How much do it’s worthwhile to find out about your spouse's spending? Perhaps lower than you think that

Love is within the air and wedding season is just across the corner.

Like many older millennials, I grew up watching sitcoms within the Nineteen Eighties and Nineties. Whenever these shows needed to spice up rankings, they’d show a marriage. These special episodes showed me that weddings often involve young lovebirds: think Elvin and Sondra from The Cosby Show, Cory and Topanga from Life and Me, or David and Darlene from Roseanne.

But those were different times. People are getting married later today than they used to: In the United States the typical age of the newlyweds has risen to twenty-eight for girls and 30 for men.

This trend signifies that many Americans at the moment are getting married after several years of being self-employed, including managing their very own money. Will they be willing to vary that after they're married? Don't count on it. A 2017 study Bank of America survey suggests that married Generation Y couples are about 15 percentage points more more likely to keep their funds separate than their predecessors.

This just isn’t necessarily a very good development. As a behavioral scientist who studies money and relationshipsI feel that joint accounts can bring partners closer together.

There are some risks, nonetheless. Joint accounts create transparency, and intuitively transparency in relationships appears like a very good thing. But I argue that a certain level of privacy is very important even for very committed couples – and money isn’t any exception.

The game for newlyweds

Behavioral scientist Jenny Olson, Deborah Klein, Eli Finkel and I recently an experiment with engaged and newly married couplesThe couples each had a totally separate account, but were unsure how they wanted to administer their money in the long run.

We randomly divided the 230 couples into three groups. One group kept their money in separate accounts, one other pooled their money in a joint account and stopped using separate accounts, and one other managed their money nonetheless they wanted.

Two women in button-down shirts stand chatting and smiling next to an ATM on an outside wall.
An enormous decision: How much do you have to pool your funds?
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We followed couples for 2 years and periodically asked them to fill out questionnaires assessing their relationship dynamics and satisfaction. Our measure of relationship quality included items akin to “I can't imagine anyone else making me as happy as my partner” and “In the past three months, I have yelled or screamed at my partner.”

Most couples who were in a position to do what they wanted ended up breaking up their relationships. For them and the couples who had to maintain separate accounts, the standard of their relationships steadily declined over time.

This is a reasonably typical pattern. For example, in a big study that tracked the marital happiness of American couples for 17 years, Sociologist Jody Van Laningham and colleagues found that “marital happiness either declines continuously or stagnates after a long period of decline.”

Declines in the primary two years of marriage are particularly essential. Social scientists Ted Huston and colleagues call these first two years the “marital melting pot.” They find that the connection dynamics that develop during this important phase can predict the standard of the connection for a few years to return.

However, among the many couples in our study who were encouraged to open a joint account, initial satisfaction with the connection was maintained over the course of the two-year experiment.

Tit for tat

Our survey results suggest that a joint account might help reduce bill-keeping in a relationship by turning “my money” and “your money” into “our money.” For example, we found that couples with joint accounts usually tend to agree with statements like “If one person does something for the other, the other person shouldn't owe the giver anything.”

A man and a woman in t-shirts smile as they look through papers while sitting at a table in front of an open laptop.
“Your money” and “my money” turn out to be “our money”.
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Relationships don’t often start with a give attention to scoring points. In the Nineteen Eighties and Nineties Margaret Clark and colleagues conducted experiments during which partners had the chance to trace one another's contributions to a shared task. They observed that intimate relationships often begin with a “communal” orientation during which partners help one another without keeping a precise record of who does what.

Over time, nonetheless, they develop more of an “exchange” orientation, where inputs are pursued and timely reciprocation is predicted. Couples who manage to fend off a tit-for-tat mentality are inclined to be happier.


The data from our experiment with young couples clearly suggest that it is healthier to make use of just one joint account than only separate accounts. However, in my recent book I argue: “Misers and spendthrifts“that a mere joint account might be not optimal.

When partners use just one joint account, they get a private insight into one another’s spending. This sort of transparency is normally displayed as a very good thing.

Some commentators argue that a healthy marriage should not have any secrets. For example, Willard Harley Jr., a clinical psychologist who writes primarily for Christian readers, argues that one should “reveal to one’s spouse as much information about yourself as you know: your thoughts, feelings, habits, likes, dislikes, personal history, daily activities and plans for the future.”

If your goal can also be to reduce optional expenses, Search suggestions that the transparency that comes with a joint account will be helpful. We spend less when someone is looking over our shoulders.

Two silhouettes made of dollar bills – one in pants, the other in a dress – stand on either side of a heart made of a dollar bill.
Keeping track of one another's spending can get uncontrolled.
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Nevertheless, there are reasons to imagine that Complete transparency will be harmful for couples.

Many persons are convinced that in the event that they simply stopped buying lattes and avocado toast, they may invest that cash and turn out to be wealthy. Unfortunately, the underlying mathematics is extremely dubious, as journalist Helaine Olen explains in her book “Pound Foolish.” Yet many individuals see small pleasures as their biggest obstacle on the road to prosperity. Complete transparency about these financially insignificant “treats” can result in unnecessary disputes.

Additionally, spouses can have different passions that their partner doesn't fully understand. Expenses that appear perfectly reasonable to a different hobbyist could appear outrageous to someone without the suitable context – one other source of avoidable disagreements.

“Translucent”, not transparent

I imagine many couples may gain advantage from a mix of joint and separate accounts.

A joint account is very important to make sure that each partners have immediate and equal access to “our money”. Ideally, all income is transferred on to the joint account, which might help to scale back the income gap between partners. Noticeable income gaps can endanger the standard of the connection.

Separate accounts linked to the joint account can provide some privacy for individual purchases and help partners maintain a way of autonomy and individuality. Each can spend a few of “our money” without their partner looking over their shoulder. Spouses have a comprehensive view of how much their partner spends per week or monthly, but avoid the sometimes irritating details.

This form of partial financial transparency – what I call “financial transparency”“ – could help couples find the suitable balance between financial and psychological well-being.

Of course, this approach requires a whole lot of trust. If the connection is already on thin ice, full financial transparency could also be mandatory. However, if the connection generally falls into the “good but could be better” category, I’d argue that financial transparency is value considering.

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