From deciding on home decor to divvying up chores, merging two lives can be a challenge. Throw money into the mix and both parties might become a little uncomfortable. But money and marriage don’t have to be a recipe for disaster. By pinpointing a strategy for your financial life that works for your situation, relationship and individual comfort levels, you can create the harmonious home you’re after.
The key? Knowing that a financial plan isn’t one-size-fits-all.
In today’s post, we’ll take a look at different approaches to combining finances from real-life couples. If you haven’t settled on a strategy that works for you, here are three worth exploring.
Strategy 1: fully combined
When Melissa and Mark R. tied the knot a few years ago, they decided to fully combine their finances and tackle all spending and investing decisions together.
For them, if one partner is out of work, in school or a stay-at-home parent, completely combining financial lives becomes a necessity.
“My husband is what I call a ‘forever student’ and, as you can imagine, there is a significant expense with that,” Melissa said. “Ultimately, we decided that it made more sense to combine our money and make the best financial decisions — and budget — to help him achieve his educational goals while still being able to start a life together.”
Regardless of whether fully combining finances is a necessary next step or a conscious choice, transparency is essential. This means fully disclosing debt and being open to having conversations about spending habits and how they might be impacting future financial goals.
For Melissa and Mark, they had to work at blurring the lines between “mine” and “ours.”
“It’s important we don’t see it as ‘your money’ or ‘my money.’ It’s our money and we decide together how it’s spent,” Melissa said. “For instance, before Mark started his master’s program, we vetted the pros and cons and, as a couple, we made the decision that he should move forward.”
They credit their success with this strategy to having frequent “check-in” conversations and including an allowance category in their budget. This helps counteract feelings of deprivation as well as the friction that can come from analyzing each other’s spending choices.
Strategy 2: separate but together
Many couples find the sweet spot in their money management by combining finances but having a sense of autonomy as well.
After muscling through long conversations about their different money philosophies, Shannon and Matt opted for a hybrid version of combining their finances while also maintaining separate accounts.
Shannon and Matt met in their late 20s and struggled initially to break out of their individual ways of thinking about and managing their finances.
“I like to do a cash budget and he likes to do all the spending on a credit card — which he pays off every month,” Shannon said. “I like to keep my checking close to zero and he likes a large buffer. It took years of bull-headed arguments and not wanting to let go of our own strategies to warm up to a nice in-between.”
What they settled on was merging their finances but keeping a separate account for smaller purchases they wanted to make on their own. This allowed them to build their finances together while getting rid of the need to ask permission for every little expenditure.
They both agree that harmony was the result of continuing to have hard conversations and finding a money management strategy that took into account their individual needs.
Strategy 3: combining for a goal
Couples who are looking to make big progress towards a goal might decide to fully combine their finances and live on one income.
This could be the approach you choose to take if the goal is to have a family in the near future. Not only can this help increase your savings account for when the baby arrives, but it can prepare the family finances for a time period when living on one income might be necessary.
Whatever the goal may be, this strategy can help you and your partner agree on an overall plan for spending and managing money while also cementing your status as members of the same team.
“Having a common financial goal is awesome because you have someone to motivate you, celebrate with, and eventually enjoy the goal together,” Shannon said. “I mean, my friends might not be as excited for me about not buying a $4 cookie so I can stay focused on savings — but my husband will give me that high-five! All things are easier done with the buddy system.”
In a variety of situations, real couples have managed to combine money and marriage in a way that doesn’t spell doom for their relationship. If you’re ready to open up the line of communication and explore more options for creating a harmonious financial life with your partner, visit The Love & Money Project™.