How to Manage Separate Finances in a Marriage

Sharing money is sharing power, and there is a way for couples to maintain their individual power while working together as a happy, equal economic team.

I’m a huge advocate for separate finances within a relationship.

Sharing your money is sharing your power, and I believe there is a way for couples to maintain their own power as individuals while still working together as an economic team.

In a country where only 48 percent of couples see their marriage through to their 20th anniversary, for many couples separate finances simply make fiscal sense.  

But there’s a problem. Just because your finances are separate doesn’t mean you’re not a team. Yet almost every budgeting app out there makes it near impossible to work on joint goals if you don’t have a joint bank account. There’s so little information out there about separate finances when compared to joint finances that figuring out the best way to manage them can feel like you’re wandering through a dark forest with lots of trees but no answers. 

Today, we have a simple suggestion for you as you work to manage your separate finances as a couple: Spreadsheets. Especially when those spreadsheets are powered by Tiller.

Table of Contents

  1. Intent is more important than the way you do or don’t join your finances.
  2. Completely separate, but completely transparent.
  3. I want my partner to be able to see my financial data, but not edit it.
  4. Separate, but we have a joint account for shared expenses.
  5. Our only separate finances are our retirement accounts and personal savings.
  6. Spreadsheets are the best method to track joint finances.

Intent is more important than the way you do or don’t join your finances.

Before we begin, it’s important to note that there is nothing inherently right or wrong about how each couple decides to manage their finances. As long as everyone is coming from a healthy place and power imbalance or trust issues are not a motivating factor in choosing your methodology, remember that there are “pros” to every system of managing your money in a relationship as well as “cons.”

What might be a way to exercise abusive behavior in one relationship may be a perfectly healthy system for two other individuals in their own, unique relationship.

Completely separate, but completely transparent.

When you decide to keep your finances completely separate, you can either openly share smaller details like transaction history and savings rate or not. If you choose not to, that’s fine. It’s what I chose to do in a past long-term relationship, and one thing I have no regrets about is how we banked.

Some couples, though, want the autonomy, but also want to view those exact numbers as they independently manage their own money to work towards collective goals.

If you decide this is the best system for you, you can simply change your categories to denote whether they belong to partner one or partner two. Then, after your accounts are linked, Tiller can help you create a spreadsheet like this one

I want my partner to be able to see my financial data, but not edit it.

interracial savings
Close up shot of an interracial (male Caucasian and female African) hands putting coins into piggy bank.

In some situations you may want your partner to be able to see your financial information but not edit it. For example, maybe you both have your own bank accounts, budgets and Tiller accounts, and you’re okay sharing your sheet. But you don’t want your partner to accidentally mess up your budget allocation while they’re in there. 

In these situations, you can simply share your Google Sheet, ensuring that you change permissions as you do. Click ‘Share,’ type in your partner’s email address, and use the drop down menu to select ‘Can Edit,’ ‘Can Comment,’ or ‘Can View.’ ‘Can Edit’ may be the default setting, so it’s important to change it.

Because this is your partner and you’re likely sharing this information to encourage communication, allowing them to comment is likely productive. You can also restrict them to view-only access, though.

Separate, but we have a joint account for shared expenses.

Many couples choose to maintain separate finances while concurrently maintaining a joint account for shared expenses, such as household costs and anything related to children. To implement this strategy, Tiller allows you both to maintain your own accounts and separate spreadsheets, sharing only the sheet which logs joint expenses using the same permission settings we discussed in the previous section. To get an even more in-depth rundown on permission and sharing settings, check out this article

When you’re sharing, the best way to do so is between two Google accounts. This helps keep your personal information secure by ensuring the right person has access to your spreadsheet rather than just anyone with the link. Even if you and your partner only use your Google accounts for this purpose, it’s a step worth taking. And a free one at that.

Our only separate finances are our retirement accounts and personal savings.

Maybe you’re closer to the other end of the spectrum and pour all of your finances together save for the retirement contributions your employer takes out and personal savings. 

I use the word ‘savings’ loosely, as this money is essentially just a set amount of money each partner gets every month towards personal savings or spending, no questions asked. It allows you to practice autonomy, buy birthday presents that are actually surprises instead of being accidentally disocvered on joint bank statements, and/or have confidence that you have established your own, independent financial security.

In this situation, you’d simply set the permissions to share most of your spreadsheets so the other partner can edit and comment. Then, simply ensure the spreadsheet logging your banking history in that separate account is set to private if that privacy is something you desire.

Spreadsheets are the best method to track joint finances.

While there are a couple of apps popping up here and there that finally address joint finances, spreadsheets are by and large the best way to go. They’re incredibly customizable, allowing you to tailor your joint and separate finances to exactly the right admixture that’s right for you as a couple.

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Brynne Conroy
Motivation for women in business & on the homefront. Smart money management for success & true wealth. Author of The Feminist Financial Handbook.
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