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5 Ways to Share Financial Responsibility And Maintain Independence

Casandra Andrews  |  April 14, 2023

Merging your money can be tricky in relationships. Here are strategies to share financial responsibility and maintain your independence. 

You and your partner are building a life together, and at the same time you’re growing closer, you’re also looking for ways to successfully share your finances. First of all, congrats on finding your person! Money – and all that comes with it –  can sometimes be a source of stress in relationships, especially when you throw in decades-high inflation and a shaky economy. 

The majority of Americans — 55% — agree or strongly agree that money is a major source of conflict in their household, according to a recent American Psychological Association survey. The survey also found that stress involving finances is at its highest level among U.S. adults in almost a decade. In other words, it’s clear many of us need advice on how we can share money and financial responsibility with our partner in the easiest, least-stressful way possible. 

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For example, how can you set things up so that you’re both paying bills, but each getting to take that special weekend away with friends? Or how can you save for shared house or retirement goals, but also have enough mad money of your own to spend when you need some retail therapy? 

The good news is that all this can absolutely be done. Here’s a look at how you can share financial responsibility and bigger money goals while also maintaining as much financial independence as you need. 

Share Your Core Values (And Goals)

Natalie Taylor, a certified financial planner and head of financial advice for Monarch Money, says a great way to keep the lines of communication open is to have a discussion with your partner about your core values early on in the relationship. You can each do this by setting aside time to make a list of your values, and then come together to have a discussion. You could set an appointment to have this talk, and you should give yourselves at least 30 minutes to discuss. 

“You can talk about the five or six words or phrases that represent what matters most to you,” Taylor explains. “It could be things like community or relationships, stability, health, freedom—the things that matter most to you.” With a list that reflects who you truly are, you can ensure how you’re spending your money aligns with your values. 

For example, if health is one of your core values, you might want to invest in having a personal trainer. Likewise, seeing the world could be one of your partner’s core values, Taylor notes, so they may choose to put money into a “travel fund.” The idea here is to enable an understanding of what is really important to each partner. “It helps to explain the root of all the decisions,” Taylor says. 

Consider Multiple Accounts

One strategy some couples find helpful is to maintain one shared bank account, but also budget out a set dollar amount (say, $250 each per month) that each person can spend freely without judgment from the other, says Sarah Sprague Gerber, a certified financial planner and founder of Momentum Financial Planning LLC. 

“This allows the couple to focus on shared goals, while still letting off some ‘money steam’ with the personal $250,” Gerber notes, explaining that “maintaining one shared account and two separate bank accounts also works for some couples, especially in the early years of a marriage as you’re building confidence with each other.”

Of course, setting the “right” personal amount or shared amount can be a point of contention, Gerber says, especially if incomes are different between the partners or if one income is more irregular than the other. This is why it’s so important to be clear about the strategy and the systems you put in place. 

For those who choose to set up and maintain separate financial accounts, you’ll still need to practice transparency for the best outcomes.

“Let’s say as individuals you both have a goal to have an emergency fund fully stocked,” Taylor says, suggesting that one partner could be paying off debt, but both are saving for retirement. It’s absolutely doable with the right plan in place. “Setting goals together helps you decide on your priorities and goals together.”

Taylor says that Monarch, an all-in-one web-based budgeting platform, can help families manage their money together. “It’s a great way for couples to be able to see the big picture and it’s built to be multi-user friendly.” 

Create Key Budgets 

Just as a couple may have a shared bank account for shared expenses, Taylor explains, they should also consider creating a monthly budget for fixed expenses — as a team. That way they can decide how each will contribute income to expenses as well as to separate goals. They should do this, she says, whether they are using separate, combined or some combination of financial accounts.

“It’s still important to have a spending plan or budget together,” she says. “You can have autonomy in certain accounts, but knowing what the amounts are in the accounts is really important.” 

One way to handle your joint finances is to consider having three unique accounts — or budgets —  with your partner. The first account can be for fixed expenses, Taylor suggests, meaning anything that can be put on autopay, such as rent or utility bills. This would be an account where you’re not making active spending decisions. A second account could be for what Taylor calls “flex expenses.” This includes daily spending, such as dining out, co-pays at the doctor’s office, etc. A third budget would be for non-monthly expenses that generally come up every year. This can be everything from semi-annual auto insurance to summer vacations, Taylor explains, noting: “All that random stuff that would throw off a budget.”

Monarch has tools for their users to automate and customize their budget — tools that offer an option to turn on notifications so you’ll get a (friendly!) reminder whenever you go off track. 

Set Money Dates 

Another way to stay on the same page with your partner is to set up a regular money date, says Gerber. This could be once every few weeks – or once a month – and doesn’t have to drag on for hours. “It’s important that both people have some role to take on when it comes to managing money,” she says, “even if it’s as simple as checking the bank account or paying one bill, so that you can share the responsibility and prevent future conflicts where one person just doesn’t have the full picture.”

As you’re transitioning to thinking about the world more as a team than as an individual, set aside time to check in on your finances or pay a few bills that are not already automated,  Gerber suggests. This can be an easy way to dive into your shared financial life.  “But you do want to make sure that you’re prioritizing financial goals together — realizing that most of your goals are now joint (at least in some way) can definitely be a mental transition, because it means that most of your money should be furthering your financial picture as a couple.”  

Make Money Rules Together

On one of your first money dates as a couple, you should sit down and map out some of your money rules. These are the things you need to have clarity on so that both you and your partner can sleep at night. Taylor says these might be what you would consider dealbreakers. “For a lot of people there will be a ‘no hidden debt rule,’ she says. “That way there is always clarity on where you stand financially.”

Why is that so important? If one partner accumulates $10,000 in credit card debt, in many states, if debt is accrued while the couple is married, they are both responsible for paying it back. So in the event of a death or separation, the other spouse would be liable for the debt. 

“Or if you are trying to retire together and you get to retirement and one person has $20,000 in debt,” Taylor says, “then your joint retirement is not as rosy.” So having the no hidden debt rule mitigates the risk of financial infidelity, she says, which can feel like betrayal.

This is where the Monarch Money tool can be really helpful, Taylor says. It allows multiple users to enter their information and link accounts, such as retirement funds and credit card statements so you get a full picture of your financial life —  or of a blended financial life. 

“It can be really helpful for you to understand where you stand jointly,” she says.


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Note: This content is part of a paid partnership between Monarch and HerMoney Media.

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