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Married Couples Guide to Combining Finances

With marriage comes responsibility, specifically financial responsibility. Studies show that financial issues are a leading cause of divorce. Budgeting, financing, and dealing with money problems are difficult enough for a single person to manage. When you get married, you’re doubling the work and sometimes the financial issues as well. Successfully combining finances in marriage can help you be better prepared for a rainy day, and also establish a healthier marriage.

Combining finances the right way can help you navigate marriage and money issues. It’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, learning ways to manage money as a couple will make you even stronger. Knowing the right information is key to figuring out how to manage your finances in marriage. These tips will help keep you out of the deep end and help you become a team for financing your lives as a married couple.

What Does It Mean to Combine Finances?

Combining finances is a delicate process in which a couple puts their money into joint bank accounts. This can include joint investment accounts, retirement accounts, and carrying joint credit and debit cards. Since marriage and finances go hand in hand, many married couples opt to combine their finances. There is no one right way to combine finances, and every couple is different. The main methods of combining finances can be broken down into three categories which are Proportional, Raw Contribution, and Complete Combine. 

Proportional Method 

With the Proportional Method, each person contributes based on their income. Let’s say, for example, that a couple has a joint bank account for rent and bills. Each month they contribute to that bank account in proportion to their income. Whichever spouse makes more money will contribute a higher dollar amount to the bank account, and whichever spouse makes less money will contribute less. This method works well for couples with different incomes and who don’t want to worry about “keeping up” with the other spouse. This method works especially well for couples in which the higher earner does not resent their spouse for paying more money. After all, the money spent is proportional to income. 

Raw Contribution Method

The Raw Contribution Method means that each spouse contributes the same amount of money to the joint accounts regardless of income. If one person makes $4,000 per month while the other person makes $6,000 and the cost of rent and bills equals $4,000 per month, both people contribute $2,000 each to the joint bank account. This works well for couples who feel that the proportional method would be punishing the higher earner while treating the lower earner as a charity case. Though not every couple feels this way, some couples prefer to split the costs down the middle to keep things simple. 

Complete Combine Method

Last but not least, the Complete Combine Method is when you deposit all of your earnings into joint accounts regardless of income. The Complete Combine Method allows couples to combine retirement accounts, investment accounts, checking and savings accounts, and credit and debit cards that pull money from the same joint account. Married couples who prefer to view themselves as a single unit (“we” as opposed to “you and me”) find that this method works well. Record-keeping becomes much easier with this method. There is full transparency between both spouses regarding where their money gets spent. Couples who use this method successfully can balance their spending habits so that the relationship still feels equal.

Do We Have to Combine Finances?

The short answer is no. Some couples opt to keep everything separate and deposit their paychecks into their individual bank accounts. They split the bills evenly, and all of their expenses come out of their individual accounts. Many couples are transparent about the amount of money in their bank accounts, while others keep that information private. Though this does work for some, experts say that combining finances after marriage is the best way to avoid financial troubles later on.

It can be tricky to navigate money and marriage, so you’ll want to take the best route possible. When you combine finances, you agree to work as a team. You’re no longer just individual people once you’re married, but you’re also two parts to the same whole. When you consider that you and your spouse have become united, it only makes sense to unite your bank accounts as well. While you’re not obligated to combine every single penny, you both earn into the same checking account. Having at least one joint account will contribute to the overall health of your marriage.

Combining finances gives you and your spouse the sense that you are working together towards your common goals. It will make you feel more in sync with each other and give you transparency in your marriage. It will also allow you to make better money decisions together once you start viewing money as something that belongs to you. When you decide to combine your finances, you can begin managing your finances as a couple which will only make you stronger. Overall, it is highly recommended for married couples to combine finances to the degree that both people feel most comfortable with. Considering which method of combining finances works for your marriage is a great place to start!

How to Combine Finances

Financial planning for newlywed couples is key to combining finances quickly and painlessly. Even if you’ve been married for a while, it’s never too late to reconsider your financial situation. A few tips and tricks will help the process go smoothly and ensure that when you and your spouse combine finances, you’re both happy with the outcome.

