How to Begin the Process of Combining Finances

By Michelle Lambright Black
Published on: 07/12/2022

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.[1]

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.

Tip #1: Develop Partnership Thinking

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.”[2]

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.

Tip #2: Be Honest About Existing Debt

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.”

Tip #3: Gather Your Financial Details

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:

  • Bank Statements
  • Credit Card Statements
  • Income Details
  • Retirement Account Statements
  • Recurring Bills (e.g., Utilities, Cell Phone, Childcare, Subscriptions, etc.)
  • Other Financial Obligations

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.[3] 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.

Tip #4: Talk About Goals

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.[4] 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:

  • Retirement Savings
  • Debt Elimination Goals
  • Homeownership Plans
  • Large Upcoming Expenditures (i.e., Home Improvement, Vehicle Purchases, Wedding, Business Expenses, etc.)

Tip #5: Create a Household Budget

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:

  • Who will be responsible for each debt and financial obligation (or if you’ll handle everything together).
  • How much each party plans to save toward both small and large financial goals.
  • What you will do when extra money or unexpected expenses arise.

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.”

Tip #6: Keep Having Money Dates

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.

Sources

  1. Cornell Chronicle. “Can combining finances lead to long-lasting love?” https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2022/03/can-combining-finances-lead-long-lasting-love
  2. Melanie Preston, LMHC. https://www.matteroffocuscounseling.com.
  3. Annette Harris, Founder, Harris Financial Coaching. https://www.harriswealthcoach.com.
  4. Antonia Tovar, CFP®, Wealth Manager. https://stonewealthatx.com.

About the Author

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).

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Written on July 12, 2022
Self is a venture-backed startup that helps people build credit and savings. Comments? Questions? Send us a note at hello@self.inc.

Disclaimer: Self is not providing financial advice. The content presented does not reflect the view of the Issuing Banks and is presented for general education and informational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified professional for financial advice.

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