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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 25, 2006

After you say ‘I do,’ practice ‘we share’

By Michelle Singletary

In Act 2 of George Bernard Shaw's "Man and Superman," the character Violet says: "You can be as romantic as you please about love, Hector; but you mustn't be romantic about money."

Violet was cautioning Hector to keep quiet about their secret marriage lest he be disinherited by his father, who disapproved of her because she was not of the same social station in life.

While I wouldn't condone such subterfuge, Violet's advice was right on the money.

I often find that some couples go to great lengths to complicate their financial lives in the name of romance. For example, here's a question I received from a San Francisco woman:

"My fiance and I will be getting married this August and we plan to each keep one account separate (depositing 10 percent of our individual earnings each month or bimonthly). I know that you advocate the total combining of incomes in a marriage, but how else can we surprise each other with the occasional gift ... without the other being tipped off by the online statement? We just wanted to know what you thought."

There is no need to set up separate accounts for gifts and possibly incur another set of banking fees. Even if the accounts come with no fees, why not just agree that when a special occasion comes around, you won't peek at the bill?

I've been married almost 15 years and we've always managed to surprise each other with gifts even though we have joint accounts.

What if your spouse does find out what you spent on a gift? Does it make the gift any less meaningful? Do you care because you're keeping score?

Sometimes these separate "gift" accounts can cause tension. What if you're frugal and your gift account's balance keeps growing because you don't buy costly presents like the ones you receive? Would you be willing to put the surplus funds in the joint account?

In a marriage, I think each person should have an allocated amount to spend, no questions asked. No judgment.

For example, let's say your spouse is a golfer. That's an expensive sport. As a result, you might agree that his or her monthly allowance might be several hundred dollars a month to cover the cost of playing.

Let's say your passion is reading and, for the most part, you don't have to spend much because you borrow library books. If you don't really need the same amount as your spouse, then it's OK if your allowance is less.

It's not true that a marriage has got to always be a 50/50 partnership. Sometimes it's 80/20 or 10/90 or 0/100. The less money one spouse spends means more money left in the family till — and that benefits everyone.

Unfortunately, in today's marriages there is a tit-for-tat style of coupling. Far too many spouses are obsessed about making sure every expense or debt is split evenly or allocated according to either income.

When you get married, it is not about you anymore. "Mine" becomes "ours.".

You want financial peace in your house?

Accept that the day you get married is the day you stop being financially independent.