It’s a dilemma every new couple faces: How should we handle our money?
Two Key Strategies for Managing Couple Finances
There are two key ways to handle your money as a couple:
- Option 1: One school of thought is that each partner should keep their finances separate. This is the safest option because if the relationship doesn’t work out, each partner still has their own resources. It feels fair. It may seem especially fair if one person earns a lot more than the other, or if one person has significantly more debt. But is also may feel like each person is more able to keep other options open and could decrease commitment to the relationship.
- Option 2:The other way couples handle money is by sharing everything. The “what’s mine is ours” approach pools both partner’s income, savings, and debts into one entity. Two people, one account. This blending often follows the logic that partners are putting their individual identities behind them in favor of a new identity as part of a couple. To many, this feels more committed, more binding. It’s also a more complicated situation to extricate yourself from in the event of a breakup, or worse, a divorce.
Who’s Better Off?
To see if couples’ choices regarding pooling their money impacts relationship satisfaction, in a just-published paper from 2022, researchers conducted six studies with over 38,000 participants (Gladstone et al., 2022). Those six studies represented a variety of methods (e.g., cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental data sets) and were replicated in both individualistic and collectivistic cultures.
Their overall conclusion was that couples who put all of their money together were happier and less likely to breakup, compared to other couples who kept some, or all, of their money separate. The benefits of combined finances applies to most couples, but were especially strong for couples who had less money (either due to low couple income or money troubles). Combining finances was more beneficial in the U.S. and U.K. compared to Japan (perhaps because Japan’s culture already emphasizes sharing more).
Some more specific behaviors are also interesting. In particular, couple with shared finances reported more positive interactions, a better connections, and felt more stable. They showed this strong connection through their use of more pronouns like “us,” “our,” and “we”, and were less likely to use “I,” “me,” and “mine.” Similarly, couples who pooled their money also used more language that emphasized affiliation such as “friend,” “agree,” and “kindness.”
While managing a budget isn’t one of the more glamorous or exciting parts of a new long-term relationship, how couples handle it is important. What makes it difficult is that the two options (separate vs. shared) both have logical common sense argument for why they may be effective.
Gladstone, J. J., Garbinsky, E. N., & Mogilner, C. (2022). Pooling finances and relationship satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000388