The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Merging Checking Accounts Edition

So, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, my wife and I finally merged our checking accounts. And, almost immediately, I figured out a big reason why I was uncomfortable with it from the start.

Here’s the scenario: my wife tosses the checkbook in her purse and leaves for the day, as was her normal practice with her own checkbook when we had separate accounts. Meanwhile, I remember that I have to pay a bill. I then proceed to search for an hour for the checkbook – it isn’t in any of the normal places where I might have put it. I eventually wind up getting a money order simply because I can’t find the checkbook and a bill has to be paid.

In other words, never forget that money customs can be important, too. My wife and I had adopted completely contrasting customs for handling our separate checkbooks and never bothered to discuss the new customs we’d have to adopt. It wound up biting us.

We’ve now agreed to leave the checkbook in a particular place in the home, with neither one of us taking it without informing the other. This should alleviate such problems in the future.

Now, for some articles of interest.

Testing Your Home and Granite Countertops for Radon Gas This is something everyone should do, particularly if they have granite countertops or any below-ground quarters where they spend any significant time at all. (@ clever dude)

Grocery Bill Doubled In 9 Months: We Have A Problem Food prices are rising, and it’s painful when they really hit home. (@ girls just wanna have funds)

Why I Don’t Track My Net Worth I only track my net worth because it’s a great thumbnail of my financial progress. I can see real progress and real challenges by tracking that number month to month. (@ get rich slowly)

The Two Personal Finance Lessons We Should Learn from the Demise of U.S. Investment Banks Good insights into the fiascos at Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. (@ tough money love)

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  1. MN Scout says:

    Rip out a check and put it in your wallet for emergencies. Put a couple extra checks in your safe. This way if one of you needs a check and the other has the check book you will still be good to go.

  2. I believe that JD’s problems with the “Value of the net worth calculation” are sound. However, simply noting that one’s net worth is increasing rather than decreasing should still be a large moivator for him. Why?
    He states in his article that he is close to his savings goal of $10,000 and he also states that he is accelerating his mortgage payment.
    Both of these actions will have a compounding affect on his net wrth as the savings will increase assets and the accelerated mortgage payment will decrease his liabilities.
    Therefore, net worth should be something that he is very interested in. Maybe not the exact number, but certainly the direction and speed at which it changes.

  3. K says:

    I agree with keeping a few checks in your wallet for emergencies. But I’m confused at why you waited until the last possible day to pay the bill so you had to get a money order. Paying your bills a week or so in advance (or all at once) will solve that problem.

  4. Ken says:

    Why not just use two checkbooks from the same account?

  5. Tony says:

    Trent,

    As frugal as you are, and you’re still paying bills with checks? Have you not heard of online bill pay? Free with most banks, and no need for stamps OR checks. And it’s extremely easy.

  6. eden says:

    If you have more than one book of checks, you can each carry one – that’s what my husband and I do. You’re checks won’t be in order, but you’ll both always have checks.

  7. I don’t want to re-state the obvious but what is wrong with two checkbooks? That’s what my wife and I use (for the same account). The bank doesn’t care in what numerical order you write the checks. Most check orders arrive in multiple packs of 25 so this is very simple to do. We enter the checks in Quicken as we write them so each of us knows what is happening overall. Believe me, we’ve had merged finances for 31 years and your single physical checkbook method won’t work very well but I applaud your move in that direction.

  8. Colin says:

    I’m with Tony; why are you still using a checkbook?! That is so 1990.
    The only checks my wife and write are to our church (but even they take eChecks).
    Loose the checkbook!

  9. Ryan McLean says:

    Haha dilemas dilemas. I am about to get married and I am seriously considering whether or not to combine all of our accounts together. Especially seeing as I am an online entrepreneur. I want to have the freedom to invest into my business as I see fit.
    I guess time will tell what decision we make. Good luck with your checkbook

  10. Tye says:

    I’m sorry, but I have to interject here, because I think you and your wife left common sense at the door.

    First and foremost, you should never wait to the last minute to pay bills. Always pay them early and you never have to worry about this situation. If you don’t have enough money in your account to cover the bill, then you need to cut spending, save more money, and maintain a larger emergency fund.

    Secondly, If you still live in the check writing world (I haven’t written a check by hand in years – my bank now writes all my checks for me, for free), then a very simple solution is to have two checkbooks. I don’t think this is a groundbreaking thought. One for you and one for your wife.

