Just because you’ve agreed to share your life with a partner or spouse doesn’t mean you have to share your money. Although many couples do combine finances, others keep them separate – and do just fine.
What are the pros and cons of combining finances vs. keeping them separate? To find out, I interviewed people who kept their income separate after marriage, shared their income before they got married and tried both separate and shared finances:
- Kristen Stack, a small-business owner who keeps her finances separate from her husband’s
- Heather of Empty Nestin’s Rob and Heather, who has tried both combined and separated finances in her marriage
- Nyesha Davis and Samantha Williams of Two Mommies and a Baby, who combined their finances even before they got married
Here are their thoughts on how those financial choices shaped their relationships, as well as some thoughts to consider for couples who are trying to decide whether to share their money or keep their finances separate.
Decide whether to combine your finances or keep them separate
Nyesha and Samantha combined their finances when they were six months into their relationship — that is, before they even got married. As Nyesha explained: “One day Samantha left her debit card at home, and we were out shopping, so I said ‘yeah, you can use my debit card, no problem.’” After a short period of picking up each other’s expenses, Nyesha said they realized, “We can just use each other’s money!” and set up a shared bank account.
Kristen’s husband assumed they would use each other’s money after marriage — “that’s the way his parents always did it,” Kristen explained — but once they began planning some big purchases they realized it might be better to keep their finances separate.
“The first time it came up was when we were getting ready to buy our first home,” Kristen told me. “I was bringing student loan debt into the marriage, and for that reason, I didn’t want our lender to put me on the mortgage. It would’ve hurt our chances of getting the best rate, and since my husband was debt free, he alone could get a better offer from our lender.”
Of course, just because you make one choice at the beginning of your relationship doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind later on. “My husband and I are now approaching our 27th anniversary in July and the phrase ‘been there, done that’ pretty much applies at this point,” Heather explained.
In 2018, Heather wrote a blog post explaining why she and her husband Rob tried both separate and joint bank accounts, and what finally ended up working for them: “After years of having a joint bank account, followed by years of having separate bank accounts, Rob and I decided to try a hybrid version. We have our mutual bank accounts and our separate bank accounts. So far, it is working out great!”
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Communicate with your partner about money priorities
Whether you keep your finances separate or share accounts, you’re going to need to learn how to talk to your partner about money. This includes setting a budget, agreeing on shared goals, and deciding how to cover major expenses.
“We share all the major expenses proportionally (an equal ratio of the total expense compared to the amount that each individual earns every month),” Kristen told me. “So because he makes more, he handles our mortgage and I handle the cable, water, and electric. As for the smaller expenses, like food, diapers, and furniture; it’s kind of a ‘scout’s honor’ back and forth. We don’t track the smaller expenses, only the major ones.”
A lot of couples who keep their finances separate use a similar proportion system to ensure everyone is paying their fair share. Once both partners have made the appropriate contribution to the household funds, they can use their remaining money as they choose.
Since Nyesha and Samantha have combined their finances, they need a different kind of household rule. They’ve agreed that they’re allowed to spend up to $100 without having to consult the other partner first. This is a common agreement among couples with combined finances, and it enables partners to treat themselves, buy gifts, or simply make everyday purchases without having to ask permission or achieve consensus.
“It’s important to have a conversation about what having a combined bank account means, especially if two people have different spending habits,” Samantha said. “What is the amount that we’re okay with spending without having to talk to each other about it?”
Are separate bank accounts or combined accounts better for you?
Should you separate or combine your bank accounts? It might depend on where you are in your relationship.
“Married couples or couples in a long-term committed relationship can benefit from a shared bank account when budgeting and income/expense tracking are part of their normal routine,” Heather explained. “Couples who are just starting out or those whose couples who agree that autonomy is an essential part of their identity will benefit from separate bank accounts.”
Making the decision to split or share your accounts might also depend on what motivates you. “I chose [to keep our finances separate] because I didn’t want to lose my drive,” Stack told me. “I knew if I had the luxury of swiping my husband’s card anytime I pleased, I wouldn’t want to work as hard to make my business profitable.”
However, no matter whether you choose to combine your bank accounts or keep them separate, you and your partner can still share a vision of what you want your relationship to be — and how you’re going to work together to achieve those goals.
“Dreaming together is the key,” Heather told me. “When you dream together, you establish a reason, a passion, a desire to push forward and make things happen. When you dream together, your financial goals and all other goals align and you become an unstoppable team.”
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Nicole Dieker is a full-time freelance writer. Her work regularly appears on Bankrate, Lifehacker, The Write Life, and numerous other sites. She is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales. This article is sponsored by Haven Life Insurance Agency. Opinions are her own.
Haven Life Insurance Agency offers this as educational information only. Haven Life does not endorse or offer the products, services and/or strategies discussed here.