It’s been a big year for me. I got a promotion at work, I turned 30, and I’ve almost made it through a New York City summer without buying an air conditioning unit. I probably spent just as much washing shirts that were soaked with sweat as I would have on an AC, but I still feel accomplished.
Oh, and I’m about to get married. In preparation for that, my future wife, Ashley, and I have been getting our financial house in order. We’ve decided to completely merge our finances. We’re sharing a checking account, a brokerage account, and a savings account.
Here’s why we decided to merge everything, and how we make it work.
Simplicity and Trust
Deciding whether or not to join finances came down to a question of what we valued more: simplicity or independence. Would either of us feel less independent, less adult, or less “ourselves” if we joined our accounts? It’s a real thing we had to talk about.
We both take a lot of pride in being able to manage our spending and monitor our accounts. Wouldn’t it be weird to give up some of that freedom? Could it cause resentment if one of us was keeping spending low while the other was out buying new clothes all the time?
To address that concern, we established a rule. We decided that purchases above $50 would be a joint decision. It’s a system that allows for a nice balance of independence and collaboration. We don’t need to text each other to ask if it’s okay to buy a coffee, so it doesn’t feel like Big Brother is watching over our shoulders.
That being said, we still need to be on guard. While we’re both frugal, not all of our impulsive spending instincts have been stamped out. If I hang out with a friend who has a new FitBit, for example, I can pretty quickly convince myself that nothing is more important than my health and I’d be dumb not to spend a hundred bucks to order one right away.
Now, I know to check in with Ashley first. Usually, she talks me off the edge, and vice versa. We are constantly reminding each other that our goals as a new family are more important than what we individually crave in the moment.
Ultimately, we decided that the benefits of joining forces outweighed the costs. Everything just got a little easier once we dumped all our income into one shared account. In the past, something like paying rent was a two-step process that involved one of us cutting a check, and then getting a Venmo payment from the other. Now it all comes out of one checking account without any hassle.
I totally understand couples who don’t like the idea of doing joint accounts. At first, it’s a bit unnerving to think that your their partner can snoop on your accounts at any time. Maybe they like being able to buy gifts without having the surprise spoiled by their partner logging into the account and seeing a charge they don’t recognize. Maybe they’re really happy with the credit union they’ve used for years, and don’t want to leave to join a national chain.
All of those are perfectly reasonable objections. But, in our minds, the end result is that life without joint bank accounts is always going to be more complicated. Even if it’s just a little friction, it would be enough to annoy us. We’re the kind of people who love wireless headphones for the mere fact that we never have to take that extra five seconds to plug in an auxiliary cord. We feel a little part of ourselves die when we attempt to plug in a USB cable and it ends up not working because the adapter is upside down. The way we see it, separate accounts would mean daily frictions of the same nature.
On a more philosophical level, we felt that creating joint accounts builds stability and trust into the bedrock of our relationship. It’s freeing to allow someone into such a personal aspect of your life, because it means that you have a truly deep connection.
I should note that neither of us is entering into this marriage with a huge amount of savings, or debt, and we both earn salaries that are in the same ballpark. This financial parity certainly simplifies things. I can see how in more unbalanced situations things could be trickier to sort out. For us, it makes sense to treat all savings and income as shared, but each situation is different.
Investment Accounts and Risk Tolerance
Coming up with a method for handling your daily cash flow is one thing, but investing is a whole different beast.
We each already had Roth IRAs, but we had to figure out how we would handle investing in taxable accounts. We decided to create a joint brokerage account with Vanguard. In order to get on the same page with regards to our investments, we gave ourselves homework.
We each sought out a few different investing strategies that appealed to us, and then we spent a few weeks learning all that we could about them. These ranged from pouring everything into stocks, to a “Boglehead”-inspired three-fund portfolio, to the Permanent Portfolio.
I’m not saying that three weeks is enough time to learn everything there is to know about investing. We just needed that much time to settle on a strategy that felt good to us.
I tend to have a much bigger appetite for risk than Ashley, so it was nice to hear her perspective and to bounce ideas off each other. I was able to sway her toward some things, such as investing in small-cap stocks, and she convinced me that we should add in more bonds than I initially wanted.
The final asset allocation we chose is not important. What matters was that we had an honest discussion about how we viewed investing, and we agreed on a strategy that we are comfortable sticking with for the long haul.
Vanguard Makes It Easy
You always hear about how big financial institutions can be nightmares to deal with. I’ve experienced this with credit card companies, who have a tendency to drag their feet, fail to answer basic questions, and over-complicate even simple customer service requests.
When my fiance and I undertook the major reshuffling of our brokerage accounts, we expected to have a million forms to fill out, and at least as many annoying phone calls. With Vanguard, there was none of this. A friendly agent helped us figure out everything we needed to do on a five-minute call. He mailed a form, we signed it, and we were done. I want to put that agent on my holiday shopping list.
The Vanguard flag has been proudly waved by personal finance nerds forever, so this is nothing new — but I still wanted to give them a shout-out.
The Power of a Weekly Chat
In order to make sure we’re on the same page and that we stay that way, we singled out Tuesday nights as a time to talk through everything money related. Every Tuesday, we sit down and go over our spending, our budget, and our future plans.
If we notice discrepancies, or we have concerns, we talk about them honestly. We call this our weekly “Buisness Chat.” Yes, that’s misspelled. It’s because while taking notes on that very first Tuesday, Ashley was going too fast and spelled “business” wrong. The name stuck.
I know this is corny, but the silly name helps us to have fun with the whole situation. As the acclaimed relationship therapists over at the Gottman Institute always say, building traditions as a couple is a fun and important thing to do in the early stages of marriage. Buisness Chat is now a tradition, and we love it.
For the talks that get a little dicey or confrontational, always remember – wine helps everything.
There is no right or wrong way to handle money in a relationship. As long as you find a method that’s sustainable and makes sense to both parties, you’ll be happy. For us, that meant dumping everything into one big pot, sharing all financial duties, and handling “buisness” as a team.
- Joint Finances: Why I Share My Money With My Husband
- Six Principles of a Marriage Without Money Fights
- Why Your Spouse Is Your Most Important Money Decision