scorecardWhen we got married, we decided to keep separate credit cards. It's kept us from fighting about money for over 30 years.
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When we got married, we decided to keep separate credit cards. It's kept us from fighting about money for over 30 years.

Abby Alten Schwartz   

When we got married, we decided to keep separate credit cards. It's kept us from fighting about money for over 30 years.
LifeScience3 min read
  • My husband and I have been married for over three decades.
  • We have argued over many things, but rarely over finances.

In 33 years of marriage, my husband and I have argued over politics, housework, and whose turn it is to let the dog out. But we've rarely fought about money. I attribute this to the unexpected advice my mom gave me when I got married: In addition to any joint accounts, always keep a separate credit card and bank account.

My parents taught me the value of money

I grew up in a middle-class family, the third of four kids. I dressed in hand-me-downs or outfits my mom sewed herself or bought from discount bins. Instead of new Sasson jeans like the popular girls wore, I got my sister's old dungarees. I embroidered the back pockets and made them my own.

My dad worked in advertising and my mom was a homemaker (Gen X for SAHM) and in charge of the household bills. When I was older, my mom got a part-time job and I remember how proud she was to earn her own money. Together, my parents saved enough to put four kids through college. To this day, I'm grateful for being unencumbered by student debt.

My husband and I manage our daily spending individually

My husband and I married in 1990 when I was 23 and he was 26 — young by today's standards, but common back then. We have never combined all our finances — and we have never shared a credit card — which has undoubtedly spared us countless arguments that might have seemed petty on the surface but could have inflicted deeper wounds. I buy what I want, when I want, and I can't imagine ever allowing my spending to be scrutinized — even by the person I trust the most.

My mom encouraged me to have my own "fun money," so I could indulge myself on occasion. Each month, my Visa statement includes small purchases I know my husband would deem unnecessary but that bring me comfort and pleasure. I will fiercely defend my right to impulse buy a pink-champagne cheek-lip-eye makeup stick, another musk-scented candle, or one more book despite my teetering stacks still waiting to be read.

We have separate credit cards, bank accounts, and retirement funds; we share our investment funds and have a joint bank account for moving cash between us. For simplicity, I pay the household bills and he pays the insurance premiums out of our own accounts, and if one of us runs short, the other transfers money to our joint account. We consider our expenses equally shared — no need for bean counting or reimbursing one another.

Having my own accounts gives me freedom

I don't consult my husband on day-to-day purchases, but I don't hide them either. I'm transparent regarding my assets, and my husband is, too. We both enjoy the freedom to spend within reason because our financial strategies are aligned.

Perhaps getting married so young helped. Not only were our views shaped by the same influences, they were also shaped together.

From early on, we took a conservative approach to money, partially by following my parents' example. We charge only what we can pay in full, make all major purchase decisions together, and squirrel away a little each month for our investment funds.

When our daughter was born, my husband and I opened a 529 savings plan for college. Shortly after, each of us became self-employed, which meant it fell on us to contribute to our IRAs and buy health insurance.

The habits we established served us well when our daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening chronic illness. Our financial priorities were clear: Pay for the best health coverage available, and save for the future in case she ever needs help with medical or living expenses.

Each year, we faced the sticker shock of rising health insurance costs, and I made the same comment: "I never want to look back and regret not getting her the treatment she needed." My husband agreed. Of all the things we've accomplished as a couple, putting her first is what I'm most proud of.

When my dad died, my mom knew where their money was and how to manage it, which isn't always the case with women of her generation. While my dad taught me about mutual funds, dollar cost averaging, and how to save thousands by paying down the principal on my mortgage, it was my mom who taught me to maintain some independence and control when it came to my finances. As essential as trust and respect have been to my marital success, so has having agency. It's a lesson I'll proudly pass on to my daughter.