Picture this couple: He spent money on a new jacket, but she wanted to go out to dinner. She splurged on bedroom curtains but he thought it was better to replace the front porch railing. Now their joint bank account is financially drained and they are emotionally drained.
Sharing everything can seem romantic. "What's mine is yours" has a nice ring to it. But when it comes to money, even the closest couple can disagree on financial priorities.
Learn how to avoid conflicts over a joint bank account, so that your idea of togetherness doesn't turn into a battle over how to spend cash.
Designate the joint account for recurring household expenses
A joint account can be a good place to keep money for the rent or mortgage, as well as utility bills, groceries and other regular expenses.
Most arguments arise over discretionary spending. When one person wants new clothes and the other wants a new golf club, there may only be enough cash for one of those purchases. You could end up being embarrassed when your debit card gets rejected at the dress shop because your mate spent all the money at the pro shop.
Some couples keep separate accounts for their "mad" money. They can spend the money from those accounts without having to notify each other. The joint account pays for joint expenses.
Be transparent about any credit problems
If one of you gets into trouble with creditors, they can sue for all the money in the joint account. Each person on the account owns all of the money. You will avoid many arguments if you not only explain any credit problems, but anticipate any legal actions to come after your money.
This kind of honesty can actually be an opportunity to improve the relationship. Conflicts about a joint account tend to arise when one person doesn't know about the other's money problems.
Communicate about expenditures
You can avoid arguments by telling your significant other about any money spent from the joint account. Better yet, tell your mate about an expenditure before you spend the money. Focus on communicating rather than asking for permission, and you will avoid feelings of anger and resentment.
Set spending limits
Many arguments result from one partner breaking a rule he didn't know existed. If you have a spending limit in mind, discuss it as a couple. Set a dollar amount that will require a joint decision. Anything below that amount is acceptable, but you need to sit down and talk if an expenditure is above the spending limit.
Agree on contributions
If one of you feels you are putting the most money into your joint bank account, resentment can build and arguments may follow. You may agree that each of you puts in 50% of your income, or you may choose to contribute a specific dollar amount. If one person's contribution is greater even after agreeing on a percentage or amount, commit to discussing resentment or anger before it explodes into an argument.
A joint account can create an opportunity to improve your relationship. You can build trust, honesty, respect and commitment by managing money together. Licensed clinical social worker Margaret Shapiro even uses money management as a therapy tool for couples at all stages of a relationship. If you understand the potential pitfalls of joint bank accounts and go into the arrangement with clear expectations, you can make a joint account work for you and your significant other. The couple that spends together blends together.
Kevin Johnston is a financial writer who writes about personal finance and investments, as well as financial management and planning. He has written for The New York Daily News, The New York Post, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Houston Chronicle.