Long-Distance Marriage: Money Management

This is the second installment of our series on financially navigating a long-distance marriage.  Check out the first installment and come back on subsequent Wednesdays for the third and fourth!


money puzzle

The questions I asked about money management logistics were the ones that I was most interested in.  My bias here is that Kyle and I keep totally joint money (both in the names on our accounts and how we think of them), but I wondered whether it is possible/easy to keep joint finances when you are essentially running two households.  Just from a practical standpoint, I thought that partial pooling (being paid into individual accounts and contributing to a household account only for shared expenses and savings) would be the system that would best lend itself to a married couple that is temporarily living apart but anticipating a shared future.  However, from a theory-of-marriage standpoint we want to keep our money joint so I was curious if anyone else had pulled it off.


I’ll structure this post in terms of observations of patterns in the responses to my questions and then pieces of advice that I can pull from the experiences of these couples.  I’m sorry that this post is not as quotation-heavy as the others in this series.  I am trying to let the specific responses drive my posts, but for the sake of privacy of the participating couples I chose to summarize and generalize over the responses to these questions since many of them were quite detailed.


1) How would you ideally like to manage your money as a couple – totally joint, joint with ‘allowances, partly joint and partly separate, or totally separate – and were you able to do that while you lived apart?


Four of the eight couples who responded did not manage their money while they were apart in the general the pattern they would have liked to – they all were more toward the “separate money” side of the scale than they identified as ideal.  That point on its own was not too surprising as I can understand how the logistics of living apart would push couples in that direction.


My recommendation in light of these difficulties is for married couples to make the effort to get their money working together to whatever degree they have agreed upon soon after they are married.  The couples didn’t say that it was living apart specifically that kept them from managing their money ideally, and in most cases they had the same type of system while living apart that they did before moving apart.  Particularly for those people facing a long-distance marriage, it seems that it will be quite difficult to consolidate accounts once you are living apart, so get the structure you want in place before moving.  (It took us several months to even agree on a bank to use so I know it can be a challenging process!  But try to get it done.)


2) How did your money management system change as you went from living together to apart and/or apart to together?


The respondents with the simple explanations here were those who kept completely separate accounts (one couple) or completely joint accounts (three couples).  Four of the couples practiced partial pooling (what I called “partly joint and partly separate”), one of which was almost-joint and one of which was almost-separate (these were simpler to explain but difficult for me to categorize!).


The two couples that attempted a more recognizable partial pooling money management system both summed up their struggles explaining their systems:

“This system is a bit of a mess!”

“It’s really chaotic and I wish that it were simpler.”


From reading all the responses, it seems that it is quite difficult to set up or maintain partial pooling management while living apart, which is why most of the responses gravitated toward joint or separate, particularly when there is a large cost of living differential between the two household locations.


The answers here were both encouraging and surprising to me.  I’m encouraged that several couples kept joint finances like Kyle and I want to.  But I am surprised that I wasn’t able to find a couple practicing true partial-pooling in a way that wasn’t confusing or complicated to explain.  I think that, because of the necessity of having multiple accounts, it must be challenging to set up partial pooling when apart, and until apart it’s not clear how many expenses and such will be joint as one-half at least of the budget would be in flux.  I think it would take a lot more hands-on management to practice partial pooling in this kind of situation because of all the uncertainty, whereas sliding into partial pooling while living together is fairly straightforward.


What type of money management system would you expect to be easiest for married couples living apart?  Do you have an example of a straightforward implementation of partial pooling, either when living together or apart? If you currently keep all joint finances with your spouse, is that what you would want to do if you moved apart?  How do you think a cost-of-living differential would throw a wrench into money management?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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24 Responses to "Long-Distance Marriage: Money Management"

  1. I would go with partial pooling, where you combine money to for longer term or joint expenses (eg retirement, emergency fund, trips to see each other).

    You could make full pooling work, but I think that would get annoying when you’re both living very separate lives. On the other hand if you have great financial communication, it would be fine. But if you’re already stuck living apart, I think that you’re better off spending your time talking about things other than itemizing your latte purchases.

    I’m also an obsessive money tracker, so from my point of view I’d want an itemized list of all my spouse’s expenses so that they can be appropriately tracked. I think that would be very annoying to do in a long distance relationship.
    My Financial Independence Journey recently posted..Grow Your Career to Achieve Financial Independence Faster: Part 2

    1. Emily says:

      I had the same thought about probably wanting to prioritize communicating about things other than finances while apart – more on that in the next post! But I think if you have a good system it can eliminate the need for a lot of direct communication. Personally, Kyle and I share a Mint account (as well as access to all our other accounts) so the obsessive tracking happens automatically and I don’t think distance will change that very much. What would change a lot is our easy communication prior to ANY purchases because we share a car – I think we’ll have to change to a “any budgeted purchase/anything below $X is OK without checking” model. I actually am hoping that keeping joint finances will help our lives stay integrated while we’re apart. 🙂

  2. At least on paper, I would see how a joint system would still work easily. Previously non-local banks would be an issue but not in the age of internet banking, direct deposits, remote deposit, and PayPal. The majority of expenses are going to be non-discretionary and well budgeted. Meanwhile, fire a coupe that lives frugally and has a nice cushion, the rest can be dealt with as well.

