Combining Finances: 5 Options for Managing Money as a Couple

One of the questions I get asked most often is how I handle sharing finances with my husband. It’s a really personal question, but I completely understand why it’s asked so often: It can be really hard to figure out how to share money with another person when you’ve spent most of your life managing it yourself. It can also be a difficult discussion to have, especially if two people aren’t on the same financial footing.

While I tried a number of different ways to jointly manage money, and I’ve heard from friends who have approached it differently, the truth is there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Figuring out the best way to manage your money as a couple takes a lot of discussion, and some trial and error. And as your relationship grows and changes, the way you handle money will grow and change too. The most important thing is to have open, honest discussions and to change something when it’s no longer working for you.

To get you started with this conversation, here are the four most common ways to combine—or not combine—finances and why each option can work. Good luck!

Option 1: One Pooled Account

What it looks like: The couple has one joint checking account and uses it for shared expenses like rent, groceries, and eating out. If you are each paid a similar amount and have similar lifestyle tastes, you may want to consider each contributing the same amount to the joint account. If one person earns significantly more or prefers to live a slightly more lavish lifestyle, you may want to consider contributing different percentages, rather than splitting the cost of the shared expenses 50/50.

Each time a joint expense needs to be paid, it’s paid directly from the joint checking account. You’ll keep all other accounts (including savings accounts) separate.

How to do it: Add up all of your joint expenses. This can include anything from rent and utilities to joint entertainment expenses like dinners out and weekends away. If you’re planning to contribute equal amounts to the joint account, each person should set up a transfer to contribute 50% of the total each month. If you are going to contribute different amounts based on how much each person makes, calculate the percentage. For example, if one person makes $60k per year and one person makes $40k per year and the shared expenses for the month are $5,000, the person earning more would contribute $3,000 ($5,000 x 60%) and the other person would contribute $2,000 ($5,000 x 40%).

Why it works: It’s simplicity. Once you know how much you want to contribute to the joint account, set up an automatic deposit into the joint checking account each month. It also helps you learn how to budget as a couple because you’re forced to sit down and review what you expect to spend each month.

Option 2: One Separate Account

What it looks like: The couple combines all accounts (checking and savings) but each person keeps one account separate. Each month a set amount of money is transferred from their joint checking account into the separate personal checking accounts. The idea is that this money can be spent guilt free, without needing to consult the other person. It’s kind of like the adult version of an allowance. When one person wants to spend money but doesn’t want to worry about burdening the other person or discussing the expense, they can use the money in their separate checking account to pay for it.

How to do it: All paychecks are deposited directly into the joint checking account and all bills are paid directly from there. Bi-weekly or monthly, a set amount will be transferred from the joint checking account into each separate personal checking account. The hardest part with this method is deciding how much each person should transfer into his or her separate account for the monthly allowance. Based on expenses and savings goals, pick an allowance amount and review after a few months to see if it needs to be adjusted.

Why it works: Having one separate account helps maintain a sense of independence while still working toward shared financial goals. You can still spend what you want—within your means—without having to worry about how it affects the other person.

Option 3: Completely Combined

What it looks like: With this option there is total transparency. All checking and savings accounts are combined and each person plays an active role deciding how money is spent and saved. For simplicity, one person may manage paying all the day-to-day expenses, but both should be fully engaged in the responsibility of planning for a joint financial future. When things are completely combined, each person needs to be really honest about how they want to spend money and how they want to manage saving for the future.

How to do it: It’s best to sit down and draw up a plan to consolidate accounts—rather than add another person to all of your open accounts. List all of your accounts and think about what accounts you will need to keep in order to make it easy for two people to manage money. You’ll want to start with a joint checking account, one or more joint savings accounts, and a joint investment account (if you plan to invest your money as a couple). Set up paychecks so they are directly deposited into the joint checking account and set up automatic withdrawals to your savings account. 

Why it works: If a couple is on the same page with how to spend and manage money, this option makes it really easy to work toward shared financial goals. It also provides complete transparency about how money is being spent.

Option 4: Completely Separate

What it looks like: When a couple moves in together or gets married and decides to keep things separate, they usually decide to each pay certain bills. One person may pay the rent or mortgage while the other person pays groceries and utilities. No accounts are combined and each person maintains complete control of their own personal money.

How to do it: This option can be simple to set up, but can require more month-to-month coordination. List all of your joint monthly expenses (rent, utilities, groceries) and assign each person responsibility for paying a certain expense. If it’s important to split everything equally, you may want to set up a monthly tracking system. This makes sure that if there are extra expenses in a month, one person doesn’t have to foot the total bill.

Why it works: This is a good option for those that are a little nervous about sharing finances for the first time or who don’t want to share control of their money just yet.

Option 5: Live Off One

What it looks like: This approach often works when a couple prioritizes saving together for shared goals (emergency fund, down payment for a house, retirement) and is able to live off one salary. This approach makes saving less complicated and also gives the couple comfort that they are able to make ends meet with only one income (should one person lose a job or decides to take some time away from work).

How to do it: With this approach it’s important to know your monthly expenses and how much you need in order to be able to live each month. Aside from knowing your budget, you should also have a conversation about savings goals to make sure you’re both on the same page about how this money will be saved and spent in the future. Once you know how much you need and why you want to save, open up a joint checking and joint savings account. The income that most closely matches the amount of money you need to live on each month will be directly deposited into the checking account and the other person’s paycheck will be directly deposited into the savings account. 

Why it works: This approach makes saving simple. If the couple is on the same page with spending and saving, this removes the work needed to make sure enough is being set aside each month in order to reach financial goals.

Tell us, do you use one of these options? How do you share money with your significant other?