Pick a method

Whichever method for combining finances you and your spouse decide on should reflect your values. If you value your individuality and feel that at least some of your earnings should be all to yourself, then don’t pick the Complete Combine Method. If you don’t mind sharing everything you have with your spouse and your spouse feels the same, the Complete Combine Method might work best. The Proporital Method may be right for you if you value equity in your marriage. But if you don’t like the feeling of contributing more or less to the joint account than your spouse does, don’t use the proportional method. Use the Raw Contribution Method instead. After all, fairness is relative. If you and your spouse think it’s fair to contribute based on proportion to your income, that’s great. If you and your spouse define fairness as splitting everything equally down the middle, that’s perfectly fine. There’s no right or wrong method to choose. As long as you and your spouse agree on a method and stick to it, you’ll be good to go.

Have open and honest conversations

Anything that has to do with finances in marriage should always start with a conversation. Be honest about your earnings and your spending habits with your spouse. Remember to practice active listening when your spouse explains their spending habits to you. Having open and honest conversations about money and being fully transparent with each other will put you both on the right track. Also, don’t be afraid to speak your mind. If the way you’ve been handling finances as a couple just doesn’t sit right with you, then it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a change. Part of having an open and honest conversation is being able to point out the flaws and inconsistencies in your marriage. That includes discussing what isn’t working with your financial situation. 

Define goals and priorities

It is of the utmost importance in marriage to have the same financial goals and priorities as your spouse. If you’re focusing on paying off debt while your spouse is focusing on funding their costly new house renovation project, neither of you will get very far. Sharing finances in marriage means that you also must share the same financial goals. If you want to successfully combine finances, then you need to sit down with each other and discuss your goals and priorities. Consider what’s important to you.

What’s more important to you as a couple–paying for your monthly gym memberships to the most expensive gym in town or funding your yearly vacation? It doesn’t have to be so black and white, and there needs to be room for compromise. When considering your future goals, you need to agree on what you want to work towards together. If your ultimate goal is to buy property while your spouse wants to open up a business, you’ll have to work together to figure out which goal you want to work towards first. 

Address concerns

When you’re figuring out how to combine finances, you must also address any concerns you both might have. Keeping separate finances in marriage is not necessarily a good way to avoid having these discussions. The issues will need to be addressed sooner or later anyway. Regardless of which method you’ll use to combine your finances, it’s important to address any concerns. Accruing debt, using credit cards, and overspending can crumble a marriage if these issues go unchecked. Again, it’s imperative to be honest with your spouse if you have any financial problems or the tendency to overspend. When you address concerns head-on, it’ll be easier to tackle these issues as a team and develop solutions on how to combat them.

Create a budget

Creating a budget is a great idea for all married couples who want to combine finances. Creating a budget is a great idea for anyone to help them manage their finances, especially when two people come together and want to combine their money. Learning how to budget can be a daunting task, but there are many online and print resources to reference for guidance. Budgets look different for every couple. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to budgeting. You can fill out a marital balance sheet together to start. There are also many mobile apps available that can help you with budgeting and are something that you both can have access to. You can keep a spreadsheet if you prefer or even a Venn diagram! There’s no right or wrong way to create a budget as long as the method you use for keeping track of your finances works for both of you. 

Tips for Combining Finances

Don’t judge each other

The last thing you want to do when discussing money is judged your spouse. Talking about money and finances in marriage can feel vulnerable, so it’s best to address the situation with an open mind. Especially if you or your spouse have had issues with debt, poor credit, bankruptcy, or overspending, remember that everyone makes mistakes. It might be a sore subject to discuss finances depending on the situation. Expressing your wish to keep the discussion judgment-free is an excellent and direct way to approach the conversation. You and your spouse should feel able to have a conversation about money in which you both feel safe and comfortable. 

Don’t fight about money

Conversations about money in marriage should be just that – a conversation. You don’t want discussions about money to turn into arguments. That’s a quick way to make you and your spouse dread talking about money. You want your discussions about finances to be both empathetic and productive. A great way to make sure that your money conversations remain level-headed and civil is to have the conversation in a neutral space. 

Maybe you are cooking breakfast together on a Saturday morning when you decide to say, “Can we talk about redoing our budget after eating?” That’s just an example of how and when to bring up the conversation. The point is that money conversations should not be had when you’re upset with each other or too busy at the moment to even have the discussion. Talking about money in a neutral and non-argumentative manner is best to avoid a fight. If you and your spouse discuss finances and the conversation starts to get heated, it’s important to step away. Ask for 20 minutes of separation to clear your mind and come back to the issue when you’re feeling less emotionally charged.

