Combining finances with your partner or spouse is not something we would do much throug our lives.
It's one of those things though that might fill us up with doubt.
It's something that can make you seem unsure and nervous of the path ahead.
Like Mario going down a pipe into the underground. From the open skies of above to the dark underground.
I've been there. I've gone through the process. I live with my wife and kids now, but at back in our earlier stages of being together we did setup ourselves to share expenses and accounts.
I'll share with you my experience and what I've learnt since.
It wasn't one particular day, week or time. It happened gradually but started with us having a conversation and agreeing that it made sense.
I moved in with my girlfriend about a year before we got engaged and about 2.5 years before we ultimately got married.
That was a while ago now and can't remember exactly when we could say we had combined our money, but definitely remember the process both we and I had to go through to get there.
It's a change. It won't feel natural. It will make you feel financially stronger.
One of the best things I ever did was marry a financially sound and savvy person.
It wasn't even in the top 100 things I'd look for in a partner, but through hindsight I'd say having someone capable of having some kind of traction with their money is a massive tick.
If you are at a stage where combining finances with a partner is something that is making sense, come up in conversation or long overdue I want to provide some incite into the process.
Here's some thoughts and tips on what I found out and would have liked to known
Let it go
You’ll be losing a lot – control, complete freedom, maybe some savings or flexibility.
It's important that you understand why you are doing this. I wanted an even stronger, more open relationship.
I needed to be comfortable having my income sitting in a shared account. Having someone else can log in and see my finances.
It will be like moving in with someone for the first time, or a new flatmate.
They would like to put their furniture a certain way. They might like to pay their bills the day they come in rather than the actual due date.
It's up to you to remember why you have gone with joint accounts and the value in the setup.
Don't be a financial bully
Not saying I was, but I've heard of stories where it happens.
One person dominates the spending and restricts the other while making them feel comfortable with the financial situation (without them either knowing).
Combat this by having joint accounts, in particular the transnational ones.
I do this with my wife. We have an ING card that gets money put in each fortnight for things like coffee, games, cafes, events, impulse buys or random purchases.
We never have an issue with what each other does to spend that money.
For us its throw away money. If it's gone it's gone but I never have an issue with what is spent and neither does she.
Don't be the person who says drink an instant coffee at home to save $3, but then go and buy $100 on new shoes.
Money is there to share and used as a couple. No one has the upper hand irrespective of who earns more.
It’s now household money, not your money
Speaking of earning, it will always be that someone goes in with more income than the other.
Might be insignificant for some, but also could be massive.
This is an adjustment for the higher income earner, they are suddenly sharing a high proportion of their wealth coming in. While the other is seeing money that they didn't potentially think of having available.
It doesn't matter. You've combined your money.
There is no such thing as your money and their money.
I think of it as the households money.
No one persona has the “upper hand”. Just because you earned more means you get to spend more.
Salaries, tax returns, bonuses, dividends etc are all household incomes that we send to the one account. From there we have a system to distribute that we both agree upon.
Think of it this way: You don’t pay for drinks form now on, they get paid for.
Know that you may still be at different stages of the money spectrum
With those incomes being likely different when you are first combining finances with your partner, its not to say that will always be the way.
When I combined finances with my wife I was personally in a bit of debt, while she had significant savings. )I didn't use the process as a way to remove my debt as I valued the situation more than that).
Fast forward a few years and my wife has taken two stints of maternity leave and is working part time. I earn the bulk of the regular income, while she does this.It might not be the case always. In 5, 10, 15 years time she might be earning 99% of our income through the work she does.
The point is that things will change in the years to come. Incomes, lifestyles and maybe the size of your family.
Know that what happens when you first setup your new system will be impacted by the direction you take.
Build a buffer
More tactical now, and I found that it was crucial to have a buffer of cash setup so that you could avoid worrying about money.
I'm still amazing at those who want to invest, buy property or do a big trip but still ignore a simple money stress reliever such as a buffer account.
This is money that sits in an account waiting to be used but is more than enough to cover expenses for a pay cycle or two.
In our system we have 1.5 months of income sitting in our ‘hub' account. This is were all our bills and transfers are taken from.
This means we never have to worry about direct debits, annual bills or spontaneous costs occurring.
Note that This is different to our emergency money because it does get used and is transactional.
If you aren't you need to get out of the pay cycle
Working toward shared goals
Finally, something fun to do.
Sit down together one night and map out your dreams over the next 1,5 and 20 years.
Emphasis on the ‘dreams' here.
Go deep and work these out. Paint a picture of your future.
See how many of your goals match and what kind of expense it will take.
At worse, you'll have some transparecny around what the other is thinking.
At best, you'll be able to set a plan to making your dreams come true.
Read my post on saving to get better at this.
But still have your own
Soon everything will be combined, but it doesn't mean to have to give everything up.
If you talked about your goals together there may be some plans that you have individually.
There is still room for you to have your own separate savings accounts.
I do this with my wife. We each have an account with our names that get an equal amount of money added to it each pay cycle.
Keeping it equal is important, as that is what combining money is about. No one gets extra.
Your own account should give you the freedom to pull the trigger on something that only you would like.
I know my wife doesn't want a new Xbox or bike the way I do, so I can target something like that once my savings acocunt hits the right amount.
It gets you back to basics, like you used to do as a kid. Slowly save for the cool toys you really wanted, while everything else was taken care of.
Keep it simple
Just because you are combining finances with your partner doesn't mean you need to complicate things.
It's a good time to do an audit of your banks accounts and see whats necessary.
You might have old savings accounts, too many cards that you never got around to using.
For me, I would keep the amount of banks you use down to three or less. You can use as many accounts as you need in them but I like three. It could work like this.
- Bank for incoming money and savings
- A hub account for income and paying bills
- Multiple short and long term savings accounts
- A spending bank that receives money you want to spend
- transaction accounts attached to debit cards
- An account for an emergency fund
- one for money to go into and never out (unless its a real emergency)
You might want to add a credit card on top to cover things you buy with the added insurance. That would be suited to those with real traction on their money and know exactly what is coming in and out.
With these accounts you can easily set and forget through automation.
- Send all your incomes to the hub account
- Auto transfer money from hub to individual savings accounts
- Send set amount of money each pay cycle to spending bank
- Top up emergency fund until its at a good level (3-6 months of expenses)
Keep it transparent
Overall, you want to keep things as open as possible in all areas of your relationship.
That's why I keep joint accounts with my wife.
Even our own individual savings accounts are joint accounts.
At any time we can login to our banking and check the balances, see what was spent and what needs to be paid.
- It means that either of us can keep the household running without the other
- It means there are no financial secrets
- We can feel confident knowing our financial status at any time
Making the jump
It's normal to feel anxious about something like this. I know I was.
It's a big step. Money is important. You work hard to build your income and assets up.
You also work just as hard putting the foundations of a relationship together.
For me, combining our money and financial systems together was part of us moving from individuals to a family.
We had each others back in more ways than one.
It also strengthened our ability to live our best lives.