How modern couples manage joint finances

Whether you’re polyamorous or monogamous, married with kids or parenting pets, money matters in every relationship. But the way partners organize their finances can differ greatly.

6 min read

Can talking about money with a partner make you…happier? Current research suggests that the answer is, perhaps surprisingly, “yes.” Of course, every person and every relationship is unique. The most important thing is that partners understand their financial habits and find a setup that works for them. So, which financial model suits your relationship? Read on to find out!  

Talking about money — still a relationship taboo? 

Every family clashes and disagrees sometimes — after all, we all have our own opinions, experiences, and expectations. However, there’s one controversial topic that many partners seem to avoid: money. But why do we argue passionately about the correct way to load a dishwasher, and keep quiet when it comes to something as crucial as finances? 

Societal norms are one major reason. In Germany and many other countries, it’s often considered rude to discuss salaries or, even worse, talk about financial stress. Admitting to feelings of shame or envy is another financial faux pas. As a result, even people in long-term relationships sometimes don’t know how much money their partner makes or how much debt they have. 

Furthermore, for generations, men were solely in charge of the family finances. It only became legal in 1962 for women in Germany to open their own checking account; finally starting in 1977, married women could get a job without their husband’s written consent. 

As inconceivable as this might seem from today’s point of view, the past continues to influence people’s way of thinking, at least subconsciously. For many of us, our parents or grandparents followed the traditional division of domestic labor. These old gender norms and ideas still have the potential to affect our self-image today — and our relationships, too.  

Luckily, issues like the gender pay gap have become a matter of public debate. And thanks to intuitive banking tools and easily accessible information, it’s much more convenient to handle finances these days, both on your own and with others.

Managing joint finances: better together or separately?

To decide how to handle shared finances, it’s important to first take a closer look at your own financial habits. How do you handle money? Do you budget like a pro or fall prey to impulse shopping? Are you on top of your finances or clueless about what’s happening in your bank account? And how about your money mindset — is it positive or negative? 

From strategic to easy-going, there are many different financial traits and personas. Some people even think that star signs can affect money-management styles. Truly understanding your individual habits and goals is essential when you’re organizing finances as a couple. Once you know your similarities and differences, you can find out which model suits you best — and navigate potential conflicts with confidence.  

That’s because research also shows how important transparent communication is when you bank together.   

How money management affects your relationship

Merging finances positively affects a couple’s relationship quality — or so new research from Indiana University suggests. The longitudinal study, published in 2023, followed 230 newly wed couples over the course of two years. It found that those who merged their finances completely showed no significant decline in relationship quality. Couples who kept their personal checking accounts alongside the joint account weren’t as happy as before, according to the study.    

This might be explained by the high level of transparency, scientist and lead author Jenny Olson points out. People who manage finances together really need to engage and talk with each other openly — which is an essential skill for a functioning relationship in general. It helps create a sense of “us” and of a shared future. On top of that, partners need to be accountable for their spending, and therefore might make more conscious buying decisions.

Still, correlation doesn’t mean causation. Does a couple's financial management really affect the quality of their relationship? Or is it the other way around? It’s a fair question. If couples have communication or trust issues, handling their finances together probably proves difficult, too. People who already communicate effectively might also be more relaxed about money matters.

The kind of relationship you have plays a part, too. Ethically non-monogamous relationships and other structures can make joint finances more complex, but might be just the right relationship model for all parties involved. There are couples that do everything together, and those that love to have their own space. Some couples don’t even sleep in the same bed because of things like shift work or loud snoring. But that seemingly unromantic choice might be the key to a happier relationship for some people — after all, good sleep is priceless. Something similar might also be true for finances. 

Keeping separate accounts doesn’t necessarily mean that someone’s got one foot out the door or that there’s no communication. In the end, it’s all about what serves you best. Let’s take a look at some of the options.     

How couples organise their finances

Almost 100% of people in Germany over the age of 15 have their own bank account — it’s a prerequisite for financial participation and inclusion. For the majority of people, closing your personal checking account isn’t really an option even if you have a joint one. In fact, according to a 2016 survey, only 5% of young adults aged 18 to 29 had a joint account, while 70% banked on their own, and 24% had a joint account alongside their personal checking accounts. This latter figure was slightly higher among people between 30 to 49 (28%). 

Among survey participants aged 50 or older, significantly more people had joint accounts only (40%). These numbers highlight how much society and gender roles have changed in recent decades. Among Gen Z and Millennials, separate accounts and the three-account model are the most common. 

  • Separate accounts are especially popular among young couples. This makes sense, since joint finances aren’t really a factor in the early stages of a relationship. However, specific costs can be managed together, even with separate accounts.
  • Shared sub-accounts, for instance, come in handy when couples share savings goals such as planning a vacation or renovating a camper van. Plus, shared sub-accounts can be managed by more than two people — perfect for a group trip.
  • The three-account model is especially useful for couples that live together. You can pay joint expenses like rent, internet, or groceries from the joint account, and use individual checking accounts for personal expenses — or to buy gifts, so nothing spoils the surprise.

Your joint account with N26

No matter how you want to handle money in your relationship(s), N26 is there to help. Thanks to our free joint account, you can set up the three-account model and effortlessly manage shared expenses from your smartphone. Get your rent, internet bills, and utility costs debited directly, make purchases with your phone or by card, and use the Insights feature to analyse your spending and discover where you could make savings. 

Real-time push notifications make sure you’re in the loop whenever money enters or leaves your account. The N26 app gives you instant access to your bank statements wherever you are. And as legal account owners, both of you have total control and transparency. No need to trek to your bank and deal with a lot of paperwork to open a joint account, either — N26 is 100% mobile. All you need is your smartphone and a few minutes’ time. 

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