Figuring out who pays for the first date is a big enough decision. Fast forward to the going-steady stage: How do you figure out how much you’re going to pay for your life together, potentially for decades?
“We just keep each other in check” — $Taten-Janes
For most couples, working out how to manage finances is vital to staying blissfully together. There are a lot of ways to go about it. Shout out to our members for sharing all the different ways you can co-manage money with your partner.
When should couples merge finances?
Knowing when you and your S.O. should pool your funds can be tricky. Here are a few situations when couples could combine their finances — or, at the very least, sit down and figure out who pays for what:
- Dating for a while
- Working on a shared goal (i.e., vacation)
- Co-adopting and parenting of a pet
- Getting engaged
- Being married
The partnership stages mentioned above can be opportunities to start pooling your money.
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If you think it’s time to have that chat, turn it into a date. Up the fun factor. It doesn’t need to be awkward, dull, or even technical. Pour two glasses of wine or go on a coffee date. Have a heart-to-heart on whether it makes sense to take that big step. Then, mull over the different options:
Couple finances option 1: Split everything 50/50
When you go halfsies on everything, you and you partner pay 50/50 on all your expenses, from rent to Netflix subscriptions to dog food. Beyond living expenses, you also join forces on your money goals.
Simplify your finances. A significant advantage of pooling your finances is that it can make joint money management easier. It also can simplify planning for short-term goals, such as that dream vacation to Bora Bora or crushing lingering credit card debt. Splitting everything in half can also make for a smoother ride for far-off goals, like retirement.
Have an equal say. This approach might also help level the playing field on how you handle your money in the relationship. By going halfsies on everything, there’s less chance one partner will feel entitled to have the final word on decisions because they contribute a larger chunk.
Enjoy greater satisfaction. Another benefit? A recent study at Cornell reveals that commingling your money can lead to higher levels of commitment, harmony, and satisfaction in your relationship. This finding especially rings true for lower-income couples.
Feel reigned in with less autonomy. Splitting expenses equally can lead to feelings of less freedom — and a total joy-killer if the couple is used to their independence. This dynamic may happen if one partner is more spendy and the other is more thrifty. In this case, splitting costs evenly can have one partner feeling like a kid with an allowance and the other playing the role of a nagging parent.
Deal with more resentment. This approach can also create ill feelings if one partner makes more money than the other. If so, the partner earning less might have a lighter wallet — just to keep up with putting in their share. They could also feel stressed, overwhelmed, insecure, and “less than” because they struggle to keep up. And that’s not fun for anyone.
Check in more often. You’ll also need to communicate more about purchases than if you flew solo. While there’s a benefit to having money conversations, it can require an adjustment — especially when you’re used to being the master of your money domain.
What to consider
Going halfsies on your finances can make sense if you feel comfortable commingling. Chat with your partner about how you each think about the arrangement and air out any concerns.
To avoid potential flare-ups and resentments, set boundaries ahead of time. For purchases over a certain amount, agree to do a quick check-in to ensure your partner gives you the green light.
Couple finances option 2: Pay proportionally
You can approach paying proportionally in several ways. The first is paying according to income. Let’s say that you make more than your significant other. Based on your respective salaries, you pay 60% while your partner covers 40% of your expenses.
Another slightly tweaked approach? Dividing and conquering based on expenses and money goals. For example, your partner covers the rent, while you cover everything else. Some couples have reached baller status and live on one income, putting the other partner’s paychecks toward debt, savings, and retirement.
Relieve the person who earns less. A perk of paying proportionally in a relationship is that it can relieve the person raking in less dough of financial stress. If you split 50/50, the partner raking in less dough could feel cash-strapped.
Experience more freedom. Another pro is that dividing costs proportionally can provide more autonomy if each person covers specific bills. Do you remember how you could happily play on opposite sides of the sandbox when you were a kid? Paying proportionally can offer the same sense of freedom while doing something together.
Subsidize one partner’s lifestyle. A downside is that the higher earner can feel like they’re footing the bill for the other’s lifestyle. The partner who makes more might feel pressured to cover more expenses because their take-home pay is higher. The person who earns less can also feel indebted.
What to consider
Just because one partner makes more doesn’t necessarily mean you should pay proportionally. It boils down to your lifestyle preferences and the nuances of the relationship.