    Another idea is that you could try paying your bills online. In today’s wired world, there are very few companies that don’t accept online payments. This is my preferred way to pay bills, because I can automate them and never worry about being late or skipping a payment.

    As a newly married man, I have another comment on “combining finances.” I think that combining finances is much more important than combining checking accounts. Checking accounts are merely containers in which your money is stored. It doesn’t matter if you have two different containers as long as you both OWN the containers. It doesn’t matter who’s name is on it either, as long as you own them in the sense that you both take responsibility for them.

    My wife and I have probably 15 or so accounts between us (investment accounts, retirement, savings, checking, credit cards, HSA, etc…), and some are joint, some are not. It’s not a big deal because we both take responsibility for all the accounts.

    Not being able to pay a bill because my wife took the checkbook (she uses checks, I do not) is simply unacceptable to us, and I hope will be unacceptable for you in the future. Don’t blame combining checking accounts for this mistake. You are simply shifting the blame from yourself to this idea of combining finances, which you seem to be against.

    Hope this helps and good luck!

  11. Ryan McLean says:

    Yeh what is up with using checks these days anyway?
    Why don’t you use a credit card or use the internet…I mean you are on the internet blogger everyday anyway

  12. Tyler Corlen says:

    Create an e-checkbook (basically just the registry part). I use google docs that I can access from anywhere. Every so often, I archive to my personal (locally) stored files so that I have a record/history of my transactions. ….works great! I don’t write checks at all.

  13. Nick says:

    To all of you who don’t like using checks…Keep in mind that when you pay bills online, your financial records, debit/credit card info is stored on that companies servers. If you haven’t noticed, these servers aren’t always hacker proof. If a security breach were to happen, your identity and financial well being could be in jeopardy. It is certainly convenient, but not without its pitfalls.

  14. KC says:

    My husband and I don’t carry a check book. It stays at home. We don’t write checks unless something is going in the mail. We use the debit card or credit card to pay for things we don’t have cash for. Of course we don’t have credit issues like overspending so we can do this. If you have credit issues just use cash instead.

    My parents (back in the days when checks were more common) carried separate check books. Same account, they just each took a book of checks from the box. Of course they had to compare “notes” to make sure they kept the account balanced. Another solution is just to take out a couple of checks and put them in your wallet or purse for an emergency.

    BTW, I distinctly remember my dad keeping his checkbook on the passengers side of the car. I don’t recommend that – LOL!. I hope dad doesn’t still do that. Actually dad is pretty smart and progressive – I think he’s ditched the checkbook and goes with plastic or green. Mom, on the other hand, doesn’t know how to use an ATM or a credit card at the gas pump, I’ll bet she still carries her checkbook everywhere – LOL!

  15. KC says:

    Going back through these comments I’m amazed at how many people use online payments. I seem to get a letter every month or two about my security being breeched through a bank, credit agency, medical records, or somewhere financial. I give out as little electronic financial information as possible. I even use my debit card sparingly cause its linked to my checking account. If that information is stolen (like my cc info has been several times) my bank account could be drained. Even if it is covered, it would be a big hassel to get that money back. Checks may be old-fashioned, but they work and are more secure.

  16. Trent Trent says:

    Our daycare only accepts checks written from local banks because they’ve had difficulty getting their money from online banks.

  17. Pam says:

    We use a combination of several of the tips commenters have noted. My husband does the bulk of our household shopping but hates balancing a checkbook. Our compromise has been to use a Google Doc for the checkbook register so he can check the balance before he shops. Any receipts from his purchases get stuck on the refrigerator with a big magnet; I grab his receipts plus any I’ve accumulated during the day and log them in the Google Doc every evening. We don’t write a lot of checks but there are a few expenses that can’t be handled by credit card or online payment. Hubby keeps the checkbook with him and I carry one or two checks for emergencies in my wallet. If he writes a check, he either notes the check number on the receipt or, for instances when he doesn’t get a receipt, he tears out the carbon copy and sticks it on the refrig along with the rest of his receipts. Works well for us!

  18. Martin says:

    I’ve managed to get through life so far without ever writing a check (or in Australia, we write it as “cheque”).
    I pay the majority of my bills on the ‘net, and have also never had to revert to a money order.

    Was your bill due the same day, so you couldn’t leave it till the next day?

  19. mjukr says:

    @Nick –

    Your bank offers no-liability protection on your credit/debit cards for fraudulent transactions, right?

