Sharon Stephenson talks to some Kiwi women who discovered their happy relationships with their husbands did not extend to the joint bank account.

His name was Pete. Melissa met him on a kibbutz in Israel. He was tall, British, loved the Kings of Leon and had cheekbones you could slice cheese with.

They moved back to West Auckland, where Melissa was born, and started ticking items off a list entitled "things grown-ups should do".

"We bought a house, had a child and acquired a dog, a white picket fence and a mountain of debt," says Melissa.

They also meshed their savings into a joint bank account. You know where this is going, right?

Advertisement

"One day in 2013 I was having coffee with a friend, when my card was declined. I rang the bank who told me there was no money left in our account because Pete had cleaned it out."

Worse was to come when Melissa, a public servant, discovered she was liable for about $10K of debt, including bills.

The couple separated not long after and Melissa, a single mother, working part-time, has spent the last few years climbing out the financial hole her ex-husband dug for her.

"We had to sell the house and I've gone back to full-time work just to try and reclaim my financial footing. In hindsight, it seems so incredibly stupid and naive, but I thought pooling finances was what everyone did - it's easier administratively, and it reinforces the commitment and trust you put in your partner. Now I tell everyone I meet never to get into a joint account situation."

Melissa isn't alone: national figures aren't kept for the number of New Zealanders with joint accounts but research from Australia shows that shared accounts are waning in popularity. A 2016 survey by Melbourne-based ME Bank revealed a 7 per cent drop over the past three years, with more than half of the 2000 respondents saying they "had no need" to share bank accounts. The bank suggested the decline could be fuelled by younger generations seeking greater financial independence.

"Having my own bank account is part of how I define myself as an adult," says Liz, a Wellington lawyer. "I earn my own salary, I buy my own clothes, I treat myself to massages and girls' weekends whenever I want. Just because we're married, my husband doesn't need to know about my handbag purchases and I don't care how many drinks he has with his friends."

Like many couples, Liz and her physiotherapist husband funnel money into a joint account for big-ticket items such as the mortgage, car payments and holiday expenses, as well as for day-to-day bills including utilities and groceries. "We pay the same amount into the joint account each payday, which works well. But having our own accounts also means we never have to ask the other person for spending money."

So far, so ordinary, but what happens when children enter the equation and one partner has to give up work?

"Having to ask your husband for money to buy shoes or even a packet of tampons makes you feel like a second-class citizen," says Leanne, who gave up her job as a clerical officer in 2012 to raise the couple's twin 2-year-old sons. "There's nothing more demeaning than being told off for spending $10 on a curry for lunch."

Leanne says she and her partner of six years didn't always have such different attitudes to money. "Glenn works in IT so he's always earned far more than me. When I was working, he would contribute a bit more to our joint account, but then he always spent more, especially on his mountain-bike hobby, which didn't really bother me. But when we had the kids, his attitude changed. He considers it his money because he's the one who goes out to work, but he doesn't think what I do all day - raising his children - is work. He's incredibly controlling with the joint account and I have to ask him if I want to buy anything other than the usual groceries."

Like the time she needed new running shoes. "He said, why should I have to pay for them?' Which really annoyed me. The way I see it, it's not his money and it's not my money, it's our money, regardless of who brings it in. But Glenn won't look at it that way, so there's no point in arguing."

Leanne, for her part, has learned to squirrel away some of the cash she saves on groceries each week. "I've got it in a jar at the back of the pantry so I can do things like buy new running shoes if I need them. It's silly I have to do this, and my friends think I'm crazy for putting up with Glenn, but hopefully in the next few years I can go back to work and things can get back to the way they were."

Her advice to other stay-at-home parents is to retain their personal bank accounts.

"Never underestimate the power of having your own money. By all means have a joint account for the household expenses but always keep your own account because it means not giving away your economic power to a man."

* Names have been changed.