From being a point of contention to a means of achieving mutual goals, money plays a big part in your relationship with your partner. “Money symbolizes power, control, freedom, safety, love and so much more,” said Megan McCoy, director of the personal financial planning master’s program at Kansas State University.
Learning how to manage your money with a partner is important — but not easy. According to McCoy, arguments about money tend to be nastier, last longer and can seep into other areas of the couple’s life, so it’s important to come up with a financial strategy that works for both of you.
Money Management Tip No. 1: Make sure combining your finances is the right move for your relationship.
Why it helps: The decision to combine finances with your partner is deeply personal and dependent on multiple factors, so the last thing you should do is combine them because you think it’s what you’re “supposed” to do.
Logistically, it might make sense to combine your finances when you move in with your partner or get married. You’ll be racking up joint expenses, after all. But McCoy says the best time has less to do with a specific moment in your relationship and more to do with how comfortable you feel in it. You need to be in a place where you feel safe enough to talk about your money values, financial goals and spending habits.
“What I’ve seen as the biggest issue around commingling is that people don’t want to have to admit what they spend their money on to their partner — or even themselves,” McCoy said. If you’re not ready to have that conversation, then combining finances can result in relationship-damaging arguments and hurt feelings.
Money Management Tip No. 2: Take control of your own finances before sharing them with someone else.
Why it helps: It will be very difficult to combine your money with someone else if you don’t have a firm grasp on where you stand financially. Start by giving yourself a financial checkup — items to review include your savings and checking accounts (and the fees or interest rates associated with them), your retirement contributions and, most importantly, your spending habits.
“So many people can’t track their spending and don’t know where their money goes,” said McCoy. “I think you should get a grasp on your spending patterns and feel comfortable with them before combining so that you don’t feel guilt or shame around the financial conversations.”
You can track your spending through an old-fashioned system like a checkbook or Excel spreadsheet, or with apps and online platforms like Mint and Personal Capital that allow you to connect directly to your credit and bank accounts for automatic updates. Once you have a better idea of how and where you’re spending your money, you can come up with ways to alter your behavior.
Money Management Tip No. 3: Make your combined money work for you.
Why it helps: One of the advantages of combined finances is that you may find yourself with more money to put to work. A higher balance in a high-yield savings account means earning more in interest, and a bigger cushion in your checking account can help you avoid overdraft fees.
You should also consider signing up for a joint credit card that offers cashback rewards. The right card can allow you to knock 1% to 6% off your purchases when you redeem the cashback dollars for statement credit, and with two of you using it, you’ll be able to rack up the points faster.
Money Management Tip No. 4: Reframe your money conversations.
Why it helps: A couple combining their finances will need to have practical talks about logistics (will you need to open new accounts or move everything over to an account that’s already under one of your names, for example), as well as big-picture conversations about spending, saving, etc.
After that, it’s important to have regular check-ins with your partner to make sure you guys are still on the same financial page. McCoy suggests going into any money conversation with a partner with the mindset of goal planning. “Money management should not be seen as restricting, but rather providing opportunities for us to spend money in a way that makes us happy,” she said. With that in mind, you and your partner can focus on how your money can help you accomplish your combined goals, rather than what you might be changing or giving up.
Be sure to set your conversations up for success by going into them when you’re in the right headspace (avoid times when you’re tired or overly stressed, for example), and try to come at each conversation from a place of understanding. Everyone comes from different backgrounds that have shaped their money beliefs and actions. Other general rules of communication help, too, like actively listening to what your partner is saying, and using “I” statements as opposed to “you” ones. Don’t be afraid to take a break and revisit later if you feel you’ve reached a standstill.
These tips can help you manage your joint finances, but remember to always keep your own personal financial safety front of mind.
“Do not defer all financial responsibility to your partner and not track your own financial situation,” said McCoy. “Your ownership in your finances will not only keep you safe from financial infidelity, but will also help you reach your [combined] goals faster while feeling supported by one another.”