When you get married, you become a team working toward your common goals. These include financial ones. For this reason, once you are married, it is best to combine finances.
Before the wedding day, it's wise to wait on combining your finances, as there are legal protections that allow married couples to safely combine finances. Once you are married, though, merging your finances allows you to work together toward your financial goals more easily. You can have the tax advantages of filing your tax return jointly, and also plan your savings and retirement goals together.
Be sure to look at the property laws in your state. Some states will make you responsible for each other's debts if you are married even if you do not combine finances.
Still, sometimes a spouse may be reluctant to combine finances with their partner. This can be a difficult experience for a couple and can lead to money troubles down the road. Here are some tips for working through it.
Set Up a Household Budget
If your spouse will not combine finances, you need to understand why, and then work toward a solution that will allow you to combine finances in the future. Even if they will not combine with you, you will need to set up a household budget and work on covering the expenses together, the same way that you would if you were living together unmarried.
Once you have established a budget, each of you can contribute the same percentage of your income toward your household expenses. Avoid dividing the budget by categories ("You cover groceries, I'll cover eating out"), as this is more difficult to split evenly. Dividing by income percentage keeps it fair, especially if one person earns more than the other.
What to Include in Your Budget
Your household budget should cover everything from your rent to your utilities and grocery bills. If you are on insurance together, it should cover that as well. It may not cover your clothing, the gas for your car, or your car payment if these aren't shared expenses. If it includes one car payment, though, it should include both.
When you are operating your finances like this, it is important that you work toward your savings goals on your own. Be sure that you are saving up an emergency fund and contributing to retirement each month. If you have children together, you will need to contribute the same percentage to cover their needs and expenses. This includes clothing, food, and activities.
Reasons Your Spouse Won’t Combine Finances
Your spouse may not want to combine your finances for several reasons. One may be that they combined with someone in the past and it did not end well. Or perhaps that they are concerned about how you handle your money. They may also be reluctant to fully disclose the amount of debt that they currently have, and want to keep things separate to protect you.
All of these reasons can be addressed as you work together on your household budget. If you have been irresponsible in the past, it can take some time to build up your spouse's trust and to demonstrate that you are changing the way you handle money. If they're having a difficult time because of previous experience, then the household budget may be a first step toward eventually combining all of your finances. Be sure to work through these problems, because they may be signs of bigger financial issues in your marriage.
Working on a household budget can help you begin to resolve financial issues in your marriage, but it can't solve deeper problems. Keep these things in mind as you're working through financial difficulties:
- The key to making finances work in a relationship is honesty.
- Holding past mistakes over your spouse's head will not help you address any issues and may cause him or her to hide future ones.
- Consider seeking counseling if this is turning into a larger issue in your marriage.
What If I Don’t Want to Combine?
You may be the spouse that is reluctant to combine your finances. There are plenty of reasons why you may be reluctant to do so, but you should also consider the implications of not combining your finances. It could be more difficult to reach your financial goals this way. It may also negatively affect your marriage, since you may not fully trust each other. If this is causing real resentment, consider visiting a marriage counselor together to discuss the reasons that you feel this way.
Ideally, you can work through this together and set out a clear plan that shows what needs to happen for you to feel comfortable combining finances. And, even if you ultimately do not combine, be sure to plan long-term goals together and on your own. Talking to a financial planner can help you decide how to plan for your future together and separately.