Don’t Use Gifts to Avoid Joint Finances

red presentI’m always surprised when married couples use gift-giving secrecy as a reason for having partially or completely separate finances.  My opinion is that married couples should have joint finances (perhaps with “allowances”), although if a couple agrees to practice partial pooling or have separate finances I recognize it’s none of my business.


I really think it’s silly when couples say that gifts are the reason that they don’t have completely joint finances.  To be fair, I’ve never heard someone say this was the sole reason, but I don’t think it should even be a minor contributor.  There are so many benefits for doing money together in marriage that gifts seem like a relatively inconsequential obstacle.


Please keep in mind that this is all coming from someone who pretty much hates presents and whose top love languages are quality time and physical touch (and gifts scored a 0)!


When you’re considering making such a huge decision as to how combined your finances should be with your spouse, you shouldn’t change from what you really want unless the obstacle(s) would be frequent, weighty, and not able to be worked around.


Frequent: How often do you really expect to be giving surprise gifts to your spouse?  If it’s just major holidays and his birthday, I really don’t think that is going to cause a problem.  Maybe when you get into the multiple-times-per-month range you could make an argument for having some separate money or a credit card or something.  I know Kyle and I have virtually ceased giving surprise presents to one another since we married, choosing instead to save money for fun joint experiences like travel.


Weighty: I can understand having separate finances because of deeply disparate views in how to handle money, like spender vs. saver or differences in risk tolerance.  (Well, really, I think that’s reason not to get married, but that’s another discussion.)  Choosing to keep separate money from your spouse is a really serious decision, and using something as trivial as surprise gifts as a reason seems out of line.


Work Arounds:  It would be super easy to still surprise your spouse with gifts even while you have totally joint money – or you can let your spouse know that you are buying a gift but keep what it is exactly to yourself.  Here are some ways you can keep her in the dark as to what your gift is, where it’s from, or how much it was:

  • pay with cash
  • mix the gift in with normal purchases
  • buy from a large retailer like Amazon or Target
  • ask a friend or family member to buy it for you (and pay them back later)
  • ask your spouse to turn a blind eye


I think that people who use gift-giving as a reason to keep separate finances – unless their behavior is truly off the scale – are simply trying to list another justification for their choice.  They want freedom and a lack of accountability and are dressing it up as something nice for their spouses.  The real reasons for keeping separate money should come up much more frequently and be very serious in nature.  For those of you who are deciding whether or not to keep joint finances, please don’t let gift-giving be an obstacle to that wonderful objective!


Do you think gift-giving should be used as a reason to keep (partially) separate finances?  How often do you give surprise presents to your spouse?  If you have joint finances, how do you surprise your spouse with gifts?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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45 Responses to "Don’t Use Gifts to Avoid Joint Finances"

  1. I could not agree more! Not sharing finances usually indicates some kind of deeper intimacy problem to me. You hit the nail on the head by saying it’s about accountability and common goals. If you don’t have those, is it really going to be a successful relationship? Of course, there are always exceptions!

    1. Emily says:

      I agree that the most integrated lives include joint finances. Maybe some people don’t want that in their marriages, but I don’t know why!

  2. The closest that I would say that I come to using gifts as an excuse for separate finances is when I read her to a meal out. Most of the money in the joint account is from her pay and we have absolutely depended on that for most of our marriage. So it is a nice gesture to pay for something and not have it look like she is paying for it herself.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Utility Price Hacking

    1. Emily says:

      Hm, Kyle and I each pay when we eat out sometimes, but since we use the same base credit account the charges hit the same way no matter who signs! Maybe you could try that? I thought your separate money was for debt repayment?

