Financially Independent -- and Married

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Independence can take many forms. Perhaps it's most simply defined by its opposite: the George and Judy Jetson model, where -- if you recall -- she has to ask for whatever she wants to spend (and then, coyly, takes more). Married women on earth find that independence can mean either splitting everything, sharing everything -- or a little of both. What matters more than actual financial arrangements, say experts, is the feeling of independence. "There are a lot of mechanisms for doing it, but it's important for women to feel, financially and emotionally, as if they have options in their lives," says Halcyone Bohen, a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C.

That feeling is important for the relationship, too. "The healthiest relationships are the ones where you share the control and have an equal say in your future and how things run day to day," says Jonathan Rich, PhD, a psychologist in Irvine, California, and author of The Couple's Guide to Love and Money (New Harbinger, 2003).

Some women get that sense of being equal copilots from keeping their money totally separate and splitting costs right down the middle. "The only joint expenses we have are rent and bills. He writes the checks and I write him a check for half," says Jennifer, 32, of New York City. "I'm a pretty independent person and I want to maintain that. Even if I have to cut back on my hours [when we start a family] I want to feel that I can cover my own expenses. I don't want to have to depend on him for that." Independence is an essential dynamic of the relationship she loves, Jennifer says. "[My then-fiance] was unemployed for a few months, and it was a point of pride for him not to borrow money from me. I'm proud to be able to pull my own weight, too."

Kate, 31, of North Reading, Massachusetts and her husband are discussing merging their finances more as she, cutting back on her hours, stands to make less. It's not easy for her. "It's been a hard discussion for me because I feel I'm giving up some independence as I'm having to rely on 'his' money in conjunction with mine," she says.

Others share everything, but with a "...but who's counting?" attitude that preserves a sense of freedom. "We don't earmark what's each of ours at all," says Laurie, 38, of Larchmont, New York. "As long as one of us has a wallet when we go out, it's all good. If he runs out of cash I'll hand him whatever I've got, and he'll slap a credit card on something I want if it's handy."

Some couples simply pool everything -- and bank on trust. "You can create all the independence you want with a joint account," says Jeff Opdyke, author of Love and Money (John Wiley & Sons, 2003) and "Love and Money" columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Cindy 36, of Bedford, Massachusetts, though initially hesitant, agrees. "I always thought that I'd keep a private nest egg as a safety net," she says. "But after a year of separate accounts, it was proving to be a big pain and I felt comfortable about the big change. It all relates to trust and confidence in the marriage."

And then there are the couples who have both personal and joint assets -- what many experts recommend. Says Darcy, 38, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, "Being financially confident and independent is important to me. We have a joint checking account, but both keep separate accounts too, and also separate investments. I like to know that I can cope in any emergency" -- including winding up on her own.

Same goes for Judy, 40, of California's Bay Area, who -- like 1 in 3 women today -- outearns her husband. Like Darcy, she has both shared and separate assets, plus a prenuptial agreement. "I don't want us to be independent of each other in our daily lives," she says. "But if the worst happened, if he left, it would be so awful to begin with, I also don't want to have to literally write him a check for the pain."

Continued on page 3:  Difficult Discussions


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