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A 2023 Guide to Couples Finances and Merging Money: 8 Tips

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They say that getting married can be one of the best ways to build wealth, particularly if neither member of a couple has any substantial debts. At one point or another, all couples will need to decide whether it makes sense for them to combine their finances, and to what extent.

Luckily, there are a number of best practices to help you figure this out in as least a stressful way as possible.

Here are some strategies for combining your finances in a relationship.

What does it mean to combine finances?

At a certain point in time, as a relationship gets more serious, couples may have the idea to combine their finances together. This may entail opening a joint savings account, combining investment accounts, and getting a joint credit card.

Some couples opt to combine all of their finances before they get married, while others opt to never do so. It all depends on what works best for you!

Tips to combine your finances

Whether or not you combine your finances before or after marriage, there is a list of tips and tricks that you'll want to consider as you get started. In no particular order, pay attention to these tips:

  1. Communicate

  2. Adjust your mindset

  3. Budget as a couple

  4. Review your spending plan and long-term financial goals

  5. Have monthly money talks

  6. Discuss debt

  7. Assign specific roles

  8. Negotiate

1. Communicate

Communication is key! Sit down with your partner and ask him/her how they feel about the idea of merging their finances. If he/she is in favor, great! Spend some time talking about how you would like to do so, and what your expectations are of each other.

If not, listen to his/her objections and try to understand where they are coming from. If it is something that you can work out, that is great. Otherwise, you'll want to put in the effort to assure that you each trust each other with financial matters.

Remember - merging your money is not required.

2. Adjust your mindset

The first thing you're going to want to do as you combine finances as a couple for the first time is to adjust your mental mindset. You'll need to stop thinking about your money as just your money, and instead, start thinking about your finances cumulatively.

This can take some getting used to. When my wife and I first merged our finances about a year before we got married, it definitely took some getting used to. We opened a joint brokerage account, complete with investment, cash management, and check writing services.

We've used it to pay our bills, finance our travel, and even save up for a down payment on our house!

3. Budget as a couple

It is also wise to begin budgeting as a couple as soon as you combine your money. I've written about Rocket Money and Trim as budgeting solutions before, but I also recommend many other apps and sites for couples.

These include:

  • Mint

  • Goodbudget

  • EveryDollar

Budgeting as a couple is important for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it can help provide you with a barometer as to the strength of your relationship. If you can handle complicated financial discussions and situations, it can help you both grow.

Additionally, budgeting as a couple will help you both understand where your financial priorities are and whether something needs to change.

4. Look at your financial goals

You will quickly learn to look at your financial and relationship goals as being intertwined because they oftentimes are. For example, getting married and starting a family are two life goals that carry enormous financial burdens.

In fact, for many of us, it is impossible to separate financials from our life goals. They are likely to carry months, or even years, of deliberate financial planning, saving, and preparation.

Because of this, it is critical to make sure that you and your significant other are on the same page.

5. Have monthly money talks

Check-in with your partner periodically to see whether your joint financial plan is working for him or her. If there are any pain points, this can be a great opportunity to iron them out and address them.

I recommend doing so monthly. You may opt to plan a couple of hours together to talk through the upcoming month's budget, as well as debrief on how the previous month went.

6. Discuss your debt(s)

Merging your income can be easy for many couples. But where things get a little murkier is when there is debt involved, particularly student loans or credit card debt. If one partner has outstanding student loan debt and the other does not, you will absolutely want to communicate how you will handle this.

Will a portion of your partner's income go towards paying your loans? Or will you keep debt separate? These are sticky solutions, but it is important that you find a fair solution that leaves both partners satisfied.

7. Assign specific roles

Your household finances should not be a one-way street. In fact, couples should share responsibilities as much as possible. I handle investments and tax decisions, while I trust my wife completely to monitor our ongoing cash flow needs and help prepare us for any larger expenses that may pop up on our radar.

