How to combine finances with your partner, whether you're engaged, married, or living together

couple looking at laptopPeopleImages/Getty ImagesKnowing how to combine finances with a partner can help you reach your family's financial goals.PeopleImages/Getty Images

Finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with is tough enough, but combining finances on top of that? No easy task. When and exactly how much of your money to combine will be a personal decision, but it's best to consider all the steps before heading into the process so that nothing gets left on the table.

It takes time and some careful thought, but you can come to a decision that makes sense for your family.

How to combine finances with a partner

1. Gather together all of your financial details

Before you can decide how to combine your finances with your partner's, you'll each need to know where your finances stand.

If you've linked your accounts on a personal finance app, like Mint, then you can start by checking there. But if not, you'll need to check with each individual institution where you have an account to see where it stands. Some places to check include:

  • Checking and savings accounts (likely your bank or potentially other online financial institutions)
  • Retirement accounts
  • Student loan accounts
  • Other debts, including credit cards, personal loans, car loans, etc.
  • Total yearly income (this could include pay from your regular job, as well as any side jobs you have)

2. Consider your current costs

In order to decide how best to combine your finances, you and your partner will need to have a firm understanding of what costs you both owe every month. Take some time to gather your combined monthly expenses, which might include things like:

  • Rent or mortgage
  • Additional housing costs, like utilities, cable, general upkeep, etc.
  • Cell phone bills
  • Food bills
  • Transportation costs, potentially including a car payment
  • Approximate entertainment costs, including things like eating out, concerts, movies, etc.
  • Debt payments, including things like credit cards and student loans
  • Retirement contributions
  • Additional monthly debits, potentially for things like savings, miscellaneous housing expenses, subscriptions, etc.
  • Any costs relating to children, like 529 accounts, team fees, etc., if applicable

3. Settle on a time to talk

It's important to take the task of combining your finances with someone else seriously, so find some time that works best for you and your partner. Try to allow for at least an hour of uninterrupted time - you may need more, and it's okay to follow up at a later point. Try to avoid doing it during a particularly stressful time, like right after you both get home from a 10-hour work day.

4. Keep an open mind

Once you sit down to talk, remember to keep an open mind. Use combining your finances as a time to talk about future goals - both financial and work- and life-related - as well as to discuss overarching views on money. This will help you determine the best method to combine your finances in a way that works for both of you.

5. Pick a method

There is no one way to combine your finances with a partner - different couples must try different methods to find what works best for them. Not everything needs to be combined within your finances, either. 

For example, if one person has a large amount of credit card debt, you may decide to leave that debt up to that person to pay off, while the other person works on larger, overarching couple goals, such as saving up for a down payment on a home, or putting money into an emergency fund. 

Some common ways that people tend to combine their finances that you might want to consider include:

Combining everything together and splitting it. Arguably the easiest way to divide and conquer finances as a couple is to throw everything - both your debts and income - into one bucket and just split everything down the middle.

For couples who make about the same amount of money and who have relatively the same amount of debts, this could make a lot of sense, and it's definitely easier to track.

Combining only certain things. Some couples opt to combine only specific parts of their finances while keeping other things separate.

For example, for student loans that take a large chunk of your monthly income, you and your partner may opt to continue having you pay off that debt on your own, while you combine other joint expenses, like housing, food, entertainment, and transportation needs.

Live off of one paycheck. If it's possible, some couples opt to have one person pay off the joint monthly expenses while the other puts the entirety of their income towards mutual goals, like savings or paying off debts, etc.

This is a good method if one person makes much more money than the other, or if one person has an income that is less reliable. It's also a good way to ensure you are always tending to your savings needs.

Combine nothing. It's entirely possible that after going over your finances, it makes the most sense to keep everything separate, and that's okay. Especially if you're worried about what the future might hold, you may want to keep your finances separate to avoid any potential financial problems down the road, at least for the time being.

6. Take it one task at a time

You don't need to cover everything in one sitting - if there are many different things to consider, you could set a goal of discussing one financial area, like debts or goals, at a time.

7. Consider what to do with your accounts

After you've gathered your financial information and had your initial discussions, you should both come away with a better understanding of what you need to do moving forward. 

This may involve adding names to accounts, opening new joint credit cards or savings accounts, etc. Just remember that if you're going to get joint credit cards together, whatever one person does with that credit card will impact the other person's credit as well. Be sure that you can trust each other with that responsibility before doing so.

Interested in opening a joint savings account with your significant other? Consider these offers from our partners:

8. Check in periodically

As with most things regarding finances, just because you've settled on one method of combining your finances doesn't mean that same method will work for you down the road. It's a good idea to set monthly check-ins, especially during the first few months of your setup, to see how you both are doing and to make any necessary adjustments.

Related coverage from How to Do Everything: Money

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