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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?

Lynn Schell, 32, and Justin Wilbers, 30, Eugene, OR

He gives her an allowance 

THEIR MONEY SYSTEM: Justin controls it all. Lynn, a human resources recruiter, confesses that she's simply awful with money: "For the first four years of our relationship, I lived paycheck to paycheck, and every six months I'd overdraw my account — to the tune of $300 or $500 in overdraft fees! Justin would have to bail me out." Meanwhile, she struggled to make a dent in her $50,000 of student loans and racked up $7,000 in credit card debt. The couple has separate checking and savings accounts, but Justin manages Lynn's spending and holds on to her debit cards. He pays all of the bills and uses Lynn's money to make payments on her car, student loans, and credit cards. He hands her $20 in "fun money" every Sunday.

WHY IT WORKS: "I know it sounds patriarchal, but putting Justin in charge of the money has been the best thing for me," Lynn says. At first, Justin balked at the plan: "I was afraid that being in control of Lynn's spending would make her upset with me all the time," he says. While it was tough for them to get used to the system, it has paid off. "For the first time, I'm actually contributing to our savings!" she says. "I never wanted Justin to be legally responsible for my debt, which is part of the reason why we held a wedding ceremony but are not legally hitched. Keeping my debt separate protects Justin's credit score, which will be important when we're ready to buy a house. And when kids enter the picture, I don't see our plan changing. At most, he'll increase my allowance so I have more money on hand for child-related emergencies."

Liz, 30, and Donald Thurston, 34, Centreville, VA

They've come up with their own equation

THEIR MONEY SYSTEM: Because Donald, a manager for a rental-car chain, earns roughly 40 percent more than his wife, Liz, a nonprofit director, he pays 40 percent more of their shared expenses. "When we first got married, we split all the bills evenly, but I could barely come up with my half every month," says Liz. Now, Donald covers the mortgage, the phone bill, and the couple's gym memberships, while Liz handles the utilities, garbage collection, and groceries. "It adds up when you're feeding a 6-foot-3-inch, 225-pound man!" says Liz. They pay for everything out of their individual checking accounts, but they keep one shared savings account for tax refunds and any bonus income they bring in throughout the year. "That's our nest egg, and we try to put some cash in that account regularly," she says. "When we have kids, I think we'll simply shift the balance. More of each of our earnings will go into our shared 'family' savings, but we'll always keep our own personal accounts too."

WHY IT WORKS: "Having separate accounts makes us communicate even more about money, because we're always keeping each other in the loop about things," says Donald. And they both appreciate the financial freedom afforded by the two-pot plan: "I like that I can go shopping at the mall and I don't have to worry that he's going to analyze my every purchase," Liz adds. "It feels very fair to us because we both spend pretty reasonably. So there's no worry that one of us is going to take advantage of the system."

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