When you’ve partnered up with someone, money will undoubtedly come up. Be it for the groceries you bought together, dinners out, rent, or the car you both drive, it’s simply a topic that’s hard to avoid. When you share expenses – or discuss sharing them – the idea of combining your finances may also come up.
Some couples – dating, engaged or married – eventually decide that yes, it’s a great idea to mix their accounts, while others decide it’s better to keep their finances separate.
We spoke to three couples about which decision they made and why.
Tanya*, a 31-year-old woman living in New York City, has been with her spouse since college. For her, keeping their finances separate felt like a no brainer, even after they got married in 2017.
“For me, there has never been a strong enough reason to combine our finances,” she said. “As a woman in 2019, I want control over my own earnings and investments. To know I have financial independence is important to me personally. I find financial knowledge and responsibility powerful.”
But while Tanya and her husband may not combine their finances, they hardly see them as completely separate.
“We do have a joint credit card and about 90 percent of all spending goes onto that card (groceries, bills, etc). We split the [credit card] bill 50/50,” she explained. “We also talk about finances a lot, and having separate accounts is an easy way to diversify. I have a lot more in cash, and we planned it this way so if we want to buy property one day, that would come out of that account. He has a lot more in retirement because his employer has a better match. I'm generally more risk-averse, so this also means he can buy certain stock without me questioning it.”
While she mostly sees their separate finances as a good thing (it’s easier to buy gifts for each other and make purchases without “asking permission”), she acknowledged that there are drawbacks.
“If something catastrophic that happened and we had to use my cash reserve, I wouldn’t be thrilled,” she admits. “But I guess that wouldn’t be that different than if it was combined.”
Melissa*, a 40-year-old woman living in New Jersey, met her partner when they were both older and more established. By the time they got married, combining everything just didn’t make sense.
“It just seemed complicated to combine everything, especially because we were so used to being financially independent by then,” she says.
The main advantage, in her opinion, is they don’t fight over what they spend their money on.
“If I buy something on my credit card, ultimately I’m responsible for paying for it,” she added. “We also have household bills that we are each responsible for, and that prevents conflict.”
One drawback? Big shared purchases.
“When we have to pay for mortgage or daycare, we have to pay each other back,” she says. “This used to be more annoying when we had to write checks, but now we just Venmo each other. Of course, the money isn’t available right away, so it takes a little bit of planning.”
Mary*, a 64-year-old woman living in Northern California, combined her finances with her partner before they even got married.
“I was in nursing school at the time and had very little money,” she says. “It seemed strange to be in a committed relationship and have different standards of living since I was working part-time to meet my basic needs. My now-husband was working full time as a lawyer, so he obviously had more money.”
The one roadblock she consistently hit was having a hard time buying gifts for one another without the other one finding out, and having to run every purchase by each other.
“We’re actually pretty trusting of each other, though, so we aren’t super strict—it’s really just major purchases at this point,” she adds.
For Mary, combining their finances was symbolic of their commitment to each other and seeing each other as equals.
“It seems more complicated and maybe a little unfair if one person has more money than the other when they might be working just as hard but be in different professions or jobs that come with a different size paycheck,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to be in a marriage with someone who had to live more frugally. That seems wrong.”
Long story short, everyone’s different—and there’s no right or wrong way to go about handling your finances in a partnership. All you can do is what feels right for you.
*Participants are named by first name only to protect their privacy.