By Hara Estroff Marano, published on May 1, 2009 - last reviewed on June 19, 2009
When we married, my husband and I decided on a joint bank account. The problem is that we have very different attitudes towards money—I'm careful about spending, while he thinks nothing of blowing hundreds of dollars on a new kite surfing kit. I recently suggested that we deposit money into the joint account and then each have a separate account for personal use. He felt insulted, saying that problems arise because I am tight with money, not because he is irresponsible, and I should treat myself now and then.
Moneywise, your husband has one foot in the marriage and another foot in perpetual childhood. He feels entitled to have what he wants whenever he wants it. It's nice that he can afford things, but such self-indulgence is likely the product of unfinished business from his past. Of course your husband wants you to treat yourself; that would justify his treating himself whenever he feels like it; plus, it proves (to him) that the real problem is not his self-indulgence but your cheapness. Better to blame you for his overspending than own up to the selfishness of his sprees.
Consider your husband's acts financial infidelity. He is not giving all he can to the marriage and is undermining the quality of the relationship according to his whims. Money is just about the most emotionally loaded matter that partners face—except that they rarely face the deep assumptions that money stands for.
There's no right and wrong here.
Money is a matter that has to be negotiated between you two with equal say for each of you. That's what a marriage is—an agreement to figure out how to deal with your money and other differences.
The most sensible way to handle your radically different money attitudes would be, as you suggest, to establish three accounts. Above all, you both have to protect the marriage. Set up a big joint pot for your living essentials—a bank account to which you both contribute most of your income; it must cover all monthly expenses plus some fudge factor, plus money for vacations and savings towards the future. Then fairly allocate remaining income to separate pots for each of you.
The trick is that you must sit down together and agree on how much income goes into each pot—but you only have to do this once (unless your income changes). There's no daily, weekly or monthly hassle over how the household pot is spent. And you each get to decide how to spend your individual pot. As you take the pressure off money as a flashpoint in your marriage, you may each get to see some virtue in your partner's approach, and that may encourage you both to move closer to a middle ground.