March 17, 2023

Rich Girl Roundup: Splitting Finances With Your Partner

Rich Girl Roundup: Splitting Finances With Your Partner

Should you pool into a shared account or keep it separate?

Tackling finances with your partner can be tricky: What if one of you earns substantially more? What if you have different philosophies about money? What if you're tired of the "roommate" model of splitting costs down the middle? Katie and Henah share their respective approaches on money with their partners, and what to keep in mind when combining accounts.

Welcome back to #RichGirlRoundup, Money with Katie's weekly segment where Katie and MWK's Executive Producer, Henah, answer your burning money questions. Each month, we'll put out a call for questions on then MWK Instagram (@moneywithkatie). New episodes every Friday.

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Katie: Welcome back, Rich Girls and Boys, to the Rich Girl Roundup weekly discussion of The Money with Katie Show. I'm your host, Katie Gatti Tassin, and every Friday my executive producer, Henah, and I are gonna dig into an interesting, relevant—well, I guess we think they're relevant—topic based on a listener question. So before we dive in this week, here's a quick message from our sponsors. 

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Katie: Okay, Henah, I'm excited to talk to you about this this week. I'm also…it's a little bit on my mind because we just got a random $400 charge from Geico and I saw it come through on Copilot. Shout out Copilot—not a sponsor, but you should be, and…

Henah: Subtle. 

Katie: I was like, “What is this?” Because Thomas got a new car so we got a new insurance policy for that vehicle, and I finally got renter's insurance after living here for a year and being like, “Oh my god, I never signed up for that. Thank god nothing happened.” And then I also got an umbrella policy, because I have a friend who's a financial advisor or CFP who was like, “You need an umbrella policy.” And I was like, “Good lookin’ out, sister.” So anyway, I've been making a lot of changes to our insurance and I saw this charge come through kind of seemingly out of nowhere, and I go, “Hey, did you see this? Like what is this?” He's like, “Yeah, I dunno. They texted me about that.” I was like, “Okay, what did the texts say? Like what…why are we being charged $400?” He's like, “I don't know. It didn't really say.” I was like…

Henah: And I had the exact same experience this week.

Katie: You did? I was like, “You’re being too blasé about this.”

Henah: I did.

Katie: I'm like, “What is the password to the Geico account? I need to go be Karen in their Twitter DMs.” But yeah, he was like super chill about it and I was like, “No, this is, we're not just gonna take this lying down. I don't know what this $400 charge is for.” 

Henah: No, that literally happened this week where my husband was like, “I submitted this thing to insurance. Then they didn't approve it, so, oh well.” And I was like, “What are you, what? I didn't even know we got a charge for that. Like what are you talking about?” So I'm very interested in how we're gonna talk about this topic. 

Katie: Yeah, sounds like we're starting out on the same page. So this is a question that we get a ton, pretty much as long as I've been doing Money with Katie, and I've written about it and I think we've actually done a show about it in the past. So we'll link that material in the show notes. But we thought it would be interesting to discuss, because Henah and I actually approach it differently in our own lives. So this week's question boils down to, how do you recommend splitting finances with your partner? Henah, do you wanna read the actual question from Christina? 

Henah: Yeah. So Christina asked, “How did you and your now husband split expenses before you got married? Did you get a joint credit card, assess at the end of the month? Sometimes I want the house clean so much that I'd pay myself.” I can relate. “Also, there is nothing less sexy than splitting a restaurant bill at the end of date night.” Can also relate.

Katie: Can attest.

Henah: So do you wanna start with your process? 'Cause I think you guys have a really good system in place that works for you. 

Katie: Oh, thanks. Yeah, sure. So Thomas and I, we lived together for a few months before we got engaged, and then about a year before we got married. So we were cohabitating and splitting bills like roommates for about a year before we were legally bound together in the eyes of the state of Texas. We've been together for about five years. The only time we've ever argued about money was in that period, that 12-month period where we were doing the roommate model. And it's hard to say why, but it'd be the splitting and the logistics and it was not working very well.

