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6 Questions to Ask Before Combining Finances with Your Partner

While maybe not the most romantic step in a relationship, merging your finances should nonetheless be approached as thoughtfully as a destination wedding.

Written by Hilary Collins / August 23, 2022

Quick Bites

  • To combine finances successfully, you need to be completely open with your partner about your income, savings, debt and overall financial situation.
  • Determine how you want to split costs, track spending and what financial goals you both want to work toward.
  • Set a recurring time to review your budget and celebrate your progress.

Are you moving in with a partner? Did you just get married? Or have you been with someone for a while and are getting tired of constantly Venmo-ing money back and forth? Whatever the situation, if you’re considering merging finances with a partner, you probably have a lot of questions.

To help you navigate this process, we’ve answered six burning questions about combining finances, with input from financial experts and insights from relevant research. Let’s dive in!

Inside this article

  1. 1. How combined should you be?
  2. 2. What's your money reality?
  3. 3. How do you split costs?
  4. 4. How do you want to budget?
  5. 5. What are your money goals?
  6. 6. Do you need expert advice?

1. Exactly how “combined” do you want to be?

You don’t have to jump in the deep end and immediately merge all of your finances. According to 2018 research from Policygenius, about 20% of people don’t combine finances with their partners, 24% don’t share financial accounts and nearly 30% don’t know how much money their partner makes.[1]

There are plenty in-between ways to manage your finances as a couple other than keeping things totally separate or merging it all into one. “I don’t think there’s a right and a wrong, I think it’s what works for you,” says Brenda Bridges, a financial advisor and divorce coach who works with Purse Strings, a female financial empowerment community. “In my relationship now, we have yours, mine and ours. If you have something—say, rocket building—that really resonates with you but not with me, why don’t you fund your special thing? That way, you have the freedom to do it however you want.”

For many people, finding a way to pay for joint expenses while maintaining your own accounts for more personal spending can be a great way to navigate the question of combining finances. However, 2022 research from Cornell found that couples who fully combine their finances are more satisfied with their relationships and are less likely to break up.[2] The effects were even stronger for low-income and financially stressed couples.

“I’ve been in both situations of being shared and split since I’ve been married twice,” says Barbara Provost, the founder of Purse Strings. “When we split it 50-50, I felt it was very much [like] living with a roommate in the sense that that's yours and that's mine instead of feeling like we're in this family together. In my current marriage, it's different. We're in a marriage, everything is shared—what's yours is mine, what's mine is yours.”

Headshot of Barbara Provost

Meet the Expert

Barbara Provost is a consultant, an educator and the founder of Purse Strings, an organization that provides women with the resources they need to make good financial decisions. 


That said, there are some good reasons not to combine or at least not fully combine finances. If one of you has significant savings or significant debts, it could very well be worth it to not share bank accounts. If you divorce and your savings are in a joint account, your spouse could get half of them. Or say your joint account is garnished because your partner owes credit card debt. Are you okay with that? (Prenuptial agreements are also a good protection against these kinds of things, and we’ll discuss those in more detail later.) Take time to really think through the financial and emotional realities of combining finances before you jump in with both feet.

2. What is your current financial picture?

If you decide to combine finances, you will need to share every money detail with your partner. Bring every checking, savings, retirement and investment account as well as details for all of your debt. At the same time, be completely open to what your partner might bring to the table. Sharing your financial situation with complete honesty may include some surprises, whether it’s a chunk of credit card debt or a trust fund.

“Have a moment in time where you’re laying yourself open, saying, ‘Here is my financial world,’ which is a really vulnerable place to be,” Bridges says. “We have so many emotions attached to our financial existence and there’s a lot of shame. That’s a hard thing to do.”

In fact, 2021 research from TD Bank found that 32% of Americans keep a financial secret from their partner and 50% of those people have no intention of ever opening up about it. [3]

Brenda Bridges headshot

Meet the Expert

Brenda Bridges, CDFA, RICP, is a financial advisor and divorce coach who works closely with women facing the challenge of a major life transition.


That’s why this conversation—or money schedule—needs to go deeper than just pulling up a spreadsheet and letting your partner look it over. “How you got here is the really interesting and important part of this,” says Bridges. “If your large savings account is because you’ve been saving since you were babysitting at 14 and you’ve tucked away every single dollar you possibly could, that’s important to know. Or if the story behind your spreadsheet is that you have an awesome wardrobe and not a penny to your name and $200,000 in student debt, it’s not just about the numbers. It’s the why and the how you get here. That’s what will carry over into your relationship.”

3. How do you want to split costs?

While there are a million ways to go about sharing your expenses, two are the most common: splitting it right down the middle, or basing it on income.

Splitting everything 50-50 is common in part because it’s so simple. Mortgage payment? Netflix account? Trip to France? Splitting it evenly is the intuitive answer. And this can make sense especially if the two of you have very similar financial situations. If you make around the same amount of money, have similar debt balances and similar savings accounts, this straightforward solution could be great for you.

But while easy, splitting things 50-50 isn’t always fair. Say you make twice as much money as your partner, have a five-figure savings account and no debt, while your partner has only a small amount in their 401(k) plan and a decent amount of credit card debt. It might be best for you two to split things based on income.

With this approach, because you bring in ⅔ of the household income, you would pay ⅔ of the expenses. Your partner would pay ⅓. While you’ll be paying more on paper, as a percentage of income, you're forking out the same amount as your partner.

