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My Experience: Combining Finances With A New Spouse

I’ve been married for a little over three months now, and, since my new husband and I combined our finances right after getting hitched, we’ve been learning a lot about what it’s like to share bank accounts. We went from completely separate financial lives and splitting (almost) every cost right down the middle to completely combined finances.

After spending 27 years independently maintaining my finances, it’s been a bit of a shock to my system (and I’m sure for him, as well). But, we’ve been talking about and planning for the switch for awhile now, so I think that softened the blow a bit. Three months is hardly enough time to know exactly how our combined finances will change and evolve over time, but I think we’ve both learned a lot thus far…

A PERSONAL DECISION

Combing finances with someone is a personal decision that requires a lot of thought and discussion. My husband and I had talked openly about our finances when we were dating and had always planned to combine after we were married. We made the decision based on many factors (we were sick of splitting checks everywhere we went, for one), but the biggest deciding factor was that we wanted to be a team; what was good for him would be good for me and vice versa. As a team, if we struggled, we would struggle together.

THE PERKS

My husband jokes that the biggest perk of combined finances is being able to say “this is on me” every time we go out to dinner (hilarious, I know). But I’d think we agree that the best part of combined bank accounts is that we truly do feel like a team. We make our spending and saving decisions together. This has made us a closer, strongly couple and family…and that’s important in a fledgling marriage.

Other perks include, of course, the fact that we don’t have to split bills anymore. We made a short out-of-state trip for a family wedding recently and, when we were flying back home, I realized I hadn’t pulled out my credit or debit card once on our entire trip. And although it was nice that I didn’t have to use my cards, the main benefit was that we didn’t have to tally up splitting the check at a restaurant or in a parking garage.

WHAT WE’RE LEARNING 

The biggest cause of bickering has been budgeting and spending habits. My husband has always been a very meticulous budgeter, spending Sunday afternoons documenting our spending from the previous week. This has clashed with my habits because I don’t follow a strict budget. I did for a short time when I was paying off debt, but now I just try to avoid thoughtless spending and always look for the best deal.

This has created debates because my husband thinks that everything we buy (from a house to clothing to small miscellaneous expenses) should have a designated “fund” in our budget and we should save for it prior to purchasing it (which is obvious for a house, but doesn’t make sense to me for little things).

I tried to tell him to create an “Amber Fund” in his budget so I could spend on things as I need them, but he looked me like I was a crazy person (the vast differences between a budgeter and a non-budgeter). So, that issue is still a work in progress.

Even though we don’t necessarily agree on budgeting, we’ve made it a point to not criticize each other’s spending. We both have modest spending habits and we both look for good deals on whatever we purchase. Although my husband doesn’t understand the concept of an “Amber Fund” (yet), he hasn’t criticized my spending or told me to cut back on anything. And I’ve done the same towards his spending habits. I think that this easy-going practice might not work if either of us spent more money than we make, but we’re both modest spenders that always spend much less than we earn.

Right now, the biggest impact on our finances is our plan to purchase a house. We’d each been saving separately before we married and we combined our house savings funds after our wedding. We plan to buy a home in a couple months and it has been fun to monitor our savings accounts together (when just a couple months ago, they were separate). Buying a home will be our first big joint purchase and with home ownership will surely come loads of new expenses and experiences.

SOME PRACTICAL TIPS

Everyone’s financial situation will be different, but we did learn a few things that would apply to everyone as we were combining bank accounts:

  • Figure out which bank you’ll be switching to long before the wedding. The wedding and honeymoon are such a whirlwind, so it’s hard to make this decision during that time. You might call each of your bank’s and ask them about switching accounts or adding another person to help make a final decision.
  • Try to go to your bank during non-peak hours. We were able to go to our main bank the day we returned from our honeymoon during the early afternoon. There wasn’t a wait and we were the only customers there, so it made the process much easier.
  • Consider your name change. If you’re going to change your name after the wedding, it might not be complete when you’re in the midst of combining finances. Make sure you tell your bank about this to avoid confusion.
  • E-mail your online banks or check FAQs. Combining our online accounts was extremely easy and took only a matter of minutes. If you’re unsure about the process, e-mail their support team and you’ll probably receive step-by-step instructions the same day.
  • Discuss money management prior to the big day. I’m always amazed to hear how many of my friends didn’t discuss finances before they were married. Make sure to iron out any issues and get on the same page before the wedding to avoid any surprises.

