Marriage is hard enough with the mundane stressors of everyday life, but when you throw money into the equation, it can sometimes reach a boiling point. With the frustrations of wondering who left the toilet seat up, how a pair of dirty socks made their way to the dinner table again, and why your toothbrush is wet when you most definitely have not used it (like how hard is it to remember that the blue one is your toothbrush, and the green one is my toothbrush?) managing or really even just talking about finances as a couple can seem too daunting of a task.
So how does one survive in a world where sharing a toothbrush is supposedly no big deal and successfully managing a household budget together is a total necessity? While we can’t fix the toothbrush thing, we can give you some sage advice on how to handle your shared finances without calling a divorce attorney – and believe us, if you thought your finances were tricky now, a legal separation will not help.
Before you throw all your funds into one giant pool, take a minute and get in touch with how you really feel about your finances (and your level of corresponding control). Not everybody is down with sharing the wealth, and if you are one of those people, it is good to recognize that going into any kind of joint bank account. We were all raised with different ideas when it comes to money, and oftentimes, the way our parents did it is the way we feel things should continue to be done. Be careful with this, though, as you might have different factors at play than Mom and Pop did. Marital status, children, job security, and housing are all big influences in shaping your decision on how to share a budget, so make the choice that is right for you right now.
You don’t have to throw all the dollars into a big pot either, just like you don‘t have to keep separate accounts. It is completely up to the two of you. There is no “right” way to handle finances as a couple, and the only “wrong” way to do it is to enter into a situation that makes one of you feel nervous or uncomfortable.
Once you have a solid handle on how you feel about moving forward with your money, it’s time to have a talk – because your partner might not feel the same way. Make sure to set aside plenty of time to have a conversation since a mutual decision might take longer than you would anticipate. As always, remember to listen just as much as you talk so you truly understand where your partner is coming from and what their comfort level is with handling finances, sharing bank accounts, investing, and planning for the future.
And while we are on the topic of the future, you ought to make sure you have one. How serious is your relationship really? If you are closer to “we’ll see how it goes” than “we’ll see you at the church,” it is probably too early to even think about combining finances.
We all have our strong points, and when it comes to doling out tasks, it’s usually a good idea to sign up for the ones you are good at. Are you the facts and figures mind in the duo? Maybe you should be the one who handles tracking investments, running the budget, and making any necessary changes. Are you a perfectionist, Type A extraordinaire? You might be best suited to making sure all the bills are paid on time and filed away for future reference. Are you the ever-present boy scout ensuring everyone is prepared? Then, take charge of building and maintaining an emergency fund to cover those unforeseen catastrophes that always pop up when you least expect them. Are you terrible with money? Impulsive? Forgetful? Maybe hand over the reins completely and be thankful you found someone to keep you out of bankruptcy.
Once the bank accounts have been combined (or not), tasks have been delegated, and everyone is on the same page, you need to keep one final thing in mind – be honest with one another. If you over-shoot your budget one month or forget to pay a bill or splurge on that pair of shoes that have been calling your name, tell the truth. Secrets have a way of coming out eventually, and when they do, it will matter more than the secret was kept than the money was spent.
To help aid in this process, it is sometimes helpful to add one another’s names as secondary parties on the account, even if you do not intend to share funds. For one thing, it helps keep you honest, and for another, it makes phone calls and maintaining the accounts much easier should you need to switch up roles or decide to combine accounts down the road.
Whichever way you decide to come together as a couple, and share the mental load of managing finances, know that what you choose is not set in stone. Just like how your finances can be fluid, the roles you play in handling them can be fluid, as well. What feels comfortable for you at one point in your relationship might not serve you well at a different point, so be open to growing in these roles as your relationship grows. Who knows? Once you get your budget in order, you might finally be able to tackle that pesky toothbrush confusion.
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