Money, romance don't always mix


Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 10:30 a.m.
In Act II 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 wealthy father, who disapproved of her because she was not of the same social status as his son.
While I certainly 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 during an online chat recently 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, birthday present without the other being tipped off by the online statement? We just wanted to know what you thought.''
I get this question quite a bit.
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 birthday, Christmas, anniversary or whatever occasion comes around, you won't peek at the credit card statement online or when the bill comes in the mail?
I've been married almost 15 years and we've always managed to surprise each other with gifts even though we have joint accounts.
But let me ask a question: 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 the frugal spouse and your gift account keeps growing because you don't buy as expensive of gifts as your better half does? 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 of money he or she can spend, no questions asked. No judgment.
For example, let's say your husband or wife 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.
However, let's say your passion is reading and for the most part you don't have to spend much because you borrow your books from the library. 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 each person's income.
Here's a typical question I often get either from a husband or wife - although the details are different, the basic complaint is the same: ''I have always prided myself on my monetary independence,'' the reader begins. ''I make a good living and only have small monthly (paid off each month) credit debt and a mortgage. However, I recently got married. When we got married, we moved to a new city. My condo is on the market, but not sold yet. We are renting an apartment in the new city. My husband is insisting that I pay 100 percent of my mortgage, and 50 percent of the rent and utilities. He makes only slightly less than what I do. Why am I shouldering 80 percent of the living costs? He is putting his money aside into savings, stocks and money market accounts. Am I wrong to be bothered?''
I would be more than bothered. This is more like a roommate situation than one in which two people agree to be lifetime mates.
When you get married, it is not about you anymore. Mine becomes ours. Thus, the wife's mortgage becomes their family obligation.
It doesn't matter that the husband isn't contractually obligated to help pay for the mortgage on the condo. He's not. But he's failing to realize something my husband says to me all the time: ''One of the beautiful things about being in a marriage is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One plus one can equal more than two.''
Think about how much more this couple could achieve if they looked at their debts, savings and income as one.
You want financial peace in your house?
Accept that the day you get married is the day you stop being financially independent.
Write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or singletarym@washpost.com.

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