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Finances for Every Stage of the Relationship

Couple holding hands on a street
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Some say that money is the root of all evil, while others believe it is the root of all awkward conversations. I can speak from experience — at some point, I developed a strong aversion to discussing and handling finances. It’s something that I’ve forced myself to overcome as my life became intertwined with my significant other’s; now that we’re married, I can’t shirk my financial responsibilities anymore.

Discussing money is seen as a societal taboo, but you’ve got to do it if you’re going to enter a relationship with someone. Even in the early stages of a relationship.

New Relationships

Here’s a quick tip if you’re trying to scare someone away: tell your date that you expect to combine finances as soon as you’re Facebook official.

In all seriousness, you shouldn’t worry about changing your financial habits to better suit your date’s lifestyle. When your relationship first takes off, there aren’t many financial concerns. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be talking about money until you hit the six-month mark. Expect these question to pop into your head during the early stages of the relationship:

  • What do you do?
    If you don’t ask this on the first date, then they will. While chatting about work has become a small talk cliche, learning about this person’s job provides a peek into someone’s finances. That cute young lawyer you’re texting? He’s broke and he’s going to have a ton of student debt down the road. I mean, it doesn’t matter now, but keep that in mind when you expect that he take care of your meal.
  • Are we together or separate?
    Well, technically the server will ask this one. Your date may foot the bill at the end of the night, but you never know. Bring enough cash to pay for your dinner (and then some). Of course, you may want to go dutch regardless.
  • How much should I spend on a present?
    So you’ve recently started dating someone, and their birthday/Valentine’s Day/Christmas is around the corner. Just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean you need to go all out with presents. If you don’t want to be blunt and ask your new guy how much he’s going to spend on you, you can always opt for a homemade gift. They’re thoughtful and, for the most part, inexpensive.

Long-Term Relationship

By now, you and your partner have a good rhythm going. You might be considering moving in with your long-time boyfriend. After all, you’re at each other’s apartments all the time. Why not go ahead with it?

If you’re both on the same page, then you should talk it over together. By now, you shouldn’t be afraid to have money talks with your partner. There are pros and cons to cohabitation — ask your partner these questions before you sign the lease:

  • What is your ideal price range?
    Figure out the highest rent you’d feel comfortable paying, then find out what your partner can afford. Living with someone can drastically reduce your living expenses and allow you to live in a place you couldn’t afford alone. But does that mean you should move into an apartment on the edge of your price range just because your partner can easily afford to live there?
  • How will we handle the utilities?
    There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to paying the bills, but regardless of how you pay it, it’s gotta be done. Some couples split everything 50/50. Others take on different responsibilities; one person pays $800 for rent, the other covers the utility, cable, and grocery bill. You’ll have to find the best fit for your relationship (and income) here.
  • How should we furnish the house?
    Living together is exciting! It’s a big step forward in a relationship! And the last thing you want to think about is the possibility of breaking up — and unfortunately, you have to. In a perfect world, you and your partner will have enough stuff to fully furnish your shared home, and you won’t need to buy anything at all.But real life doesn’t work like that. You might not have a two-person bed. Maybe the TV breaks three months into the lease. Splitting the cost of big ticket items is tempting, but who gets the television in the event of a breakup? You could avoid the squabble by trading off on big purchases. For example, you can pay for a new bed and your partner will buy the new armchair.

My now-husband and I lived together for a couple of years before tying the knot. Establishing our habits took a few months, and boy, were those months bumpy. Believe it or not, our most difficult obstacle was grocery shopping.

Every trip to the supermarket resulted in a bad mood on both ends. We grew up eating totally different foods that, of course, varied in cost. In most cases, we sat down with our grocery receipt and calculated the cost of our food. If we bought ingredients for shared dinner, we’d split the cost. If he wanted to spend $10 on nutrition shakes, he would pay for that; and I’d reimburse the costs of my bougie snack food. Sometimes he’d use his card or I’d use mine, but either way, we would tally up our individual totals to repay the other. This didn’t really change until marriage was on the horizon.

Even couples who live apart are on a whole new level. When you first started dating, you might’ve given your new guy a gift card and a mix CD for his birthday. Fast forward to next year, and you might want to spend more on a quality watch or cologne. At this point in the relationship, you’re also mixing money in ways that you hadn’t done before.

Let’s say you’re planning to go to Disneyworld for your anniversary; some couples may divide the expenses evenly, while others pay for different parts of the trip. And if your partner’s family invites you on vacation, what costs are you responsible for? Don’t be afraid to talk about money with your long-term BF.


I know several couples who completely combine their incomes in a joint account. Joint checking and savings accounts are the norm among married couples, and I can understand why they’re so helpful. My husband and I opened a joint account at the start of our engagement because we were contributing to our wedding.

When we first opened the account, we had similar salaries, so we could fairly split an expense 50/50. Whether we were paying the adoption fees for our kitten or putting a down payment on our wedding cake — yes, they really exist — we would use the joint checking account.

Our engagement was a good time to test out a joint account. What began as a “wedding only” account became a “wedding and etc” account. We used it to pay the security deposit on our new apartment, and continued to use the account to pay rent and bills. My now-husband uses it for dates and purchases that benefit the both of us. By the time we opened the account, we were ready to support each other; if we needed to lend each other money, then we just transferred it from our personal accounts into the shared account.

When you’re musing about married life with your soon-to-be spouse, you need to talk about money. Now’s the time to break out the questions that would scare away a first date: ask about student loans, savings, and credit. As it turns out, Whether the two of you are shouldering the entire cost of the wedding or not, you need to create a wedding budget complete with best-scenario and honest (AKA over-budget) expectations.


At this point, you and your partner might’ve found your groove. If you’ve lived with your new spouse for a while, your financial lives have already overlapped; preexisting habits and systems are in place for everything from grocery shopping to the utility bill. However, your approach may change after you formally (and legally) blend your lives.

During our engagement, I wanted to keep my personal checking account. However, that hasn’t changed after the wedding; I personally don’t want to surrender my personal account for a few reasons. If any of them resonate with you, you should consider it too.

  • I like to treat myself.
    Consider it one of my vices. My husband, on the other hand, is very conservative with his money. While I don’t blow my paycheck on weekly shopping sprees, I wouldn’t want to feel guilty for spending our money on items for me.
  • I brought my own expenses into the marriage.
    Some of which I still pay for entirely on my own. My phone bill, for example, is in my name only and I take care of it by myself. I also intend to handle my federal student loan payments by myself, and thanks to my income-based repayment plan, I should be able to do so. But if either of our debt became unmanageable, I know we have each other’s backs.
  • I like having my own money.
    Plain and simple, folks. I think every woman should have money that belongs solely to herself. I devote a portion of my paycheck to our shared account, but I always keep enough for myself.

But of course, those are my reasons. As the life we’re building together continues to grow, we’ll form new financial habits. One of our goals for 2016 is to eliminate our short-term debt in preparation for home-ownership and once we’ve paid off the entirety of our credit card debt, then I’m sure there’s something new to conquer.

Last modified on November 9th, 2016

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