When Bob and I got married we combined his two girls and five more children we had in the first seven years of marriage. We also combined two complete households of stuff as well as all our liabilities and assets. And yet, we still had a major question that needed to be resolved—should we have one checkbook or two?
My One and Only
Let’s take a look at the one checkbook couple.
Pros: In many cases a single account works best for several reasons. Depending on your bank, there may be a service fee for many checking accounts. (USAA offers free online banking and ATM fees with no minimum balance). Another advantage is that there is less bookkeeping—one monthly reconciliation and one set of books. In most marriages, one person is more adept at keeping records than the other which becomes easier with only one account.
Lenn Furrow, who directs an A&FRC center and has counseled couples for fifteen years. She says: “Money is such an intimate issue in marriage. I have found that most couples would rather talk about their sex life than money.” Thus, some couples believe that sharing one checkbook is an extension of the intimate nature of their relationship.
Cons: With only one checkbook, there can be a blurry line of responsibility as to who is responsible for the various aspects of paying bills, entering checks, reconciling the account and managing the budget as related to spending. While there is greater accountability for spending in this system, it is also harder to surprise a spouse with a holiday or birthday present, without revealing how much was spent.
Tips: If the responsibilities for checkbook management are clearly defined, a one-checkbook approach can be the least complicated option. If you do not have any existing conditions to justify two checkbooks, then this is probably your best option.
Two will Do
Pros: A two-income couple must decide if they’re going to deposit both paychecks into one account, or maintain separate accounts. One option is to create a “household account” for contributions. In this way, each spouse has the sense of sharing some part of the household finances.
This is also an approach used by some military couples who marry later in life with already established careers and a large disparity in financial assets. Finally, if there is an at-home business, then a separate account is necessary for tax purposes.
Cons: In most cases, one spouse will make more money than the other spouse, so they must work through the maze of who will contribute how much to the household account. Or, they will have to divide the bills proportionally according to income. There are more books to keep and a greater margin for error.
Without thoughtful communication and accountability, two checkbooks can create the feeling of “yours” and “mine” rather than “ours.” A separate account is not a good idea for a spouse who doesn’t manage money well or tends to overspend.
Tips: This approach works best for those who decide upon this system for the right reasons—ease and efficiency in tracking and managing household finances. It is never advisable to maintain two checkbooks because of a lack of trust.
It may never seem like the perfect time to sit down and discuss your finances as a couple—but then is there ever a “perfect” time to go for an annual health physical? And yet, it is critical to marital health to review money matters on a regular basis. It is important to discuss finances at least on a monthly basis. Make these discussions fun and laid back by having a cup of coffee and dessert or going out to dinner. The important thing is that you are discussing the topic and making progress.
If your marriage is struggling under the load of this decision or if there is an out of control spender in your household, then it would be wise to consider talking through these issues with a professional at your base’s Family and Fleet Support Center or the equivalent. With a good, strategic plan, and mutual accountability —you can decide whether one checkbook or two will do in your family!