    You check your credit report every four months for suspicious activity right?

    So what is there to fear again? Cash and Checks are going the way of the dinosaur (and have their own inherent security risks). Might as well get comfortable with digital payments; they’re not going away.

  20. Nick says:

    @mjukr

    No, they don’t. Many credit unions and small banks do not. Checking your credit report every month doesn’t do much if your identity was already stolen, now does it mjukr? The only thing that does is allow you to stop the problem. By that time the damage could have already been done.

  21. Colin says:

    @ KC & Nick
    Carrying around a checkbook I feel is just as dangerous as using online bill-pay and/or eChecks. Someone with the wrong intentions can definitely do damage by getting a hold of your physical checkbook.

  22. Nick says:

    Your checkbook is in your control. If it goes missing, you call the bank. With online bill pay, your at the graces of that company.

  23. Cory says:

    I use my bank’s ePay option. If the recipient can’t accept ePay they send a paper check. My bank already has my account information so I’m really not risking much.

    If someone hacks my bank’s computers and gets my electric bill account # they are welcome to make extra payments for me and I won’t complain a bit. (If they hack my banks computers, accessing my various utility/loan account numbers is the least of my worries.)

  24. Anne K says:

    @Ryan- I keep my business accounts completely separate from my personal accounts; I also have my own savings and checking accounts. My husband and I share a joint checking account and one credit card. My business checking is linked to my business ING savings account. My husband doesn’t see any of the biz moneys and there’s no temptation to use the biz money for any personal stuff. It’s much better for showing people that your biz is legit, along with having a biz phone line. Keep everything separate and keep yourself and the IRS/state people happy.

  25. mjukr says:

    @ Nick – Time to find a new bank!

    Welcome to the future.

  26. mjukr says:

    @ Nick – Also, most banks offer their OWN online bill pay. i.e. you fill in the payee’s details and THEY crack a check to them for you. You don’t have to enter your information on that payee’s website. A good bank will do this for free.

    Again, might be time for a new bank…

  27. Kevin says:

    I agree with Tyler, while the actual number of net worth may not be useful at any particular moment, the general direction is the thing I’m most interested in. But my stuff is pretty simple – easily valued stocks, mutual funds, checking, one credit card and mortgage. It all can be updated with one click.

    About the only thing I own without a defined value is my home, so I just record that at cost – original purchase price plus improvements. I’ll record the gain or loss when I sell.

  28. Nick says:

    I’m with a credit union. They provide the best rates for loans and CDs around. Grabbing 4% on my regular checking account. Just refinanced my car for 4%apr. If I need to do something online securely, I use a credit card with protection. Bigger banks aren’t always better guys/gals.

  29. Alan says:

    As annoying as it is to you that she took the checkbook, I would imagine she finds it just as annoying that you waited so long to pay a bill that you were forced to get a money order when you couldn’t find it :)

    I humbly submit that is not a problem with commingling money but rather simple domestic discord. Things like overdrafting, balance maintenance, injudicious spending, inordinate scrutiny of each other’s purchases, etc. would be commingling issues, but things like which branch you prefer and drive thru vs atm vs teller vs phone banking vs online are simply minor choices you make.

    For instance, I fill up the car when it’s at half, my wife does so when it’s on the “E”. It drives me nuts, but it isn’t material to our decision to only drive one car. Similarly, she squeezes from the middle rather than the bottom of the tube, but I wouldn’t characterize that as a hidden complication of sharing toothpaste in the bathroom.

    P.S. I would’ve called my wife when I couldn’t find the check book :)

  30. Elisabeth says:

    You guys realize that your bank account number is ON your check, right? What other information would a hacker get from your online payment?

    As for sharing checks, why not use two checkbooks?

  31. Heidi says:

    For those afraid of online bill pay – don’t forget the mail isn’t that safe either. I’ve had several checks go missing in the mail – with my account and routing number on them. Someone can do a lot more damage with that than with tough online security and credit cards with fraud protection. I never send checks through the mail anymore if at all possible.

  32. Kevin says:

    Nick – what makes you think the electronic images that are now allowable under Check21 aren’t stored on the same servers that online pay are on?

    You’re at just a big of risk as us non-check writers, possibly even more so since you’re sending checks all over the place with your account number right there for everyone to see.

    KC – you need to find a new bank or online bill service. If you’re getting those notices regularly something is very wrong.

