Couples agree that money is the primary source of conflict in most relationships. And it’s no wonder why. People hold different values around money depending on when and where they were raised, cultural norms, and more. For example, someone who shops at thrift stores might balk at their beau’s $100 clothing item. Individuals who value their time may hire a housekeeper, while their partner may find it silly and a waste of money.
Being successful joint money managers revolves around having good communication without contempt or criticism. Don’t wait until a financial crisis hits to have your first conversation about finances; find time to have frequent conversations.
Thinking about joining finances? Start with these three discussions to get the conversation started.
You and your significant other should set short- and long-term goals. If you’re married, these will be more serious than if you are dating. (i.e., saving for having a child or a secondary education). Ask yourselves what is important to you as a couple. Yearly vacations? A new kitchen? Also, consider maxing out your employer-sponsored retirement accounts and setting up a household emergency fund for unexpected mishaps.
Second, if you’re not going to share a primary bank account, you’ll have to agree on what expenses you’re sharing and how they will be divided.
Splitting bills down the middle is an easy, straightforward method and usually works well if each partner has a similar income. However, evenly divided costs don’t account for income differences or disparities in debt. Some couples will also consider labor division around the house when splitting expenses.
The more equitable alternative is the income-based method, where each partner pays a percentage of expenses based on how much they earn. For example, if Alex makes $70,000 a year and Sammy makes $49,000 a year, Alex would be responsible for 59% of the bills while Sammy would cover the remaining 41%. However, divvying expenditures this way can be tricky if someone works on commissions or bonuses.
New age couples, especially those living together, tend to start splitting expenses before their nuptials. It makes sense to share bills like utilities and internet that you share. Other items like groceries and pet expenses can also fall into this category. But be cautious of making large purchases together if you’re not married especially getting a mortgage or co-signing on a vehicle. If your relationship doesn’t work as expected, it can be messy.
Finally, you and your partner must develop a method to manage your money. Maybe one of you pays the bills; however, that doesn’t mean the other should be kept in the dark. Even if your partner may be better at finances, you should keep track of account balances and be aware of your expenses. It’s best to be involved in case something happens to the money manager, or you split up.
Many apps can help couples track spending, coordinate bills, and transfer money to each other. Alternatively, you can open a joint bank account for bills and household expenses. By setting up a direct deposit for a certain amount each paycheck and enrolling in automatic payments, you can set it and forget it. Joint accounts also allow individuals to keep a portion of their own money in a private account.
Whether you’re moving into your first apartment together or celebrating your 20th wedding anniversary, consistently communicating about money even when it’s difficult will benefit you long into the future. Make sure your plan is flexible and adaptable as your goals, expenses, and methods change.