Bridget Eastgaard runs MoneyAfterGraduation.com, a financial literacy site dedicated to helping millennials with their money.
There's something about money that feels inherently unromantic, but if you're sharing a life with someone, you're probably also sharing bills and bank accounts. With money troubles cited as one of the leading causes of divorce, it's worthwhile to get the financial part of your union on the right path early on.
My husband and I started mixing our finances before we were married. When we first moved in together, we opened a joint chequing account for our new joint expenses. Because our incomes were similar, we each contributed the same amount to this account each month, and then kept the remainder of our paycheques for our personal spending and savings. This helped us take small steps towards mixing our money, while still allowing us to retain financial autonomy before we tied the knot.
Since getting married, we switched to fully combining all our finances. We now each deposit our entire paycheque to a single account, from which we pay all our bills and contribute equal amounts to our savings. Finally, we each receive a fixed amount for personal spending each month.
Even though we're both money-conscious, finding a system to manage our money that worked for both of us took time. Below are some steps to help you build a successful couple's budget:
- Be honest. Come clean about all your assets and debts with your partner. Things like bad credit or a big student loan don’t have to be a relationship deal-breaker, but your partner needs to know how your finances could affect your future together. Being honest about exactly where you stand with your money sets the foundation for transparency and trust, which is important in all aspects of a relationship.
- Budget fairly. Most people think 50/50 is the appropriate way to divide expenses as a couple, but this neglects differences in income. If one person’s salary is much larger than the other’s, it might make more sense to split costs proportional to income. For example, if one person is bringing home 70 per cent of the total household income, perhaps they should pay 70 per cent of the total household expenses.
- Communicate openly and set the rules. They say opposites attract, and that’s never been more true than when savers fall in love with spenders. These might seem like a pair of star-crossed lovers, but there’s hope for them yet. An easy way to fix a financial personality mismatch is to agree on a fixed amount of spending money each month for each person. This way, each person can spend that money however they please without criticism or disagreement from their partner.
- Try different things. There is no right way to mix finances in a relationship, which is why you will have to figure out what works best for you. For example, some couples might choose to let each person spend freely from a joint account, but only up to a certain limit. They agree that before someone makes a purchase in excess of an agreed upon fixed amount, such as $200, they have to check with the other person. Other couples might choose to keep their own separate account and divvy up financial responsibilities by assigning fixed expenses such as mortgage payments and home insurance to one person, and variable expenses like utilities and groceries to the other.
- Be flexible. Your financial situation or your partner’s might change over time. A layoff, pregnancy, unexpected illness or a return to school can have a dramatic impact on the household budget by requiring one partner to support the other for an extended period of time. It’s important that you be willing to adjust your budget as needed to deal with planned or unplanned changes to your financial circumstances.
- Work toward mutual satisfaction. Whether its home ownership, travelling the world or early retirement, there are likely many items on your bucket list that are easier to accomplish with the power of two. Determining what major financial milestones you want to accomplish as a couple will help give purpose to mixing your finances.
Everyone is raised with different perspectives, beliefs and ideas about money, so finding the best way to balance a budget with your partner can be challenging. Mixing finances successfully requires the same commitment, communication and compromises that are part of any healthy relationship.
So light some candles, crack open a bottle of wine and get down to the family budget.