Why financial independence is preferable when you’re cohabiting

When you’re planning to take the next big step in your relationship and find a home with your beau, one of many things you may be considering is whether or not to open a joint bank account.

[First published on Yahoo! Finance, 20/08/2013]

Even for those of us without the responsibility of children, sharing a home obviously means sharing the bills, so combining your earnings and centralising your spending is only logical, isn’t it?

Back when the standard cohabiting ‘model’ involved getting married prior to moving in together and the wife then giving up her job to have kids, having a joint account was the obvious choice – the husband earned the money to support the family, and the wife needed access to the money to run the household. But while there are certainly advantages to having a shared account when only one of you is employed and the other is caring for the children full-time, this kind of arrangement isn’t suitable for every couple.

I live with my partner – we both work full time, and our earnings go into our individual bank accounts. When the bills need paying, we each pay our half separately. It’s a pretty straightforward system that makes full use of the technological marvel that is online banking – when a new payment needs setting up, it’s done on the computer, quickly and easily (usually). It’s certainly much less hassle than traversing the bank’s dystopian automated phone service – or going into a branch in person, which is what we’d have to do if we wanted to set up a joint account. Why bother?

Well, a lot of people associate joint bank accounts with issues of commitment and trust. Arguably, I don’t trust my partner enough to pool funds and allow him access to my hard-earned dosh. According to recent research by Lloyds TSB, 20% of couples with separate accounts cite fear of the other spending their money as a reason against having a joint account.

Personally, I think you need more trust to have separate accounts than to have a joint one. With a joint account, each of you can see exactly what the other has been spending, and what they’ve been buying. There’s almost no need for trust there, because there’s no way of hiding any financial indiscretion.

However, if (for example) we need to pay for a household repair, and my partner says he can’t afford it right now, I have to trust that he is telling me the truth, and that he isn’t secretly hoarding his money to splash out on his furtive model train habit that he has to hide in his mate’s garage because he thinks I won’t approve (again, just an example). When you have joint responsibility for bills but no joint account, you have to trust your partner. Which of course you would anyway, right? Because you love them.

Which brings me to my next point. Being in love is great, but those who don’t retain some modicum of independence within a relationship risk losing themselves as individuals. It isn’t miserly or unromantic to want to keep some things under your sole control; on the contrary, I’d argue that it’s healthy – and, where finances are concerned, it’s the responsible thing to do.

Obviously, when you shack up with your beloved, splitting up is the last thing on your mind, but with an estimated 42% of UK marriages ending in divorce, surely it’s only sensible to keep some things to yourself… just in case. It’s also important to keep abreast of changes in the financial system and any changes occurring in the T&Cs of all those services we routinely pay out for.

When you share an account, what tends to happen is that one partner will take charge of the bookkeeping. Whilst that may be nice of them to take all of that boring number-crunching and budget-balancing off your hands, if this arrangement should come to an end (for whatever reason) there’s a real risk of leaving the other half absolutely clueless as to where their money’s been going and how they go about managing it. Better to keep yourself informed and involved than to be left in the dark.

Lest I give the impression that I have not even a shred of romance in my soul, I’d like to end on a bit of a soppy point. Keeping your earnings to yourself affords you the freedom to be more generous. Having my own account means that I can treat my partner when I want to (and vice versa). Perhaps it’s a petty point to make, but how can you ever really buy each other gifts if you’re dipping into a shared pot to pay for them?


Start your day right with Tai Chi

[First published on Yahoo! Lifestyle, 04/07/2012]

Tai Chi is an excellent way to get toned and stay healthy. Mistakenly branded “the old man’s martial art” in the West, Tai Chi focuses on stamina, internal strength and holistic control. A few exercises before you go to work can offset the stiffening effects of a desk-based job, allowing you to begin your day in a more relaxed (yet energised) state both physically and mentally, as well as improving your posture and balance. This “little and often” approach to exercise also promotes steady progress rather than the pains and pulled muscles associated with that once-a-week slog in the gym.

The four main ways of practising Tai Chi are Qigong, Form, Application and Pushing Hands, with Qigong being the best place to start. Form is best learned from an experienced instructor, while Application and Pushing Hands require a partner. I like to mix and match a few gentle but effective Qigong exercises to awaken both mind and body in the mornings.

Before you start any Tai Chi exercise, it’s advisable to tie your hair back and to wear loose, comfy clothing (as we’re discussing morning exercises, this could very well be your PJs). Warm up a bit by gently shaking out your limbs. It’s best to practise Tai Chi barefoot.

It is very important to correct your posture as best you can before beginning any Tai Chi exercise. This will take a few minutes but is worth doing, as you won’t get nearly as much benefit from Tai Chi if you aren’t standing correctly to begin with. Here are some simple steps for achieving a good Tai Chi stance:

1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Make sure that your second toe on each foot is pointing directly forward.

2. Look straight ahead and imagine that there’s a thread running down through the top of your head and down your spine, suspending you from above. The idea here is ‘relaxed control’ – not tensed up, but not slouching.

3. Drop your shoulders and sink your chest a bit. This will cause your upper back to be slightly raised, giving the top part of your torso a gentle curve. Let your arms and hands relax and hang loosely by your sides.

4. Bend your knees slightly and imagine you’re going to sit on a stool. This action will drop your centre and tilt your pelvis forward a little. Be careful not to let your knees bend in towards each other, and don’t stick your bottom out!

5. Try not to tense the muscles in your legs, and tip your weight towards the front part of your feet to avoid ‘swaying back’. You should be quite relaxed, with slightly bent knees and a fairly straight spine apart from that little forward curve at the top. This is your start position.

The following move, very similar to the start of the Form, is a nice, gentle starting-point:

Stand in the start position. As you breathe in through your nostrils, slowly raise your hands in front of you (with the palms facing each other) to about shoulder-height, and allow the rest of your body to rise (but don’t let your knees lock). Keep your elbows slightly bent. Then, breathing out through your mouth, turn your hands palm-down and lower them, returning to the start position. Repeat this a few times, allowing your breaths to lead the rising and sinking actions.

While the above exercise focuses on the harmony of breath and movement, I find that this next one helps to loosen up the back and also provides a gentle stretch along the backs of the legs:

Stand in the start position and slowly tilt your head forward, then your neck, imagining that you are bending forward one vertebra at a time; continue bending forward, until your upper body is fully over and your hands are dangling somewhere between your knees and your feet. Use each breath out to relax more and allow your upper body to lower a bit more.

Next, bend your knees slightly and place your hands on your thighs just above the knee – this will support your back as you rise. Very slowly go into reverse, imagining that your vertebrae are ‘restacking’ one at a time as you straighten. Then lean back a bit and place your palms flat and slightly behind you at around hip height, as though you are leaning on a low wall. Maintain this posture for about 5 seconds and then repeat the exercise from the beginning.

Of course, there is no substitute for face-to-face learning – so if I’ve sparked your interest in Tai Chi, I’d highly recommend finding a class and learning the Form from a teacher and in the supportive atmosphere that seems so prevalent in this discipline.