Once you finally settle down with a partner and decide you’re in it for the long haul, the awkwardness that can come from dealing with the bill at the end of dinner completely stops being an issue, right? Well, not necessarily. More and more couples—millennials in particular—are opting for separate finances in marriage and in long-term partnerships. A 2018 Bank of America survey found that 28 percent of married millennials opt to not merge funds, whereas the same was true for only 13 percent of Gen-Xers and 11 percent of baby boomers.
And, a number of reasons could help explain the shift: For one, the rate of dual-income households has been steadily on the rise since 1960, according to Pew Research, and the absence of a dedicated homemaker relieves the absolute need to merge finances since both partners have personal streams of income. Then there’s errand paralysis, a tenet of millennial burnout that may be a stopping many from taking the necessary steps and filling out the required paperwork to merge accounts, even if that’s what they want to do. Furthermore, reports show that more are getting married later in life, meaning by the time many settle down with a spouse—if they ever choose to at all—their spending habits are deeply seated and individualized.
All of these reasons factor into the choice of Renée M., a 29-year-old marketing manager in Minneapolis, to have separate finances in marriage from her partner. “It wasn’t this big line in the sand,” she says. “Both of us have been working for several years, and we’re accustomed to making our own decisions with money. It just doesn’t seem necessary [to merge accounts].”
On the one hand, great; to each their own. But on the other hand is new research that notes that a sense of financial togetherness caters to heightened relationship satisfaction. So, is it possible to create that sense without actually needing to pool money?
Below, get four tips to cultivate financial togetherness without combing money from experts and couples who have decided to do just that—and are thriving.
Clearly define your responsibilities
“Having your money siloed from your spouse requires an even deeper level of communication,” says financial planner Zachary Conway. “Make sure you each understand those responsibilities, and you each can pay both personal and joint bills on time and, more importantly, maintain trust in your relationship.”
“Having your money siloed from your spouse requires an even deeper level of communication. Make sure you each understand those responsibilities, and you each can pay both personal and joint bills on time.” —Zachary Conway, financial planner
In practice, this can mean divvying up expenses so everyone involved is aware of what they need to take care of. For example, one person may make the mortgage payment, while the other takes care of all the utilities and childcare bills.
Create a system
In addition to defining each person’s financial responsibilities, Conway stresses the importance of agreeing upon an administrative system for paying joint bills. This could include, for example, picking a particular date each month to transfer a set amount into a joint account that the couple subsequently uses for those monthly joint expenses—like rent, groceries, and childcare.
While it’s definitely possible to adhere to this system manually via account transfers and even services like Venmo, it might be possible to automate and remove any guesswork or potential strife completely. “If possible, spouses may want to set up two separate direct deposits through their employers, so that a certain amount is directed to a personal account and the rest is directed to the joint account for mutual expense responsibilities,” he says.
Be mindful of differences in income
Financial planner Sophia Bera says one of the most important things to consider when deciding to keep finances separate is income disparity.
“As you merge your lives, I highly recommend that you divide your shared expenses according to a percentage of your incomes.” —Sophia Bera, financial planner
“There is a tendency to split things 50/50 when you’re dating or your relationship is new,” she says. “But as you merge your lives, I highly recommend that you divide your shared expenses according to a percentage of your incomes. So if one partner makes twice as much as the other, one would pay 1/3 of the shared costs while the other pays 2/3.”
And, as Amy M., 47, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, who keeps her finances separate from her partner, points out, this habit to promote fiscal health also supports emotional health. “Make sure each person has enough spending money so they don’t have to borrow or resent their partner for their spending habits,” she says.
Even though your finances might be separate, you still share certain money-related responsibilities, so make sure you keep your partner in the loop if your personal situation changes. “Tell your partner if you’re having financial trouble,” says Amy M. “Pay the bills on time, so the other person doesn’t suffer because of your irresponsibility, such as having the utilities shut off.”
Christie M., 33, writer and photographer in Denver, agrees that transparency is key—as is having a threshold dollar amount for expenses to run by your partner pre-purchase. “Having separate bank accounts doesn’t mean you should feel free to buy whatever and keep it a secret from your spouse. I don’t routinely tell my husband how much I spend on iced coffee every week, but he pretty much knows about anything I buy over $50,” she says. “This works for our marriage because we trust each other with finances.”
Another way to cultivate financial togetherness, whether you have separate finances in marriage or not? Schedule money dates with your partner. Also, here’s how to discuss the big D—debt—with your S.O.
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