You and the love of your life are ready to start a life together. Sharing your money is part of sharing your lives, but the thought of combining your finances seems daunting. Where do you start? How much do you share? What goes where? When two people begin a life together, merging finances often seems like a tactical exercise. But money is more than a currency of exchange.

Money is a tool that often carries emotional burdens from our lived experiences. Money can represent security for one person and freedom for another. Money can be a reminder of past mistakes or of personal successes. Because of the emotions attached to our money, combining finances successfully requires much more than a checklist of opening new accounts and adding authorized users.

When done correctly, joining finances can strengthen a couple’s relationship. As a Master Financial Coach, I help engaged couples create a plan for their financial future. Here are some guiding principles I’ve found helpful:

Wait until you’re married.

When planning a wedding, there is a lot of pressure on a couple. In that pressure cooker, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the couple is still discerning whether their partner is right for them. By keeping finances separate up until they say “I do,” the couple doesn’t have to feel pressure to get married because their lives are financially combined, which can be even harder to disentangle than emotions.

Keeping your money separate until after marriage supports your financial and emotional freedom as you prepare to build a life together. You want to keep yourself as detached from external pressures as possible to give a full, free “I do!” to each other on your wedding day.

Prepare to share.

While you’re waiting for your wedding day, it’s valuable to plan how you’ll share your money when you are husband and wife.

Whether your preparation is formal or self-led, you and your future spouse should dedicate time to individually reflect on your personal relationship with and attitude toward money:

What are your priorities for when money should be spent, saved, and invested?

What type of lifestyle do you expect your finances will afford you?

Then, share your reflections. You want to understand each other’s relationship with money and then discuss how they align and how they diverge. From your discussion, create shared plans for how money will be managed in the new family you’re creating.

The value of taking time before your wedding to discuss combining your finances is far greater than simply having a written to-do list for after marriage. As a couple, you’ll have a sense of peace from having a plan in place for the financial direction of your life together. You’ll have the added assurance that you and your future spouse are approaching the altar united about how you want to spend your lives – and money – together.

Give a purpose to each account you’ll use.

Although there are many different ways to manage shared money, I’ve found that the following structure is easy to manage, supports collaborative communication, and also encourages mutual trust and fosters individual freedom:

One joint checking account for all family income and spending.

Two separate checking accounts (with both spouses’ names on them!) for individual “fun money.”

Joint saving & investing accounts that match your goals as a couple.

Why? 

By sharing a joint checking account for family expenses, the spouses communicate on a regular basis about the money that will go into the account (paychecks) and how money will be spent from the account (rent, utilities, transportation, groceries; treats like dinners out, gifts for family and friends, and monthly saving and investing).

The “fun money” accounts provide each person with freedom. They also demonstrate that each individual is an adult capable of making choices that reflect his/her own preferences. As a couple, you decide how much each spouse will receive each month. Then, it’s up to each of you to decide what is fun to you. You both have the freedom to make independent, personal financial decisions without compromising the needs of your household.

Add each other’s names to everything.

Set aside a few hours to add each other to all of your accounts: checking, saving, credit cards, brokerages, and all utilities (including internet and wireless). Log into your work benefit plans – including retirement accounts – to update each other as beneficiaries. 

Having both spouses’ names on all accounts serves three important purposes:

  1. It makes sharing responsibilities much easier when either of you can troubleshoot issues for any given account.
  2. It creates accountability and trust. Even though spending in “fun money” accounts is done independently, transactions aren’t necessarily secret.
  3. It provides a safety net in a worst-case scenario. If one of you is injured or dies, the other spouse is not locked out of accounts that might be critical to providing for the family.

If your marriage preparation program doesn’t have a financial component, or if you don’t participate in a formal marriage preparation program, I strongly encourage you to meet with a professional Financial Coach to be guided through financial marriage prep. Then, after the wedding bells have rung, it’s time to put your plan into action!

Cassie Panzenbeck

Cassie Panzenbeck is the founder of Fiscally Fit™ and has a passion for helping you make the most of your money. When not teaching others about personal finance, she can be found volunteering in the community or spending quality time with her family and their Carolina Dog, Lulu.

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