At first, the idea seems not only deeply illogical but also panic–inducing: Why would I want to mix *my* money with *someone else’s* money? How will we tell our monies apart? What if we ever want to decouple our funds? What then?
And yet, there will come a time when perpetually splitting the check for a date-night dinner in Year Five of your relationship will start to seem even dumber. The only answer? You’ve gotta mash your cash together, man. Not only is the joint checking account a mature play, it’s also — when done right — a way more stress-free way to live. Here’s the smart way to meld your finances.
You Don’t Have to Go All-In Immediately
Like most things in life, you want to ease your way into the joint checking account situation. You don’t just jump into an ice-cold swimming pool, do you? No. You’re not some kind of monster.
So imagine going from a life of total adult financial independence, spending $15 a day on your cold-brew iced coffee habit (which, really, that’s kind of a lot) to total financial integration — and, as a result, coming home one night to find your significant other scrutinizing your bank statement and asking who is this Sheila and why are you spending $105/week on her. (She’s your barista.)
There’s no need to jack up your stress level by diving in all at once. Instead, you can open a shared account, but only put some of your money into it each month — ideally enough to cover shared bills, groceries, and entertainment, that sort of thing. It’s kind of like water wings (or floaties, or whatever you call them in whatever state you’re from) for financial togetherness.
This is really easy to do with most modern employers: If you get paid via direct deposit, just ask Nick in HR if you can have X dollars from your paycheck diverted into you and your SO’s new joint account. The rest will go into your personal account, safe from prying eyes that don’t see the wisdom in devoting a major portion of one’s income to sandwiches. (I mean, a man’s gotta eat, doesn’t he? And they are always coming out with such great new sandwiches.)
Or Get a Burner Card
Alternatively, if you don’t want to have two (or three, if your partner has kept her own account as well) checking accounts floating around, there are plenty of other ways to insure you have a little kicking-around money that is not subject to the natural wage garnishment that comes with being in a relationship. One great solution is a prepaid debit card. Every month you can load it up with X dollars from your joint account, with a cash deposit, or even directly from your paycheck (thanks, Nick!). That way, you’ll never run the risk of overspending and cutting into the funds that you and your SO have set aside for Being Adults.
Don’t Be a Forensic Accountant
A stupid person once said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” That is patently untrue. One thing love does mean, though, is never giving your SO the third degree about what they spend money on, within reason.
Let’s say you’ve taken the joint-account training wheels off, and all your money is now in one spot. You are inevitably going to see charges pop up that you’ve never seen before, charges that are confusing, strange, and stress-inducing to you: personal training sessions, mani-pedis, pricey client lunches, and the like.
Here’s the thing: Nothing has actually changed. All things being equal, you and your partner are both spending the same amount of scratch on the same types of things as you did when you had your own separate bank accounts. Now you’re just seeing it all in one place.
To make this work, you and your SO are going to have to exercise restraint with respect to interrogating one another about purchases. There’s no better way to engender a vicious cycle of mistrust and suspicion than either of you nickel-and-diming each other when your bank statement arrives in your inbox. And it runs both ways, too: Don’t raise an eyebrow at the bang trims or expensive raw-denim jeans, and your partner will be more inclined to let slide your iced-coffee habit or season tickets to your local sports team. (Go Stags!)
Balance Your Spending
When you lived alone, you left for work in the a.m. and — barring some OCD housecleaner issues — all of your stuff was in the same place when you turned the key in the lock at the end of the day. But now that you and your SO live together, that’s of course no longer the case. It’s the same way with your new joint account — and having money be withdrawn from “your” bank account without your knowing about it is way more stressful than coming home and finding that someone has rearranged all of your spices into a weird ziggurat.
The key is communication. You and your SO have to let each other know when large sums are coming in or out of your account, when big bills are on the horizon, or if either of you are about to make a large purchase. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, people generally kept each other apprised of such things via a practice called “balancing the checkbook.” This, however, is knowledge that has been lost to the mists of time.
Spending isn’t the only thing you and your SO need to figure out, of course. You guys also need to sort out your personal savings, which is a good habit that can fall by the wayside amidst the financial terra incognito of your first joint account. A great sidekick for a joint checking account is a joint savings account. This is where you guys can start making a plan for the future, should you so desire. And start slowly, at first, even if you can each only afford putting away $50 or $100 a month. As your savings balance starts ticking up each month — and as, perhaps more importantly, the two of you watch that happen together — you’ll feel an increasing sense of shared financial destiny, which is kind of the whole point.
Online Access Is Your Friend
Contrary to popular belief, the Internet isn’t a total waste of time. It’s made it a lot easier to keep track of what’s going on with joint finances. You just need to make sure that each person has equal online access to that account. Bonus points for meeting in the middle and choosing a username and password combo that you’ll both easily remember, or that reminds you of a special time in your relationship — like, say, RaccoonDisaster2014, password: Lakehouse_Christmas.
Oh, and if there are security questions on your account, you and your significant other should bring each other up to date on your first pet’s name, the street you grew up on, your most medium-loved elementary-school teacher, your favorite flavor of juice box at summer camp, your first crush’s mother’s dental hygienist’s tattoo, and whatever other random detritus they are requiring that you dredge up from the depths of your memory these days.
It’ll be fun! Make a game of it! Do flash cards! Soon enough you and your partner will be enjoying a seamless, stress-free life of financial unity, where it’ll be no hassle for you to pay for her dry-cleaning and she won’t mind springing for your Gillette Clear Gel at the drugstore. And no one will ever have to worry about how many times they have picked up the bill vs. how many times they have picked up the tip again. #NoSweat
Hunter Slaton is a senior writer for Studio@Gawker. His first pet’s name was Cooler.
Illustration by Rob Dobi.