When two people commit to each other and combine their lives, they must consider what they’re going to do about money: Keep everything separate? Combine everything into one blended pool? Or try a mish-mash of the two?
This is an important discussion since money can be a big point of contention in a relationship, and how you approach it as a team affects that dynamic. Experts vary on their recommendations, but it’s clear that some strategies are better for some couples than others.
Here's how it adds up:
With this approach, everybody piles into the same boat. You combine all your money into one joint bank account and pay all your bills and other expenses from one pot. Forty-six percent of people pool income with a partner, according to PolicyGenius' 2019 Couples and Money survey.
- Advantages: This is a great set up for ease of use—all the money is in one spot, so it’s simpler to track. You both see what’s happening in the account, so it can feel more like you’re both rowing in the same direction. If something happens to your spouse or partner, it also makes it easier for you to access the cash. Plus, couples that put all their money into joint accounts are happier in their relationship and less likely to break up, according to one working paper.
- Disadvantages: If you’re the type who doesn’t want your spouse being aware of every pair of shoes or sports ticket you purchase, a joint account can feel a little intrusive. And if the two of you end things non-amicably, it's trickier to break up a joint account. (There's also this contradiction: One in five people regret combining finances with their spouse or partner, particularly if they're higher earners.)
With this approach, you share no accounts. You each have your own bank account and split household expenses by some formula you have devised. Twenty-two percent of couples keep and manage money separately. This also tends to be more common in second marriages or marriages where both partners are older, since they've been managing their own money for years.
- Advantages: You’re both still actively involved in managing your money. (In a one-account situation, sometimes one spouse takes the lead and the other checks out of the family finances.) You may have fewer arguments over money, since you won’t be actively faced with proof of a spending habit that makes you crazy. Additionally, if it turns out that your partner has an issue with debt, your money is safe in your account.
- Disadvantages: Bill paying can be a hassle, and if your partner does have an issue with debt, you might not find out until they’re pretty far into a hole. It’s also harder to feel like you’re on the same money team and working toward the same goals, since you’re both doing separate things with your salaries.
With this approach, you each keep a separate bank account, but you open a joint account where you can pool some funds and pay for household expenses. Some couples contribute to a joint account equally, while others split the responsibility proportionately based on how much income each makes. For instance, if one partner's income is 60% of the household income and the other's income is 40% of the total, the contribution to the joint account gets split 60/40, respectively.
- Advantages: With a joint account, it’s easier to pay for shared expenses. Each of you contributes an agreed-upon amount of money each month to the pot, allowing you to cover costs without resorting to Venmo or Zelle to settle up. But you also get to keep your separate money persona, spending the money in your account as you wish.
- Disadvantages: There may be battles about what, exactly, is a “shared” expense. And coordinating what money goes into which account requires an extra step.
The Bottom Line
No matter how you approach your shared finances, it's essential that you talk about money and agree on a strategy. Set aside a night for a money date and talk about how you'd like to arrange things, and why you feel that way. Being on the same page will go a long way toward establishing a successful money relationship.