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Couples Finance: To combine or not to combine – that is the question

couple finance


Couples finance is a hard topic to talk about with each other, but it is definitely something that is worth a serious talk or two; falling in love passionately and having a whirlwind romance is probably the easy part compared to the rest. The reality is that you can’t pay bills with love and the both of you will need to figure exactly how the lights are going to be kept on and how food is going to get onto the table.

Merging Finances

In the lead up to my own wedding, I read many comments from brides on wedding forums who talked about finances. This was inevitable as a wedding can be so expensive (if you allow it to be) so the topic of finances come around. The strongest argument for merging finances seems to be centred around trust. There also seems to be the big question surrounding how to deal with a huge pay gap between partners that is easiest dealt with if it is combined. I need to point out that it is essential to do what works best for you, and that I do not plan on pushing the merits of one way over the other. But let us look at a few pros and cons of merging finances.

pros and cons of merging finance

Of course, these are not the only pros and cons out there, but it’s a few to get you started.

I personally think that the best thing to do is actually to have the best of both worlds. Have your separate personal accounts, but also have joint accounts. I am going to share my own experience with this and by no means am I saying that this is the way to do it. But this is the way that we have come to realise works for us and this is the way it will be for the near foreseeable future until we hit a snag and revise it again.


What we used to do…

Even before we were married or even de facto, we had a joint account. It was purely to pay rent from as it was just easier for the real estate agents to deduct from one account than two. Over time we started contributing more so it could cover other things like utilities and groceries as well. So our joint account is actually older than our relationship! But for all other expenses, we maintained our own accounts and dealt with our own bills. Everything that was incur’d as a couple was split 50/50, straight down the middle. So every time we went out for a meal or did anything, Mr BKLA would record the expenses on his spreadsheet and we would tally it up every month. There was never any ‘dating period’ in our relationship where Mr BKLA swept me off my feet, wined and dined me, or anything of the sort. That’s the stuff for movies and not my real life! From day one, it has always been dutch, and that has continued right on till today.

The problem with that…

I had no idea what our expenses were like. The spreadsheet lived in Mr BKLA’s computer and he would only update it once in a blue moon. So we would spend, and spend and spend without any real inkling as to how much we were spending. Every once in a while Mr BKLA would tell me if the spreadsheet was going in my favour or his favour and that would be the extent of our financial discussion. There had also been no talk about how savings should occur since it was assumed that we would be doing personal savings and paying 50/50 for holidays. Which sounds fine on paper, but we were putting more and more of our joint expenditures on my personal credit card. This meant that I had no chance to ever save. I was constantly chasing my tail trying to make sure that the credit card was paid up. So it didn’t matter that my income kept going up. I still had no savings because I was effectively paying for the both of us without realising it. I was relying on the spreadsheet to tell me that fact, but because it was never updated regularly (once a year was as regular as it got), life went on.

So very obviously, our ‘system’, if you could call it that, didn’t work despite what Mr BKLA said. And lo and behold, when we recently tallied up the spreadsheet from the last 3 years (before I implemented the new system) at my insistence, it was $14,000 in my favour. That, and the cold hard realisation that we had been spending money faster than we earned it.

What we do now…

joint finances flowchart

I drew out a flowchart to illustrate our system. This is how we ‘live off one income’. We treat joint as a ‘3rd person’ so joint needs to have a liveable wage, thus the lower income number is used as its wage. Income B contributes the exact same amount in dollar values as Income A (because Mr BKLA is very big on equality.)

Joint covers everything that is a joint expenditure except rent/mortgage. This is because I own this house, and not Mr BKLA. So I am liable for the council fees, the emergency service levy and every other bill that comes with being a home owner, while Mr BKLA pays rent and enjoys the financial freedom of a renter. If maintenance needs to be done to the house, that is my liability. However, any renovations that we want to put into the house as a couple is a shared expenditure because it is a want, not a need. (For instance, the bathroom renos that are coming in January are a shared expense.)

Joint also has its own savings for holidays, emergency money and the like. With time, joint will hopefully have its own funds to do investments too.

The remainder of our incomes are then split in whatever fashion we see fit within our own accounts. So we can splurge it all, save it all or invest the lot. That is completely up to us. I have read arguments that argue for the higher income earner to contribute more into the financial future for the relationship but I disagree for the following reasons:

  • I didn’t choose to squander my youth, instead choosing to pursue my career and worked hard. Why should I be penalised for doing so?
  • I choose to work hard and have side hustles to boost my already higher income. As a trade off, I have a lot less down time. Why should I be paying for somebody else’s downtime?
  • I have a lot more bills than Mr BKLA esp because I am the homeowner.

Somebody once asked: “How about when you are on maternity leave?” In which case, my personal savings will become my income and the baby’s expenses will be paid by joint. I will also have some income from my employer and my side hustles will always be there to keep me alive.

