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Joint Finances - Is Your Relationship Ready?

Updated on March 22, 2012

The decision to share finances is as huge as the decision to become cohabitational in a relationship. This can be a deal breaker or a partnership maker depending on how it goes. Here’s some tips on how to make the decision together, and how to make that decision work for you.

One of the first things you need to do is figure out how you both are inclined to view the bills. There are a few different ways new couples view joint finances.

Then & Now

One way is the “Then & Now” way. The “Then” bills would be the ones you’ve each arrived with: your student loans, your car payment, your credit card bills. Charities you’ve chosen to support. Your insurances and investments, your obligations and any other loans or debts. The “Now” obligations would be the ones you currently have together: Rent. Utilities. Food.

Agree & Disagree

Another way to view your bills is what I call the “Agree & Disagree” way. The “Agreed” bills and obligations would be things you both feel are worthwhile. He may feel her student loans were a good investment into their futures together, and agrees that this is a valid bill and doesn’t mind sharing in the payment of it. However, he may feel her $25,000 in credit card debt is not an investment, it isn’t a worthwhile bill, and may not want to help pay it off.

This one isn’t as cut and dry as the previous way. Even the current food bill may incur disagreements. She may not want to pay half of a food bill that includes a lot of junk food, red meat, and snacks, since she eats nothing but Jenny Craig and salad anyway. He may not agree with the utility bill because he’s constantly turning the heat down, and she’s forever turning it up. She may resent how much they've spent on flatscreens or electronics, and the premium monthly cable package.

Figuring Out Your View

That’s going to involve a real conversation. Make a list of all the bills, and all the income, and sit down together over a pot of coffee and honestly discuss this. Look at each bill and honestly say how you both feel about paying it. It might surprise you to find out you have a problem paying for some and not others.

After this conversation, you should be able to figure out whether you’re looking at the bills from a “Then & Now” or a “Agree & Disagree” way. She may be one, he may be the other As long as you understand the motivations behind the feelings, this shouldn’t be a problem.

This exercise is to learn and understand your thought processes. Going forward from here, you need to try to work together to understand how to balance them out.

Taking This Step By Step

The income that you are both bringing into the situation will be a huge factor in proceeding from here. Look at the bills you each have resentment toward paying, and look at your incomes.

If you resent having to pay her credit card bill which may be for example $300 a month, yet she earns $600 a month more than you do, you can pretty much see that her extra income covers this bill, so in essence you have nothing to worry about.

In most cases though, this won’t be quite as easy and simple as the above example. There will more than likely be a whole list of factors, pluses and minuses.

Agreeing to pool all your money and resources, and debts and obligations, means you are agreeing that you’re equals in incoming and outgoing monies and contributions.

For many couples, that is where the problem occurs. They don't understand or appreciate the total value each brings to the table. There are many factors. Before anything becomes an issue, discuss them.

Here is a very rough example of what I mean:

Let’s say, she’s an accountant, and he’s a car salesman. Her office is in the house. He commutes to work. Since she doesn’t commute, she has more time than he does to invest into housework.

When they look over their bills and their income, they need to consider that they each have a low car payment because of his work discount. They don’t have to pay a year end tax accountant to do their taxes because of her expertise. They have to consider that she puts more time into the cooking, cleaning, laundry, bill paying, and other household commitments. It's not enough to just say she earns more than he does. There is so much involved. Even outside of the day to day part of the finances. Maybe his family gave them the down payment on their apartment. Her family is constantly asking her to send $50 towards somebody's bail. He spends more on hobbies. Etc etc.

Everyone has assets and liabilities.

As long as you can both really consider the whole picture - all the things you both contribute financially to the relationship - and as long as you both believe that overall, it's fair and even, you're good to go.

It's when you do not feel it's fair that you'll crash and burn. If one of you feels the other is not doing their fair share, you're heading for disaster.

What About Just Being a Team?

Does this sound too businesslike for you? Would you prefer not to compare all these details?

I’m all for that. My husband and I didn’t nickel and dime everything when we made the decision to live together and join our finances. We were in love and committed to our future. It didn’t matter who did more housework, or who earned more. It didn’t matter who came into the relationship with debt. It didn’t matter who drove what or did what, or had what.

But not everybody feels that way. In today's world you'd be safe not to assume this is all going to be OK. It's better not to have surprises. If you're serious about spending your lives together, make sure you take the time to know each other. That includes knowing how much debt you each have, how much money you both have, and how you each feel about the other's spending habits. It's much better to give your mate the chance to react to how much debt you have or how much you spend at the track every week, before you marry. And you should want to know what you're getting into as well. When you marry, you're forming a contract. You should know if on your wedding day you've become responsible with him for his back child support, or the $40,000 he still owes on his boat, or a lein that placed against his house years ago.

