Married couples often ask, “How should we combine our finances?” As much as they want a simple rule of thumb, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for couples – some prefer to be married with separate finances while others prefer to be married with joint finances. Each partner’s attitudes and emotional ties to money vary, and that will influence how you, as a couple, handle your finances.
If one person sees money as a fuel for happiness and one hangs onto savings as a hedge against misfortune, their clashing “money minds” can potentially cause issues within the marriage. For example, you could have one couple who maintains two separate checking accounts and spends their own money respectively. Or, you could have another couple who combines their finances so that both parties are privy to their joint financial situation.
If you’re unsure whether separating or joining your finances is the right choice for your partnership, I’ve laid out a few options to consider.
The first option you can choose is to have two separate checking accounts. With this approach, it forces both you and your partner to be responsible for your own accounts while providing a measure of financial independence for each partner. In the event of an emergency, it provides checking account diversification in case of an emergency.
However, this approach can come at the cost of financial life transparency and works better in a two-income household.
Another approach to consider is the “yours, mine and ours” approach. With this approach, each partner maintains his or her own checking account, but the two of you create a joint account for paying shared expenses, like bills.
With this choice, knowing how much to contribute to the joint account can be challenging. To make it fair for both parties, I believe it is best for both parties to chip in a percentage based on your incomes.
Let’s say you have $4,000 in joint bills, and one spouse earns $60,000 a year and the other spouse earns $40,000 a year. With my suggested breakdown, this couple would contribute a 60/40 split to the joint account, with the spouse making $60,000 contributing $2,400 and the spouse making $40,000 contributing $1,600 a month. The remaining funds would then live in each person’s separate checking account to save or spend as they wish.
In order for this approach to work, the two partners would need to agree on their big goals, like saving for retirement, saving for a house or paying down credit card debt, and how the two will contribute. I would advise that you each have your own retirement accounts since those can’t be combined, but you can be each other’s beneficiary.
While there is no single, tidy solution that works for all married partners, it is important to understand that communication, honesty and transparency are vital no matter how a couple approaches their finances. Whether you choose to be married with separate finances or joint finances, you can save yourself from headaches and arguments if your financial lives are an open book, and you respect each other’s priorities and emotional ties to money.