Sharing responsibilities is a great first step, but you'll also want to make sure that your partner also agrees with your decision-making before you take any action.

You may also consider working with a professional offering specific financial planning for couples.

8. Be open to negotiating

You are still two different people who probably grew up with two different belief systems and views on money. It is important to realize that money in a relationship, and especially in a marriage, is a lifetime of give and take.

Two summers ago, I really wanted to go to Disney with my sister. We couple afford it, and my wife encouraged me to go, although I'd be spending joint money without her. About a year later, she wanted to purchase an expensive luxury brand handbag, and although I am an experience-based consumer, I was open to letting her make the purchase.

How to combine your finances

There are a number of strategies that you can use to combine your finances as a couple. It all depends on what you are comfortable with, but you may decide to use any or all of the below:

  1. Opening a joint credit card

  2. Joint savings account

  3. Buying real estate

Joint credit cards

Getting a joint credit card was actually the last thing that my wife and I did to consolidate our finances, but it is something you'll want to consider, especially if one of you already has a card with lucrative cashback or other perks.

There are a couple of ways you may opt to do this. You may either:

  • Add your significant other as an authorized user on your existing card: This may be the right approach if your significant other has a lesser credit score or history. You'll be on the hook to make payments, but your partner's credit score may get a bump.

  • Add him/her as a joint owner: Adding your partner as a joint owner will mean that he/she is just as responsible as you are to make timely and full payments. Joint cards are harder to find than they used to be and can become a tricky situation if you break up.

I opted for the second option since my wife and I both have very high and similar credit scores.

Consider a joint savings account

We actually merged our finances shortly after our engagement, and opening a joint savings account was our first step. We each direct deposit a portion of our income into this account each pay cycle, but also deposit a few hundred dollars each into personal accounts for our own spending, gift buying, etc.

You can do this at many banks and other financial institutions, but I've been really impressed by our experience with Fidelity.

We opened a cash management account complete with check writing and investing capabilities.

Buying real estate together

We may not always think of it in this way, but buying a home together is definitely an example of joint couple finances.

If one partner in a relationship already owns property, it may be worth discussing whether the other will be added to the home's title/mortgage, and to what extent he/she will help with home expenses such as your mortgage, real estate taxes, utility bills, and ongoing maintenance.

It can sometimes be a difficult conversation, but it is an important one.

What if one partner makes more money?

Joint finances can be more difficult to handle if one partner makes a lot more (or less) money than the other. Though our salaries are actually pretty close, here is how my wife and I handle this.

We take our combined annual income, calculate what percentage of it each of us makes, and use these allocations to contribute to our joint savings account. For example, let's say that one partner earns 60% of a household's income, while the other partner earns 40%. In this scenario, the higher-paid partner will make 60% of the financial contribution to the joint account, while the other partner will contribute 40%.

This strategy assures that one of us does not get penalized for making less, as both of us will still be left with our own incidental spending money each pay cycle.

And while I know this approach will not be one that works for all couples, I did want to share it as an example of a strategy that works well for us. Other couples will feel more comfortable going 50/50 on everything, and that is okay too!

There is no one perfect way to manage finances in a marriage.

Pros and cons of combining finances

There are some distinct pros and cons to joint couple finances. And while talking about money together can be really difficult, this is not a reason not to do it.

The pros are plentiful in my opinion:

  1. Each partner knows exactly how you're doing financially

  2. No financial surprises

  3. Joint financial goals

The cons mostly center around the potential awkwardness and hesitancy of combining your finances. But once you get past that, you're likely to see that personal finance is much easier to navigate.

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About Nathan Zarcaro

Nathan Zarcaro is the founder of The Student Debt Destroyer and is passionate about personal finance related causes.  A 2018 graduate of Providence College's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Nathan studied Finance, and worked for one of the world's largest asset management firms before starting his own consulting practice.  In his free time, Nathan enjoys playing golf and traveling with his wife Brigid.

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