Bones of Contention

Like anything else, this really comes down to communication. If you can discuss openly and honestly the way you both feel about money/bills/debts and expenses, you have a good chance of at least understanding where the other one is coming from, and at least compromising.

Verbalizing that you have an issue with this bill or that debt may be enough. Maybe one of you just needed to express their feelings on it. Sometimes acknowledgement is all you need.

I’ll give personal examples here. His family is huge, and mine is tiny. Christmas/birthday/baby gifts for his side are just out of control. I don’t feel good about spending so much on them. But guess what. It’s his family. There is no getting around that. I get to express that once in a while, and that’s the end of it.

On the other hand, while my husband is extremely charitable, he is not quite the sucker that I am. I tend to give to the charities that I support a bit more than we can afford sometimes. He will look at the checkbook and say, “You gave $ XXX dollars to the Humane Society?” I explain how I gave extra this month because of the dogs rescued from a shelter that closed… or whatever happens to be going on. And he always says, he can’t be upset at me for something I do with my heart. It’s part of why he loves me. Maybe he thinks of it as “my” family. He knows we spend serious bucks on his family. So maybe my over-charitable expenditures balance out for him in the big picture.

The Bottom Line

Conversing about how you both feel about money and each other's spending and earning may reveal things that surprise you.

I’ll give another personal example. I spend money on beauty. Don’t get me wrong, we can afford it. But it is probably more than some women spend. I get my hair done, I get manicures and pedicures. I buy good skin & hair care products, and cosmetics, and update them often. We do alot of winter activities like snowmobiling, so I want to make sure my skin survives.

Many men would look at the $$$ and say, “Are you out of your mind??” But in my relationship, my husband LOVES that I do my hair and make up and enjoy feeling girlie and pretty. He does not see these expenses as a burden to our budget at all. He sees this as “gifts I give him every day.” – Yup, that’s a direct quote. I come home from the salon and he doesn’t ask how much. He says, “Thank you for spending your afternoon being beautiful for me.”

Obviously, this is a specific example, and not for everyone. I'm just saying you may be surprised. You may go into the conversation about finances with your girlfriend thinking - she is going to hate that I drop a couple bills every month at my poker game. Meanwhile, it turns out she LOVES having that night to herself, to take a bubble bath, eat ice cream and watch a chick flick. So to her that money is totally worth it.

Communication is the key. Express your feelings on what expenses you don’t feel OK about, and really listen to your partner's feelings as well. Try to get to the motivation behind these feelings. Don't assume this conversation means you're going to be judged or forced to cut out things that matter to you. The goal is learning how each other thinks and feels.

And not everything can be compromised. Agreeing to disagree about some things is fair, honest and workable. He doesn’t like that she spends so much on unhealthy food and shoes. She doesn’t like that he spends so much on luxury items like porn, or car accessories. But as long as you both realize that somehow in the larger scheme of “who–does-what, who-makes-what, who-spends-what,” it basically all balances out, then there shouldn’t be any resentment.

If you liked this HUB, please click the Thumbs-Up below. Thanks!

*All text is original content by Veronica. All photos are original content by Veornica, OR used with permission. All videos are courtesy of


Submit a Comment
  • LauraGT profile image


    8 years ago from MA

    Interesting topic. I didn't really think much about combining accounts - it just seemed like if I was prepared to spend the rest of my life with this guy we could probably share finances. So far, so good, but I think it's probably a good thing to think through more thoroughly.

  • MrSpock profile image


    11 years ago

    This is such a very sensitive topic. Different personalities, different perspectives on money. It can be a trainwreck waiting to happen if there's no understanding between the two.

  • profile image


    11 years ago

    I've been with my hubby since I was 16 (he was 18), married him at 19 and 26 years later couldn't imagine ever having or needing seperate finances. We both have access to all our accounts and trust each other implicitly.

    Our outgoings are completely candid. He takes pocket money out every week for himself but I don't feel the need to. If I want something I buy it on our debit card.

    We have both at some stage during our marriage been the higher earner but there has never been any resentment between us about regarding who actually owns or earns more. We are are team, and we both believe that it's 50/50 all the way.

    Our marriage is constantly evolving and our roles throughout the years have changed considerably both at home and in the work place. Our finances are as transparent as our relationship is. We trust each other 100% and have never been ones to avoid difficult conversations or situations.

