09/07/2011 10:05 am ET Updated Nov 07, 2011

Who Controls the Checkbook in Your Marriage?

My grandfather had a saying about money and marriage.

"Whoever controls the checkbook controls the marriage."

That he was the head of the family went without saying. He was a benevolent head to be sure, always looking out for his wife and children but, make no mistake, he was the undisputed patriarch. He made the money and he had the last word on how it was spent.

Times have changed and women, unlike in my grandparents' day, have jobs and money of their own. My grandmother worked only in times of real need. Like most women of her generation, she was a stay-at-home mother, dependent upon her husband for household money. Though many of us still work outside the home to supplement the family income others of us work for a variety of other reasons. Some of us are career driven; some feel more complete as individuals because of our professions. Others work for those "extras" that marriage and family life seem to demand: children's sports, music, and dance lessons, dream vacations, and the newest in items for our homes.

But no matter why we work there is still the subject of who controls the checkbook.
It seems almost unbelievable, but during a question and answer segment at a marriage workshop where I was a speaker, I found that many working women still have their own paychecks deposited into a joint checking account handled mainly by their husbands. Some women ask their husbands for money or must use a credit card to buy something for themselves.

To be fair, there is a problem if the wife handles the checking account also. I have always disliked the statement made by some men that, "my wife gives me an allowance for the week." Both having to ask for money, or being put on an allowance, reduces the "asking" partner to the status of a child, while putting the "giving" partner in the role of a parent. Neither situation is good for a marriage.

It is best if each partner, while contributing to household expenses, has their own money within easy access for themselves. I came by this bit of wisdom through experience. It wasn't always that way in our house.

When I was a stay-at-home mom, my husband was the only one who brought home a paycheck. While we both agreed that my staying home until our twins were in first grade was what was best, financially I felt unequal. Though my husband Alan was more than generous, I didn't like having to ask for money. He paid all the bills and, for a while, I had no concept, or care, about finances.

It had an impact on our marriage, though, because whenever I needed a check or my credit card bill came due it had to go past my husband who sometimes wasn't "thrilled with the bills."

When I went back to work I opened my own checking account and it was the best thing I did for the financial part of our relationship. My credit cards, my car lease, and deposits to savings are all paid through that account. No hassles over writing a check, no fights over spending for something extra. It works well.

If you have a problem over who controls the money in your marriage, here are a few suggestions:


© 2011 Kristen Houghton

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