When you're divvying up financial responsibilities, there's no good across-the-board formula, says Adriane G. Berg, author of How to Stop Fighting About Money and Make Some: A Couple's Guide to Personal Harmony & Financial Success. "You have to know what feels fair. If it feels fair, it's right," Berg points out.
That advice holds true when tackling the issue of how to organize checking accounts. On the one hand, keeping everything separate, an approach more common among newlyweds with established careers, allows each partner to maintain financial independence, a need that espeically resonates with women, but it can create bookeeping and bill-paying headaches. It probably won't work if one partner is laid off or quits to raise the children. And it may even lead to tension if the spouses keep investments that grow at very different rates.
On the other hand, pooling every penny, as younger couples are more apt to do, streamlines the bills-paying process, but it also can be awkward, leaving partners without enough autonomy. "It's pretty clear that everybody needs some money they can call their own, even if it's just to surprise their partner with a gift," Berg says.
More and more couples favor some combination of the two systems: Create a joint account for groceries, rent and so on, and give each partner some individual spending money. This could be in the form of an allowance, credit card or separate checking account.
Choosing this option requires open communication between partners. For instance, should you and your spouse have paychecks deposited directly into your joint account, and withdraw your personal funds once a month or so, or should you maintain your individual accounts and pay into the joint account?
If one of you makes twice as much as the other, you may decide that person should pay twice as much into the joint account to cover household expenses. But maybe you'll balance things out some other way, in how you share the household chores, for instance. Just keep in mind that negotiating your income and payments can emotionally impact the balance of power in your relationship. So listen to each other, and don't try to come up with quick solutions. Making sure that both of you feel your system is right will go a long way in your marriage.