WORKING AS A TEAM

As I mentioned earlier, the best part about combined finances (for us) is that we’re doing everything together. You really feel like a team. It can be scary to let someone have access to all your hard-earned savings and income, but it’s also exciting to know that you’re planning your financial future together—for better or for worse.

That’s what we did, although I know everybody’s different. Have you recently changed how you handle joint finances? What changed? How’s it working out so far?

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About Amber Gilstrap

Amber is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money. Follow her on twitter @ambergilstrap.

Comments

  1. Amber,

    I think you bring up a good point about being a team. My wife & I share finances and we find that it can be strengthening and unifying to work as a team with finances. We try to really communicate and stay on the same page.

  2. Thanks for this article. I’m engaged and we’ve been discussing how we’d like to combine things after the wedding. Luckily we both are pretty frugal and have similar goals, but we definitely both like to splurge in different areas. We both agreed we’d like our own monthly “allowance” to spend however we choose (judgement-free spending). However he likes the idea of having totally separate accounts for this where I’d rather just have it be a monthly budget line for each of us (would keep things easier I think).

  3. My husband and I (newlyweds as well) did not combine our finances into one bank account, and we are still very much a team. A significant difference between our situation and what you had when you were dating is that we don’t split checks or view our money as separate. When we talk about money, we call all of it our money because we both think that whatever we have truly belongs to the other. We both have budgets through Mint that divide expenses based on income/comfort/need, and we spend what our budgets allow. There are so many benefits to having separate bank accounts. One is that we can invest money when opportunities arise without worrying about the other person’s unknown pending transactions. Also, we each have our “Amber” funds which we can spend without any guilt or fear of parenting from the other (conversations where one tells the other not to spend or how to spend). We have our own styles of spending and budgeting, and we allow each other to have those and live comfortably instead of bickering and trying to fit the other person into our model of spending/budgeting. We feel united and in-tune with each other financially, but we also still have the freedom to be ourselves. As a result, we have the same financial goals; we never argue about money, and we both feel like we are actively engaged in shaping our financial future. I just wanted to show that people with separate bank accounts are just as much a team as those with joint accounts. Sometimes, people think that if you don’t have one account, you’re not fully committed, but that’s just not true. As Kahlil Gibran says about marriage: “Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.”

  4. I totally agree with Nancy. Moreover, it’s important to maintain your own identity and sense of self even though you are married. I think you are making a big mistake, but good luck!

  5. The best thing about combining finances, like you said is working together as a team, in the good and the bad. The downside is that you can clash in personality and spending styles.

    Whether you choose separate accounts or combined it’s still very important to communicate and not hide any financial accounts from each other. It would be tragic if one or the other had an accident and the other person was left in the dark, not knowing anything about the money situation.

    • This is a GREAT point about when combined finances works between spouses who are active participants in the financial side of a marriage. My grandmother has been able to hide her crazy spending from my grandfather (while racking up $27,000 in credit card debt) because he lets her completely handle the finances. So, I guess even having combined finances isn’t a fool proof way of making sure financial secrets aren’t hidden. Boo.

  6. This comment isn’t only addressed to Mary, though she is the impetus for it.

    I don’t think it’s fair to tell ANYONE they are making a mistake by choosing to do what feels right regarding their marriage. I’ve had some brush-ups with people who think combined finances is the be-all, end-all of a successful marriage. My husband and I have separate accounts but much like Nancy, we have joint goals and we talk about our financial decisions.

    I think the important part of this post is that Amber and her husband have found a system that works for them. Amber’s tips and reading her experience was helpful in putting my own experiences in perspective. We don’t share the same married financial plan, but we both agree that separate or combined is a personal decision that every couple has to make. Even without being on the same financial path as her and her husband, I could glean helpful tips from this article, and I think it’s applicable to newlyweds (or engaged folks) no matter what their personal decision. You can be a team with or without combined finances, as Nancy illustrated.

    I would just urge anyone reading Amber’s posts – or any future posts about married finances – to keep an open mind. No one is saying you have to be exactly like them (and if they do, you can go right ahead and tell them what you think of their opinions). You should do what’s right for YOU and your spouse. But don’t leave a mean-spirited comment on someone’s blog post telling them they’re making a mistake. I know from personal experience just how awful it feels to hear someone say that my marriage is less legitimate than their own because of how my husband and I handle our finances. And we both know you wouldn’t want to be told that, so why do it to someone else? (If you were actually leaving constructive advice, Mary, it might be slightly different. But telling someone they’re making a mistake – and tacking on “good luck,” as if that excuses your rudeness – is just ugly.)

