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- When my boyfriend and I moved in together in 2018, neither of us had lived with a partner before so we felt free to create a money template that worked for us.
- We decided to keep separate bank accounts, but transfer a set amount of money into a shared account to pay certain bills.
- Simple bank made this easy with its shared checking account, allowing us to open our own accounts (including savings accounts) and one together.
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As my boyfriend and I prepared to move in together in October 2018, money was a fairly constant topic of conversation. How much we'd be saving, what we'd each pay in rent, and most importantly — would we be combining finances?
This would be both of our first experiences cohabiting with a partner, so without a template to work from, we felt free to make our own. Through a lot of conversations, calculations, and even a written cohabitation agreement, we settled on a plan that works for us. Some accounts are combined for convenience, while others are kept separate to preserve our financial autonomy.
It's a balance that's evolved over time, and will likely continue to do so as (and if!) our relationship progresses. Especially as we find ourselves facing down larger purchases, career changes, loans, or potentially marriage. But here's how we got to where we are now.
How we started the combining-finances conversation
Armed with the knowledge that money is the number one issue that couples argue about, I was determined to circumvent the odds. Starting from our earliest days of dating, I spoke openly and unapologetically about my rent (embarrassingly high), my income (embarrassingly low), and my spending habits (pretty dang good), and was gratified to notice my boyfriend doing the same.
With a big disparity between our incomes — he was a data scientist, and I was a freelance writer and bartender — there was a high potential for friction. And indeed, there were some uncomfortable conversations early on. But we pushed through them, enabling me to detect a pattern. The uniting factor in these moments was my own insecurity: I was worried that my partner was judging me based on my income or the way I chose to spend my money.
He wasn't, as it happens, but my reaction was cropping up anyway. Which suggested that I was feeling some of that judgement toward myself.
Thankfully, the year of dating before we moved in together gave me plenty of time to work that out with myself. (And in therapy, naturally.) So when it came time for us to sign our names on the lease, I not only had plenty of practice coping with discomfort, but knew the types of situations that might trigger it. Read: any instance that felt laced with unfairness, which I feared could lead to my boyfriend resenting me down the line.
Also read: I never once heard anything like this come out of his mouth. This was my own emotional and financial baggage I was bringing to the relationship. Which is a big part of why it was so important for me to take seriously.
The setup we agreed to
The idea of putting all of our money in one big pile and just going from there was definitely going to bump up against my baggage; I knew I'd still be hyper-aware of exactly how much I'd contributed, and restrict myself to spending only that. So I didn't see much point.
Instead, I pitched the idea of one joint account that we each contributed a set and equal amount to each month. We'd use that account to pay for monthly charges like renter's insurance, utilities, and streaming services — stuff that we both took equal advantage of. Then we'd each maintain separate accounts as well for our individual expenses. (As it happened, rent would actually land in this second category; we came up with a split that had us both saving the same amount from our previous housing, though we paid different amounts.)
If we wanted to save up for a joint purchase like a piece of furniture, a nice meal out, or a trip, we could boost the amount of our monthly contribution. Or one of us could always insist on treating the other. But either way, I could rest easy in the knowledge that all was right and fair in the universe and no one was being judged or taken advantage of.
We found the right tool for us from Simple bank
Once my boyfriend signed on to my pitch, we went looking for a setup that served our needs, and we found it at Simple. The company's Simple Shared Checking Account was designed for cost-sharing twosomes, whether romantic or otherwise, and its tagline was exactly what I'd been looking for: "A Simple Shared Account lets you share as much of your money as you each want."
Signing up gave us one shared account and two individual accounts — the latter of which has a high-yield savings account option called Protected Goals that I've gotten a lot of use out of over the years. I think we each put a few hundred dollars into our shared account to start, and then set up an automatic monthly withdrawal of $50 going forward. In the beginning, we used it to pay for our cable, internet, electricity, and insurance, and we'll likely use it to pay for gas as well, now that we have a car.
Almost everything else, though, we pay for separately, even two years post-move-in. (We do now have an equal rent split, after a cross-country move, multiple career changes, a layoff, and a global pandemic brought our incomes to very similar levels.)
Groceries would maybe seem like an intuitive split, but we haven't made that leap — I think because I do most of the cooking, so when we tried splitting the cost I was feeling the need to justify my purchases and pare down recipes. It turned out to be a pretty solid way for me to take all the fun out of cooking for myself, so now we just do what feels good with groceries, feeling it out for fairness on a case-by-case basis, and he pays for takeout.
At the end of the day, I just don't operate well with the idea of anyone looking over my shoulder and telling me how to spend our money, even if that person is me, and it's all in my head. My brain and my bank account both work best when I'm responsible only to myself, and I'm lucky that my partner is similar. We're both quite responsible and open about our finances, which has built up a sturdy foundation of trust, but no inclination to complicate the situation for ourselves.
We both know that the resources of the other are available to us should the need arise. But to have them combined as a default just isn't the right thing for us, at least right now, and I couldn't be happier with that decision.
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