Sharing finances: Is it a good idea?

It’s an age-old question: Is sharing finances with your other half a good idea? It’s a question that invokes a wide range of responses, ranging from a vehement ‘no’ to an enthusiastic ‘yes’. Such answers might be influenced by past experiences, particularly for older people entering a second or third relationship.

Despite the range of factors involved, Indiana University Kelley School of Business researchers have attempted to measure the general trend. Their conclusion, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, is that married couples who manage finances together might be happier.

The study recruited 230 couples, who were either engaged or newly married at the time of recruitment. It followed them over two years as they began their married lives together. All participants began the study with separate accounts and consented to potentially changing their financial arrangements.

Consenting to potential changes was required as the couples were separated into three groups, each provided with different instructions.

Sharing finances versus separate accounts

One group was instructed to keep finances separate and use individual bank accounts. The second group were told to do the polar opposite – open a joint account and share finances. Participants in the third group were given the freedom to choose between separate or joint finances.

The findings of the study revealed couples who were told to open joint bank accounts to be the ‘winners’. Couple sharing finances reported substantially higher relationship quality two years later than those who maintained separate accounts.

Jenny Olson, assistant professor of marketing at Kelley and the study’s lead author explained the analysis. “They [joint account holders] frequently told us they felt more like they were ‘in this together,’” she said.

According to Prof. Olson, joint account holders viewed their arrangement as a partnership. Separate account holders took a more transactional approach. Such couples viewed financial decision-making as more of an exchange, she said.

What about older couples?

It’s important to point out that the mean average age of the participants in this study was 28. What’s more, for all participants this was their first marriage and it covered only the first two years of marriage.

Follow-up studies of the same couples might provide some interesting results in the years to come. Indeed, the authors of this study revealed that 20 per cent of participating couples did not finish the study. This group included “a significant percentage of those who separated after not merging bank accounts”.

Couples who have been together for 10, 20 or 30 years might provide very different results. And those who have entered a second or third marriage or partnership might produce different results again.

Nevertheless, the results do provide some indication that sharing finances may have its benefits.

Personal finance journalist Lucy Lazarony suggests a ‘hybrid’ approach might work best for later life relationships. In other words, keep separate accounts as well as one joint account.

Whichever way you go, open and honest communication about your preferences will likely go a long way to achieving a successful financial arrangement.

Do you share finances with your partner? How well does the arrangement work for you? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: The great unretirement – what you should know before joining the throng

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.

4 COMMENTS

  1. At 84 & 83 and as a second marriage we have separate accounts so that my money will go to my kids and grandkids and my spouse’s will go to her kids and grandkids. We then share all expenses, except personal type expenses. I keep a spreadsheet of expenses, food, electricity, gas, internet, fuel, etc. What this shows is that in the last 2 yrs our food bill has risen from around $120/Thursday shop to $210/Thursday, up ~ 75%. Going out is getting expensive $99each to see Agatha Christie’s “Mouse Trap” at the Theatre this week – can’t do that too often.

    • Everyone’s circumstances are different, and one size doesn’t fit all.
      My wife and I have been together 20 years and have shared everything from the start, as did both sets of our parents. We make all important decisions together. There is complete trust and sharing. Neither of us smoke, drink, take drugs or gamble so there are no pressures there.
      We don’t have children, so our wills have our assets going to each other, and then some to our nieces and nephews, but the majority to charities.
      Our parents both had their estates going to each other, and then equally to each child. Again, no children have caused problems, so no problems there. If they had, a trust might have been set up to protect that child’s share from squandering, but each child would still have shared equally. No favourites.

  2. We’ve been happily married for over 50 years, our first for both and we started joint accounts from the very beginning although my wife had a small post office account for personal use. We found the cash flow benefits of both our salaries’ going into the one account made planning and mortgage payments much easier on a tight budget and enabled us to pay of our first house quicker than otherwise.
    i think forcing the couples to share in the trial probably produced a false result as it surely has to be a mutual decision. Every couple is different but I believe sharing accounts helps develop trust and prior discussion and agreement about major purchases. I can however, understand why some couples, especially those remarried would keep separate accounts and its very much a case of what works best for each couple.

  3. I am 79 and my wife is 77. We have had a joint account since we were married in 1969. It has worked well for us. However at our age now we are going to open separate accounts but will still keep and use the joint account. In the event of one of us passing away the other will still have access to money.

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