Should you combine your finances or keep them separate?
One of the first things Andrea and I had to do when we got married was decide whether or not to combine our finances. If you’re in a serious relationship, thinking about marriage, or already married, you’ll need to address this with your partner, too.
(TL;DR: Andrea and I have took the pros of combined and separate finances while minimizing the cons of each. This happy-medium works for us. Read on for the details.)
This isn’t a black and white issue. Despite what your family, culture, or other “financial experts” tell you, there’s no right or wrong answer here. This is a highly personal decision affecting many areas of your life. Nobody else has the right to decide for you.
Sure I could tell you to just “do this” or “do that,” but then you’re just trusting your well-being to some dude on the internet. While I’m confident in the decision Andrea and I made about this issue and flattered you might trust me, I’m ultimately not responsible for your family.
There are good arguments to be made for keeping things separate AND good arguments for combining your money with your partner. I’m going to give you the pros and cons Andrea and I came up with for each, but you need to weigh them. You need to make and own the decision because you and your family are going to live with it.
Oh yeah, the following assumes you’re in an otherwise happy, healthy, committed relationship (read: married). If you’re not, best to keep things separate until you are.
Pros of Combining Finances
I’ve got three “pros” for you.
1: Generally speaking, having only one set of finances to worry about will make things easier and safer. By moving all your money into and out of one shared account, you’re much less likely to miss something.
With everything in one place everyone has access,and visibility into the family finances. You and your partner both can know EXACTLY how much money is coming in and how much money is going out. With two sets of responsible eyes available, the odds of you missing some income or paying a bill late will drop.
2: God forbid something were to happen to one of you, having shared finances would also make it easier to access money in an emergency. No need to get approval to be added to your partner’s bank, get Power of Attorney, or get caught up in any other kind of bureaucratic nightmare. The last thing you’ll need in an emergency is to deal with extra layers of paperwork.
3: Best of all, though, having shared finances will make it easier to track your family’s progress towards a shared goal. You’ll have better insight into the progress you’re making towards your family’s hopes, guarding against fears, and investing in the things your family values. Working on this stuff together, with each partner equally committed and responsible, will strengthen your relationship like few things can.
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Cons of Combining Finances
Two serious Cons to consider.
1: Let me just come right out and say it. Combining finances with another person is scary and risky.
Often times money provides us our sense of security, our sense of power, and our sense of freedom. Why? With money, we have options. Without it, we don’t.
Frankly, money is how we put numbers to our lives. It’s how we keep score. Money is, in many ways, at the root of how we define and see ourselves.
So being vulnerable with another person…trusting someone…with our lives in such a quantifiable way is terrifying.
The ability for another person with access to our money to create chaos and wreak havoc in our lives is real. By combining finances with them, we practically invite them to do so.
With joint finances, their problems become your problems. And yeah, we accept that when we get into a relationship with someone. But with joint finances, our partner’s impact on our lives are laid bare, magnified, and much easier to comprehend.
2: If you and your partner don’t earn similar money, things might start to feel inequitable and get out of balance if you let it.
The one contributing more money to the household may start to feel entitled, superior, and/or bitter. They may feel their contributions to the family finances give them a greater say in family matters. Afterall, they’re the one paying for stuff.
Similarly, the high-earner may feel as though they are not accountable to their partners…buying a sports car, handbag, or some other toy just because they deserve it. Regardless of their partner’s feelings about it.
The opposite is true, too. The partner earning less may feel as though they haven’t earned the right to an equal vote as their partner or that they cannot make independent decisions.
Pros of Separate Finances
The Pros of separate finances are pretty much the opposite of the cons of combined finances.
1: By keeping things separate, you may feel as though you have a greater sense of independence and autonomy. It’s your money, you know where it is, you know how to get to it. You can do with it as you please and leave your partner alone to do the same.
For some, this is easier and cleaner as you’re really not accountable to your partner in anyway, financially speaking. Assuming you’re living together and have shared expenses (the power bill, the rent/mortgage, vacations, etc) once you’ve contributed your fair share, you’re done. The money talk goes no further and you’re free to do with your remaining money as you wish.