  7. Thanks for sharing! Adaptu wrote a post on the same subject last week. Would love to hear your thoughts: Yours, Mine and Ours: Money Management Strategies for Couples: https://www.adaptu.com/community/marriage/blog/2011/09/08/yours-mine-and-ours-money-management-strategies-for-couples

  8. It honestly seems like you guys have done a great job combining finances, although the Amber Fund is a great idea, especially since he so budget minded and you not as much. I personally talked about combining finances with my husband and we still have our end of the month meetings where we go over our expenses year to date. It is great and it makes me feel like we are on the same page and can work towards the same goals.

    • End-of-the-month meetings are a fabulous idea. Lately, my husband just gives me a budget update in passing, so it’d be great to actually sit down and get on the same page at least once a month.

  9. You and your husband sound a lot like me and my wife. I’m the nerd that has tracked every transaction in multiple formats since the day we were married. I maintain about 4 spreadsheets in addition to a Mint account. My wife is totally on-board with our money being OUR money, although I’m primarily the one tweaking the budget each month and she pretty much accepts it.

    Because I’m so tedious with the finances, she got a little frustrated and wanted to have her own fund. She never felt like she could buy me stuff or just go out and do something without me because I’d see the line item the next day and wonder what it was. So, earlier this year we switched from BOA to Ally. I decided to keep the BOA eChecking account so we’d still have easy access to an ATM for easy check depositing, but the money in that account would essentially be her play money. I put a little buffer into the account and now put $50/month into it and she can use that money for whatever she wants and I won’t complain. It’s not so much of our financial world that we have to pinch pennies elsewhere in the budget, but it’s enough that she still has some freedom in her spending. Also, it gives her some practice in maintaining the finances.

    I think you’re right on track with combining your finances. I imagine in your wedding, at some point the pastor said “the two became one” in some form or fashion. There’s a reason why that is said and it’s not just because that’s what people say at weddings. It’s because it’s actually true. So if the two become one, then everything surrounding the two (like the finances) should become one. It’s a principle that goes deeper than just your bank account.

    • Also, one of the problems with the split accounts method is that it works while everyone is happy, but it can fall apart if someone becomes unhappy. It becomes really easy for someone to say “well I make ” or “I do ” so I shouldn’t have to put as much into so-and-so. Also, for large ticket items, one person might want to buy a car and the other wants to save up for a house. The car benefits one person while the house benefits both. The two could be working together and giving their money more power, but instead they’re bickering because “it’s my money and I can do what I want”.

      When you combine your accounts it forces you to be on the same page and work together for good of “WE” rather than “you and me”. It doesn’t allow any room for selfishness or greed.

  10. Is it just me, or was the most shocking part of this post reading that you actually split the check when you go out on dates or park the car?

    • I gotta admit, I was pretty shocked, too, when my now-husband wanted to start splitting the check after 3+ years of dating. ;)

      • We always just take turns covering the whole bill. It’s not always exactly even, but it saves us the tediousness of asking for two separate checks every time. Also, it makes us feel more connected, like we’re not just friends out to lunch who ask for separate checks.

        • We combine all our finances but actually have 2 separate eating out budgets. We do eat out together 90% of the time and pay for it with one card, and I just split the bill into separate budgets when it comes into our Mint account.

  11. What I would love to hear from, being newly engaged, is what to do when you and your other have both (a) vastly differing credit scores (b) different spending habits.

    My fiancee, or I prefer Future Husband, and I are so much alike – except in finances. I will occasionally splurge ($100 on shoes, $50 on a hobby) once every three to four months if i know I have the money and have been saving, etc. I have a great credit score, never miss a payment.

    He is an impulse shopper. He spends $5 on a DVD here, $30 on a video game there, $16 on a T-shirt there, $6 on scratch off lotto just because, $4 donation to some cause, etc. He doesn’t think twice about it. Being hit hard by the recession in terms of his work situation, this often leaves him short on cash. He will be without money he needs for car repairs, a week late on rent, not pay his student loans one month – and he doesn’t think twice about it.

    In fact, his answer is to screen his phone calls to avoid debitors (Yes, I was horrified when I found this out.)

    The question becomes – how do we meld financially. Do I keep my accounts separate so one of us has a good credit rating? Or are we doomed?

    I would love advice from anyone else in this situation, debating the same account-different account question.

    • BUDGET, BUDGET, BUDGET!

      First of all, until you are both married, you need to keep your money separate (his money is his money, his debts are his debts, and the same applies to yours) and work on your own financial goals. To me, it sounds like he needs to grow up and get control of his spending habits. He needs to realize that he’s about to be a married grown-up and the two of you need to get on the same wavelength or it’s not gonna happen. This needs to be worked through in pre-marital counseling. The last thing you need to do is get married into a bad financial deal.

