After 22 years of marriage, I can say confidently that combining finances has been the best thing for my relationship
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- When my wife and I married at 21 and 22, it made sense to combine finances — we didn't have much of anything individually.
- Two decades into our marriage, I feel strongly that combining finances was the right thing to do and makes sense for most couples.
- For one thing, you have many shared expenses, so paying them from one account just makes sense.
- Combining finances also means you have to have important money conversations that strengthen your bond and build trust.
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My wife and I have been married for 22 years, and we were very young (22 and 21) when we got married. Our situation lent itself to completely combining our finances when we got married for two reasons.
First of all, we really didn't have very many "finances" to combine in the first place! I still remember walking through our very first apartment with our soon-to-be landlady and having her ask, "Why are you even getting married? You don't have anything!"
The other reason we decided to combine our finances is because we were so young when we got married, and neither of us had much in the way of knowledge about finances, budgeting, or adulting in general. Keeping our finances separate at that point would have just added an unneeded layer of complexity. We ended up figuring most of it out together, over time.
Of course, your situation is unlikely to be exactly the same as mine, but I still think it can be a good idea to combine finances with your partner for most couples.
Combining finances can play an important part in strengthening your relationship
While everyone's situation is different, there is research that suggests that couples who combine finances are happier in their relationships and less likely to break up. That doesn't mean you should immediately start combining your finances after the first date. Instead, start talking about combining your finances as your relationship progresses.
If you're engaged but not living together, it probably makes sense to wait to start combining your finances until after the wedding. But you should absolutely start having the conversations about what your financial picture will look like before (way before) you officially tie the knot. Once you're living together (married or not), it can make sense to start combining by setting up a joint account. That joint account can pay the shared household expenses, including rent and utilities.
Many experts suggest contributing to this joint account in proportion to your income (rather than exactly 50/50) as a more equitable way to address income inequalities between partners. Then, as the relationship progresses, it's important to keep talking about your shared financial situation. Periodically review how things are going and whether it makes sense to make any changes.
It simplifies things and lets you play to your strengths
Another advantage to combining finances with your partner is that it keeps things simple. As long as you have multiple accounts, it is just one more thing to keep track of. Having one shared account is much simpler than keeping track of two, three, or more accounts.
Another advantage is that it's likely that one member of the relationship has more of a knack for finances. As long as the trust is there, letting that person take care of the finances can really help.
One budget item you'll want to keep separate
Even though my wife and I share all of our family's finances, there is one thing that we keep separate from each other. I have a "Dan" account and my wife has a "Carolyn" account. Although these accounts are technically all part of our shared savings accounts with Capital One, we both know that these accounts are ours alone.
While my wife and I both believe strongly that having our financial accounts together strengthens our relationship, we also know that, sometimes, it's nice to buy something for yourself without having to talk it over with your spouse. That's what these accounts are for — whenever there's a new game I want to buy, or a treat my wife wants to get while out with friends, we know that we have this money available.
When to tread cautiously
I know I have said this a few times already, but I think it bears repeating. Although combining finances was the right move for me, and I do think that there are benefits that outweigh the negatives for most people, there are some cases where it makes sense to tread cautiously.
If you've been in an abusive or toxic relationship in the past, keeping some of your finances separate may make you feel more comfortable. Situations where the two partners are not coming from comparable financial situations also are a good indicator to be cautious.
One partner making significantly more money and/or having significantly more debt doesn't mean that combining finances is off the table, but it is worth having "the money talk." That can help both partners feel more comfortable with how things are structured. As with most things in life, start slow and keep the lines of communication open.
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