Remember, with money you have options. Without it, you don’t. So if things turn sour, having your finances separate will make it easier for you to move on.
2: By keeping your partner away from your money, you limit their ability to cause you financial damage. They can’t drain an account they can’t access. Need I say more?
Cons of Separate Finances
1: With separate finances, you’re more likely to miss something. With each of you doing your own thing, you won’t really know how much money you’ve got coming into family. Nor will you know exactly how much is going out.
Imagine trying to walk or run, but each of your legs is controlled by its own brain. And those brains don’t talk to each other. You’d have to hope your legs somehow figure it out and take similar sized steps…in the same direction…at the right time.
How well do you think that’ll go? Odds are you’d end up doing an involuntary split.
2: God forbid something were to happen to one of you and you needed to access money in an emergency. This would be harder if you’ve kept things separate. Last thing you’d need in an emergency is to make things harder for yourself.
3: Worst of all, separate finances turn your relationship into a game of minimums.
Let’s say you and your partner have some goals together requiring money. Maybe a vacation or a down payment for a new home. You’ll each contribute what you need to and/or agreed to and get on with life. That’s it.
There’s nothing mathematically wrong with this, but it’s a scary mindset when you really start to think about it. With separate finances, you’d essentially be trying to minimize the impact your partner has on you and the impact you have on your partner.
Rather than dreaming big dreams and working on them together and wholly committing to them, you’d only contribute your share and get back what you were doing already.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with this mathematically. But do you really want to be in a relationship where you each do the bare minimum for each other? Where neither of you are really free and empowered to dare great things, imagine a better future, and work towards it together?
If you and your partner are both okay living like that, then fine. That’s your call and I respect your decision. Forget this last “con.” But Andrea and I wanted more from our relationship and life. I only ask you make sure living like that is really a decision and not a default.
What Andrea and I Did
So did we combine our finances or keep them separate?
As I mentioned from the start, this isn’t a black and white issue. There are shades of gray here. Legally speaking, we’ve combined our finances, but we’ve tried to maximize the “pros” of each option while minimizing the “cons.”
We deposit all of our income into the same account and pay all our bills from the same account. This allows us to keep a close eye on things. We never miss any money income and we never miss a bill payment.
Since our names are on all of our accounts and property, we both have full access to our money in an emergency. This gives us great peace of mind, knowing either of us can use the full power of our funds to deal with bad stuff when, not if, bad stuff happens.
Best of all, with our finances combined, we’re each equally committed to the goals we set. We make it a point to dream together, to imagine a better life, and to work towards it together. Combined finances allow us to track our progress together more easily and accurately than separate finances would.
Sounds great, right? Well, here’s where the shades of grey come in.
Marriage gets celebrated as “two becoming one” and all. While we work hard to build an awesome life together, we still have our own brains, our own personalities, and our own wants. Out of respect for each other, we’ve learned to make room for this stuff.
Introducing the “Blow Fund”
No, this isn’t money set aside for cocaine. It’s money we set aside each pay period for Andrea and I to do with as we wish. Think of it as an allowance, but all grown up.
We each have our own blow fund accounts with their own separate debit cards. Each pay period, we automatically transfer a previously agreed upon amount of money out of our shared main account to each of our blow funds. This then becomes money we can do with as we wish.
No need to check with each other, no need for the purchase to even make sense. Personal finance is personal and our blow funds allow us to maintain a sense of autonomy and independence…even within our marriage.
Ultimately, most of the arguments against combining finances and for keeping them separate come down to trust. Andrea and I earned each other’s trust over the years we’ve gotten to know each other.
We trust each other’s character. We trust each other’s intentions. We don’t feel the need to protect ourselves from each other by maintaining separate finances.
I’m not saying we’re perfect or have it all figured out. I know I’m far from perfect. (I mean, who the heck makes their wife cry on their honeymoon?) But we trust each other to work through our challenges.
How have you and your partner decided to handle your finances? Why?
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