When it comes to relationships, marriage is often the catalyst for some big steps you may not have yet taken together—like combining finances. But not all couples follow the traditional
trajectory—especially today, when so many choose to move in together before tying the knot.
Still, according to a recent study, the majority of adults see cohabitation as a stepping stone to marriage. And smart couples know not to wait until marriage is on the table to talk about the important things, like your finances.
Whether or not you’re living together, it’s key to use the dating years to get to know your partner on a deeper level than their favorite restaurant or what they like to do on the weekends. When you’re dating and the stakes are relatively low, it’s imperative to weave some of the more “sensitive” topics into the conversation—think: how you handle expenses, your savings goals, and how your values play into your money mindset.
Some of this may come up naturally—like when you’re deciding where to eat or when budgeting for a vacation together—but as you get more and more serious about one another, there are other tools that can help you dig a little deeper… like The Money Date Box for Couples.
The Money Date Box is a set of cards split into eight sessions. Each week, you set a “Money Date” to work through the contents of the box with your partner. Topics cover everything from budgeting and cash management to retirement and estate planning. And at the end of eight weeks, you’ll walk away with a better understanding of each other’s money mindset and how each person handles their personal finances.
Of course, your daily life together or your conversations around money may lead you to wonder if you should combine finances in some capacity—especially if you’re already cohabitating. And here’s the tricky thing: The answer isn’t one-size-fits-all, say, experts. In fact, there’s really no one-size-fits-all answer even if you are married.
The most important thing: That you and your significant other are both on the same page, with monetary views and goals that align.
With that in mind, consider doing the aforementioned exercises prior to making any big money decisions together. While having these discussions, make sure to address your individual money management techniques, and any concerns you have about combining your finances, plus make a plan for fielding any potential disagreements.
Combining finances should not be a decision you take lightly. Even small missteps can have a huge impact on your credit score—aka your financial DNA. And don’t forget: Although you may consider yourselves essentially married, the law does not. If anything goes awry, you can’t lean on the legal system the same way a married couple might be able to, which—at best—can really complicate things in the long run and—at worst—can leave you high and dry.
With this in mind, any decision about whether or not to combine finances should come after many thoughtful and open conversations—a process that takes time… years even.
And, consider taking a few simple steps to protect yourself and your assets. It’s a great idea to leave at least one account separate. You may also want to create a basic contract outlining what savings accounts and investments belong to whom and how they will be divided should you end your relationship. It’s not guaranteed to help you legally recover funds or accounts, but any protection is better than no protection.