Money is messy. Relationships are complicated. Combining the two? Now that sounds like a recipe for disaster. But honestly, it doesn’t have to be. From student loan debt to savings accounts, how we choose to manage our money and what it goes towards is a deeply personal decision, often making us feel extra protective about our hard-earned cash.
Start dating someone, and those decisions no longer become something only you worry about, but something that could directly affect your partner as well. But just because you’re joining lives doesn’t always mean you need to join bank accounts. Seriously, there’s more than one way to split the pie (or not split it at all!), it really is up to you.
Sure, no one really likes having the dreaded money talk with their S.O., but studies show you’re better off talking about it than not.
Being real and honest with your partner about money and how you want to handle it as a couple can make both parties feel more empowered in the relationship, regardless of how you decide to manage it all.
Though one study conducted by Brigham Young University found that partners who were both involved in the financial decision making process theoretically tended to have more relationship stability, there really is no one-size-fits-all way to tackle your finances as a pair.
In an effort to get the conversation going and find out what’s right for you, we talked to six real-life couples about how they handle their finances. Like we said, there are no right or wrong answers here, just a healthy dose of #perspective to let you know that there are several ways to go about doing it. And yes, these people reported being happy with their partner, through it all.
“He says his money is mine.”
“My husband and I used to have separate accounts when we first got together, but we shared bill responsibilities equally. Having a child changed that for us. After I got pregnant, we opened up a joint account and I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom. It’s been almost seven years since then, and he’s the sole provider. Neither one of us has a single account, just a joint. He says his money is mine. It’s worked out great because I can deal with bills or other expenses without him having to be there, and I don’t feel badly when our family needs something additional.”
—Tricia, 37, Georgia.
“We made the ‘adult’ decision to combine our bank accounts.”
“When my fiancé (now husband) and I first moved in together, Venmo essentially became like our third roommate. We decided we would split the bills evenly, so we were constantly sending each other money. Between rent checks coming out of his bank account, electric and Internet bills coming out of mine, and us attempting to divide the cost of groceries and other expenses, it got way too complicated and stressful to manage.
That’s why, after about two months of living together, we made the adult decision to combine our bank accounts. It was an easy choice because we were getting married in less than a year and figured we would do it eventually. I was slightly nervous at first because this meant he could see all of my transactions (like when I buy new clothes), but it has made our lives so much easier in the long run.
Like any couple, we’ve had a few tiffs here and there about spending too much on dinners or shopping, but we have come to understand that we both contribute to the pot and can still spend our money as we please. For us, the convenience was worth losing a bit of the financial freedom.”
—Alex, 25, New York
“He provides every penny of support.”
“We’ve been together for four years. I bring in no money, so I have no access to money. This makes things easier for me because none of the financial burden falls on me. I like it that way. I didn’t feel comfortable being named on an account I didn’t contribute to, which was originally a huge source of contention between my husband and I, but I stand by it.
Instead, he provides every penny of support and if I need anything additional, I ask and he pays for it directly. It’s never a problem. I didn’t want to have to deal with money at all, it’s too stressful.”
—Woman, 30, Texas
“We felt that since we don’t make the same amount in income, it wouldn’t be fair to put the same dollar amount into joint funds.”
“My partner and I are married and do a percentage system. We felt that since we don’t make the same amount in income, it wouldn’t be fair to put the same dollar amount into joint funds.
On a monthly basis, 65% of each of our paychecks goes into a joint account for bills and things we do together, 10% goes to joint savings, and 25% goes to our separate personal accounts for things that we want to on our own, be it shopping, self-care, or gifts for one another. This works for us because it feels fair, even if it’s not necessarily equal.”
—Ashley, 29, California
“We transfer an equal ‘allowance’ into our separate accounts for us to do with as we please.”
“We have three accounts: A joint and our own separate ones. Our pay gets paid into the joint account, and that’s where all bills and necessary expenses come out of. But each month, we transfer an equal ‘allowance’ into our separate accounts for us to do with as we please. If I want to buy something for myself I use my ‘allowance,’ and same for him.
This way we feel equal in our contributions, but can still have the freedom to buy things for ourselves that don’t fit into that bucket. The reality is, we bicker about everything, but money is not one of them.”
“We split everything down the middle.”
“I believe in having separate accounts. My partner and I split everything down the middle that we both use, which is mostly our living expenses like power, rent, and internet.
When it comes to our own stuff, we pay individually. That means we pay for our own phone bills, credit cards, groceries, insurance, and car notes. When we go out, we usually pay for our own tabs or split the check, which I honestly don’t mind.
The one thing we do have a joint account for is either a house or a baby. It’s kind of a future savings fund, since we aren’t at that point in our lives yet, but we both deposit money in there every so often—making sure to try to match what the other has paid. Some years I make more and some years he makes more but we don’t take that into account. To us, it’s about being as equal as possible at all times.”
— Lola, 23, Washington
*Stories have been edited and condensed for clarity.