So you've finally decided to pop the question. You fight through nerves and imagine that unforgettable moment when you finally ask your partner, "Do you want to open a joint account?"
All kidding aside, sharing money is a big step for any relationship and there are as many ways to organize finances as there are couples who split them. And while there's no one right way to merge money - even married folks don't necessarily share a checking account - there are some basic practices that will keep your relationship and finances in good health.
It's truly the secret to every good relationship and couldn't be more important when it comes to talking about money. Before you join up, have a frank discussion with your partner about what assets and liabilities you each bring to the table. That includes things like credit card or student loan debt, child support obligations, car payments, etc. It doesn't help anyone to be in the dark about finances and those kinds of surprises are a surefire way to permanently damage trust. If you or your partner has significant liabilities, even if it's uncomfortable, be willing to talk about it. It may also be worth seeking the advice of an expert.
Equity not Equality
In many relationships partners have disparate earnings. When you consider sharing finances, it can be helpful to think of shared contributions in terms of what's equitable; i.e., what feels fair and proportional rather than a purely equal split down the middle. Maybe one partner makes 70 percent of the other's salary and their contributions to shared accounts and expenses reflect that.
Establish Priorities and Values
Identify what's important to you as a couple and talk through your values around spending. Ideally you can come to consensus on what kinds of goods are worth incurring debt, (roof repairs sure, but maybe not a Nintendo Switch) and how you rank your financial goals. For example, is your number one priority to not carry a balance on your credit card every month or is it more important to build a sizable savings? If you invest money together, think about what level of risk are you willing to endure.
Make Plans and Goals
Based on your shared priorities, set specific attainable savings goals. Think about what you want to accomplish together at whatever scale makes sense to you, whether it's plans for summer or something as long term as a shared retirement.
A Joint Account for Joint Expenses
You don't have to move all your money to a shared account, but having at least one place where your money can merge is helpful. Use the joint account to save for things you're sharing - everything from a weekend getaway to the down payment on a house. It's also a great way to pay shared bills, especially if you can use automatic transfers to contribute money for bills you can predict. You won't have to worry about if you each made your monthly contribution and you won't have to nag.
Set Limits, Define Responsibilities
No one should ever be surprised by a joint statement. Before you share funds decide on your rules for spending. What counts as discretionary and at what point do you need to check in and make spending decisions together? You can set a monthly budget for spending or an upper limit for single purchases. Think about what financial tasks you and your partner excel in. Maybe one of you is a spreadsheet wizard who can take on all your financial tracking or a savvy comparison shopper who can figure out the best rates and rewards for loans and credit. Once you find your roles, share records so you can stay informed...and be willing to let each other make decisions at the small scale.
However you decide to split the bills, WSECU is here to help. If you need a hand, drop us a line.