She practices that approach in her own marriage. Epperson's husband likes to make almost daily purchases from Amazon.com, for example. "I don't bother my husband about it. I know it's on his credit card," she says. On the same note, her husband doesn't ask her about the makeup and clothes she buys with her own money.
Epperson's advice does not change for couples in which only one spouse works; she says a stay-at-home mom, for example, should also maintain her own bank account, with a percentage of her husband's income funneled into it. Says Epperson: "A stay-at-home mom who is not making any income should still have fun money," her term for individual accounts that go toward personal expenses. Similarly, if one spouse earns more than the other, equal sums should go into the individual accounts because they are based on household income, not each spouse's income, Epperson explains.
Blending different spending styles. When Kellie, 27, and Dan Mercurio, 29, married in 2006, they knew they wanted to have at least one joint account so as not to deal with the question of who pays for dinner. But the Charlotte, N.C., couple also decided to keep separate accounts for personal expenses, such as a new jacket for him or manicures and haircuts for her. "Having multiple accounts that serve different purposes is a good way to segment out record- keeping," Dan says.
It also prevents disagreements over how to track spending, the couple says. Kellie, a manager at Wachovia, likes to keep a record of each purchase by saving receipts, while Dan, a financial sales manager at the bank, prefers to keep just a general sense of how much money is in his account.
Despite their separate accounting, the couple say they do not keep secrets from each other and generally talk about all their purchases. "[Having individual accounts] just provides a little bit more freedom. If she wants to splurge on something, she can do it without asking me," Dan says.
Preserving financial independence. "Today people are mating and re-mating much further down the path," says Manisha Thakor, coauthor of On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl's Guide to Personal Finance. "That's why the financial three-way is gaining more traction." The financial three-way is Thakor's term for having a shared account as well as individual accounts for each spouse.
A survey by the newlywed website TheNest.com found that 60 percent of respondents, mostly young married couples, planned to keep at least some personal spending accounts separate. "Part of that partnership is recognizing each other's independence. It's a smarter way than throwing all of [your money] in one pot," says Riann Smith, deputy editor of TheNest.com. "You aren't looking over each other's shoulder and saying, 'Why did you spend so much on those shoes?' or that golf weekend."
"Women find [having their own account] empowering," says Jean Chatzky, author of Make Money, Not Excuses, a personal finance guide for women, which advocates separate accounts. Since more women than ever earn their own money, she says, they want more control over how they spend it. "You need to be able to get coffee without checking with your spouse," says Chatzky, which she says is easier to do when one has her own bank account.
Avoiding money secrets. Despite the enthusiasm among personal finance advisers for such a system, marriage counselors often see separate funds as a harbinger of marital problems. "When people insist on keeping their own account, that speaks volumes about their feelings," says Jack Singer, a clinical psychologist in Laguna Hills, Calif. It often suggests a lack of trust about another aspect of the relationship, he adds.
Singer does, however, suggest setting aside money for certain costs, such as those related to children from previous marriages, in a separate fund. It might be easier—both logistically and psychologically—to pay those costs out of a separate account that's funded once a year instead of doling them out from joint accounts each month, he says.