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This statement [about separate finances] boggles my mind. I did this with my roommate, but not with my husband.

I'm not saying you're wrong and if this works for you, great. I also noticed that a few others here share your perspective.


SS -

Excellent post. I appreciate your sensitivity and want to make it clear that I'm not being critical of you either. Each relationship is different, and I was only trying to make the point that even if you fall short of the ideal of sharing your expenses and income as a unit, you can still reach the same happy goal of financial independence.

Much of my caution results from the fact that during my first marriage, I had the same perspective that you do now. Suffice to say that my ex did not share the same thoughts about money that I did, and our complete failure to avoid spending both my earnings and a small inheritance left me feeling used and taken advantage of. So the respect that you can take for granted with your husband is something that I've been burned on before, and the ways my wife and I have found to deal with money have the advantage of avoiding that emotional baggage.

Let me respond to a few of the points you made.

To me, feeling the need to keep things "fair" between married partners implies a lack of trust on one or both their parts. It implies that one party may to try to unjustly benefit at the expense of the other, and things need to be spelled out as "his" "hers" and "ours" in order to prevent that from happening.

I see where you're coming from here. I guess to me, fairness is something inherent in a relationship. If I notice my wife has done the cooking three or four times in a row, then I'll make a special effort to make sure I'm the one to cook this time. If I'm mowing the lawn and taking the garbage out, then she'll set up the sprinklers. Splitting common expenses 50-50 is just part of this idea of fairness for us. But I can understand why other people handle money issues differently.

However, if two people are so far apart as that in their goals and attitudes, I don't see how the marriage can work over the long term. In the example I just gave, what would happen when the couple reaches retirement age? Would the partner who had scrimped and saved for their retirement tell their spouse "I'm off to Aruba, too bad you don't have any money and have to continue working, I'll miss you!"

I guess I think that two people can love each other even if they have very different goals, and as long as everyone has an understanding of each other's ideas and wishes, you can work through the differences. I know people who would shrivel up and die if they stopped working - working is their life. In some cases, their spouses have retired. I don't think the spouse should give up traveling and a happy retirement just because they can't travel as a couple. If each person respects the other, both will want the other to do what they love.

Obviously a marriage where someone says "ha ha! I get to play and you don't!" won't work.

The argument that one partner makes more than the other, so the partner who earns more should get to spend more doesn't work for me AT ALL. They both knew who the other one was and what their earning potential was when they got married, and they accepted them for better or worse. If the high earner were to suddenly find themself unemployed, would that mean that he/she should not spend any money because he/she isn't earning any income?

True, I knew my wife before we married, and true, I knew she chose to work at a non-profit. But that was and continues to be a conscious decision on her part. She could make far more money if she worked for a private sector company. She chooses not to. This makes her happier. For that matter, I could probably be happier if I stopped working for a private sector company and went into the non-profit world - but I've made the decision to maximize my wealth as quickly as possible to reduce the amount of my lifetime I have to work. Even if I retire early, she wouldn't trade places with me. She's happy her way, and I respect that.

I take issue with the idea, however, that I should be expected to subsidize her decision. I choose to defer happiness now in the hope of greater happiness later. She chooses to get more happiness now. I can see your point that finding common ground on this difference of opinion on deferring happiness might lead to a more harmonious relationship, but I don't want to change her, and she doesn't want to change me. We are who we are, and trying to change each other just to find middle ground in a relationship would destroy the whole point.

We've each taken turns being unemployed from time to time, and we each cover our expenses from our savings. I doubt that either of us will ever be in a position where we have to depend on each other financially. If it comes to that, I know we will take care of each other. But I wouldn't want to put her through that, and I doubt she would want to put me through that.

it's always been "our" money. Just like it's "our" house, "our" kids, "our" retirement, and "our" decisions. IMO, if that's not the way it is, what's the point of being married?

When some people get married, they seem to lose their individuality and fall into a collective "we." This has always been unattractive to me. There are many things that my wife does that I have no interest in, except to the extent that it makes her happy. Sure, its "our" house - we each paid for half of it - but its "her" quilting and "my" coin collecting. When I married her, I never thought that gave me the right to have any say whatsoever in whether she wanted to spend her hard-earned money on her hobbies - as long as she had enough to help pay our common expenses, that's her business. It doesn't mean I don't love my wife - I do, very much. I love her individuality. I don't want to take that away from her.

I understand the counterargument that by keeping things separate, we lose the ability to help each other reach goals that neither of us could reach by ourselves. That may be true. I'd like to think that we find that synergy regardless.

I handle the finances.

I'm a more aggressive investor than my wife is. My wife procrastinates investing decisions and spent two years with money in a money-market fund before starting a balanced index fund. (As it turned out, that was a smart move, but she'd admit it was wholly by chance.) When she asks for advice, I give it to her, but the decisions for her money are hers alone. I don't want the responsibility for her money. If I were to invest "our" money in something and it turned sour, I'd feel terrible, because part of the money I'd have lost would have been hers.

If both of us happen to die it all goes to the kids - all three of them equally, including my stepson. He's "ours," too.

You're lucky to have a strong family. As an estate planning attorney, I've seen plenty of weaker families who decided to fight about this sort of disposition.

As an aside, you might want to check with your parents to make sure that if they have estate planning documents, they also treat your stepson the same way as your own natural kids. Standard legalese definitions of "issue", "descendants", or "grandchildren" might exclude your stepson - unless you have legally adopted him.
--

I guess what this all comes down to is that any arrangement between loving people can work if each person is okay with it. I'm glad you've found someone who works so well with you - and that I have too!

dan
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