Since I talk about money and share my budget updates over on my YouTube channel, I tend to get a lot of questions about my current financial situation. Specifically, I get questions about how I budget with my boyfriend since we aren’t married. Money can be one of the main topics couples fight about, so getting on the same financial page is important. Let’s talk about how to approach budgeting for unmarried couples.
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First, some background…
To get started on this topic, you’ll need some background about my current situation. My boyfriend and I met in college and at this point have been together for almost eight years. We live together and bought a house together at the beginning of 2019.
Both of us have debt that we are currently working to pay off. For me, it’s my credit card, student loans, and my car. For my boyfriend, it’s student loans and a credit card (he recently paid off his truck!).
Although we own a house together, we do not have combined finances. We have a single joint account that we both can access that is used to pay the house payment and utility bills. It also holds our $1,000 emergency fund.
Why don’t we have combined finances?
We honestly just don’t really feel the need to have combined finances. A lot of people don’t believe you should combine finances until you’re married, because at that point you legally share assets. The concern is that if you broke up, it would be a lot messier of a situation if you had money tied up together.
We both have careers and make our own money. Even though we both keep separate accounts, we do discuss money and our financial goals pretty frequently. Since we have individual goals that are helping us get to our shared goals, having our own accounts just makes more sense.
How we split expenses
The main thing we do differently than a lot of couples that live together is how we split our expenses. We have never split our expenses 50/50 at any point that we’ve lived together. It has never made sense for our situation.
Currently, I pay 100% of the house payments and the water bill. My boyfriend pays for all the other utilities, internet, and cable, and also puts some money into our joint account. Basically, we split expenses based on our individual financial situations. Since my boyfriend has a large student loan balance, it makes more sense for me to pay for the house so he has more of his money freed up to make progress on his debt payoff.
This method works for us because we are at the point in our relationship where we are working toward the same future goals. We joke that we’re basically married, so we are on the same page about our financial goals and what we are both working toward.
Should we combine finances?
This is a decision that really shouldn’t be taken lightly. As I mentioned before, if you have joint finances and go through a breakup, it can make fights worse. If you are really in a bad situation, you could end up losing your money entirely if your ex-partner disappears with it all. You also could find yourself in the situation of having helped your partner pay off their mountain of debt, just for them to take off.
None of these are situations you want to consider when you’re in a relationship with someone, but these things do happen. We’re all human and we don’t always make the best decisions. If you’re considering combining finances, I would definitely carefully consider all angles of the situation.
Before combining finances with a partner, I would make sure we had the same life goals, strong and open communication (about everything, including money), and a history of trust in the relationship.
How do I start conversations about money with my partner?
Having open conversations about money is one of the most important habits you can get into with your partner. I personally think most money arguments between couples are caused by a lack of communication. You really have to be on the same page about your financial situations to successfully budget together.
If you are currently living with your partner, starting to talk about money now will make it much easier to talk about it later when you decide to get married and your money is legally combined. How you approach this subject will depend on how you and your partner feel about money.
Some people have very strong ideas or feeling around money. That can stem from how they were raised or how their parents handled money. You definitely need to keep this in mind when you start a conversation about money. I have never personally had to have a tough money conversation in a relationship, but here are some tips I think would help:
- Keep it light. The first time you start a money conversation, don’t go right into asking how much debt they have and what they spend their money on.
- Don’t judge. Make sure you are having an open and honest conversation without judging the other person’s past choices. Judgment about how money is being spent is probably one of the fastest ways to start a fight about money.
- Keep it goal-focused. I would make the first discussion about dreams for the future. What would you one day like to accomplish together? Starting from the dream and working backward through the steps it’ll take might make it easier to discuss the current situation.
What money topics do we need to discuss as a couple?
Once you are used to discussing money, there are a lot of money related topics that you probably want to talk about. Here are a few of the topics my boyfriend and I have discussed in the past and discuss on a regular basis.
- What are your current financial situations?
- How do you both feel about debt?
- How much money do you want in an emergency fund?
- What are your financial priorities?
- How do you feel about credit cards?
- What are you both comfortable spending on housing, now and in the future?
- How will you divide bills?
- What are your future financial goals?
How do we avoid fighting about money?
Money fights are a major reason for breakups and divorces. The main way to avoid fighting over money is to have open and understanding communication about finances.
If you don’t have combined finances and don’t have any shared assets (like owning a house together), then there really shouldn’t be a reason you’re fighting about money. If one person is trying to tell the other how to spend their money with no reason, that is a red flag for the relationship.
Any type of judgment about spending habits, debt balances, or past financial mistakes is going to lead to a fight. Everyone makes mistakes with money, so discuss them, let them go, and make a plan to fix them together. Constantly bugging your boyfriend about how annoying it is that he has student loans to pay off is not going to help anything.
I asked my boyfriend what he thinks makes our money management work so well. He said the same thing I thought – we are working toward the same financial goals. You have to be on the same page with your partner when it comes to your goals. We are working together to pay off debt and build the life we really want for ourselves, so we are both on board with saving money, making large debt payments, and splitting bills unevenly.
How do we budget as a team?
From talking to other couples I know about how they budget together, one of the main things you need if you’re going to share a budget is trust in the other person. You can’t be constantly worried about what the other person is buying or it just won’t work.
Sitting down together to write out a budget is also important. One person can’t make the entire budget and make all the decisions. The other person probably isn’t going to stick to a budget they had no say in. Working together as a team is key. If you’re new to budgeting, you can check out this blog post to get started!
Overall, I would say the most important thing when it comes to budgeting for unmarried couples (and married couples!) is communication. You can’t hope to be on the same page if you don’t talk it out.