Couples who choose to manage their money separately are at risk for both financial and relationship trouble.
Some couples say they maintain independent accounts because one person is a spender or because they have different views about money management and debt. Some do it simply because it's easier.
I know this story. My wife, Cheri, and I kept separate checking accounts for many years. In fact, our banks in Chicago merged before we merged our accounts. We told ourselves this approach was easier.
But the truth is individual accounts can signal a lack of shared priorities. The independence that once seemed so convenient may end up eroding trust between partners. Without financial cooperation, real problems can begin to weaken a couple's bond.
The fallout from unresolved money issues drives a wedge between partners. Fifty-seven percent of divorced couples in the United States say financial problems are the primary reason for their split, according to a Citibank survey.
Independent spending can push couples apart as each person sees the other as an obstacle to achieving his or her goals. Whatever the motivations may be for keeping finances separate, the solution is the same: Create shared dreams and goals and begin living on a budget that reflects those priorities.
Establishing common financial goals is a challenging process, but it can be richly rewarding. To get started, I encourage you and your partner to spend an afternoon finding your shared dream. This can be done by dreamstorming, creating a vision board or simply talking openly and honestly.
Begin by understanding what you value as an individual. Then combine your values with your partner's to create a mutual dream to serve as your motivation and compass. This goal will help you measure whether your new approach to money management is successful.
Now it's time to create a budget, which will help you spend in alignment with your priorities. Co-creating a realistic budget and holding yourselves accountable are the keys to success. Remember, a realistic budget accounts not only for your immediate needs but also your future needs.
Because you do not have an unlimited stream of income, you will need to decide how to allocate your money to satisfy your variety of needs. Compromise is essential. Your budget should reflect this and be specific about how individual and mutual needs are met. This includes accumulating money to meet your shared dream.
But it's not enough to create your budget and leave it. A budget won't do the work for you. It must be a living document that changes month to month and even at times week to week to address the reality of your situation. Unexpected expenses, undisciplined spending and - hooray! - unexpected income must all be accounted for to stay on course toward your goal.
Managing your money together can be a challenge, but it has the potential to reduce financial stress and let you and your partner build more than your bank accounts.
firstname.lastname@example.org Durango resident and personal finance coach Matt Kelly owns Momentum: Personal Finance.