According to a recent survey, one in five people keep their money separate from their partners. Of those who said they didn’t share accounts with the person they share their bed with, 20% said they plan to actually leave their partner because of their financial problems.
The findings, published by Policygenius, touch on a common issue cited in divorces: fights about money. Experts say that high levels of debt and a lack of communication are often sources of stress and anxiety when it comes to household finances. Whether you decide to have a joint bank account with your partner or not, it’s important to sit down together and talk everything money—checkbooks wide open. Financial educator Marsha Barnes, owner of The Finance Bar in Charlotte, North Carolina, says it’s best to do this as early in the marriage as possible; before you get married is even better.
“When you act like money is not a factor to your relationship, then anything goes, and it’s easy to lose your bearings that way,” Barnes tells BRIDES. A couple may find themselves in “a cycle of survival as opposed to planning for the future or planning for the present moment—whether that’s vacation, kids, retirement or starting a business.” There are pros and cons to managing your money separately, Barnes says, and it really depends on what works best for you as a couple.
One benefit is that doing so offers a little bit of reassurance in cases of identity theft, fraud or hacking. If your partner’s bank account has been depleted or otherwise inaccessible for one reason or another, you can obviously still tap into yours, and vice versa. Another good thing about separate accounts is that you may be less likely to fight about how you and your partner are spending money. “You have your money, I have my money, the bills are paid, everybody’s happy,” Barnes says.
On the other hand, Barnes also points out that choosing not to combine the family financials in some way could allow feelings of suspicion and mistrust to flourish, thus leading to fights. For example, you may find yourself wondering why you aren’t sharing this information with one another, and what other things your partner may be hiding from you.
“Couples should have an account together for all major household bills,” she explains. “That means everything that you need to survive in a home: shelter, food, transportation, clothing.” There should also be a joint savings account with three to six months’ worth of household expenses for a couple to turn to for emergencies and unexpected financial burdens.
Ultimately, Barnes says, money can help strengthen your bond as a couple—as long as you understand each other’s spending habits and regularly discuss your goals and how you can work together to attain them. She likes to call that conversation “a money date” and recommends having one once a month.
Nothing binds a couple like debt, she adds. “If you do owe debt, it [becomes] ‘our’ debt. You can look at it as, ‘We’re going to do this together.’”
See more: 7 Ways Couples Can Save Money