Marriage is all about the combining of two elements. Two people, two households, two families – and usually two sets of finances. That’s why I’m never surprised when the first question I hear from my married clients is, “Should we merge our bank accounts?”
Deciding how to deal with money in a marriage is tricky, and what works for one couple might be disastrous for another. If you’re engaged to be married – or know someone who is – here are some considerations couples should take into account before deciding whether or not to combine finances.
The Case for Combining
One bank account simplifies everyday transactions because every expense is shared equally. There’s no question of who’s turn it is to pick up the dog food or the dry cleaning. There’s no need to keep tabs of who paid last month’s rent or the mortgage bill.
It can also strengthen the notion that each person is part of a team and not a solo player. For the fiercely independent, combining finances can be an opportunity to let their guard down and embrace a more vulnerable approach to marriage. A few other benefits to merging your finances are:
- Joint accounts allow for full disclosure. You’re able to see what both you and your partner are spending and can check-in with each other along the way.
- It’s easy to manage. Paychecks are deposited to one place. Bill payments, groceries, dining out, and all other monthly expenses come from that same place. Who pays for what doesn’t become an issue. Sounds easy enough.
- While bills will get paid and goals funded whether accounts are merged or kept separate, when operating with a joint account, spending habits are revealed and your spouse may turn into your accountability partner in reaching joint goals and helping you kick habits that may be detrimental to your financial success.
Personally, my hubby and I merged finances and even share a main credit card at this point (although we both have separate cards for credit score purposes). We leverage one card to maximize credit card points towards travel and by following an “unbudget” we give ourselves an amount to spend every two weeks we please. We’ve found that this keeps us on track for our bills and goals, and allows us the freedom and flexibility to spend as we’d like within our limits.
Drawbacks of Combining Finances
Keep in mind that mixing money doesn’t prevent marital discord. In fact, money is one of the biggest tension-causers in a marriage. A saver could be shocked at their spouse’s daily latte intake, while a spender might feel like a child being nagged.
If there are stark differences in how each spouse approaches money, they’ll become apparent very quickly. The best way to prevent disagreements is to establish a compromise early on. Couples who combine their finances can still have allowances to spend money as they wish. Each person receives a set amount every month to use on discretionary items like clothes, concert tickets or hobbies.
Smiling About Separate Finances
For second or third marriages where both parties have established retirement accounts and assets, more experts will recommend staying separate. Older couples often keep their finances separate after marriage, especially if they have kids from previous relationships. It can be too complicated to merge everything after decades of separation. People who have been in abusive relationships might also feel more secure and autonomous having separate finances.
Two accounts can also prevent financial disputes and unnecessary conversations – like why your partner buys a new fishing pole if they already have five in the garage. It promotes an element of personal responsibility, where each spouse is responsible for their own financial well-being – and therefore free to spend as they please.
With separate finances, couples can still work together to pay the bills. They can set up a joint account where each person contributes an equal amount, or a sum proportional to their income. This system can be used for all household bills, as well as any family emergencies that crop up.
Reasons to Smile
- There’s no awkwardness about income ranges. When one spouse makes more than the other, having separate accounts and dividing up the bill payments accordingly can help each to feel like they are contributing, but not carrying the full weight of the payments due.
- Debt is kept separate. When either spouse is bringing debt into the marriage, it may make sense to keep things separate until debt is paid off. This will allow the spouse with the debt to work on spending and money management skills and ensure healthy habits are formed before combining.
- Habits don’t need to be changed. You put aside what is needed for bills and goals and whatever is left is yours to do with. This is ideal when one partner spends more or less than the other. Spending habits, from frequency to size of expenditures, can cause tension when they’re differing.
- You can combine forces when paying bills. You can choose to keep all items separate and divvy up joint bills for payment, or you can maintain your separate accounts and open a joint account meant for paying household bills out of.
Drawbacks of Separate Finances
Some experts think that separate accounts build distrust and acrimony between couples. Others say it’s the same as individual email addresses, and allows each party to maintain some semblance of independence. Ultimately, if you choose to keep separate finances, the key is to communicate about your expectations. How are you going to handle shared bills? Who is going to pick up the tab when you go out to eat? Are you only keeping some of your finances separate? These are all questions that you should be able to answer together.
Commitment & Communication
Whether you choose to merge your money or keep separate accounts, communication and commitment are key! If you’re merging finances, determine how you’ll manage the accounts and spending. If you’re keeping things separate, assign how and who will pay which bills and determine amounts to allocate towards joint goal funding.
Remember, separate accounts don’t mean separate goals, and it’s not an excuse to keep financial secrets. Set a schedule for money dates or regular check-in’s, and be sure to evaluate your strategies as your situation changes.