And then once we got married, we considered continuing to do the roommate model, but eventually, I remember we were sitting at the table, we just kind of looked at each other. We're like, why are we trying so hard to make this work? Like we just signed a contract with the literal government that we are going to be together until we die. It doesn't really make sense for us to keep going the extra mile to keep all of our expenses separate because, and this is key, we had very similar approaches to money and to our goals. So we both felt comfortable combining, though we didn't do retroactive combining. So any money that he came into the relationship with, any money that I came in with, our savings and investments, we didn't go back and move money around and combine all of it into new accounts. We kept all of it separate.

But from our marriage forward, the legal joining forward, we opened a joint checking account that our paychecks get deposited into, and then all of our credit cards get auto-paid from that account. None of my money, quote unquote “my money” from my job, gets shuffled into an individual account anymore. And same with his, with the exception of the retirement accounts that are all individual by nature. And then we pay all of our bills, and then everything that's left over gets invested into a joint brokerage account called TMTKGT, which are our initials World Domination Fund. So we just like shuffle as much as we can every month into that and it works really well for us. We haven't argued about money in the almost two years we've been married since we've switched to that system, and we have a joint wealth planner that we both use together and keep track of things, and there's complete transparency where we're logged into the same Copilot so we know what's going in and out. But it just works for us because we both kind of have the same goals and trust.

Henah: And that's our show. Thanks, everybody. 

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Katie: Okay, Henah, your turn. Go. 

Henah: Our approach is a little different, and I've just found that it works for us in the way that we both approach money. So my husband and I have individual accounts for our own emergency funds and our day-to-day savings and obviously retirement, because to your point, it is individual, but we have joint accounts for shared funds and bills. So for example, we have like a house fund that we move money from our day-to-day savings over into each month. We had our wedding fund, we have a joint credit card for shared expenses, and so that has worked for us because we've been together since I was 23. So we just came from very different financial positions and very different approaches to money, and my mom is a credit manager, obviously like laser-beam eyes on every cent coming in or out, and I think he had more of a relaxed relationship with money. So for me it was, not in a selfish way, but I wanna know where my money is gonna be at all times, and that I know what it's being spent on. 

Katie: Yeah. 

Henah: And we lived together for like four years before we got engaged, so now we’ve lived together for six or seven years. So I definitely recommend having those shared accounts as you're moving towards marriage. I've always learned to just kind of keep an account for yourself in case of an emergency or if anything goes south. 

Katie: I understand why people suggest that you should always have access to money that is just yours. Like if something were to go horribly wrong, someone else can't take away from you. And I completely agree, like that's why we kept our individual accounts separate, was I have checking and savings accounts that are just mine. However, I think it's important to say that even though that is true from an access standpoint, god forbid if you were to get divorced, if you do not have a prenup in place, all of those assets are likely to be split anyway. So just because something is only in your name does not necessarily mean that it only belongs to you if the marriage were to go south. That is something where you are concerned going into a marriage or you're already in a marriage and you just kind of wanna protect yourself and make sure that any money that's just yours stays yours, you should probably have an actual legal agreement in place. 

Henah: I do wanna kind of caveat your point with…that, first by state, right? Your legal status and like how the prenup works…

Katie: I can't remember…there's two types of states. There's like joint property, maybe. 

Henah: Yeah. 

Katie: But basically, yes, if you were to get a divorce but you had no prenup, I'm pretty sure in that type of state, which is most, I think—like Texas is one—they just look at everything you have together and just split it down the middle. So even if an account is just Katie Gatti Tassin's name, it's like, well, she came into that marriage and it became his property too, so he gets half of that or whatever. But it depends. It definitely depends. 

Henah: On the flip side of that, sometimes that's a positive, of being able to say, okay, we split everything in half so their assets are now half mine, but their debt can also become part of yours. So I think that's really important to consider too. But there was also a huge gap in what we were making compared to each other. So we would split our bills proportionally… 

Katie: Oh, that's nice. 

Henah: …for a lot of things. And so if my husband was the higher earner, he would pay more, and vice versa. And I think I was pretty selfish on that level, where I was like, “Well, you make more so you should pay more.” 

Katie: You're like, “I'm not selfish, except when it came to proportionally splitting all of our bills.”

