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Before we dive in, please know that this blog post is just my personal experience sharing money with a S/O and there is no right or wrong answer to this question! What works for you might not work for others and vice versa.
I’ve been on both sides of the coin, and there are pros and cons to combined finances just like there are separate finances.
A little back story: I was engaged to someone before I dated my husband, and we decided to combine our finances when we bought our first house. It made perfect sense since we were living under the same roof, sharing utilities and groceries, and going out to eat together multiple times per week.
I managed our money. I liked being in control, so that was a plus. A negative was, I felt like ALL the financial stress and responsibility was on me. If we were thousands of dollars in debt (which we were) it was somehow my fault. My ex also hated talking about the money, so I felt isolated.
After being engaged for over a year, my then fiancé called off our wedding. I couldn’t afford to keep the house, so we had to sell it. We split the house profits and bank accounts 50/50. This could have been A LOT uglier. I am so thankful we were able to do this on our own terms. I know others who were not so lucky.
Two months before the breakup, my ex surprised me with a brand-new SUV (that was in my name) that we could easily pay for with our combined budget. After the split, I could barely afford the car on my own. I went to the dealership, cried ugly tears, and they sent me out the door saying, “Good luck.”
Also, the only reason I was able to get an apartment right after the breakup (before the house sold) was because I had a few thousand dollars tucked away in a private savings account. If I hadn’t saved that money in my own account, I would have been stuck living with my ex after he called off our wedding.
This entire experience made it hard to trust in future relationships (money management included).
Money and Cohabitation
When I moved into my husband’s house, we kept all our money separate. There was NEVER an IOU or a pointed finger when it came to the money. Instead, we each had our financial responsibilities. Andrew was responsible for his set of “house” bills, and I was responsible for mine.
I can be really stubborn and I don’t like when people tell me no (just keeping it real). Having my own money meant I could buy whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I liked that aspect of it.
We would alternate who paid for eating out and groceries. We each paid for our own gas, phones, cars, and car insurance. This method worked for a while, but eventually, our lives were so intertwined that it was a headache having everything separate.
We hit our first big snag with having separate finances after we got engaged. Planning a wedding isn’t cheap, and we needed to pool all our financial resources together to save, save, save. We sat down, went through our individual income and bills and decided how much per month we could each contribute to the “wedding pot.”
Andrew would Venmo me his amount each month, but I always had to ask for it. I didn’t want to nag, and I didn’t want to beg for it, but I can’t remember a time that the money showed up without me asking.
It would have been SO much easier to save for the wedding if we had combined our finances, but we didn’t. In fact, my husband and I didn’t combine our finances until a year after our wedding!
Deciding to Combine Our Finances
More big purchases started coming up. For example, Andrew’s car (which was paid off) went into the shop and they estimated it needed over $3,500 of work done. The car was only worth about $500 (my husband will argue it was worth more to his grave), so it didn’t make sense.
We decided to lease him a truck. We didn’t want to get stuck with something, and just needed a car to tie us over through residency. The truck ended up being in my name, and I was the one making the payments on it.
Resentment set in every month when the payment came out. Why am I paying for YOUR truck AND my car?! Even though my husband was paying for the roof over my head and the electricity powering the very computer I’m typing on, I still felt frustrated.
Sharing Hopes & Dreams
Next, we sold our house. That was the final straw for separate finances. We went to the bank, opened a joint checking and savings account (we both still have our own checking and savings accounts), and set up our paychecks to direct deposit into the joint account. When the house sold, the money went straight into the joint checking so we could buy our next house.
As a married couple, we quickly learned that sharing money is a way to share our hopes and dreams.
Instead of building two lives side by side, we could build one life together as a family. How you spend your money is how you spend your life! That might sound strange, but it is true. With combined finances we are finally on the same page with our goals and dreams and that feels SO GOOD.
Having our money in one big pot forces us to have open communication about what we want to do with our money. Debt payoff? New couch? European vacation? Have kids? Bathroom remodel? Now, we can talk about these things and plan accordingly. Speaking of planning…
My husband rarely looks at his money. Meanwhile, I keep a detailed spreadsheet of every penny I spend, every debt I owe, and every dollar I make. It is SO important to know what money you have coming in and what money you have going out.
You must TELL your dollars where to go. Don’t let your dollars tell you where you went (cough, cough TARGET/Homegoods/Marshalls – I’m looking at you). With our money combined and tracked all together, we can better prioritize our immediate goals and manage accordingly. Nothing is falling through the cracks now, and that feels powerful!
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My Personal Conclusion
All of that said, here is my personal conclusion: Cohabitation (before marriage) is MESSY and that includes your finances. I’m lucky to have walked out of my engagement with 50% of our assets. Not everyone will be so lucky (and at least with divorce there are legal action steps here). When you trust someone, you should also trust them with your money… In marriage, combined finances mean combined goals and dreams and I LOVE that.