      1. That is exactly why I do use the separate money to treat. Because when we use the joint account, it doesn’t matter who pays, more than 2/3 of the money came from the sweat of her brow, so the only “treating” I’m doing is saving her the labor of opening her purse.
        It is for debt repayment, but sometimes I cheat a little. Around once every couple months.
        Edward Antrobus recently posted..Utility Price Hacking

  3. Mrs PoP says:

    We aren’t big on gifts either, especially not ones that are surprises. But on the rare instances when we do want to surprise the other we can take it cash, have another family member spot us until after the gift is given, or just ask the other to “not look” at the transaction register on mint. =). It works.
    Mrs PoP recently posted..Pimp the PoP’s Garage – Part 2 – Picking A Pretty Water Heater

    1. Emily says:

      All of those tactics are simple and easy for smaller gifts. I wouldn’t want to be surprised with a big gift, anyway!

  4. Matt Becker says:

    While I don’t think there’s a right answer to the joint vs. separate debate (though we’re joint and I love it), I completely agree that something as small as gift-giving shouldn’t really factor into the decision. I do like the idea of having allowances, and one option would be for each spouse to have an individual checking account where that allowance goes. Gifts could come from there without the other spouse knowing anything about it. But no matter how you handle it, the joint vs. separate decision is bigger than this one issue for sure.
    Matt Becker recently posted..Taking the Scenic Route

    1. Emily says:

      I actually don’t like the idea of using allowances for gifts if the allowance is also for personal spending. What if one person consistently spends more than the other on gifts? I’m very concerned with fairness, which is why being completely joint is better for us. 🙂

    2. E 2 says:

      That’s how we do it – allowances into personal checking, gifts from that. Our gifts are usually around the $30-$50 range, and just come up for birthdays and Christmas, so not too crazy, though. Even for a special occasion, we’d use joint money and plan ahead for something bigger, like a fancy dinner or night at a B&B. It works pretty well.

      1. Emily says:

        Glad you found a system that works for you! And that you have established a reasonable range for the twice per year gifts. Very orderly. 🙂

  5. LOL, I heard this before too. You can always save a couple of bucks each week from your cash allowance and then buy it that way! Still totally a surprise on what was purchased!

    I’m all on the joint finances train… I know everyone is different but if you’re marrying someone with similar views on money, it should be joint in my opinion. Now if you’re not married… I wouldn’t venture in that territory.
    Tara @ Streets Ahead Living recently posted..Working Vacations: Wanderlusting on the Cheap

    1. Emily says:

      I agree – we were completely separate before we got married and completely joint after. I’m very glad Kyle and I are so similar in how we view money, but we really were able to engineer that by influencing one another when we were transitioning to adulthood.

  6. No Waste says:

    We think alike, joint finances all the way.

    If you can share a bed, you can share your accounts.

    Around gift-giving time? We just tell each other to steer clear of Mint for a few weeks, or get other people to buy the gift and we pay them back later.
    No Waste recently posted..I Don’t Trust You, Mega Corp

    1. Emily says:

      Haha I agree that both physical and financial intimacy are important and special and should be reserved for marriage. And actually if you don’t share beds in marriage it’s probably even more important to share accounts!

  7. My husband and I usually purchase gifts for each other using our respective credit cards. We pay them off each month and it’s not a secret how much we pay for them. The gift can be a surprise but the cost shouldn’t be! My dad has me purchase gifts for my mom using my credit card and then he just writes me a check after she receives it.
    Kendal @HassleFreeSaver recently posted..Frugal Fail: Beer Shirt Edition

    1. Emily says:

      Is your money pooled except for these individual credit cards? That would be a good way to keep the gift a secret for a few weeks while keeping your money joined. What else do you use the individual credit cards for? I have one card that’s in my name only but it actually lives in Kyle’s wallet. 🙂

  8. SarahN says:

    I agree wholeheartedly! The BF and I are getting a shared account on Friday – for the rent and groceries and bills. It’s the first step.

    My parents have all joint (well I think recently mum got her own, so she can shop without interrogation on her extra income sources). But they’ve bought each other diamond rings and international holiday ‘gift’ surprises without the other finding out!! You’re right – other people help, cash and some planning makes it happen!

