Spouses separate finances to avoid conflict

By Pham Nga   April 2, 2023 | 11:10 pm PT
Even in their first year of marriage, Tuong Van and her husband fought over money so regularly that they started considering divorce.

However, things began to smooth out for the couple after they decided that each of them would keep their own money separately from the other.

That decision came about six years ago, before Van, now 30 years old, gave birth to their first child.

The Ho Chi Minh City resident told her husband to stop handing over his salary to her every month. Instead, she said he should keep it and just give her enough to cover utilities, Internet, milk and pampers for their baby. Van would pay for food, and when the need arose, the two would discuss how to contribute to cover the child’s future expenses, set up a family savings account, and other plans.

Afterwards, Van said her husband became more responsible, learned to manage his own expenses and no longer depended on her. As for her, she didn’t have to rack her brain calculating every family expense. "Both of us have become more autonomous, independent and comfortable. We no longer fight over financial issues," Van said.

Tuong Van and her husband keep their finances separate as a way to avoid marital conflicts. Photo courtesy of Tuong Van

Tuong Van and her husband keep their finances separate as a way to avoid marital conflicts. Photo courtesy of Tuong Van

According to sociologists and psychologists, married couples, especially younger ones, in Vietnam and all over the world, are increasingly managing their finances separately, setting up a shared fund for family expenses, and keeping the rest for themselves.

According to Doctor of Sociology Pham Thi Thuy, who also has a master’s degree in psychology and teaches at the National Academy of Public Administration in HCMC, Vietnamese scholars have not yet studied married couples who keep their monies separate.

However, based on numerous consultation sessions and seminars she has taken part in, Doctor Thuy estimates about 80% of young married couples are now managing family finances this way.

According to a survey of 2,000 married people carried out by American market research company Insider and Morning Consult in 2019, 37% of young married couples kept their finances separately, compared to just 27% among their parents’ generation.

"Today spouses have diverse jobs and multiple sources of revenue as well as unexpected expenses, so it makes more sense to separate finances instead of putting everything into one common fund as in the past," Thuy said.

She added that when both spouses have incomes and keep their own accounts like Tuong Van and her husband, they become more independent, not just in monetary matters, but also in thinking, which consequently makes them feel more confident and comfortable, helping to create a happy family atmosphere.

"Money is just a tool, but it affects spouses’ relationship," Thuy said. "Conflicts over money will lead to conflicts of feelings, communication, and even sex, reducing the quality of family life."

Tuong Van said this is what happened in her first year of marriage.

Both earned about VND10 million per month. Every month, Van’s husband gave her 80% of his salary for her to manage all expenses, including utilities, food, unexpected items and savings. But she said that her husband didn’t know how hard it was to handle these costs.

Whenever she complained about the lack of money, he asked: "How come you spend money so fast?" This stressed the young wife out. Then both partners would lose their tempers and fight.

Belonging to a younger generation, Thanh Hao, 26 from Hanoi, had already decided to keep her own finances prior to marriage. Hao and her husband agreed for each to help pay for both daily and special family expenses based on their relative incomes. Each doesn’t know or interfere in how the other spends his or her private funds.

Thanh Hao and her husband had decided to separate their accounts before marriage, so they have never had to quarrel over financial affairs. Photo courtesy of Thanh Hao

Thanh Hao and her husband had decided to separate their accounts before marriage, so they have never had to quarrel over financial affairs. Photo courtesy of Thanh Hao

Hao works as a TV editor and earns about VND18 million. Her husband earns more, so he contributes more.

Although Hao doesn’t know what her husband earns now, she trusts he can manage his financial affairs well, and plans to sit down with him to discuss how to handle family finances again when they have children.

The catch

However, Doctor Thuy warned that despite its numerous advantages, keeping separate finances can backfire when spouses don’t set aside some shared savings and plan their expenses carefully. "Many couples overspend and find themselves unable to pay for large unexpected expenses," Thuy said.

Bich Thuy, 30, from Hanoi, counts herself among those who overspend. Thuy and her husband don’t plan ahead or review their expenses at the end of the month. "I don’t know how much he earns, but I only tell him to make sure to cover all the family’s greater expenses," she said.

Thuy is an office employee and earns about VND20 million ($844). Every month, she spends VND9 million ($380) to pay for her son’s kindergarten tuition, and uses the rest for her own personal needs without saving.

Her husband pays for utilities, housing and other major items. The couple has three credit cards which Thuy uses when she shops for the family, then her husband pay their bills later. Every Lunar New Year, she receives about VND100 million ($4,221) in rewards from her company and contributes this amount to investing in stocks with her husband.

Their stock portfolio is their only common saving.

Last year, their stock values dropped, and the couple also overspent traveling, so they found themselves VND100 million short of what they needed to get by. "We don’t review our monthly expenses so we don’t know how to keep them in check," Thuy said.

Bich Thuy’s family on a vacation in 2022. Photo courtesy of Bich Thuy

Bich Thuy’s family on a vacation in 2022. Photo courtesy of Bich Thuy

Thuy admitted she isn’t managing money wisely, but the couple has found it hard to change their overspending habits. Thuy also doesn’t know if her husband spent his money dishonestly or not. "I’m also worried we won’t have enough when we have a second child," she added.

According to Doctor Thuy, there is no one correct way to manage financial affairs for all couples. Every couple has to find one for themselves, depending on their income levels and each other’s feelings about a particular method.

Thuy advised couples to sit down together, explain clearly one own’s view, shared family goals, and possible earnings (both fixed and not fixed), and come up with suitable plans. Spouses must always respect, trust and sympathize with each other, according to the doctor.

She also pointed out that although spouses spend their own money, they should agree on the amount of spending at which point each should notify the other, just to show respect.

"There was a couple who got divorced just because the husband bought an electrical fan for his parents without telling his wife," Thuy said. "The issue wasn’t the actual cost of the fan, but the wife felt she wasn’t treated with respect."

However, Thao said since courtship, the couple has never fought over money matters. "I only see advantages with this method."

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