Managing money as a couple is something that’s deeply personal. You and your partner may be perfectly compatible in the bedroom, but breaking out a spreadsheet and talking about how you spend is often fraught with stress.
Our attitudes about money, especially in relationships, are shaped by complex family stories. Perhaps your mother never had access to your family’s bank accounts. As a result, you may want to have complete control over your finances. Or maybe your parents believe that a couple is only viable if they share a bank account. You follow in their footsteps and merge finances once you get married. Add in differentiated spending habits and a wage gap, and it becomes clear why money is such a difficult topic for some couples.
Though money management for couples is highly personal, there are tools and tricks you can use to keep yourself — and your partner — financially safe, no matter your situation.
For some, it makes sense to keep finances completely separated. Apps such as Venmo, the Cash App and Splitwise are awesome ways to split the bill on dates, at the grocery store and on major purchases.
“It’s super easy to input when you buy something and [you] can split bills in half or by adjustment,” says reader Lainy on the app Split Wise. “It's an amazing app.”
Other partners have opted to share small things: You can make your partner an authorized user on your credit card to take advantage of points (as long as you both pay it back, of course).
“We are both authorized users on each other’s credit cards because we were trying to hit minimum spends for bonuses at separate times,” reader Molly says of her long-distance boyfriend.
You can also consider linking bank accounts. This option only works if you both bank at the same institution. Linking accounts allows you to easily transfer money from one bank account to another online.
You can also create this link for a joint account. This options works well if you want to have a “yours, mine and ours” approach to money. You both can choose to put a certain amount of money into that joint account, which you use to pay bills, buy groceries and eventually for children.
“My boyfriend and I [have a joint account] and it’s super easy for our shared expenses,” reader Danielle says. “Having separate [accounts] helps us maintain autonomy as well.”
Reader Nicole agrees.
“It's nice to be able to treat yourself without someone ‘looking over your shoulder,’ so to speak,” she says. “I think it could cause resentment examining each other's splurges.”
When you create a joint bank account, it’s important to know that in the event of a breakup, each partner is entitled to half of the money in the account, no matter who put more money into it. Additionally, if your partner chooses not to pay taxes or bills, that joint account is at risk of debt collection because their name is on it. That said, if your partner passes away, sharing a bank account with them will streamline the process of accessing their assets.
For some readers, completely combined finances carries baggage. This approach to money can be used as a means of control in unhealthy relationships. Financial abuse is very real, and it involves one partner preventing the other from making or using money. It usually keeps a victim from leaving their abuser because they don’t have the resources to live on their own.
However, a healthy relationship can thrive with combined finances. In some families, it makes a ton of sense to completely combine finances.
“I mulled around many times before we got married about whether or not to combine it but as my mother suggested to me (and I absolutely agree), ‘You're about to combine your life with someone [and] two become one. It's no longer ‘your’ money, it's ‘our’ money,’” reader Marisa says.
This is especially true when children come into play. It often becomes easier to account for their expenses through shared money.
How do you and your partner manage money? Share your story in our Facebook group.
- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #40