New Money Rules for Couples
Postnups, financial three-ways, paying your spouse for doing laundry…. More and more couples are devising their own, sometimes wacky money systems. How does yours compare?
Lisa Gee-Gray, 35, and Anthony Gray, 39, Marana, AZ
They focus on paying down debt, together
THEIR MONEY SYSTEM: Lisa and Anthony pay all of their bills — including household expenses, contributions to their four kids' college funds, and credit card and student loan payments — from a joint account. Then they each get $150 a month transferred to their personal accounts to spend however they please.
WHY IT WORKS: "We're finally working as a team and have paid off $18,000 of our debt in the last six months!" says Lisa. It's a big change from when they first got married. Back then, Lisa and Anthony, both engineers, agreed they would each be responsible for paying off their own student loans or any credit card debt — so they put less money in the joint pot and kept a bigger share of their income in their individual accounts. But instead of paying down their credit balances, they both continued to charge things they wanted, and each secretly racked up more debt! They'd have intense fights — often ending in tears — when money got tight. Last fall, Anthony learned that Lisa had $8,000 in credit card debt, and she was shocked to see he was still $12,000 in the red. Now they've stopped using their personal credit cards, have instituted monthly money dates to discuss upcoming expenses, and have put retirement savings on hold until they're debt-free. "So far our plan is working. We want to have everything, with the exception of our mortgage, paid off in three years," Lisa says.
Kris Gates, 41, and J.D. Roth, 42, Portland, OR
100% separate: They don't even know each other's salaries
THEIR MONEY SYSTEM: With a "what's mine is mine" mind-set, the couple maintains completely separate checking and savings accounts and splits household expenses between them. "I have no idea exactly how much Kris makes and spends, and she doesn't know my numbers either," says J.D., who earns most of his income from his website, getrichslowly.org. "I had $35,000 in credit card debt when we got married, and Kris didn't want my foolish expenses draining the money that she worked hard to save, so we kept it separate," J.D. says. He tracks their expenditures for shared things like groceries and movie tickets with financial software. If the totals are lopsided at the end of the year, one of them writes the other a check to even things out. Also, as "payment" for Kris's doing his laundry, J.D. takes Kris's car to the pump for her and pays to fill it up.
WHY IT WORKS: "Some people, particularly some of J.D.'s blog commenters, think that separate finances mean we aren't fully invested in our marriage," says Kris, a scientist for the Oregon State Police. "But that simply isn't the case. We don't have to overlap financially to love each other deeply. Even if we had kids, I'd still want to keep a little money separate." As for the clever gas/laundry arrangement? "I'm so happy I don't have to gas up the car — a chore I hate," Kris says. "We choose to make the most of our individual strengths, and life runs smoother because of it."