    But I can totally see a gift lover hating your advice! Or thinking that joint accounts might lessen the gifts.
    SarahN recently posted..Way under on my zero waste weigh in!

    1. Emily says:

      Glad to know your parents have pulled off a lifetime of surprise gift-giving with joint accounts! But sorry to hear their communication became interrogation.

      Yeah, a gift lover, or at least a frequent giver/receiver might really object to this position!

  9. We’ve had joint finances since about 6 months into our dating relationship, but it’s funny because we say the one thing we really don’t like about it is the gift aspect. I watch our accounts like a hawk so my wife has to jump through some hoops to keep things a secret.

    Still, like you said, it’s nowhere near important enough a reason to decide what kind of accounts we should have. Gifts are way down the list.
    Done by Forty recently posted..Football, Persistence, and Television Failure

    1. Emily says:

      That’s interesting that you don’t like how joint finances make gift-giving difficult (I really don’t care!), but I’m glad you agree that it’s not a big enough reason to forgo them!

  10. Gifts are a good reason to have allowances. 🙂

    For me the irritation with gifts and joint finances doesn’t have anything to do with surprise– it’s someone spending my joint money on something for me without my permission. Sometimes you’ll see a car commercial in which the husband gives the wife a fancy new car for Christmas… with joint finances, that would be horrific. Something like a car should be discussed. I also don’t want to waste my money on flowers etc.

    Allowances take away that aspect of gift giving, since it’s actually his money so I don’t think, “is there something I’d rather have used that money for”. With an allowance he’s denying himself to give something to me, not messing with our joint finances. It’s more romantic that way.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..What do you call your pets (or children)?

    1. Emily says:

      I agree about not liking the idea of unilateral decisions being made with joint money! I like your reframing of using allowances for gifts as romantic. I hardly ever associate gifts with romance unless they’re right in front of me.

  11. Hey Emily, great post. My fiance and I aren’t yet married of course but, we don’t separate our money either. We did of course in the beginning but, about 2 years ago, we moved to Oregon. At that point, we consolidated our finances and work from one checking account. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to separate the money. I’d imagine that in serious relationships, that practice could cause some really serious problems. Anyway, thanks for the great read! I’d love to see you in conversation over at my blog!
    Joshua Rodriguez recently posted..Welcome To The NEW CNA Finance!

    1. Emily says:

      I think people use separate finances to avoid problems but they just perpetuate having separate lives. That’s not for us, after we were married!

  12. Yeah using gifts is one of the many excuses spouses have for financial infidelity. Some people just do not want to let go of the money and their freedom to decide how to spend it. But I agree that if you are married you should have joint finances.
    EL @ recently posted..Real Estate can be compared to Dividends

    1. Emily says:

      That would be awful to use gifts to cover up financial infidelity! I hope that’s a rarity.

  13. Rita P says:

    We have our joint account and still I surprise him with gifts once in a while. I sometimes buy it with cash or just include it in my regular shopping. I totally agree with you to have joint account after marriage.
    Rita P recently posted..Payday loans and how to get rid of it

    1. Emily says:

      It sounds like you have your system worked out well!

  14. […] LOL’ed at Evolving Personal Finance’s post on using the excuse of giving your spouse gifts as a reason NOT to get joint accounts only because I’ve heard people say this!!!  You have to […]

  15. SP says:

    We have mostly joint finances, but we do each have a “personal” credit card that we pay out of joint funds. I actually could log into his (I am not sure if he has the PW for mine, but I’d share it) and check his statements if I wanted. But he probably could get away with buying me a gift and I’d not notice until later (if ever).

    We also currently have separate checking. We both just use our checking for cashflow. I guess if he wanted to do something sneaky, he could. We keep savings in joint accounts. Eventually (maybe when we “settle” in our final destination), we might combine to a single checking cashflow account. So far we just haven’t, for no good reason.

    Anyway, I agree there are other ways to work around the gift issue. But I disagree that separate finances = less intimacy.

