the only thing you have to worry about in a marriage. It’s important to talk through everything, including finances.

I take care of all of the finances in our household, but my wife and I will still talk about them. Communication, as well as having the right tools, will not only help ease your financial stress but make a lot of the work easier too.

Marriage is incredibly worth it, though. I love my wife more now than ever. Here’s to many more years!

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Hey! I’m Tim.
I am an expert budgeter and certified Dave Ramsey Solutions Master Financial Coach with a passion for teaching you how to manage your money the best way for you. I’ve been around the block with money and now I live to teach others like you and me what I’ve learned. Read more about me.
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