Our Path to (Finally) Merging Our Finances

funny sign at the bank by pale man feed me at Flickr!After six years of dating followed by five years of marriage, my wife and I finally decided to merge our finances together into the same accounts. We’re going to use a local bank for teller purposes and paper checks, and stay with ING Direct for much of our checking and savings purposes.

Why did this take so long? A lot of people were surprised that we didn’t just do this by default when we got married, or even earlier. There were several reasons why we did not.

First, we didn’t have genuine conversations about our personal finances before we got married. As our relationship grew, we had deep conversations about almost everything except for our money. It wasn’t until three years after our marriage (and some serious financial troubles along the way) that we finally started talking seriously about our money decisions.

Second, we kept many bills separate from each other. There were simply some bills I paid and some bills she paid, carried over almost directly from our dating days. In short, we just let inertia carry us, instead of rethinking things. This worked really well most of the time, but it made a clear accounting of our financial situation almost impossible. If one of us had a larger bill than normal, could we rely on the other one’s income to pull us through? This was never clear, and we often just muddled through.

Third, we were both fairly concerned about privacy. Not so much in the sense of directly hiding things from each other, but in the sense that it gave the other person free reign to leaf through our spending, likely making judgments on our individual spending choices. It was something that we were both very uncomfortable with for a long time – and something that we’ve become more comfortable with as we’ve talked more and more about our finances.

How did we come to this decision? Mostly, we came to realize that we were simply in a different place than before. Instead of each of us handling our own bills and not really paying attention to what the other was doing, we were pretty clear on what we both were doing. We watched each other grow more careful and frugal with our spending and we came to trust each other’s spending habits more.

We also began to realize all of the little ways our separate accounts were costing us. Instead of having a complete financial picture whenever we needed it, we often strained and stretched to cover our individual bills ourselves. We also realized that some of our banking choices were still dinging us with fees, and there was no better time than the present to start over and choose a better account.

How did we choose a bank? We basically did a canvas of all of the banks within a fifteen mile radius, comparing their basic checking account offerings. We wanted a free basic checking account with free checks and free online banking, plus reasonable hours. Ideally, I wanted one that I could easily reach on a bicycle ride.

Basically, we wanted easy access to a real live teller for services such as check cashing and change redemption, plus a paper checking account that had no maintenance fees, online banking access, and a wide ATM network. Since we planned on keeping most of our money with ING Direct, we didn’t care about interest rates much at all – we mostly sought to avoid fees.

Knowing this, I just perused the websites of every bank in the area, gathering information about their checking accounts, and we found four that had all of the criteria we wanted. We decided to simply select the one of the four with a branch closest to our home.

One big piece of advice If we learned one lesson from our experience, it’s this.

Communicate with your partner about money from the beginning, and don’t leave anything hidden when you talk about it.

Complete honesty and regular, deep communication about your finances as you begin to merge other parts of your lives is vital. My wife and I now have very regular talks about our personal finances and we’ve moved to a complete open door policy of looking at any statements or material that comes in the mail.

This communication opened the door to financial success. We set goals together. We learned what we needed to do to reach those goals together. We created microgoals to help us get started along that path. We talked through our important decisions.

And now, our financial future is completely linked.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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