    If you would like an older couple’s perspective, or just another data point, send me your questions and I can forward them to my mother since my parts have been in a long distance marriage fire roughly 20 years.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..How to Avoid Ancillary Fees from Airlines

    1. Emily says:

      Very true that the majority of expenses will be budgeted – that’s how we roll now and we won’t be making enough money to change that much. Plus, every doller we don’t spend on random stuff is money we can spend seeing one another so we will have big motivation to not waste!

      I’ve already completed the posts for this series but I’m happy to hear more about your parents with the remainder of the posts. I thought you said before that your father traveled for a living though, not that he lived elsewhere – did I get that wrong or is it both?

      1. Both, really. He is an over-the-road truck driver and lives out if his truck for ~28 days potter month.
        Edward Antrobus recently posted..How to Avoid Ancillary Fees from Airlines

  3. I think two separate independent household budgets would be best, but savings and everything else would be nice to have joint. Communication would be key.

    1. Emily says:

      Would you base those separate budgets off the individual incomes or off what is considered needs and reasonable wants for each person?

  4. I haven’t had to experience a long distance marriage. However, if I did, I think we would probably operate how we do now. The money is ours and where it is spent is a joint decision. We would still spend as frugally as we do now and remain completely transparent on our every expense. When your bank accounts are combined, it is OUR money, not mine. Since we would be talking every day, I would imagine we would cover our expenses for the day. As it is now, we talk about our expenses once a week when we write an article about it. This keeps us communicating and focused on limiting our spending as much as possible.
    Vanessa@cashcowcouple.com recently posted..How to Get Ombre Hair for $3

    1. Emily says:

      I think it would be difficult to be as frugal as we are now when we are living apart. Having each other around is good accountability for not wasting money! I wonder if we would be able to replicate that long-distance.

      I think blogging together would definitely help communication over finances!

  5. Suba says:

    We had separate accounts (we still do), but joint finances. We had to have separate accounts because at that time we didn’t have online checking accounts, so we stuck to the big banks. My husband had BoA and I had Wells Fargo because the company I worked for had a branch inside the office campus. It was very convenient. We had common goals and each goal had a dedicated sub-account with Ally. So the left over money (after the living expenses) from both our paychecks went into a common pot and got split based on certain % for each goals. We had an account for travel, which included monthly trips to see each other. Both of us paid for our travel from this same account. I am not sure if I am explaining it clearly.
    Suba recently posted..Your friends are the reason why you are not saving money or losing weight

    1. Emily says:

      That sucks that you were forced to have separate accounts because of banking logistics – I’m so glad that’s no longer a problem! Did you budget together while you lived apart even though your money started out separate? (And by ‘together’ I mean have input on each other’s household budget or keep a single combined budget.)

  6. How would you ideally like to manage your money as a couple? My husband and I decided to have partly joint and partly separate. We have joint account for bills and utilities as well as our emergency savings account. We also have our individual savings account for our personal allowances, retirement, and other intentions.
    Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey recently posted..Five Ways to Deal with Job Burnout

    1. Emily says:

      Why is retirement separate (aside from that you can only have it in 1 person’s name). Are you saving the same amount or… are you going to have different lifestyles in retirement??

  7. I think you could keep the joint accounts if you did have the mindset that $X can be spent without having to talk about it first. I think it would be hard for me if I was in the lower cost of living place and wasn’t familiar with the higher cost of living place. I’d probably assume my husband just wasn’t looking for the best deal, when maybe it’s just more expensive. Good communication would need to be a must.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Your Group Life Insurance Policy Might be Limiting You

    1. Emily says:

      It probably would be difficult in that case and that was cited by some of the couples in this series. I’ll be the one dealing with that since Kyle will almost certainly move to a HCOLA!

  8. SarahN says:

    I think my point of view would be separate finances. but it would depend on if there was a mortgage (shared) in one location, in which case, a joint account might be best there. But this is on the assumption of similar salaries, and similar ability to finance one’s life (which is how I function now). I think it’s important to have some ‘fun’ money, so everything’s not an interrogation when it’s 100% shared.
    SarahN recently posted..Clothing Inventory

    1. Emily says:

      Haha I can see myself getting a bit interrogat-y with Kyle if I didn’t know about purchases in advance! It’s not worth arguing over though if it’s an insignificant amount of money. I don’t think many of these couples had similar COLA-adjusted salaries while apart, which added to the difficulties in managing money.

      1. SarahN says:

        Yeah, I know totally shared would make me ‘interrogate’!
        SarahN recently posted..Clothing Inventory

  9. SarahN says:

    HOw do I follow your blog (rather than this post). Can’t find the place to plug in my email address. Thanks

    1. Emily says:

      We don’t have email subscription but we have RSS, which is in the top right. Or if you follow on FB or Twitter I send out the posts there as well.

  10. […] @ writes Long-Distance Marriage: Money Management – I lay out how the couples in our long-distance marriage study manage their money while they […]

  11. […] series on financially navigating a long-distance marriage.  Please read and comment on the first, second, and third installments as […]

  12. […] series on financially navigating a long-distance marriage.  Please read and comment on the first, second, and fourth installments as […]

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