Joint Bank Accounts

Shortly after getting engaged, Sylvia and I started discussing how we would create a banking framework that we could rely on when we were married. I already had kind of a rough idea on what I thought would work for us, but it was a bit too early in the planning of the wedding to even really get into details or try and hash out what we thought would be best for the both of us. We did know that we wanted to maintain separate accounts for personal expenses, because you don’t want your spouse finding out about a gift you bought them before you give it to them or you just don’t want to have an argument about something totally unnecessary that’s totally for you. I don’t care to know how much she spends on crafting supplies and I’m sure she doesn’t care to know what I spend on my hobbies or the occasional pizza at our local game shop.

When I thought about it outside of practicality, the whole idea of having joint accounts was nearly as terrifying as proposing to Sylvia in the first place. It’s something that we both knew that we need to make our lives easier, but we were also all too aware that arguments about money are one of the more frequently noted reasons for marital discord. Neither of us are poor with money, but it’s still kind of a looming thing to deal with the idea that you’re going to have finances that the other party will be part of at all times and that they can inquire about any time they wish. Having previously mentioned that I have had no concept of finances besides my own, it’s a huge shift in approaching something that would otherwise be so mundane. There’s also that element of oh crap, I really am an adult now, as I’m not just bonded emotionally to Sylvia, I’m putting time/money/effort into insuring that we have a fair and cogent financial setup.

I also realize that we’ve got our own particular quirks when it comes to spending money. Sylvia tends to be super thrifty unless there’s a big project, but even then she still tries to be as thrifty as possible. The one exception is travel because it’s just expensive to travel, especially overseas. I, on the other hand, tend to want to try to do the most with my money, even if that means I’m generally breaking even after accounting expenses and deposits to savings. This has lead to a few instances of me being called out by Sylvia as being too focused on money. She’s not really wrong, but I don’t exactly see it that way sometimes. To me, if I’m confident that I can make two purchases happen in a period instead of having to spread them out over time, then that will be more we can do in the long term instead of waiting with a list of things we want to do as they pile up. The shoe-drop to that is that I focus more when things are closer because I want to make sure that I haven’t taken on more than I’m actually capable of handling. I think my problem is that I perhaps treat it a bit too much like a game and that’s something that has to either stop or become more manageable under a joint banking situation. The other thing I forget is that the reason that things appear closer than they actually are is because I treat savings as gone once they’ve been transferred over. It’s kind of scary thinking about the potential problems or miscommunications that could arise, but I do think that we’ll be able to work through our alternate approches to find a solid foundation on how to manage our finances.

As the larger parts of the planning were sorted, I started throwing out ideas that I think would be good for us and Sylvia responded positively to them. I think she was excited because I seem to know what I’m doing and am able to handle most banking issues with little difficulty or at least more confidence. I think my particular knack for it may have come from working my way out of credit card debt after I moved to Chicago. It wasn’t easy, but I learned a lot and it seems like the experience will not only continue benefiting me, but should be good for our joint accounts as well.

Once we’d talked about it enough and figured out what we wanted the accounts to look like and how they should work, we had to figure out a bank to go with. About the only two requirements that Sylvia had were that the customer service had to be better than the bank she was currently with and she wanted to get a joint credit card to earn miles toward flights/travel. It took far less time than I expected to whittle the choices down and we decided to go talk to my bank to see what they could offer since I already liked their customer service. Sylvia ended up liking them enough while taking to the banker that we went ahead and set up joint checking/savings & applied for a card that was geared toward travel earnings. It was a bit sudden, but I can’t lie that remaining with the bank I was already with was a bit of a relief. Hopefully it won’t be too stressful for her to switch banks as that’s the last stressor that she needs to worry about.

Shortly after we got everything set up and we were waiting for our new cards to come in the mail, I realized that I was probably going to be largely in charge of keeping the accounts making sense, not necessarily spending the money though. I asked Sylvia she responded pretty strongly that I was in charge of keeping the accounts in order. On the one hand, I felt proud that she trusts me with such a huge responsibility, but on the other I got a little nervous. What happens when I die and I’m the only person who knows how things work? I really didn’t like the idea of that as it would potentially open Sylvia up to being taken advantage of. Thinking about it in that capacity, it’s my goal to try and keep her involved with the finances so if something does happen to me, then she can handle it like a pro.

Once those thoughts started bubbling through my brain, the first thing I could think of that would be potentially helpful to the both of us was to create a spreadsheet that we could use to calculate what percentages of our income would be going to what account based on however much we wanted to go where. The idea is to see how much we spend personally each month and to determine if it’s too much to the point that the joint accounts aren’t getting the income they need to function. It’s not particularly helpful to Sylvia at this exact moment since she doesn’t have a full time job, but I’m hoping that it’ll be good to see once she’s at that point. It was really helpful to me to see that I think that I need as little as under 10% of my monthly income for personal expenses. I’m sure it’ll change and fluctuate as I get a better idea of what works and what doesn’t, but at least it has me feeling right now that I don’t spend too much money on myself.

Another idea that I had which Sylvia said was pretty good was the idea that we need to keep a particularly close eye on the joint accounts at least for a few months. The idea is that there’s no way that we’re both adapted to having a separate set of accounts to keep track of and the best way I thought to get through that is for us to go through the statements together each month. It seems all too simple because it’s something we do each month on our own stuff, but it’s different when you’ve got two hands with access to the cookie jar. I think we’re going to even keep all of the receipts for each month so that we can have as much detailed information as possible. I’m sure we’ll have some disagreements on how some of the money is spent, but that’s part of the growth process. I just hope that we manage to keep a lock on it so that we can avoid that potentially divisive issue of partner/marital finances.

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