    For us, having seperate finances would mean one person was valued less, and we wouldn't be able to do that to each other. We both bring different skills to our marriage, and those skills are being constantly updated and grown. Many of those skills you cannot put a price on, so why put a price on finances? It's only money afterall.

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from NY


    If your girlfriend is just a girlfriend that's one thing. But if you're cohabitational and she's doing things that help and support your ability to earn, such as caring for your house, cooking your meals, raising your children, etc, that's something entirely different.

    It's great that you want to be fair. And the truth is if you work hard you have every right to protect what you've earned.

  • profile image


    11 years ago

    I recently divorced and splitting all our assets was not fun. I now need to decide if joining finances again is for the best. Similar to my ex-wife, I make considerably more than my girlfriend and want to figure out was is fair and right.

  • profile image


    12 years ago

    This is so informative. I feel you are right, there are so many facets to consider not just who makes what. The point is, it's about communication as you said. I think my wife should read this and we should have a sit down. thanks!

  • stephhicks68 profile image

    Stephanie Marshall 

    12 years ago from Bend, Oregon

    Spot on information! I thought about writing a Hub on this, but why now? This covers it all. Communication is so important. I have watched friends lie to their boyfriends and SOs about spending $$ and cringed. What a pathetic basis for trust!! It really needs to be all open and honest. Great job.

  • Misha profile image


    13 years ago from DC Area


    It's much easier in Russia. At least it used to be when I separated.

    I just think that separate finance is more of a modern model that fits both working partners. I can hardly imagine separate finance in a family with one working partner. In such kind of family one earns money, another spends money - a kind of specialization, if you will :D

  • Marisa Wright profile image

    Kate Swanson 

    13 years ago from Sydney

    Misha is like most people in keeping the finances separate in his second marriage.  Once you've been through the nightmare of separating the finances in a totally enmeshed marriage, you're very cautious about merging your financial affairs with someone again. 

    I don't think that means you don't trust your new partner. It just means you're facing reality.  After all, you went into your first marriage believing it was for life.  At that point, you could never have imagined your beloved partner being mean or cheating on you.  So, when you find your next partner, you realise that no matter how perfectly matched you may seem, things can go wrong.  So it pays to be sensible.

    I'm kind of in the middle. My husband and I have separate bank accounts and I own property in my own name (which I had when I married). But I gave him a large sum of money towards the mortgage on our home, which is in his name only, and we don't keep a strict tab on who pays what daily expenses.

  • Whitney05 profile image


    13 years ago from Georgia

    This is very interesting; info to keep in mind. My boyfriend wants to be a part of my bills (IE he wants on my cell phone plan), but cannot pay due to the lack of job. So, he's not on my plan. Ha. I wouldn't mind sharing bills with him, if he had a constant job and I knew he would be contributing long term versus this month and not next.

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    13 years ago from NY

    Thanks Mark!!

  • Mark Knowles profile image

    Mark Knowles 

    13 years ago

    Definite thumbs up. I'm broke so it's all academic, but I enjoyed reading this.

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    13 years ago from NY

    soyelude, it's great that you made that decision together, before there were any confusions.

    Supercibor, we're with you. I handle all our finances. But the thing was, we discussed it and agreed ahead of time. Communicaiton ;)

  • soyelude profile image


    13 years ago from Lagos - Nigeria

    My wife and i feel it's much more convenient for each person to manage their accounts/funds. This works well for us...should she choose to buy Buckingham Palace, good luck to her!

  • supercibor profile image

    Hector Herrera 

    13 years ago from Dominican Republic

    Congratulations for your very informative Hub. I decided long time ago that it was easier to let my woman handle all the finances and avoid any more conflicts.

    This dictatorhip has worked fine.



  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    13 years ago from NY

    Misha, it's great that you and your second wife have discussed and agreed on what works best for you guys.

    Thanks Stacie. Communication is the key to everything, isn't it.

  • Stacie Naczelnik profile image

    Stacie Naczelnik 

    13 years ago from Seattle

    You are so right that communication is the key. For some couples, joint is best, for others, separate is best. It really depends. As long as communication happens, anything can work.

  • Misha profile image


    13 years ago from DC Area

    Geat hub on relationship, as always :)

    I used to have joint finance with my first wife, but we use a different approach with my second. We both contribute equal shares to the pool of family expenses, and the rest either party uses at its own discretion. I don't think I would ever come back to joint finance :D


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