How to Combine Your Finances
Researchers have found that arguments about money early on in your marriage are the top predictor of divorce. Of course it's hard to go from being independent with your own income to having to pay for things as a couple. No matter how separate you keep your finances, their spending habits will affect you, and vice versa. But there are some benefits to doing this. It streamlines the administrative work and helps you work together for a common goal, which hopefully strengthens your relationship in the long run. So, is there a way to pool your money together without killing each other? The short answer: Yes! We enlisted two financial experts to tell us how.
1. Ask Yourself and Your Partner The Right Questions
Combining your finances is a big step, so it's important to make sure you're both on the same page. Denise Winston, financial expert and author of IT'S YOUR MONEY‑ Avoid Costly Mistakes, says the most essential first step is to remember that money is personal and each of you will bring different strengths, weaknesses, emotions, and ways of dealing with it to the relationship. She suggests asking the following questions:
-How do you/I really feel about doing this?
-What concerns do you/I have about doing this?
-How do we know if we're on the right track?
-Where do I/we want to be financially in the next 12, 24, 36 and 120 months?
-What do we know about how we have handled money in the past?
-How are we about communicating about money?
2. Decide How Much You're Willing to Combine
If you're ready for some kind of joint account but aren't quite keen on putting all your money together yet, that's totally okay. It's all about the baby steps. Lauren Lyons Cole, Certified Financial Planner and personal finance contributor for Mainstreet.com, says that once you're married, it usually makes sense to set up a joint checking and savings account. “The joint checking account can be used to pay all of your shared expenses. The joint savings account should be used to start saving toward shared goals," she says. “This helps get the two of you on the same team when it comes to your money, and gives you something positive to work on together." She adds that sometimes combining finances can be stressful, so saving for something exciting like a first home or a fun vacation can help break up the stress. “It also helps establish good money habits so you can focus on bigger goals like saving for retirement or your future children's college education."
3. Set Rules
When you're sharing either a large amount or all of your money, communication is key. “Schedule monthly money dates to check in with each other and make sure all the bills are getting paid," Cole says. “It usually makes sense to have one partner act as the household CEO and manage all the bills and accounts, but it's important for both partners to be equally aware of what is going on." She also suggests setting a limit for joint financial decisions. “For instance, both partners might agree that if an item costs $100 or more they have to check with the other person before making a purchase," she says. And make sure you each have a set amount of “fun" money that you can spend on whatever you want, no questions asked. “Depending on the monthly budget this might be a small amount. But even $20 or $50 goes a long way towards letting each person feel like they have some financial freedom."
4. Be Honest About Debt
“Hopefully you each did a full disclosure of debt and had a conversation before you entered into this relationship," Winston says. “Otherwise this could get really icky and resentment can build up very quickly…." “Either way get it all out on the table and keep it there. Know that past spending habits often depict future habits." Work together to strategize a repayment plan and track your progress. “It's also important to ensure you have a plan and agreement not go into more debt," she says. That means no opening accounts without the other's knowledge or consent.
5. Come to Terms With Unequal Incomes
In almost every relationship, one person makes more than the other. Sometimes it's just a bit, other times, a significant amount. “It's important for both people to feel valued and appreciated for their contribution to the household, whether financial or otherwise," Cole says. That means recognizing and appreciating each other's non-financial strengths.
Marriage is all about working together, and combining your money is just an example of one of those tasks that contributes to that saying. Couples who can conquer this can conquer just about anything.
Are you combining your finances with your partner? What have you learned from the process? Tell us in a comment below!