How to Combine Two Incomes (And Not Kill Each Other in the Process)

  • Copy By: Liz Godley
  • Feature Image By: rawpixel

When my now-husband and I got engaged, we were repeatedly warned about the three dreaded “Fs” that threatened to wreak havoc in even the most stable relationships: family, faith, and finances. I (foolishly) wasn’t fazed. I adored my husband’s family, treasured our shared beliefs, and felt secure with our careers and lack of debt. A few months into our marriage, I excitedly texted him a photo of a dreamy off-white accent chair I was lusting over. My excitement was short-lived.

“ANOTHER purchase? When will the bleeding stop?” 

Was he insinuating I was spending too much money? HE was the one who bought a $900 suit a few months ago! Did he even know what an accent chair was? 

… we went to bed with our backs to each other that night.

Thankfully, my husband and I can laugh about that conversation now. What started as a standoff over the necessity of apartment furnishings opened the door to some frank and honest conversations about fiscal behavior. Whether you’re getting married or moving in together, joining assets with your significant other can feel unnerving. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to make the transition smoother. 

 

1. Cut the cord already 

It’s essential to understand and acknowledge the powerful effect that your upbringing has on your current mindset. Consider the financial values you were raised on. Who made the financial decisions in your household? Was money openly discussed? Assess which behaviors do or don’t mesh with your lifestyle today. Just because you’ve always done something one way, doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way out there. Let go of the “should dos” your parents, friends, and society have set for you and take ownership of your own financial health

 

2. Know thyself 

It’s important to come to the table with a complete picture of who you are fiscally. Before discussing finances with your partner, bite the bullet and assess your spending habits. Carve out a few hours to review your purchases over the past three months, making note of the 3-5 highest categories. Some areas may surprise you (flashback to the summer I spent $400 on Ubers in one month). You may already begin to see areas you’d like to cut back on. Look at you! You’re so self-aware. 

 

3. Knowledge is power

Don’t wait until you’ve gotten married, moved in together, or otherwise committed your life to each other to share your financial profile with your significant other. Communicate often and openly about finances while you’re still dating. No one likes surprises (unless you have a secret inheritance, in which case, surprise me). Be honest about what’s in your bank account, your savings and any current debt. Educate your partner about what it costs to be you (this cut and color ain’t cheap). This can avoid a lot of stress down the line.  

During the dating phase, pay attention to how your partner spends money. Are they constantly living above their means? Do you generally spend money on the same types of things? Early into dating, my husband told me that no amount of money was too much when it came to flying home to visit my family. That was music to my ears, but not everyone is willing to shell out money for family. It’s important to take note of your partner’s relationship with money while you’re dating and address any red flags early on. 

 

4. Get on the same page

Before you take that next step, discuss how your finances will work in actuality. The first big decision most couples will make is whether to have a joint bank account, but there are many more administrative items to flesh out. Consider whether you will have a budget. Which party will be responsible for paying the bills? Who will tackle the investing? Recognize that whatever you decide now is not set in stone. Agree to come back to the drawing board in a few months if your current system isn’t working.

 

5. Check your attitude at the door 

For many, talking about finances is a vulnerable topic. While you can’t control how your partner reacts to difficult conversations, you can control your own behavior. Lead by example by using gentle and non-judgmental language when discussing your financial concerns. Approach each conversation from a united standpoint by using “we” statements and remember to keep an open mind.

While it may seem counterintuitive, I encourage you to include your partner frequently in purchasing decisions. I’m not suggesting that you ask their permission every time you want to buy something. Rather, shooting them a text along the lines of “I’m thinking of buying this sweater, but it’s expensive. Thoughts?” can go a long way. While they most likely won’t have a strong opinion on the sweater, by including them in your decision making process, you’ve initiated an environment of respect and consideration.