Keeping it separate
Vibha Tiwari, a 36-year-old Chennai-based doctor, started working before she got married, so she had her own ideas about saving and investing. Her husband, Shashvat Mishra, a 37-year old software engineer, too had been working for nearly a decade before they tied the knot. So when it came to talking about their finances, the couple decided to keep money matters separate.
Does this mean they don’t let each other in on their finances? Or do they have separate financial goals and don’t talk about money at all? No. For the couple, who have a three-year-old son, Vrishank, this means chalking out common financial goals, but retaining their independence to work towards these goals individually. “We figured out our basic expenditures and worked backwards from there. We decided that I would take care of the rent, and my husband would pay for all other household expenses like groceries and utility bills, which worked out to be an equivalent amount," Tiwari said.
Keeping her personal finances separate has helped Tiwari assert her independence. “We discuss our finances, but we make the final decisions on our own. This way, I have retained my financial freedom. I don’t have to depend on him or take his decision as final. I know women who earn, but have no say in how their finances are handled. I’m capable of taking charge of finances, and have retained my independence and my husband has empowered and encouraged me to do so," she said.
For Siddhartha Roy, a 38-year-old investment consultant based in Kolkata, and his wife Sanchita, a 35-year-old finance and accounting professional, the approach towards managing money is diametrically opposite to how Tiwari and Mishra go about it. For the Roys, it is about pooling of resources by maintaining joint accounts and making all investment and spending decisions together.
The couple, who got married in 2012, came to an understanding over a period of time. “Because I had a knack for handling money, my wife let me make all the major decisions. We have two joint accounts. The salaries are deposited in one, all the expenses are managed through it, while the other account is used exclusively for investing," said Roy.
Roy manages both accounts while keeping his wife in the loop and invests for long-term goals like his two-year-old daughter Aratrika’s education. They invest in mutual funds and gold for this goal. “If a couple share a good rapport and trust each other, a joint account makes sense. It’s easier to set financial goals for the family and work towards them, rather than having individual goals and savings," he said.
What works for you
Both couples we spoke to are completely at ease with their financial lives and one of the main reasons for that is that they keep no money secrets from each other.
“Financial secrecy leads to distrust among partners which may result in disturbance in married life. Particularly when both the partners are earning, financial behaviour of one partner influences the other and hence both may start keeping their finances secret starting from their in-hand salaries to their credit card bills. It may gradually fracture the whole essence of ‘sharing’ in a marriage," said Shilpi Johri, founder of Arthashastra Consulting.
Being transparent about your money matters is essential, and this includes quantifiable metrics like how much you earn, where you invest and how much, and unquantifiable metrics like your approach towards money matters.
The next step is to view money as a couple. “Marriage is a union where two people decide to share their lives. When they are ready to share their personal and emotional space with each other, sharing finances offers another way to bond," said Johri.
Sharing and discussing money goals can reduce disagreements between spouses. According to Rekha Mehta, a Delhi-based marriage counsellor, money is often a point of contention between married couples as a result of differences in expectations and people trying to prioritize self-interest. “Couples should be willing to combine their finances. One cannot afford to think about only their own financial security when they enter a marriage because they are becoming a unit," she said.
But merging finances may not always be the answer, because a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always work. “There is no ideal way of doing this, because it all depends on how equations work and the couple’s money dynamics. A couple might have excellent understanding and trust between them, but one spouse might not have any understanding of finances and blow their savings while the other tries to save and invest. Both individuals will be negatively impacted in that case," said Deepali Sen, founder partner of Srujan Financial Advisers LLP.
Even if you decide to manage money separately, having a joint account can help, said Johri. “Couples should maintain separate bank accounts, along with one joint account, which can be used for common expenditures, saving and investments. Individual accounts can be maintained to keep account of individual earnings and expenditure," she said.
A joint account allows both spouses to access pooled funds for household expenses or in case of an emergency. It brings in a degree of transparency, while allowing each person to retain their financial agency and decide how they want to save and invest. It’s best to sit down and work out what works for you as a couple.