Henah: Except for that. Well, because at the same time, now that we're getting closer, I'm like, “Mm, I guess I'll split half and half.” Like, I gotta put my money where my mouth is.

Katie: You know what's funny? Wait, I hope he doesn't get mad at me for saying this, but when we were dating, I did not have a high salary and he was in law school, and I was like, “Oh, he's gonna outearn me in spades.” So I was priming him for like, “I think proportional, it really makes sense. I really think that's a great way to do it.” And then now that we're at a phase where I do earn more, I was like, “Yeah, I don't know about that.” 

Henah: Yeah. 

Katie: No, but I do think that obviously if everything is combined, if all the money is just going into one account, it's kind of a moot point. But if you are keeping it separate and then putting money in a joint account for those shared expenses, I think the proportionality thing makes sense if the income is lopsided, for sure, because people will switch off. I honestly think that throughout a relationship, each partner will probably take turns making more, but the lower income will suppress the quality of living or the standard of living, because if they don't wanna spend all of their income to try to keep up with something that might be more affordable to the higher earners. So making it proportional can help balance the scales. 

Henah: Yeah, and I think to your point, too, you should try to live off of one income if you can. 

Katie: Absolutely. 

Henah: And go for the lower one. But at the same time, I think that the circumstances that my husband and I had for where we were looking, because we have pets, and because of this and that and where we had to work, like I think we were sort of pigeonholed into a higher income space, and I think that was due to the fact that we had a job in that area.

Katie: Henah lives in the Bay Area. 

Henah: I do, currently. We're gonna move back to New Jersey, but I expect kind of the same thing to happen, which is, my husband's job is always on-site; my job is almost always remote, and so I have more flexibility on where we end up and how low the bills can get. He doesn't, and if he's the higher earner then I think it makes sense that he's paying to be closer to the job that he needs to go for, if that's something that matters to him. 

So we have two different approaches that work for both of us, but I do think it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out what's gonna work, because money is very sensitive. So you kind of wanna approach it from all angles and be really pragmatic about what the partnership is and how you're gonna approach it.

Katie: Could not agree more. I mean, I think “pragmatic” is a great word to use, because ultimately I do agree with the kind of the jokey line at the end of the question that like, there's nothing less romantic than splitting the bill at the end of the restaurant, at the end of the date. I'm like, “Dude.” That was part of why I didn't like doing that. 'Cause I felt, it just felt so ugh. But the pragmatic angle for sure that I totally am all here for is that if you're marrying somebody, or I guess just living with somebody for a long time, where I think the state considers it civil union or whatever it is… 

Henah: Domestic partnership. 

Katie: Yes. You're considered married after you're living in the same place for so long, is ultimately this is a contract with…it's like a business partnership. It's a contract with you, this person, and the government. And even though money is not sexy and it can be very sensitive, it is so worthwhile to make sure that you are at least attempting to be on the same page. And if there are parts of it that you guys disagree on, maybe it is best to keep things separate so that your goals are honored. If you can get conceptually and psychologically on the same page, it makes all the logistical and tactical things so much easier, 'cause you're kind of operating from the same psychological, “Okay, this is our philosophy about money; this is where we're trying to go.” And it just makes it more fun, I think, when you're doing it with somebody else, when you can really get on the same page about those goals. 

Like I know you guys are working on that house fund and you'll have meetings where you're like, “Okay, we can contribute this much to it this year.” And it can really be something that brings you closer, too. So it doesn't have to always be this scary, divisive thing, but it has to start with just completely open communication. 

Henah: Yeah. Transparency is the number one thing for us, too. 

Katie: And that's been marriage advice with someone who's only been married for a year. 

Henah: I try. 

Katie: Ahaha. No, no, no. I was referring to myself. 

Henah: I'm kidding. 

Katie: But I guess it applies to both of us. 

Henah: I've been married two years, so…

Katie: Same. Okay. Well, we both had our pandemic courthouse weddings. 

Henah: We did. 

Katie: And then our expensive regular weddings.

Henah: We also did. Yep.

Katie: Well, thanks for listening to this week's Rich Girl Roundup. As always, we will be back next Friday.