Should you combine finances with your spouse / significant other?

Combining Finances After Marriage

I personally do this, although a lot of my close friends don’t. There’s 64.6 million Google search results off this concept, so clearly it’s something people think about from time to time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mint has the No. 1 Google hit (at least for my own algorithm of using Google) and most of the issue comes around to trust. That’s logical — I think if you were to make a list of the factors that ultimately break up marriages, “trust” and “money” would probably both rank in the top five. 

We decided to do it that way because it seems logical to us, but the caveat here is that both of us make roughly the same money, and neither is making some huge amount. If you had a relationship where the income generation was a totally unbalanced see-saw — someone was over $600K and someone else was around $50K — I could see a situation where maybe you don’t want to merge them.

The other argument is on gifts. In terms of gifts for another person’s family, I have heard people complain about that. To me, that’s abject bullshit. When you marry a person, you marry into their family — for good or bad. If they’re estranged from their family, you still married into it, because like it or not, elements of their family will emerge in your marriage.

I do get it, a little bit, on “I want to use my money to buy a present for my spouse/significant other,” as opposed to potentially using their money. This is also a bit stupid to me, though. First of all, don’t construe money as “yours” or “mine” — my parents hit a financial rough patch when I was maybe 10-11, and they started referring to their money as “Riley’s” (my cat). This struck me as funny at the time because I was 10 and I didn’t understand how a cat was earning money, but now it actually strikes me as intelligent. My dad did work and my mom didn’t (I mean, raising a child is work, what I mean is that she didn’t work in an office), so their schism was X-Salary vs. Zero. Referring to the money as the cat’s was actually helpful for their dynamic (mostly).

I have a couple of good married friends who split finances (each has their own account), and the sole rationale is gifts. I think that’s a little weird (hopefully there’s a bigger rationale somewhere that I don’t know about). Just talk to your spouse and say, “OK, the limit on gifts is $100 for each other,” or whatever the case may be. Like most things in life, this comes back to communication.

I buy some of these arguments about each spouse needing financial independence and autonomy, but I also think they’re a little overrated: wedding vows are literally about making a life together, and the whole concept is inherently about it. Shouldn’t that involve money too?

Also — what about having kids? (Been thinking about this one.) Kids are expensive, even if your parents are helping. Separating funds would seem messy to me at that point. Let’s say one person is using their individual fund for the kids mostly, but the other spouse notices they’re buying a bunch of stuff for themselves — and the noticing spouse isn’t doing that (all their money is for the kid). That could cause resentment, right?

Here are six or so different approaches to this question of combining finances.

What’s your take? What have you done or what do you think? 

Ted Bauer

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