Have a joint bank account

As a couple, you don’t have to decide to suddenly combine all of your finances into a joint account. Even if you decide that you’ll use the Complete Combine method, it doesn’t have to happen all at once. In fact, many people find the change to be quite overwhelming. A great place to start is to open just one bank account. What you decide to use the joint account for is up to you as a couple. Some ideas include using the bank account for vacation funds or using the account for rent and bills. If you start small, it’s less of a colossal change. However, it is recommended to have at least one joint bank account. If you decide that you’d like to combine your finances or open more joint accounts, that’s great! Before you open a joint account, figure out the method for combining finances that you want to use first. That will prevent confusion regarding who will deposit money into the account and how much. After you open a joint bank account, you’ll see just how well you work together as a team and how easy it is to combine finances.

Track spending

You’ll need to track your spending as a couple for your budget to work. Tracking spending will make sure that you’re staying within your budget. In marriage, you must agree to spend only a certain amount of money on certain categories in your budget when you figure out your finances. When one of you spends much more money than anticipated, the other person has less money to spend in the budget. It can also mean that you both have less money to spend on the fun stuff if you overspend on groceries for the month. Tracking your spending as a couple is necessary to ensure that you’re honoring the budget – and honoring each other.

Always keep an emergency fund

This is one of the most important financial tips out there: always keep an emergency fund. When combining finances after marriage, you may lose sight of very important detail. Having an emergency fund! You never know when an emergency might come up, whether your car breaks down or one of you loses your job. Having at least three months of living expenses saved up is recommended, but 9-12 months of living expenses are ideal. This is an excellent starting point if you and your spouse do not have an adequate emergency fund and cannot agree on which financial goal to work towards first. Plus, when you have an emergency fund, you’ll have fewer arguments about money because you always have that cushion to fall back on. 

How to Work Through Financial Problems in Marriage

Manage finances as a couple

Even if one person in the couple is delegated to balance the budget, you must manage finances as a couple. Both people in the marriage should know what the money is spent on. Both people in the marriage should also work together to address any financial issues that might come up. Always remember that you are a team. 

Get back to the budget

It is perfectly normal and acceptable to redo your budget now and then. If your marriage is having trouble because one or both of you isn’t sticking to the budget, then it’s time to come together and figure out a solution. When the budget just doesn’t give you enough wiggle room, figure out how you can work together to adjust spending categories in the budget. If one or both of you is having trouble with overspending, then start to think outside the box! Consider cash envelopes as a budgeting technique to help you with your spending habits.

Recognize your differences

Everyone has money problems. Some people have better money problems than others, depending on how much money they make, but everyone has money problems. That’s why it’s important to recognize your differences regarding marriage and finances. Oftentimes, the way we were raised impacts our relationships with money. Let’s say, for example, that your spouse grew up impoverished and you grew up well-off. Your spouse might react to the trauma of not having money by hoarding all of the money they make and refusing to spend it.

Meanwhile, you’re comfortable spending money because you know that you can always make more of it. The differences in your and your spouse’s experiences with money shaped you in very contrasting and conflicting ways. By recognizing each others’ differences, you can learn to work around them. This will make you stronger as a couple and more financially stable.

Seek help

Financial marriage counseling is a great option for struggling couples who just need a little extra push to get them going. Seeking help from a financial advisor is a smart option for couples who want help with their budget. A financial advisor will be able to tell you how to best manage your money as a couple. They will work with you on figuring out the best method to combine finances for your unique situation. Couples counseling is another amazing resource for couples having issues in their marriage due to finances. Working out your differences in couples counseling will ultimately lead you to better understand each other. Seeking a financial advisor and attending couples counseling will make you an even stronger couple who is also financially savvy and secure. 

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Sofia Bolanos

Sofia Bolanos has over seven years of experience in the mental health field and is an avid peer support counselor and volunteer. She also works closely with homeless populations in the San Francisco Bay Area and provides resources and support to vulnerable individuals within the community. Her goal is to utilize her gift of insight to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. As part of her commitment to that goal, she facilitates a monthly support group in which couples are strongly encouraged to attend. She received a B.A. in Sociology from San Francisco State University and is on track to continue her graduate studies in 2023. In addition to her passions for writing and helping others in their healing journeys, she enjoys oil painting, contemporary dance, plant care, and spending quality time with her dog.

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