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To combine, or not to combine?

It’s a tough decision for many newly-married couples. Consider these pros and cons, and find out where this couple ended up.

It happened much earlier than I ever expected, but I still said “yes” to Matt’s marriage proposal. It was my junior year of college, and I think Matt wanted that ring securely on my finger before I left to study abroad a few weeks later. While I was just 20 years old at the time, 10 years later I still don’t regret a thing.

While I finished school over the next 18 months, we planned our wedding and discussed merging our money. Romantic, I know, but we wanted to start off on the right foot.

Luckily, we both had a decent track record handling our own finances. When I was 16 my parents helped me secure a credit card and learn to use it responsibly, so by our wedding day I brought six years’ worth of solid credit history to our marriage.

Matt is a saver and he graduated a couple years ahead of me, so he had some nest money. Finally, thanks to generous help from our parents, we both left school without student loans.

Despite our similar upbringings and financial responsibility, we needed to get on the same page when it came to money. We both had different ideas about how to handle our finances once married.

My Financial Plan

I liked my financial independence. My mother raised me with a strong feminist side, and I worried about getting too financially entangled, especially if it meant depending on a man, no matter how honest and good he is.

If it had been up to just me, we would have started a joint account to cover our expenses, including our mortgage and car payments, grocery bills, utility bills, and such. Depending on our salaries, we’d contribute a certain percentage of our paychecks to cover our monthly expense budget. So, if he made half what I made, then he’d pay half what I paid toward our expenses.

After covering those payments, though, the rest of our incomes would go into separate accounts to use as we each saw fit. What I didn’t consider was that this would have meant whoever made less money would also have less expendable income, even though they’d be paying less toward our joint expenses.

I only saw the pros of this plan:

  • We’d both help pay for our joint expenses.
  • Our payment levels would be fair by basing it on our separate incomes.
  • We’d each maintain a level of independence.
  • We wouldn’t have to ask for permission to buy things.
  • We could save up for things to surprise each other.

Matt saw a big con, though. He felt that once married, we shared our lives and should, therefore, share our money. He didn’t want to be two separate people, but one family creating a life together. Keeping our finances separate would have meant that we weren’t completely becoming one unit—one family.

His Financial Plan

Matt wanted to merge everything. He didn’t want to keep any money separate and pointed out that my plan could get complicated to manage, especially once our family grew and we had to incorporate child-related expenses.

The pros to his plan were:

  • Sharing our money meant we were becoming one unit, gaining strength from each person.
  • We’d have equal ownership of all our money, so we’d each benefit from our conjoined income. Neither one of us would suffer if we ended up making less than the other.
  • We wouldn’t risk one of us feeling like we should have more decision-making power due to bread winner status.
  • Managing our money as one household would be simpler, especially when we wanted to adjust our financial plan.

I argued, though, that it would be much harder to surprise each other. Plus, by sharing money, it meant that none of it was just mine (and vice-versa), so we might fight over our spending habits.

Our Hybrid Plan

In the end, we decided to go with a plan that most resembled Matt’s idea. His money became our money. My money became our money.

Despite being crazy kids in our early 20s, we knew we were in it for life. For Matt, completely merging our finances was symbolic of this commitment. Putting all our money into the same pot meant more to Matt that keeping things separate meant to me. Also, I realized that his motives for doing so were purer than mine were for keeping money separate—and probably better for our marriage.

My one caveat: As we moved forward in our careers and hypothetically made enough money to enjoy more spending flexibility we would create two separate spending accounts for each of us. Each month we would put an equal amount into our accounts after covering all other expenses.

This way, we could each spend on what we wanted without feeling guilty for spending family money, from my daily lattee to his million gadgets (or pillows —he has a thing about pillows).

Today, I still like the sound of this plan, but I’ll be honest. We haven’t done it. We could, but we don’t. Mixing our money just works for us.

Our solution may not be right for everyone, though.

How Couples Can Talk About Money

It isn’t easy to decide how you’ll handle finances in marriage. Approach your money conversations with compassion, honesty and empathy. Once you better understand each other’s history with money and ideas surrounding finances, designing a plan that makes you both feel comfortable will come more easily.

For Matt and me, combining our income worked because we had similar financial goals and understood each other’s spending habits. We’ve learned over time that accepting the quirky things each of us spends our money on is a way to selflessly love each other.

This plan has seen us through several major life changes that have affected our incomes. We’ve gotten good at agreeing on how to spend our fun money, which helps us stay disciplined on impulse buys.

Do you combine your finances?