Healthy Financial Relationship 101: Should You Merge Your Finances?
When it comes to relationships, money usually isn't the hottest topic for a first date. But, as things get more serious and you start sharing more of your lives, the topic of money will eventually come up. Having an open conversation about how you want to manage money as a couple can build trust and set you up to meet your goals, whether that's with merged finances, separate accounts, or some combination.
When to Discuss Combining Finances
It's a good idea to talk about merging your finances before making a commitment. While there's no magic moment when couples must discuss the matter, many financial advisers agree that a conversation should take place before you say "I do." According to Erik Klumpp, a certified financial planner and founder of Chessie Advisors, LLC, in southeast Michigan, "Once a couple is engaged, it's a good time to begin discussing how to handle their finances together." According to Eric Roberge, a certified financial planner in Boston, "The short answer is: before they have to make the decision of whether or not to combine them. In most cases, finances are the last thing couples talk about. Unfortunately, it’s usually after they get married. Personally, I recommend bringing up the subject before getting engaged. It’s important to understand the impact of marriage on your finances."
Factors to Consider
There's no right or wrong answer for how any given couple should choose manage their financial lives. However, there are a number of factors you should consider. Roberge suggests discussing how expenses will be paid by the couple, including how expenses will be divided when the individuals make different amounts of income, and whether the partners value their independence or prefer to approach their finances as a team. Klumpp advises looking at how both partners have managed finances in the past, and how well they have done managing them.
Pros and Cons of Merging Finances
Merging your finances can make your life simpler, with fewer accounts and more transparency between partners. "Both spouses can know exactly where they stand financially since both have access to the accounts," says Klumpp. "Combining expenses also provides a reason to communicate and hold one another accountable for their spending," adds Roberge. "It’s very much a team approach."
But there is also a downside: Each partner can scrutinize every purchase made by the other. Klumpp also cautions that "it's easy to take the money and run. Since both spouses have equal access to the money, in many cases, they can withdraw the money with just one signature."
Pros and Cons of Keeping Separate Finances
Keeping finances separate allows each partner to maintain more independence and privacy. "Some people are open to sharing various aspects of their lives with a partner, but money may not be one of them. I’m not condoning such behavior, but people have different views on this," says Roberge. "Also, if you both have different money personalities (behaviors and habits around money) you might find that it’s less stressful to keep things separate."
"In some cases, this structure can alleviate some of the spending issues surrounding having only joint accounts, but also allows for some freedom for each spouse," adds Klumpp. "But, if not carefully managed, this freedom could cause concern for the other spouse.
"One spouse might always question what the other does with his or her money, adding additional stress to the relationship if these concerns are not communicated," warns Roberge.
A Hybrid Approach
Combining your finances doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing approach. "I suggest that my clients create a joint checking account and add a certain dollar amount into that account each month from their personal checking, or vice versa," says Roberge. "You can then use this joint account to cover all shared expenses." Klumpp makes similar suggestions to have smaller spending accounts. "If the husband wants to save up to use his account for baseball season tickets, he can. If the wife wants to save up to use her account on a spending spree with the girls, she's more than welcome to do that."