      Once the behavior is changed (or at least changing significantly), then you get married, and then YALL’S money is YALL’s money (yes, I’m from Texas) and YALL’s debts are YALL’s debts. But now that you’re on the same financial wavelength, you can tackle those debts and build wealth with a vengeance rather than bickering over each others spending habits.

      Now, you can’t go into it beating him into submission. You have to encourage him to make progress and you can even set up the boundary that if things don’t improve, then the wedding gets pushed back. Also, don’t think that you’re not without your own faults and issues, so be willing to work together.

      I highly encourage you to do some serious pre-marital counseling, not just a meeting with a pastor, but a serious sit-down weekly for a few months kinda deal. My wife and I spent over a year in counseling, which started before we even got engaged, and it was worth every bit of effort that we put into it. We learned things about each other that never would have been uncovered without some serious digging.

      • I’m going to jump in and just say that like Chase we really benefited from pre-marital counseling at a retreat. We thought we had all the bases covered and knew who was going to do what, but it turns out we were a little vague on the details. We share all finances in every way, and the hypotheticals we were put through in counseling helped establish how we’d proceed, especially the financial ones.

        Sometimes you need a third party to motivate and plan with you.

        • My husband and I attended pre-marital counseling as well, as it was required by our church. Most people laugh at that sort of thing, but we really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. If you’re not used to talking about your finances, it is definitely something I would recommend.

    • I don’t think you’re doomed at all, Faye. In fact, if you would have asked my husband and I about our finances about 5 years ago, our situation would have been much different. I think the best thing to do is just start getting in the habit of talking about your finances together regularly and getting on the same page about your financial goals — sometimes just talking about your goals can really help to motivate each other to get on the right financial path.

  12. I think having separate accounts makes it too easy for married couples to live as individuals. Joint checking forces communication and forces couples to come together and decide upon common spending practices, or agreements. Neither way is right or wrong, but I think joint checking will bring you together.

  13. It’s definitely an individual decision! My grandparents had separate finances their whole lives, so much so that we got individual Christmas and birthday presents from them. Haha! Anyway, my husband and I are totally combined and I love it. We were in a ton of credit card debt when we first got married, but from working together and encouraging each other with OUR money, we’ve been credit card debt free for years.

    Also, hurray for the other readers with MINT. It’s the only financial software I’ve been able to stick with. Chase sounds like my evil twin. ;) Great advice, Amber and congrats on being a newlywed!

  14. I think everyone needs to figure out what works for them. My husband and I do not have any joint accounts together. We never split checks. We each have almost completely separate finances (Except I have one of his credit cards that I put my gas on because gas is his bill and he has one of my credit cards for misc. housing expenses). He is a spender where as I am a saver. He always pays “his” designated bills but extra money tends to burn a hole in his pocket so having separate finances where I do not nitpick about what he spends and he does’t get frustrated by my lack of spending works for us. He knows that if a major expense were to come up he could ask me, whereas he tends to help me splurge on “fun stuff”. I do not see us ever having truly combined bank accounts.

  15. My fiance and I have lived together for the past four years. When we bought a house together last year we started our first joint accounts. We pay all of our shared bills from the joint checking, and save for our big expenditures (wedding and house updates) in the savings. We ratio our salaries to decide who puts in how much. For example, if I made $70k and she made $30k a year, I would put in $7 for every $3 dollars she put in for bills. That way we both pay our “fair share”.

    The money left over is in our personal accounts and we are free to manage it as we wish. The system works well for us. All of our long term goals are met, and neither of us feel like the other one is judging our everyday purchases.

    • ChrisK, that’s exactly how my boyfriend and I manage our expenses. We have a joint account for common expenses (rent, food, etc) and common savings (future house downpayment) that we each put a certain amount in per paycheck, and separate accounts for personal spending and savings goals. In the couple of years we have been living together it works really well for us, and yes, as some have mentioned above, having a joint account makes us feel more together than we would otherwise. I’m not saying its the only way to go (to each their own), but for us it works great. I also don’t think a couple necessarily needs to be married to start sharing expenses, but obviously that depends on the couple (as well as situation and the laws in your area).

  16. I love reading how everyone communicates about their money! I wonder if there is a study on divorce rates and the correlation with combined finances? It does seem like if you don’t talk about money that hurts your marriage, but I wonder if statistically our different styles help/hurt.