There’s a third way to handle your cost-splitting: simply putting both of your incomes in one big bucket and using it to pay bills and for discretionary spending. While this might seem more simple, you could just be forestalling the most difficult money conversations until later. What if one of you has a taste for expensive things while the other is a single-minded saver? Again, there’s no right answer—you’ll need to work together to find a solution that you each think is fair and doable.

4. How do you want to budget?

Hopefully at this point in the conversation, you have a clear perspective on your respective finances, both the good and the bad, as well as the more complicated emotions and personal history behind the choices you’ve made. Now it’s time to move on to the practical considerations and get into the nitty-gritty of the systems you’ll need to set up.

Do you want to truly combine accounts? If so, do you want to add your partner to your accounts, have them add you to theirs or perhaps open a new account at a new financial institution that better meets your shared needs? Think through the practical considerations, like what kind of account you want (fee-free checking account or something with a monthly fee but more benefits?) and setting up your direct deposits (are you going to deposit 100% of it or just some into the shared account?), before heading to the bank.

You’ll also need to figure out how you want to track everything. After all, budgeting for one person—let alone two—can be complex enough. Whether you decide to use a simple spreadsheet, a budgeting app or some other method, make sure that each of you buy in and completely understand the plan moving forward. If you agree to put 90% of your income in the checking account and 10% in your savings account, for example, both of you should be able to access those accounts and track bills and your own spending. This will help build a solid financial foundation.

5. What long-term goals do you want to plan for?

What’s next for y’all? Do you want to buy a home? Pay off debt? Improve your credit scores? Squirrel away some savings?

Almost 90% of U.S. couples say they’re saving for something, with retirement and emergency funds being the most common goals, according to TD Bank research. But with long-term goals can come long-term conflict.

Imagine this scenario: You and your partner have decided to save for a house. You’re both extremely excited about having your own place, and you’re hopeful that in a few years you’ll have enough socked away for a down payment. But when you take a look at your joint checking account, you can’t believe your eyes. Your partner spent $200 at brunch! Your face turns red as you think about how that money could have gone to your down payment nest egg instead of mimosas.

Tip

Set a maximum amount at which you can make a financial decision without involving your partner. It could be $200 or $2,000, as long as you both agree you won’t make any purchases or other financial decisions above that threshold without a discussion first.

“If someone’s a saver, it’s from how they grew up or what they’ve experienced,” says Bridges. “It might be trauma-related, who knows, but it’s inherent in their mindset. If you’re partnering with someone who has a different outlook on money, you have to understand their outlook. Otherwise, you’re going to be trying to overlay your outlook on them all the time, and then you’re ticked off because they’re not doing what you want them to do. You wanting them to be a saver is not going to make them a saver.”

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Counterintuitively, once you’re able to recognize those differences, you can stop taking it so personally. The bulk of successfully combining finances is understanding and habits that underlie both yours and your partner’s financial behaviors. Then you need to agree on ground rules that you both can live with.

“What are your goals at the end, you know?” Bridges asks. “So let's budget a middle ground where we can meet our financial goals but you can still go to brunch.”

6. Do you need to bring in an expert?

Here are three specific scenarios where professional advice is invaluable:

  1. If you want help navigating the new financial complexities of a two-person (or more) household, you can reach out to a Certified Financial Planner. They can help you understand the pros and cons of each decision as well as help you plan for your financial goals.

  2. If you and your partner find yourself fighting about money and unable to reach a compromise, you can get in touch with a therapist. Financial therapy is now a thing, but regular old couples therapy can also help you untangle the emotions and behaviors you’re struggling with.

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  3. And finally, if you want to get a pre- or post-nuptial agreement, you should of course consult a lawyer. “You don’t have to be a gazillionaire,” Provost says. “Everyone needs one.”

Reset

Prenups and postnups can carry a stigma—after all, why should you prepare for a break-up right as you’re planning to pledge your life to them? Research from North Carolina State University found that reframing the prenup discussion using metaphors can help people see them in a different and more positive way.[4] If you can view a prenup much like a life insurance policy or a car safety feature, you can see it as a thoughtful and practical move. After all, just because you put on your seatbelt doesn’t mean you’re planning on getting in a car accident! Planning for negative events is a smart move in any scenario.

Combining finances with a partner is rarely easy. It requires having vulnerable discussions you may have never had before. Approach with sensitivity, honesty and a lot of patience and the two of you can find a financial plan that works for both of you and allows you to approach the present and future as a united front.

Article Sources
  1. “They may share love, but many couples don’t share money,” Policygenius, Sept. 24, 2018, https://www.policygenius.com/personal-finance/news/couples-mange-money/.
  2. “Pooling finances and relationship satisfaction,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fpspi0000388.
  3. “Infographic: Love and Money in 2021,” TD Bank, Feb. 8, 2022, https://stories.td.com/us/en/article/infographic-love-and-money-2021.
  4. “An Examination of Redditors’ Metaphorical Sensemaking of Prenuptial Agreements,” Journal of Family and Economic Issues, May 27, 2021, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10834-021-09765-5.

About the Author

Hilary Collins

Hilary Collins

Hilary is an experienced finance writer with a passion for turning complicated topics into readable stories with real-world takeaways.

Full bio

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