    1. Emily says:

      It doesn’t sound like gift-giving is something you do often or in a big way, like us – is that correct? I would imagine that your money is best put toward paying to travel to one another right now!

      1. SP says:

        True, big gifts aren’t a big thing for us, same as you guys. He never wants much, and I usually know exactly what i want and buy it. 🙂 We did do anniversary gifts this year, about $70 each, and it fit into our system of just using our “personal” cards. We are much more likely to choose to buy a gift for “us” that we use together (e.g. travel, nice wine, a tv series, whatever).

        So far, we are still amazingly surviving on miles via CCs. The NorCal – SoCal flights are really cheap (and take few SW points). He spent the vast majority of the summer here as his advisor was abroad for much of the summer. Fall has been a rude awakening!

        1. Emily says:

          That does sound idyllic! How much longer does he think the postdoc will be?

  16. […] @ Evolving Personal Finance writes Don’t Use Gifts to Avoid Joint Finances – Wanting to surprise your spouse with gifts is not a good reason to separate your […]

  17. My wife and I have everything in joint accounts except retirement accounts, and a personal Discover card that my wife says she uses to hide gift purchases from me. It fits right in with your post. I don’t really care, though, if she wants to keeps some of her spending autonomous. She never carries a balance, and the monthly charges are pretty small. I’ve never questioned her desire to have this card. As long as she uses it responsibly, who am I to say what she can and cannot do?
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    1. Emily says:

      Hmmm, I would totally question it. Does she buy you gifts every month? Why don’t you have your own credit card?

      In my marriage, there is no subject that I or my husband would say “MYOB” to the other.

      1. She doesn’t ever say MYOB about it. I just never ask. She might say MYOB if I do ask, but I never have. The premise for getting the card WAS to hide gift purchases, though, which I find rather humorous in light of your post.

        She earns as much money as I do every month. I don’t really care if she charges 30-40 dollars on “her” card. I don’t have a separate credit card because I don’t want to bother with it, and any gift that I buy typically shows up on our joint credit card as AMZN, but you can’t tell from that what it is.

        We do talk to each other if we want to make a purchase that’s more than $100 that’s not related to groceries, utilities, home maintenance, etc.

        1. Emily says:

          It sounds like you’ve effectively set up an allowance system since the purchases are always in the same range. I dunno, I don’t mind not knowing everything that’s going on with my husband, but it would bother me if there was something in particular I couldn’t know about. I appreciated being surprised by his marriage proposal, for instance, but I was also a bit disturbed by how much lying he did leading up to it! It’s good you have an agreed-upon purchase amount to check with one another about. For us, it’s $0, which is functionally pretty easy because we share a car but I’m sure it will change in the future.

  18. jim says:

    This is a very interesting article – not one that I totally agree with, but I am enjoying the comments. I have been married to my high school sweetheart for 33 years and we dated for 5 years before we got married. No chance of any financial (or other) infidelity here. That said, we don’t keep all our $ in joint accounts and never have. We both enjoy an element of “freedom/myob/lack of accountability” – whatever you want to call it. It works for us and it’s worked for our kids who have been raised well and educated debt-free.

    1. Emily says:

      I’m glad you have a system that works for you! I hope the separate finances are not completely because of gift-giving, though. 🙂

  19. […] doesn’t look at our Mint account closely enough to question a $20 purchase, so it was a surprise.  🙂  With joint finances and […]

  20. […] ceremony next May.)  I even bought Dr. Kyle a card and small gift to mark the occasion – I didn’t let our joint finances spoil the secret, […]

  21. […] Don’t Use Gifts to Avoid Joint Finances talks about married people who say they want to have separate accounts because they don’t want their significant other to know about their gift purchases. My wife and I have had a single joint checking account since we were married 14 years ago. She does have her own Discover card which she says she uses to hide gifts from me. I think she also wants to have some small amount of autonomy for some of her spending. It doesn’t really matter to me, since she never keeps a balance in it, and the monthly charges are pretty small. Besides, who am I to say what she can or cannot do with her own money? […]

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