You May Be Married or Partnered, But Have You Actually Joined Finances?

Meet Celeste and Amy – They’ve lived together 10 years and have been married 6. They have 2 kids ages 5 and 2. Life is busy! They have a joint account they created together when they got their condo together and they pay their mortgage and utilities out of that account, but other than that they keep things separate. Amy pays for streaming services, pets and makes sure daycare and babysitters get paid. Celeste pays for car and insurance since she’s the main driver. They would love to buy a bigger home, but are finding it hard to save up for a down payment. They each have savings accounts they throw extra money into, but find they continue to get raided. Their money meetings are once or twice a month and center around where they need to move money to make sure bills get paid. They wish their financial life was more streamlined and easy to manage. They’d also love to be making progress towards saving for their goals rather than treading water. 

This scenario is pretty common among the married couples we see. Fewer and fewer couples have totally joint finances like your grandparents might have (and that’s totally fine). With most people partnering or marrying in their late 20s, 30s or beyond, each partner has established their own finances before getting together with a spouse. A level of financial autonomy is therefore more of a norm.  These days many couples cohabit before marrying and that’s when they start splitting household finances. This stage is where the venmos back and forth and weird bill pay trades originate. Unfortunately, financial structures introduced at an early stage of commitment aren’t often sufficiently revisited later as couples make a long-term commitment to each other. These inefficient structures often stay in place even as finances get more complicated with children, savings for education, homes, retirement etc. coming into the picture.  

Revisiting your financial structure is important. We highlight some key benefits of creating an intentional joint structure below: 

  • Alignment with your values as a couple: Do your household finances align with your values? For example: Is equality of outcomes something you value? How do you want to honor this in your financial structure? 
  • Alignment with your goals: Does your structure enhance your desired goals or is most of your current time spent just discussing who pays/owes what? 
  • Reduce complexity: Do you have a clear idea of how much income and expenses comes into and go out of your household? Many couples don’t because they have so many credit cards and accounts. 
  • Get value from time spent: Ensure your time is spent on activities that get you the furthest 
  • Discuss regularly: Are you meeting at least once month? 

To facilitate your conversations around creating an intentional joint financial structure, we’re including steps and resources to help you below. Follow these steps to create a financial structure and that will launch you nicely into our routine for regular, effective, and harmonizing money dates. 

Step 1: Consider the Options

Joint with Private Pocket Money

You decide: Same or different personal account distributions?

Separate with Joint Household Finances

You decide: Same or different contributions to the joint account?

Step 2: Jointly reflect on how your structure might change to be more intentional

Step 3: Define Your Goals

Here are a few common goals, but please list your own as well:  

  • Organization
  • Debt paydown/prevention (joint/single)
  • More savings
  • Transparency
  • Autonomy/spending decisions private
  • More togetherness/intimacy
  • Jointly investing towards goals

Step 4: Map Out and Create Your Structure

What are your next steps?:  

  • List “together” expenses and “personal” expenses
  • Create the right accounts and the right deposits/transfers
  • Establish budgets for joint expenses
  • Create auto-pay where practical
  • Monthly money date to monitor and fine-tune

Step 5: Create a Routine - "Money Dates"

What are your next steps?:  

  • Plan dates every 1-4 weeks (weekly when you first start then decrease frequency to every month as you build systems and they become routine).
  • Define your values – starting with your common values gives you an anchor to help de-escalate when conversations get heated. When you notice yourself or your partner getting angry, ground your conversation In how your point of view relates to a shared value and have your partner do the same.
  • Track your spending and make It easy – avoid getting lost in data:
    • Use a budgeting software or app to summarize Income and expenses.
    • If you prefer low tech: use just one credit card and bank account so you can review spending In as few places as possible.
  • Review and discuss the previous period’s income and spending:
    • What non-routine expenses came up?
    • Where did you overspend? What categories do you feel like you didn’t get value for the money spent?
    • Where do you want to allocate more of your budget?
    • What changes need to be made to your cash flow structure, loans, debt Interest rates, savings, Investments?
  • Review and discuss income and spending for the next period:
    • What non-routine expenses are coming?
    • Make plans for how to deal with shortfalls.
    • Make plans on the best use for windfalls.
  • Make It fun – Have a reward, make your date something to look forward to like: coffee, dessert or a nice meal.
  • Keep it to 30-60 minutes in length.
  • End on a positive note – find one thing you can acknowledge each other for.
  • Set up your next date!