Ten months into our relationship, my boyfriend (now husband), Mark, and I had our biggest relationship disagreement to date. We were standing in our tiny studio apartment in Brisbane, Australia — where I had just recently moved to from Boston. I needed a bank account so that my paychecks could be deposited.
“We’ll just go to the bank tomorrow and add you to my accounts,” Mark suggested. He had banking to do anyway, and figured adding me to his already existing accounts would be easier than opening my own as a foreigner.
And while his logic made perfect sense, I balked. My immediate aversion left Mark feeling confused and disappointed, and we went to sleep tense that night: Mark thinking I didn’t trust him, and me wondering why I was so opposed to combining finances with someone I was already combining the rest of my life with. Ultimately, I faced my fear of joint bank accounts and we merged our money. Here’s how.
Getting to the root of the issue
Some people may think 10 months is too soon to get a joint account, but the length of our relationship wasn’t the issue for me. We had met as broke travelers and shared all our expenses from day one. And we were serious about our future (I had just moved to a different country, after all). We’d already talked marriage and knew that having a joint bank account would strengthen our immigration application.
The next day I sat down to evaluate my relationship — with money.
So what about a joint account had me so freaked? The next day I sat down to evaluate my relationship — with money. I had grown up poor and worked hard to make myself as financially stable as possible by 22. I’d started bringing in a paycheck as a teen, determined to support myself and not add to my parents’ financial burden, made worse by my dad’s mental illness. But having my own money also meant my parents would ask to “borrow” money I had saved — money I would never see again.
I was, and am, happy to help my family. Yet, as I sat thinking about these experiences, I realized that my financial life had a pattern: Despite working and saving hard, my progress was often knocked off track by the people I loved. The only way to avoid the pattern was to keep tight (and sole) control over my finances, I reasoned.
Sharing our pasts
I knew that if Mark and I were going to work through this, I needed to give him a more honest and in-depth picture of my financial background.
That night, we talked about our pasts. While Mark knew that my family didn’t have lots of money when I was growing up, he didn’t know exactly what that entailed. So, I shared how I often used babysitting money to buy groceries, or would write a check to the utility company rep standing on our porch, ready to shut off our electricity.
Mark, on the other hand, grew up in an upper-middle-class family, and he shared his family’s worry-free approach to money. When there is always enough, finances don't seem to carry the same emotional burden.
Moving forward as a team
After we opened up about our financial histories, Mark understood why I wanted to maintain separate accounts, but I wanted to overcome my fear and knew that joint accounts made sense for us. The next day, we went to the bank and made things official.
In the 10 years since, we’ve never had an issue with our accounts — in fact, the process just formalized the arrangement we already had. Sharing accounts makes our lives easier and bonds us together in a team-based approach to our family’s finances.
And since we talked about our differing money-management styles, we allow each other to handle our money in our preferred method. Since I’m a micromanager, I check our balances daily and keep a running log of when upcoming payments are due. And Mark is happy to let me stay on top of things, since it means he can continue his laidback approach — it’s a win-win for us.