Combining Cash Flows: To Plan Solo or With Your Partner?
Do you and your significant other partner up when it comes to making sense of your dollars and cents?
It’s common for this question to come up when marriage is on the horizon or if you’ve recently wed. In Getting Married — and Marrying Your Finances, Jason detailed some pros and cons of combining finances for newlyweds and those planning their nuptials to consider as well as what to do when you say “I do” financially.
But it’s also a frequent question for those at other points in their relationships, especially those in committed partnerships. You may have this question, too, whether or not you’re considering engagement or a wedding in your future. And there are plenty of options to look at other than strictly maintaining your finances as individuals or creating a combined cash-flow strategy.
Read on to understand the ways in which significant others — married and unmarried — may choose to combine their finances as well as how you can stay on the same page as your partner if you choose to plan your money lives solo.
To Plan Solo or Together?
While planning your financial lives together might sound great, you and your partner may have differing opinions when it comes to money. Don’t forget that it’s ok to plan solo! In the end, it’s best to do what’s right for you and your significant other — with a certain degree of communication.
If you’d like to start by gaining a better understanding of where each of you is at financially, you can begin by planning a money date (and downloading our Money Date Guide to be your guide!). This can help you learn more about each other’s money backgrounds, what’s important to each of you when it comes to your money perspectives today, what your future goals are, and how you can support each other in your financial relationship. Dan also shared some great tips on financial communication between partners in Romance and Money: Let’s Get Fiscal!.
Once you’ve set a solid foundation of communication, it’s time to choose the best way to plan with as much or little financial combination as you’d like.
Degrees of Combination: Cash-Flow Strategies
While this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list — and cash-flow strategies can be as unique as relationships — the following options may provide some inspiration for you and your significant other.
Separate Free-for-All Are You Ready to Get Fiscal with Your Partner?
With this financial planning style, you maintain open communication with your partner as you each manage your cash flows independently. When making a joint purchase, like splitting dinner, significant others can settle up using the “pay back” method with actual cash or check or via a payment app. Although this is a siloed approach to your finances, partners may find it helpful, especially at the beginning of a relationship.
Are You Ready to Get Fiscal with Your Partner?
This cash-flow approach is much more mingled than the separate free-for-all. With this strategy, both partners pool their inflows into a single account, then spend from it as they choose. With strong individual discipline and frequent communication, this system can work well for those with a solid foundation of mutual financial trust.
Joint Money Management
Within this strategy exist a couple of sub-strategies that allow for flexibility between partners. Like the joint free-for-all method, joint cash flow management is based on adding to and spending from a single joint account. The differences lie in how to add funds to the account before the spending starts and how to allocate that spending.
Funding the Joint Account
One sub-strategy includes each partner funding their joint account with a flat dollar amount. Whether each partner puts in an equal or different flat-dollar amount often depends on the relationship dynamic as well as other inputs, like each partner’s income.
Another sub-strategy involves contributing to a joint account based on an agreed-upon percentage, like each partner’s percentage of the relationship’s total income.
Spending from the Joint Account
Aside from the above funding methods, it’s also important for partners to agree to a spending strategy for their joint account. In some relationships, both members spend as needed, similar to the free-for-all. For others, each partner gets an “allowance” or amount to spend from the joint account. This can vary in relationships where one partner does the majority of contributions or “us” spending, like buying groceries or household items that both partners will use.
While exchanging funds as necessary or agreeing on how to use a joint account might sound simple, it can extend far beyond the weekly shopping trip to fill the fridge. For example, by increasing additions to a joint account or being willing to swap funds in larger amounts, you and your partner can use similar strategies to save toward and accomplish your goals.
The same can be said for retirement goals like funding your Roth IRAs. If you use the separate approach, you might make a pact with your partner to each fund your IRAs with a certain dollar amount or percentage of income. With one of the joint strategies, you may pull those IRA contributions from your joint account equally or in a way that will benefit you both down the road.
Whatever strategy you choose and however you decide to execute it, don’t forget to add it to your documented cash-flow plan or budget plan worksheet!
As you decide on how you’ll plan and start putting your cash-flow strategy into action, remember that your choice doesn’t have to be set in stone! You may find that some aspects of the previous options suit you and your partner well while others don’t. And that’s ok, too! As your relationship changes and grows, you can transition from one cash-flow option to another or find aspects of different planning styles that work best when combined.
You may find that you want to work on yourself first with the siloed approach, then begin a joint account for smaller expenses, like gas or groceries, to test out the strategy. Or it may be best for each of you to plan solo for the long term with open communication and each other in mind. You may even choose to add your partner to your full financial life or your financial planning relationship more quickly.
Whichever you choose, find your cash-flow support system. This may include …
just yourself and your partner,
you and your financial pro working on your cash flow and your partner and their financial pro working on theirs,
or you and your partner with your joint financial pro all planning together!
Take some time to find what level of cash-flow combination works best for you and your relationship. And if you’re not sure, talk with your partner and your financial professional. They both likely have unique perspectives on what might suit you.
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