Should we choose to invest in a house as a couple then the deposit will be via joint savings. And if we never get there, then at least we have this roof over our heads.

The key differences to the current system to the old system are as follow:

  • Joint expenditures are paid with their own card separated from our personal cards.
  • I track the expenditures – not Mr BKLA
  • We have a financial goal.
  • The amount contributed to joint is a calculated decision, not an arbitrary number that we plucked out of nowhere.
  • We no longer have to send random injections of money because joint is running dry.


In conclusion…

I’d love to hear how you do it in your household. I do not personally agree with a complete merger of finances because people change and while the relationship is going well, it’s great. And when it’s not, the disentangling of merged finances is just about the last thing you want to deal with while dealing with picking up the shards of a broken relationship. But if you are doing that, and it’s going great, I’d love to hear about it! There is never any right or wrong way to do personal finance. If it works for you then that it is perfect.




16 thoughts on “Couples Finance: To combine or not to combine – that is the question”

  1. As an older couple, married 39 years and counting I recommend combining finances. We’ve never spent more than $40 without running it by each other. If you are willing to risk your heart in the hands of another then the money thing is minor in comparison. When it comes to marriage if you want to succeed you have to go all in!

    1. I’m glad to hear that it has worked out for you. The increase in divorce rates; the number of my own friends and colleagues who have had to go through the gut-wrenching process of disentangling finances has both my husband and me very wary. Heartache is a lot easier to mend than bankruptcy! My own parents who have been happily married for over 40 years have constantly told me to always have personal savings and not combine all our finances.

      It’s definitely interesting and perhaps down the road we might end up combining finances entirely. I guess that’s the beauty of these things. It is fluid and can be changed when circumstances change. Thank you for commenting, Steve!

  2. We have everything combined, but then have our own accounts with about $100 in it which we can do whatever we want with. It has worked out well for us particularly when I had time off twice for maternity leave, and now when hubby is a SAHD.

    In general I do all of the finance side of things and my husband is just happy if he can buy something when he wants it. He says he will never divorce me because it will cost too much – haha true love right there.

    1. We did discuss doing that but in the end decided against it. That’s not to say we won’t ever go there tho. It’s always good to hear that it works for others!

  3. Wow very detailed. I know of many couples that merge, and many that split. For me and my wife, we merge. And it works terrifically. I wouldn’t want it any other way. And the whole potential “divorce” thing, isn’t really an option for us. Even though that may sound romantic and/or naive, it isn’t for us. I can’t imagine living without my wife. I understand not every couple can say the same, and statistically it’s about 50/50 chance people get divorced. So I would agree from strictly a statistical standpoint that split accounts would make more sense.

    1. I can’t imagine life without my partner either to be honest. And neither can he! But we still prefer it this way just in case. You hear of people getting divorced even when they are 70 so I guess we are just being overly cautious hah.

  4. We have always had everything combined, and there was some stress because of different spending patterns. After about 17 years I instituted our own “spending money” and now that issue is solved. If you are able to approach combined finances like Steve from Arkansas, and set the ground rules for how you both use money from the outset, then it should be fine.

    Open communication can solve two of the “against” arguments. Putting all your eggs in one basket isn’t as much of an issue if you both have equal access to, and keep an eye on, that basket. It does take effort, and you do have to track the money. That comes back to communication.

    What happens if your partner loses their job and is unable to find another one for a significant amount of time?

    Also (you’re not going to want to hear this), I don’t think that the bathroom renovation arrangement sounds fair. If your other half is a renter and enjoys the freedom that renters have, then that includes not having to pay for upgrades. You will be benefitting in the long run as it adds capital value to the house. He will be paying $12,500 for the privilege of enjoying an ensuite for a few years until you guys buy a house together. I guess one way you could look at it is that he could be paying back the $14,000? That would even things out.

    1. I agree with the bathroom renos. However that is the way he wants it. With all other renos I’ve put into the house (about 60k worth) he has not contributed a cent as he didn’t want nor care about those renos. But because the bathroom renos are something he wants, he wants it to be equal.

      We do communicate rather well, having been together for almost 15 years we finally worked out how to be honest with each other, hah. In many things he wants it equal as he is the low income earner and doesn’t want to shortchange me (his words, not mine). When he did have issues finding a job for over a year and a half, I supported him without a question and I think that will be the case pretty much whenever one of us ends up losing an income stream. He is a realist and I am a rather practical person so at the end of the day I think whatever situation comes up, we will just adapt. I don’t think we will ever break up, not because we are romantic but because we are both too lazy to deal without each other. Haha.

      He doesn’t want to ever worry about money, nor wants to track it. Wants his own savings and own spendings. Much of how we have structured things is because of how he wants it. But we both know and have discussed that should either of us lose an income stream, the other will step up and our structure will adapt to cover that.

