Finances are often the thing most couples fight about (I’ve had a number of couples tell me, “this is the only thing we fight about”) and part of it is because there is so much ego/pride/shame/embarrassment around how you handle your own personal finances and admitting them to the person who you admire and love the most is, well, hard 🙂
We (millennials) are of a generation where both partners work and have built separate financial lives from each other (vs. our parents’ generation where there was more commonly one income). This complicates the combining of finances in a different way and sometimes a partner is not comfortable comingling finances.
Below are some ideas for how to start the conversation and how to handle combining or not combining your finances.
STARTING THE CONVERSATION:
1. Be the first to admit a financial mistake you’ve made
Sometimes all it takes to open up the conversation is to be the first one to hold up the white flag and share your own insecurities, shame, and negative thoughts about money. Couples often end up attacking each other and we often think it’s the other one who is spending too much money (or not washing the dishes, or making the bed, or taking out the trash… 🙂 ). You’d be surprised how much your partner will open up if you decide to take the first hit.
2. Have a conversation about your values and goals when you’re both emotion-neutral
Often the only time money comes up is during the beginning or middle of an argument. Instead, set aside time to have a conversation about your finances when you’re both not emotional about it and focus the conversation on values and goals. That way, when you do inevitably fight about money, you can both go back to this discussion as a point of reference and make decisions based on these concrete values and goals.
3. Get a 3rd party involved
Whether it’s a couples therapist or a financial planner, it often helps to get a 3rd party in the room that is not so emotionally invested in the finances conversation (it’s why my husband and I have a financial planner even though I’m a financial planner). They can help you see each other’s side of the argument and mediate between making financial decisions while also reminding you what your joint values and goals are.
IF YOU WANT TO MAINTAIN SEPARATE FINANCES:
For couples who decide to maintain separate finances (myself included), there are a few ways to streamline both saving and managing bills and some things to watch out for:
1. Get a joint credit card
Open a credit card and add the other person as an authorized user (or add the other partner onto an existing credit card) and pay for all joint discretionary expenses on this card (including cable/internet, netflix, car payments, and any other regular bills you can charge).
Then, when the bill is due, split the bill down the middle and pay from each of your separate accounts.
2. Set up a joint savings account
While you may want to keep your day to day finances separate, you should get on the same page about what you’re saving for together as a couple. Having a joint savings account is great for this.
Whether it’s an annual vacation, a downpayment on a home, or saving for a family, establishing a joint savings account will allow for both of you to contribute what you can to the same pot and visually be working towards the same goals.
3. The pitfalls of a joint checking account
I’ve had many couples try to manage a joint checking account for household expenses by trying to remember to put a certain amount of money into the account each month. Usually what ends up happening is the joint checking account falls to the wayside and ends up unused after a few months.
Because joint spending can be so variable, it’s hard to estimate how much you would need to contribute to the joint checking account, and with apps like Venmo and Splitwise out there, it’s easier to split non credit card bills now more than ever.