  33. guinness416 says:

    We have separate chequing accounts, but I gotta tell you, having to find a new place to store the chequebook would be pretty low down the list of inconveniences and frustrations for me.

  34. Aryn says:

    Even if there are still things you need to write checks for (we write one or two a month), there’s no reason to carry a checkbook with you anywhere. If she’s writing a check to the daycare, then write it in advance and only take that check.

  35. liv says:

    i’m sure i’ll be married for like 5 years before i merge accounts with my guy. i pay bills like 2 weeks earlier than he does.

  36. kz says:

    Wow – the point I took away from this was that Trent and his wife now recognize that there were some elements of merging finances they hadn’t thought about. Now they’ve thought, come up with a solution, and all seems well for them. Just because it’s not a system you would use (one checkbook, paper checks) doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

    @ Nick – might still be worth looking into another credit union. Mine offers online bill pay and they are quite small. It saves them resources in the long run, which keeps customer costs down and interest rates up (if that’s what you can call them these days!), so a lot of credit unions are now on the online bandwagon.

  37. Dave says:

    Our daycare only accepts checks written from local banks because they’ve had difficulty getting their money from online banks

    I bet they will take cash.
    I write two checks a month, mortgage, elecric, they don’t take cash, and are out of state

  38. NZ Chick says:

    Interesting comments! I’m from NZ and cannot remember the last time I used a cheque, or what it would have been for! Everything goes via online banking, utilities etc are all preloaded so you just pick the one you want, and for paying anyone else if you’ve got their details you can load yourself (very handy for oneoff payments).

    As for the security – I’ve had online banking since 2000 and never had a problem, but I also only keep enough in my cheque a/c to pay the bills I know I have. So if anyone did try to clean me out they wouldn’t get rewarded with a lot (maybe a couple hundy).

    Trent – stink that your daycare only accepts cheques, I’ve not heard of businesses having problems with online banking, I’m an accountant and its the preferred way in NZ, we have trouble paying by cheques b/c of bouncing issues. (If you want to pay by cheque you generally have to have been accepted by the company and on their list to use cheques with them).

    Good luck and hopefully they move into the future for you!

  39. kc says:

    Trent,

    Your local bank doesn’t offer online bill payments? I live in a small town (pop 28K) use a local bank, and they offer online bill pay.

    As to your original question, do you not yet have extra checks on hand?

    Anyway… Interesting. Thanks.

  40. BigMike says:

    Living in a small town, municipalities only take cash or check for Elec, water & sewer. We pay it in person. No stamp required! Maybe someday they will change, but I do not see that coming anytime soon.

  41. Ramona says:

    Guess a Canadian better weigh in eh? (ha ha) We don’t write many cheques either just like the other foreigners. We laughed our butts off when we were travelling in the States this summer & saw people writing checks for gasoline & for restaurant bills. Cash people! For bills I pay everything over the internet, obviously you have to use common sense, but the level of security is quite good. If someone is going to steal your info, they’ll get it regardless. We’d all hide our money in our mattress if we chose to accept no risk of that.

  42. BigMike says:

    I think it is easy to get careless with using debit cards. Especially, if you forget to record it somewhere. Much like carrying cash. One minute it’s there the next it’s gone. Where did it go?

  43. Kris says:

    Trent, when I see blogs that advocate “empty your pantry before you go shopping” I get a little shiver down my spine. My family lives in earthquake country and has to be prepared for the possibility of an extended period cut off from power, water, gas, markets. We try to keep a minimum of two weeks worth of food and water on hand and keep things like batteries, propane and charcoal on hand.

    If the “big one” hit right as you emptied your pantry, where would that leave you?

    Even if you don’t live in earthquake country (and many people DO even though they don’t think so) just about any place has the possibility of natural disasters to contemplate. And even if you are lucky enough to live in an area where no natural disasters occur, there is always the possibility of non-natural disasters: terrorist, biological, or nuclear attacks; economic stress so severe it breaks down our society.

    Now I’m not advocating that you should go into a bunker mentality; just consider the possibility that you might find yourself in a situation where you cannot get power, fuel, water or food for a period of time and plan for that. Set that period of time to whatever you think is feasible – whether a few days or a few weeks – and hope that it never becomes necessary.

  44. Stacy says:

    For years I processed loan payments which customers had paid via their online banking and believe me, it is hard if not impossible to research where that money goes if the customer put their account number in wrong, etc, since there was no physical invoice stub with the payment. For this reason I will always mail my payments in with the stubs!

