Healthy Way to Combine Finances When Married

Joint and Individual Accounts Keeps Couple Finances Fair and Fun

The following is a guest post by Shannon Pray.

I’ve been married for almost a year now. Prior to being married, we were engaged and kept our finances separate. We decided that if we were going to be married and sharing a home and many expenses for the rest of our lives, we needed to come up with a system for combining our finances. Having talked to other friends in similar situations, I’ve found that there are a number of different ways people have come up with to make this work.

Unique Ways Couples Manage Finances

  1. For one couple I know he owns the house they live in and she pays a set monthly rent and utilities, etc. This system may or may not change when they get married this fall.
  2. For another couple who has been dating for a long time, they own the home together and keep track of spending and work it out at the end of each month. This couple alternates who gets to pay for things when they go out with friends or on dates.

For a long time we were pretty similar to the second couple. We alternated who paid for things when we went out and we both wrote separate checks for rent and utilities. This worked while we were dating and when we were engaged, but as we were getting ready to get married and really start a life together, we decided we needed a new system. After discussing some different options (total combination, partial combination, zero combination) we came up with our plan:

Joint Income, Joint Account PLUS Individual Accounts

  1. We decided to do some math on how much money we spend on rent, utilities, cable, food, eating out and entertainment in a typical month.
  2. We took that total and divided by two. That’s how much money we each put into our joint checking account each month from our paychecks.
  3. I get paid monthly, so I put the whole amount in on the 2nd of the month, he gets paid bi-monthly, so twice a month he transfers half the total.
  4. We kept our individual accounts for savings, gifts, and our own decisions for what to do with it.

The main problem with combining our finances entirely was that we have different spending patterns. I love to buy shoes and clothes, he’s much better at resisting and only buying things when he needs, though every once in a while he “needs” a new golf club. I like to have dinner or lunch out with my girlfriends; he’s less likely to meet the guys for a similar event. He’s more likely to play round after round of golf in the summer, I am generally uninterested. While it’s possible that our various spending patterns would even out, I didn’t want to feel like I couldn’t buy things I wanted because in essence he was paying for them. Likewise, I didn’t want him to feel guilty about playing golf or grabbing a game with the boys since it was my money too. And, a biggie, I didn’t want to be able to look at our account online and see where he’d gotten me presents from, or vice versa.

In the end, we opened a joint-checking account with Charles Schwab because I’d heard great things and because they do high-yield checking, which was somewhat exciting to us. Interest on a checking account?! There have been some pros and cons to using Schwab checking, but overall we like it. In any case, we each have a check card, so we can use it whenever we need for whatever we need. I’ve come to realize that money is something we need to be able to talk about, so we’re working on that front. We discussed what we thought were appropriate things to use the check card for and we’re both pretty good about sticking to that. I do use it if I’m picking up groceries; I don’t use it if I’m buying lunch out with my girlfriends. Sometimes, by the end of the month we’ve overspent and then we each use our personal checking accounts to make up the difference on rent or cable or whatever it is. We’re still working out some kinks and reigning in our spending, but overall this system works for us. He always gets to pull out his joint-checking card and pay when we go on dates, letting him maintain a feeling of being a provider (he does after all provide half of the money in that account). I get to buy outlandish shoes out of my personal account and not feel guilty about spending his hard earned money on them. Mine, yes. His, no. When we’re buying things for our apartment we generally use the joint account, and when I take a weekend trip with my girlfriends I use my personal savings.

Communicate Openly About Money

One thing we’ve learned in this process is to talk pretty openly about our finances. We discuss large ticket purchases that might be coming up (house, furniture, international trip) and how we plan to pay for them and what sort of savings strategy we need. We hash out how to best attack out debt rather than keeping it as some hidden shame. Our system is not perfect, and I know it is far from the only one out there, but it works for us. We have our combined-life financial plan, but we also still maintain some freedom to make independent purchases without answering to one another about them. And, he never knows when I buy him presents because they don’t show up on our joint statement!

One thought on “Healthy Way to Combine Finances When Married

  1. I love your system. The only thing I think that I'll add to it for us is that I have so many things that we both want to save for. Joint things. So, for those we still need to put a % of our monthly earnings towards common savings goals, not just expenses and debt payoff.

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