Deciding to combine finances with another person is a big step in any relationship. Yet a recent study by Professor Emily Garbinsky of Cornell University found that pooling finances can lead to more satisfaction, peace, and commitment in a serious relationship.
Of course, just because you and your significant other are ready to merge your money together doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to start the process. There is no rule book or one-size-fits-all approach to follow. So, we reached out to three relationship and money experts to gather tips on the best ways to combine finances with someone you love.
Before you start digging into the numbers, it’s important to have the right attitude when it comes to joint financial management. You want to make sure that you take the needs of both parties in the relationship into consideration equally before merging your money together.
“Start thinking about the relationship in terms of ‘we’ versus ‘I,” says Licensed Mental Health Therapist & Relationship Architect at Matter of Focus Counseling, Melanie Preston, LMHC. “When you start to think along those lines,” she tells Self in an interview, “it chips away at independent thinking and replaces it with partnership thinking.”
If you have a partner who’s resistant to the idea of a partnership mentality, it could be a red flag. Without financial trust in a relationship, joint finances might not make sense.
It’s critical to be honest with your significant other about the existing debts you owe. You should also only consider merging finances if you feel confident that your loved one is being honest with you as well.
One approach to consider here is checking your credit reports, having your partner do the same, and reviewing them together. It’s an easy way to make sure that secret or forgotten debts aren’t lurking in the background of either party’s life.
“Hiding existing debt sets the stage for financial dishonesty,” says Preston. “Although it's not mandatory that couples share in paying each other's existing debt, having an honest conversation about whether it exists is still appropriate.”
Next it’s time to review the rest of your financial details with your partner. To accomplish this task you’ll need to gather financial details and documents such as:
Any personal finance apps you use to manage or save money may also help make this process easier.
Annette Harris, Founder of Harris Financial Coaching, tells Self in an interview that it’s important to identify all individual joint monthly expenses before combining finances. Harris says, “you should take a look at the income that each individual earns to determine how you can work on combining your finances. It's important to remember that 100% of your finances do not have to be merged together.”
You might also want to approach the process differently if there’s an income disparity between yourself and your partner. In such scenarios, Harris suggests that couples may consider dividing monthly expenses on a percentage basis to keep financial contributions equitable.
Communication is key in a relationship—especially where financial goals are concerned. To create a successful household budget, you’ll first need to share your viewpoint with your loved one and have them share their financial goals and priorities with you in return.
“If there are concerns, they need to be voiced,” Antonio Tovar, CFP® and Wealth Manager with Stone Wealth Management tells Self in an interview. At the same time, Tovar says, “it is important to be respectful and considerate to your partner because they can have different values, history, and habits regarding money.”
Before you sit down to discuss financial goals with your partner, it’s wise to plan ahead. Some potential topics you might want to discuss include:
Identifying financial priorities sets you up to create a financial plan that supports your needs and goals as a couple. At this point, you may be ready to create a household budget.
A joint budget is a tool that can help you map out:
Remember, budgets aren’t about deprivation. They’re a blueprint to help you and your partner afford the things that matter most to you.
Just remember that people have different financial backgrounds. “Avoid belittling your partner,” Tovar says, “if they are not as financially literate [as you]. Everyone has different experiences with money, and it is important to understand and respond maturely to address the concerns in your joint finances.”
Whether you’re managing finances on your own or with someone you love, it’s important to understand that you’ll have to revisit the subject over and over again. Tovar says that joint financial planning is a process that needs to be reviewed frequently as your life changes.
One potential way to stay on top of a combined financial plan is to schedule periodic money dates. For example, you and your partner could meet once a month to review your spending, progress toward financial goals and budgeting challenges, and see if anything in your budget needs an adjustment. Frequent and honest communication about money is an essential ingredient in healthy relationships and financial plans.
Michelle Lambright Black is a nationally recognized credit expert with two decades of experience. She is the founder of CreditWriter.com, an online credit education resource and community that helps busy moms learn how to build good credit and a strong financial plan that they can leverage to their advantage. Michelle's work has been published thousands of times by FICO, Experian, Forbes, Bankrate, MarketWatch, Parents, U.S. News & World Report, and many other outlets. You can connect with Michelle on Twitter (@MichelleLBlack) and Instagram (@CreditWriter).