The Moneyist: My fiancée makes $90,000 a year. I make $150,000. Should we merge our finances after we get married?

Dear Quentin,

My fiancée and I are getting married in October. She makes $90,000 a year between her primary job and teaching classes as a fitness instructor. I make $150,000 a year (a combination of base salary and commission) from my primary role.

She has roughly $40,000 left in student loans, and we share an investment in a land parcel with a $65,000 loan balance remaining. Both of us actively contribute to retirement and brokerage accounts. We believe we don’t have enough investable assets for financial professionals.

We are both very independent people, so we like having our own spending and investing decisions. We have viewed money so far as “yours and mine” while happily splitting joint expenses and investments like the land. Should we be merging our finances after our wedding?

Soon to be Married

Dear Soon to be Married,

Joint accounts can reduce the hassle of tracking one another’s spending and help you manage your household budget. When couples don’t merge their finances, it’s usually because one partner has a lot of debt and/or has difficulty keeping a handle on their spending.

As we have seen in several recent letters to this column, including $1,500 trips to the mall and spending $11,000 on cosmetics, that’s not so uncommon. These are also not representative of the U.S. population: Men are just as likely to overspend and indulge in financial shenanigans.

Keeping separate accounts is often a choice for very high-income couples who have a complex web of finances, and for those entering their second marriage. There are often more factors to consider with the latter, including inheritance for stepchildren and multiple properties.

Most couples don’t actually keep finances separate, according to this Policygenius poll: 20% said they keep their money management separate, while 30% don’t even know how much their partner earns. What does that tell us? Joint accounts and transparency don’t always go hand in hand.

My recommendation for you and your fiancée is to prioritize your goals, and gradually set up joint savings and investment accounts to achieve those goals. You will, in the first instance, need to cooperate on how much you decide to prioritize luxuries versus necessities and savings.

You will have other decisions to make, such as whether rent or mortgage contributions are based on a portion of your salaries or should be split 50-50 regardless of the disparity in your incomes. Merging your financial goals will naturally lead you to merging your finances.

It does not have to happen overnight or be a zero-sum game.

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