Bill and Eleanor Seavey started their marriage 17 years ago with a prenup. Neither can remember exactly when the agreement sunsetted, but clearly it has. They run a bed and breakfast together in Cambria, Calif., and it doesn’t make sense to them to have an account a spouse can’t access. “She has access to my money, and I have access to hers,” says Bill. (The exception is a trust account for Bill’s son; they do not touch the principal on that account.)
It wasn’t always so. Eleanor said that her first marriage had ended after 23 years, and she had struggled for more than three years as a single mother of three with no child support. She ran a family daycare, working 12-hour days, six days a week. Her eldest daughter, then 19, was worried when Eleanor decided to marry Bill, whom she had known less than a year. Bill, a serial entrepreneur and writer, had fewer assets than Eleanor at the time. At her daughter’s urging, Eleanor and Bill signed a prenup. Initially, they kept finances their separate.
But a funny thing happened along the way: joint work ventures and a desire for efficiency. While Eleanor was comfortable running a daycare, the hours were long. She helped fund a house Bill was building in Mexico. And they both wished work didn’t consume so much of what could have been time spent together.
Bill brought up the idea of a B&B, thinking it could combine Eleanor’s love of holiday entertainment with her daycare experiences (compliance with laws, knowledge of nutrition, etc.). Eleanor had never stayed in a bed and breakfast, but she was open to the idea. They stayed in a B&B similar to the one they now own, and they began researching what it might take to open one. Buying a home together to operate as a bed and breakfast entailed selling both of their old houses and moving to a new town. And that was when keeping finances separate stopped making sense to them.
The B&B, called “Her Castle,” has been open about 10 years. Bill said when they have a financial disagreement or discussion, it’s usually about that. (Just how much should they spend to refurbish a deck?) Bill said he is a do-it-yourselfer, but Eleanor’s standards for quality work are sometimes higher than his. And while he is the person who pays the bills, Eleanor stays on top of them and is aware of where money is going, and how much things cost. They have agreed not to spend more than $500 without first informing the other, and they abide by that. The system works for them.
It is perhaps telling that Eleanor describes their family as “four children, 10 grandchildren and one on the way.” She said their frugality and determination to be debt-free has helped them help their children with credit card debt, school loans and medical bills from a grandchild’s cancer. And that now, “all our kids are doing great.”
Bill said that they do not check their credit scores regularly. (Financial experts recommend that they — and most everyone else — do it. Even if you do not plan to apply for loans or credit cards, regularly monitoring your credit score can tip you off to potential fraud — and you can get your credit report summary for free every month on Credit.com.)
Some of the Seaveys’ retirement accounts established long before they met remain separate, but their plans are joint — and the biggest disagreements seem to be where to go on the next vacation.
While no one way of handling money works for everyone, finding the right balance for your specific needs as a couple can be the key to long-term financial happiness — be it keeping your money separate, merging all of it, or a combination of the two.
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Image courtesy Bill & Eleanor Seavey