  45. JReed says:

    My local bank is my online bill payer…your daycare’s story sounds odd…if you aren’t paying online sans fees, paper and postage, you aren’t “green” and your not being frugal at .42 per stamp.

  46. Kelly says:

    I’ve set up a spreadsheet on Google Documents on which I keep track of my checking account activities. For now it’s just me using this account, but it’s great to be able to update it from any computer I’m at. If you set this up for you and your wife, and you each keep a separate checkbook for the same account, you can both use the same spreadsheet as a single check register.

    Incidentally– I also use the spreadsheet to plan for regular bills and project upcoming irregular bills. This is how I’ve learned to stop living check to check. It works as both a budget and a register!

  47. TJP says:

    I guess I don’t get wasting all that time looking for the checkbook without calling your wife first and why you couldn’t wait a day to send the check. We so seldom use checks we were shocked to recently run out and my husband had to go to the bank since we’d gone 4 years without ordering checks. We use them for school lunch and the hairdresser. so maybe 40 checks a year. A race registration or a donation and that is it. But when we used to use checks all the time we carried two books and used duplicates to assist in keeping track.

  48. NP says:

    I disagree with emptying a space completely to organize. That is a huge amount of time devoted to a task that is probably unpalatable to most people. If it takes that long to do, people will put it off or just never do it. Plus once you empty a closet, you could lose interest in refilling it so now you have a huge mess to walk around until you get re-inspired to clean it up. I recommend the Flylady approach to decluttering: 15 minutes at a time. Systematically perform tasks aimed at decluttering. Don’t try to do it all at once. You didn’t accumulate the mess in an hour and it will take more than an hour to rescue the space.

    At my house we have attacked the kids rooms to declutter, but it is so dreadful a job that we do it only once a year or so. To keep messes down, most Sundays after church we sit in the room with the kids (1 parent per kid) and have them declutter a zone in their room, encourage them to throw away papers and broken and disparate stuff, and tidy up horizontal surfaces that tend to get messy. A little bit of work a week has really made a difference!

  49. Dan says:

    “Our daycare only accepts checks written from local banks because they’ve had difficulty getting their money from online banks.”

    I’m guessing you have to pay each week in advance like we do. We are able to pay online, but it is a pain having a weekly bill you have to pay. I can understand how you got in the situation, although like many of the other people have comment, we basically never write checks anymore. We use online bill pay or auto debit whenever possible. Fortunately our daycare has their own online payment system.

  50. shanereiser says:

    Eliminate paper checks and streamline your finances. Sign up for services like mint.com and get yourself a damn debit card. Setup all predictable bills on autowithdrawl and pay the others online with Free Bill Pay, which most banks offer these days. For emergencies, keep a few paper checks in the car or wallet – if it makes you feel better. Paper checks are for old women, stuck in their ways.

  51. older n wiser... says:

    If you know the checks you have to write(especially for recurring bills like daycare), why not write them in advance, stick them in envelopes and keep whatever kind of reminder works for you to remind you to subtract the amount from your register when it is time to subtract it?

    I have method that can best be termed as “convoluted” (trust me, I just tried to describe it in writing and even I was confused) which happens to work for me.

    I use a spreadsheet and a loose form of double entry bookkeeping (when necessary) to plug in expenses that have to be paid out of my husband’s 2nd paycheck (twice monthly) and to keep my “real time” balance “real”. (Happens when I am scheduling a payment to be made in the future but before the actual deposit has hit the bank. I add the amount to be paid as a “deposit” as well as putting it in the “expense” category on the same line….when the deposit hits, I adjust the spreadsheet accordingly by subtracting the faux “deposit”.)

    My spreadsheet is also already filled out with most expenses/bills to be paid/drafted in the order in which they occur. We just add the groceries/other purchases as we go along. That way we can both have checkbooks without worrying about it, though we probably write only two or three checks a month between us.

  52. Kevin says:

    My wife and I don’t have joint accounts. The reason… diversification. Most people diversify their large investments but don’t think to keep their liquid assets diversified by keeping separate accounts.

    What happens if your bank goes under (which it looks like more will happen this year then decades past), or even simpler the bank’s website is down for maintenance and you really need to move some money around. Separate accounts makes these scenarios a little easier to manage. Will you always get your money back when FDIC insured, yes. But when?

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