If there’s a chance that the higher earner might feel a tinge of resentment for covering more of the expenses, address it. It might make sense that the one who makes less agrees to more of the chores, home maintenance, or pet care.
Couple finances option 3: Joint account for everything
Signing up for a joint account means that both of your paychecks go into a joint account. You’ll use those funds to cover all expenses and your savings goals.
See transactions at-a-glance. As we mentioned, studies show that commingling expenses can lead to greater feelings of commitment and relationship satisfaction. In turn, it can simplify planning. Plus, you can see exactly how much money you have.
Maintain greater transparency. Another advantage is that it could lead to greater transparency on how you spend your money, both individually and in the relationship.
Deal with lack of privacy. A downside of using a joint account for everything is a lack of privacy. It’s nearly impossible to surprise your S.O. with a spur-of-the-moment gift if they can see every transaction you make on your debit card.
Feel greater dependency. A joint account could also lead to feelings of dependency and getting entangled in the other’s money matters. In turn, you might clash more.
More work if you split up. If your romance ends with you and your partner going separate ways, you’ll also need to open separate accounts and determine who gets what. This can get messy fast.
What to consider
If you want to pool your funds, a joint account could jive with your relationship. But opening a joint account might not be ideal if you’ve been burned in a past marriage or relationship.
Couple finances option 4: Joint account for shared bills, separate accounts otherwise
A tweak to the joint account option is to open a joint account for shared bills and maintain different accounts for everything else. Another arrangement: Have a joint account for bills, another for shared goals, and individual accounts for your personal expenses.
“Half of our money into a joint account, half into an individual account”
Have the best of both worlds. You can enjoy the team-building that comes with a joint account and the autonomy of having your own funds to spend as you please. With this hybrid approach, you can also devise a plan on how much you each contribute.
Helps if you freelance. This option can also help with cash flow issues if one partner is a freelancer and is prone to inconsistent income. How, you ask? Well, the partner with a steady paycheck can cover rent and bills with set due dates. The freelancing partner can handle expenses without due dates – groceries, eating out, entertainment, and additional costs.
Can get complicated. A disadvantage of employing a hybrid system with a joint account and separate accounts is that it can get complicated quickly. How much money do you both contribute? And how much “free money” do you get? You can avoid this by developing a firm plan and set of rules.
Trip over financial unknowns. Another potential con is that there’s a big question mark hovering over how much discretionary income each partner has. If one person has significantly more of their own money, it could lead to differences in lifestyle. Or there could be a difference in opinion over whether the higher earner should contribute more to long-term goals.
What to consider
It can get confusing or weird when choosing the joint account for shared finances and separate accounts for everything else.
To steer clear of this, get nitty gritty about the ins and outs of your joint account. For instance, hone in on exactly what goes into the joint account, when money should drop to cover expenses, and who is tasked with paying which bills.
Common situations to consider as a couple
Suppose you’re wondering: how do couples manage their money? A survey conducted by the Harris Poll shows that more than three-quarters of couples (77%, to be exact) handle their money together at least partly, but it varies by age. Nearly half of Gen Z don’t commingle, while 23% of millennials and 48% of boomers don’t commingle their money. That said, there’s not one “right” answer that neatly fits all dynamics.
“We cover each other when the unexpected comes up and split responsibilities for home & auto”
Let’s consider some everyday situations when coupled:
One person is carrying a lot of student debt. Suppose you’re married, and one partner is shouldering a sizable student debt load. In that case, you might want to file your taxes separately and keep separate accounts (but you could still split costs).
For smooth sailing with finances in marriage and your debt load, decide whether the other person will contribute to paying off the student debt or if the person who owes the debt will be fully responsible for paying it off.
You’re about to get married. Combining finances with your fiancé can be a step in the right direction. If you think merging finances can help you build your lives together, try starting small. For instance, start with a shared goal, then move to open a joint account for bills and separate accounts for everything else.
One partner works. If you’re in a one-income relationship, figure out a way for the person currently not working to be on the joint account. Should the non-working partner take on side gigs, they can put that toward debt, savings, or some other money goal. Or you can opt for a personal discretionary allowance each month.
To mix or not to mix: that is the question
There you have it: four ways to co-manage finances in a relationship. It might not be best to combine your funds depending on your situation. In matters of love and money, incorporate your separate habits and work as a team to build a financial life together — whatever that looks like for your relationship.
About to tie the knot? Don’t forget to bring up a prenup.
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