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Marriage and Money

As early as childhood, we develop biases around money. Perhaps we watched our parents argue over the green stuff or avoid the topic altogether. Both scenarios can affect us differently as we progress into adulthood. For example, if we only saw anger, money might be a source of stress and anxiety. If money was never spoken about, the lack of education and transparency could lead us down a trail of unmanageable debt. The ideal scenario is that money is talked about openly and objectively. The reality is, that can be a difficult feat. It is most apparent when we see money as one of the leading causes of divorce.

While talking about money objectively and openly with your partner is hard, it can be done! As mentioned, each person comes into the marriage (or partnership) with different views and experiences with money. You must acknowledge those differences if you are going to spend your lives together. There will be conflict! But, conflict doesn’t mean that it’s all bad. Conflict can be reframed into something productive. It’s important to understand that feeling differently about money than your partner is okay and it doesn’t mean the other person is right or wrong. Also, each one of you may have different goals and priorities around how to use the money. Totally normal! Conflict will arise, but talking (not arguing) about it can and will bring those feelings and biases into the open so you can ideally come to a compromise.

With all that being said, should you combine finances with your partner? Traditionally, couples share bank accounts, credit cards, property, etc., and that may work for some, but it’s not for everyone and it shouldn’t be a given. Not combining may solve or even avoid a lot of problems down the road. Even if you have combined finances with your partner, you may now be considering separating or implementing some hybrid solution. No option is perfect, but the key is to do what is best in your situation. I will go through each option below. Please note, the following does not take into consideration community property, pre-nuptial agreements, trusts, or other legalities that can also be important factors in your decision.

Combine Finances

The most common, even though it’s becoming less so, is to combine everything. Otherwise known as, “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours”. You share checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, investments, etc. Each person has full access to the money, no matter who’s paycheck it is coming from. Going this route means you both must be communicating regularly and have full transparency over expenses, income, debt payments, budgeting, savings, literally everything! That may sound scary if you’ve never thought of it that way, so that’s why you have other options.

Don’t Combine

Better known as, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.” You may be thinking, we are a unit, why would we not share everything? The answer is simple: because it can help to avoid arguments. If you are earning and spending your money, it’s hard for a partner to argue that you are spending your money wrong. However, it’s not always a perfect solution either. Why? Well, unless you are living completely separate lives in separate homes, there needs to be some discussion around how you divvy up the mortgage or rent, utilities, food, and those things you share. So, while not avoiding all conflict, there are still some agreements that must be made in order for this arrangement to work.

A Combination Thereof

If you don’t like either option I mentioned, you can try a combination of the two. For example, each person maintains their own checking and savings accounts, credit cards, etc. to feel some independence, but they also open joint accounts for bills, savings, or investing for shared goals. My husband and I do something like this, but again, it works for us. This option also requires communication. Sorry, but talking with your partner is unavoidable!

The bottom line is that there is not a right or wrong option, only the option that works best for you and your partner. The key is to have these conversations BEFORE and AFTER you get married or cohabitate, including sharing your experiences growing up and your views on money. Communication is vital. Arguing does not solve anything and if you do find yourselves fighting about money, perhaps it’s time to re-think how you handle your finances together. If things still aren’t working, maybe it’s time to bring in professional help. Money can be a sore subject for many of us and deciding whether to combine finances is a personal decision. Both of you should agree and work together. Remember, conflict is okay, but arguments are not.

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