Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Combining Finances - The Divorcee Has Her Say

Moolanomy has an interesting article on his blog on Money and Marriage: On Combining Finances. I feel like I should chime in here, since I, as one recently divorced, have a unique perspective on it. My ex and I never combined finances. In the long run, this turned out to be a good thing for me, since that would have been another nightmare to deal with during the divorce, but I also wonder if that wasn't a sign in the very beginning that I didn't have 100% faith in the relationship.

We didn't mix finances on my request. My feeling was that we were two adults who had been handling our own finances for a long time. We each had our own ways of paying bills and savings, and I didn't see why marriage should change that. We still split expenses, which made things equal, and that seemed enough to me.

Looking back on it, I am not sure that was such a good idea. Here's why: I didn't find out until after we were engaged and heading towards the alter at full clip that he was considerably in debt. I won't give numbers here, because that wouldn't be right, but let's just say it shocked me to my core. After hearing how much, I was determined more and more to keep things separate. Not asking about and discussing financial matters is just plain dumb. You know what? I knew better.... but a bunch of things kept me from asking before; I was in love, we were getting married, and my ex seems so capable and together. He never seemed to worry about money. (Maybe that should have been a red flag?)

Speaking of signs - the fact that I didn't trust him enough to mix our funds tells me that there was a flaw at the core of our relationship from the beginning. At the same time, I do believe that married couples should have some of their own money. A woman doesn't want to explain every time she splurges on a new lipstick or a guy buys a new tool for his shop. Couples don't want the other to see how much they spent on that birthday present they bought for one another or the "I'm sorry honey" roses. I think everyone needs the power to have a little "mad money" - the possibility to save up for something special.

Here's what I think - couples have to be honest and open about the money they make, and most importantly, the debt they have. Once they get married, statements and bill paying should be shared. Both people should know 1.) how to pay the bills, 2.) what the bills are, and 3) when they are being paid. The goal here should be that both people are equally comfortable with finances. You hear all the time about one spouse dying or a divorce happening and the other person has no idea what their financial situation is - that shouldn't happen. In my humble opinion household bills and expenses should be paid out of one joint checking account. At the same time, a small agreed on "allowance" should be given to each person to use as they see fit. The amount can be readjusted annually as the yearly budget is made.

My belief is that there has to be financial openness and joint responsibility - otherwise, it is time to really revisit your feelings. If you can't trust your spouse with your checkbook, can you really trust them with your happiness?

Money photo by Darren Hester.


Pinto said...

Dawn, thank you for the follow up post. I am sorry that you went through a divorce -- for better or worse.

You make a lot of good points here and I appreciate the honest and candid sharing of your experience.

The Femmes Frugal said...

That's a really interesting perspective on the topic, Thanks!

Dawn said...

Glad to share - finances and relationships are such hard things to mix.

Ralph said...

I'm convinced that there is simply no way to know what the right choice would be when you're taking the plunge. It's something you have to do based on a feeling and it may work out for some and not for others.

I definitely see the validity in your comment about it could have been a sign early on, but do you think you would change your opinion based on the same feeling if your close to getting married again? Would you wait to find someone you felt comfortable with combining finances with to tie the knot?

For me, that answer is yes. I wouldn't be married to someone who I wasn't able to share finances with, but I don't think I'm "right", just me. :-)

Dawn said...

Ralph that is a great question. The answer for me right now is "yes."

Of course I have NO intentions of getting married again anytime soon - but, after my last situation I realize how much his financial situation bothered me. If I fell in love with someone I didn't trust enough to share finances with, I'd spend a long time figuring out why and if this really was the kind of person I'd want to marry. My gut tells me if I can't trust the man I love with finances, then how can I trust him with all the other things that come with marriage - a home, property, insurance and so on? Plus, when people start keeping things from one another it can be a sign of much deeper problems. I don't want that ever again.