Q&A: Handling money after marriage can be complicated. Mom and Dad should butt out

Dear Liz: My son just married. He and his wife are keeping totally separate finances, though he makes much more than she does. She is spending way more than she should on household items and services. Is this the new norm for relationships? What kind of professional do we contact that could help them with merging their finances?

Answer: You don’t contact any kind of professional. Your son and his wife can find help on their own. If your son starts complaining about his wife’s spending again, you might gently suggest that before changing the subject.

In answer to your first question, though, separate accounts aren’t the norm but they’re quite common. A 2018 Bank of America study found 28% of millennial couples kept their finances separate. Many prefer the sense of control and privacy that separate accounts offer.

But of course it’s still important for couples to work out budgets and joint goals together. That can take time, a lot of discussion and the willingness to compromise. It wouldn’t be fair for your son to dictate what they spend just because he makes more, just as it wouldn’t be fair for your daughter-in-law to purchase whatever she wants and assume he’ll chip in.

Again, however: It’s not your business, it’s theirs, and it will be better for all concerned if you keep out of it.

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  1. Hi Liz,
    The response to the question about butting out of your child’s finances depends on culture. In this country, we are multi-cultural, so a lot of different answers could be relevant.
    Your response of simply butting out and never confronting your child about a financial issue that you’re observing … well, what if it saved your child’s marriage? What if it prevented your child from going into bankruptcy? Would it be worth the uncomfortable conversation? On the other hand, what if it ruined your relationship with your own child and his spouse? What if it ruined your relationship with your grandchild? There is obviously good and bad here.
    From being in a multi-cultural household, I can tell you that I see it both ways. The Asian culture is to butt in and confront the issue, and if it causes problems, well then you deal with that also. But you’re not going to just watch a disaster happen from beginning to end. The American culture is to not butt in because it is not your business. A child should learn from his/her own mistake, even if that mistake can lead to dire circumstances. But at least you are respecting your child and the family’s personal space, which is so important in American culture.
    Obviously, I’m talking about extremes here and more about parenting than finances. I don’t know the right answer here, but I do know I will coach my kids on finances as they grow up, and that coaching will hopefully come into play as my child chooses a spouse in the future.