      1. As soon as I pushed “submit” I gave myself a good talking to for being too harsh, sorry. It’s just like everything else in the FIRE world – whatever works for an individual is great! I then actually stopped and thought about why it was that we combined finances, and I’ve come to the realisation – we only did it because that is what was expected. So basically, we put no thought into it whatsoever.

        You guys have put a lot of thought into it, and have communicated so much better than we used to. As long as you are there for each other in the tough times, that’s all that matters. Thanks for detailing how it works for you.

        1. Oh gosh no, don’t worry! Your comment did make me stop and rethink, which then prompted me to initiate a discussion to make sure that we were both on the same page and happy with how the split would go with regards to the bathroom. We both acknowledged it would not be fair if / when I sell the house, but he pointed out that we would be here for at least 5 – 10 years in the near foreseeable future and barring anything drastic happening, that is indeed going to be the case. So he is quite happy with that arrangements since otherwise he’d get no say in how the bathroom would look, haha.

          And that’s an interesting thought – if you did it because that is what was expected, is that an expectation from society, through the media or was it something that came via parental guidance? To be honest, if not for Mr BKLA, I think I would have gone and done exactly what you do. But he is very vocal on straying away from the norm and thinking critically of every situation so I’ve just been brought along for the ride with him.

  5. Due to my controlling nature, especially regarding money, a part of me wishes that we had not combined our money. However, if I hadn’t been in charge of the money and saving at least 50% than he would have no money saved and would have to work until the day he died instead of being FIRE (at 61).

    He tells me that he’s happy with the work I have done, even with all the penny pinching. Now that we have reached our number, it’s key that I relax, stop saving and live within our very reasonable budget.

    All the best on your journey. Thanks for taking us along.

    1. Thank you for your comment! That’s definitely something to remember, if one person in the partnership (or both!) have poor saving habits. Congratulations on FIRE as well, you definitely deserve to stop and relax now!

  6. We have separate accounts and no joint account. The way it works now is my pay goes to all our expenses and his goes to the house deposit account. Yes, it’s all under his name, because we want to purchase a home under his name only. I had family members raise eyebrows on this, but I think they won’t understand even if I try to explain things. We aren’t married and everything was talked about and was planned well.

    Maybe our set up will change when we get married, who knows. But at the moment, we are happy with how we’re handling our money. At the end of the day, it’s what matters, isn’t it?

    Great detailed post, Pia! Thanks for sharing and for the honesty!

    1. Thank you for sharing! I was starting to worry I was a lone ship with split finances, haha. That’s quite interesting the way you have done it, and if it works for you then that’s all that matters!

  7. This is perhaps not my place to say it, but I will – do you know and own your true worth? It is good you have a method for joint expenses, but have you factored in things like differing incomes etc etc? Are you being truly valued in your relationship?

    I don’t have an easy answer for this. In my marriage I was always the main income earner and while on posting overseas (and at a few other times) I was the only income earner. Looking back I believe I was treated a bit like a chequebook, and certainly I was always the better saver and earner. Of course now I am single so I don’t have to share my money, except on kids expenses and the two remaining investment properties. Even then there are a few things that are structurally unfair but I know it won’t be forever.

    Separately, on a date recently someone told me they had used an app called ‘splitwise’ to share expenses with a previous partner. Apparently it worked quite well – she would pay rent, he would buy groceries and at the end of the month they would tally up and he would pay her whatever was outstanding. I should note that they did not have children together and they both had good jobs.

    1. Thank you for commenting, it is comments such as yours that are bold and honest that really get discussion going so I really appreciate it.

      To answer your question, I believe I do. It is precisely because we are acknowledging the disparity in incomes and making sure that I am protected from being used as a chequebook that we have come up with the system that we did. I strongly disagree for any incomes to be put together without any heed to different earning powers and certainly don’t work as hard as I do just so somebody else can coast through life on my dime. (And I believe that even if the gender roles were reversed, I’d still feel the same way. I actually had classmates who believed that the best goal in life was to marry rich and then they could cruise through life. I never understood that and don’t think I could ever be on the receiving end of said riches anyways.)

      We maintained a system akin to ‘splitwise’ for many years, and which is why he still has an outstanding debt to me. This debt will be paid over time, and it was allowed to build up to such an extent because he did the tallying and what went from monthly tallying then became yearly. If kept up to date, it works. But it obviously stopped working once he got less industrious about tallying and I am also to blame for allowing that to happen and not caring enough then to say otherwise.

      To be fair, I think he is the better saver, even though I am the better earner. I am aiming to change that tho! He also does not ever push for me to pay for anything and we split all bills, utilities, groceries, anything to do with us as a couple 50/50. So if he can’t afford it, then we don’t do / buy / eat out etc and I save up that money instead.

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