The Semi-Joint Life: How partners can (partially) combine their finances

When partners wish to share finances without going all-in, there is more than one way to set up both individual and joint accounts to maximize everyone’s feelings of autonomy and connection.

I believe that there are four main ways that people who choose to commingle their finances can do so. Here’s a quick recap (more details here):

  1. Divide and Conquer: Separately managed finances
  2. Semi-Joint Life: Some shared expenses managed, but separate accounts
  3. All-In: Everything shared
  4. Allowance: One person takes primary control of all finances.

I will add that these are umbrella terms, and the details can vary quite significantly.

The wide variety of details were brought home to me during a talk I gave recently. We were discussing these different ways of relating, specifically the Semi-Joint Life, and one of the attendees had a view on it that was thoroughly at odds with my own view, and yet totally in line with the definition.

So if you want something else to get you through your Semi-Joint kind of life, here are two ways to make that happen.

(Note: I focus on two people in this example because it seems like a simpler way of discussing the topic, but these arrangements also extend to those in multiple simultaneous partnerships too.)

Partially shared

The point of the Semi-Joint Life is that two partners may want to share some aspects of their financial life, say if they live together and want to go in on things like rent/mortgage, the electric bill, and the couch. After all, it can get a little contrived to have a situation where it’s “my couch” and “your TV”.

(You don’t have to live together to have this financial style, too, although in my anecdotal experience it often happens that way.)

At the same time, there are perfectly valid reasons why these people may wish to maintain separate accounts as well. Perhaps they want a sense of financial autonomy, and don’t need every purchase of theirs scrutinized by another person.

On the other hand, there is also increased complexity with all those accounts (two individual accounts and one shared one, at the very least). And it can be a difficult conversation to determine how much each person puts in, with the risk of resentment there.

This is why there are no rights or wrongs, only what works for the people involved.

More individual than joint

The way I always thought of this arrangement, based on what I typically see partners do, is that the individual accounts involved have primacy. Which is to say, by default, the individual accounts are where most of the financial autonomy happens, with the shared account acting more as a supplement.

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Think of this like a Venn-like Diagram where there are two large circles surrounding a smaller circle. The larger circles represent the individual accounts (not size, just importance or stature), which the middle circle represents the shared account.

The individual accounts take primacy

More joint than individual

But that’s not the only way of thinking about it, as I learned when in a recent discussion about this topic. (I can’t take credit for this insight.)

Another perfectly valid way to have a shared financial situation is to have the joint account be the primary focus, and dole out a certain amount of money to all the people to do with as they wish.

Here, the default is a shared situation, not individual situations. Everyone pools their income and pays bills, and then some money is taken out to be given to the individuals. The difference is subtle, but it’s there.

In this case, think of the Venn-ish diagram as having a large central circle, representing the primacy of the joint account, with smaller circles surrounding it representing the individual accounts.

The joint account takes primacy

More than two ways

The most important part of this decision isn’t what you decide, it’s that you decide together.

This just goes to show how flexible and variable these arrangements can be, and that even within each “umbrella” term, there is plenty of room to express your own unique desires as a partnership.

And you might be reading this and seeing an entirely different way of combining your finances from the ways presented here. And that’s okay!

What matters is that you are intentional and discuss your arrangement with your partner. Don’t let these things unfold organically, because you risk not being on the same page and building resentment. Plus, you miss the opportunity for connection by talking about what really matters to you.

Talking about finances can be a tremendous bonding experience, if done with an open heart.

The most important part of this decision isn’t what you decide, it’s that you decide together.

How do you combine finances? Was this a conscious choice? Let’s chat in the comments below.

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