One question I’m asked pretty often is this: how should I merge finances with my partner? And there isn’t a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to this. How and why you merge finances will depend on you, your partner, and your circumstances. But one thing I do know is that most women I speak to want to maintain a semblance of independence even if they do merge finances.
Before I bought a house with my now-husband, I felt very strongly about keeping our finances separate. I thought that in order to be independent, I couldn’t officially combine anything. Yes, we already had a shared credit card for things like groceries or dining, but that didn’t really count, because he was just an authorized user on my credit card account.
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However, once we bought a house, and especially once I quit my job and took my business full-time, things got more financially complicated. We were relying on Dan’s salary to pay our bills, so it wasn’t as simple as me paying all the bills and then Dan transferring over what he owed me. In fact, it was impossible for us to do that. And just because Dan was now the main breadwinner didn’t mean that he wanted to take over managing our finances. So the solution was to open a joint checking account and have most of Dan’s paychecks deposit into it. That way, I could manage all the bills and track our budget using the income we were actually using.
How you decide to approach this will depend on your situation, but there are several ways that you can maintain your independence while merging finances with your partner:
Keep your own checking account
Just because you are opening a joint account doesn’t mean that you have to close your own checking account. It’s okay to maintain your own account for your own personal spending purposes.
Even though Dan and I primarily use our joint checking account for paying for things, we each maintain our own, separate checking accounts. We can do whatever we want with that money without having to answer to each other and it lets us feel a sense of independence. In fact, a small portion of Dan’s paychecks go into his checking account so that he’s free to go out for drinks or buy lunch without it impacting our overall joint budget.
Keep your own emergency savings
Emergency savings isn’t just protection for when you lose your job, get injured, or your car breaks down. It’s also there for you if your relationship breaks down and you need to find a new place to live ASAP. Of course, you hope the worst won’t happen, but 50 percent of marriages do end in divorce, so it’s not unrealistic that it might happen someday. That’s just one reason why it’s so important to keep your own emergency savings.
Dan and I each have our own emergency funds, and neither of us has access to the other’s. Recently, we used some excess savings money to purchase a new car, and then we split up what was left so that we would each have the same amount in our savings. Of course, we can use this money together if something were to happen to our home or health, but it’s also there for each of us if something were to go wrong between us.
Having this money set aside for yourself can give you extra peace of mind.
Set ground rules
As adults, we don’t necessarily have to check in with our partner for every little expense. In fact, if your partner requires you to get permission or explain yourself whenever you spend money, you might be experiencing financial abuse. However, when you’re sharing your life and your money with someone else, it’s important to have transparency and ground rules.
Sit down before you merge your finances and outline some ground rules. Perhaps it means that if either person is going to spend more than $100 on something, they have to check in with the other first. Perhaps it means that you sign up for an app like HoneyDue so that there’s full transparency across the board. What your rules are will depend on you, your partner, and both of your needs. The important part is making sure you both agree to these ground rules and check in on them regularly.
Assign a point person
Chances are, there isn’t someone within your relationship who loooves to manage the finances. I personally might be somewhat of a rarity in that case. But that doesn’t mean that no one in the household can take this responsibility. Someone needs to be a point person for your budget and your bills, or else things will go into disarray.
In my household, I manage all of it. I created the budget based on our income and needs, I make sure the bills get paid, and I move money around when necessary. That won’t necessarily work with everyone, because it might be too much for one person. If there isn’t one of you who wants to manage everything, split things up! Assign certain financial tasks to each other. Make sure that aligns with each of your strengths, so that things don’t get forgotten or avoided.
Have regular money check-ins
Just because you’ve assigned a point person and set up ground rules doesn’t mean that you can set it and forget it. Money and relationships need constant maintenance. Set a regular time to sit down together and check in on your money. This could be weekly or monthly, whatever works better for your situation. However, it’s important that you don’t take longer than a month to check in.
Dan and I added this task to our weekly “family meeting” where we check in to review what’s going on in the coming week, talk about what our meals will be, and discuss how things are going between us. It’s taken a lot of emotional pressure off of me to review how our budget is going with Dan during these meetings. You get bonus points if you add something pleasurable to these check-ins, like a good meal or a tasty treat.
These check-ins are not only important for making sure you’re staying on budget, but they are important for your relationship as well. It’s a time to make sure that everyone is feeling happy and comfortable with the set-up. It’s also a time to have difficult conversations about anything that might need to change.
This article originally appeared on Maggie Germano.
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