You Don’t Need a Joint Account, You Need a Joint Spreadsheet

The one tool you need to share finances: a joint spreadsheet.

Nothing in the world of couples and money is more divisive than the “should you and your long-term partner share finances, and how” issue.

There’s the “If you don’t have 100% shared finances, are you even really together?” camp, and the “I’ll never share a bank account, ever” camp, and a ton of other camps in between. And for a lot of people, they’re pretty convinced that their camp is the Only Right Camp (which, let’s be real, doesn’t exist in personal finance).

So because I’m all about ~controversy~ these days, I figured I’d share a look into how one engaged couple handles their finances.

Spoiler alert: it’s me and The Fiance.

But the real reason I’m sharing our approach is that it’s equally useful if you share all of your bank accounts, none of your bank accounts, or something in between.

All you really need is a joint spreadsheet.

First of all, who is this for?

This isn’t just a post for couples, by the way. This spreadsheet-based approach is good whenever you’re making joint purchasing decisions with other people.

You could use it to share groceries and bills with a roommate, you could use it with family to fund and plan a family vacation… basically any time you’re collaborating with other people and their money for more than one purchase.

PS. I made a simple version of a spreadsheet to get you started, and you can grab it here. It’s set up for two people, which is most of the time who uses it, but feel free to take it and run with it for multiple people if you’re up for editing!

So, what is this exactly?

No matter how you structure your accounts, if you’re sharing the decision-making power over a pool of money, a joint spreadsheet is an invaluable tool to help keep track of that money and where it’s going. My preferred tool is Google Sheets, since you can access the spreadsheet, and give other people access, directly in your web browser.

And yes, you got me, I’m just using this as another post to convince you to track your spending—but stay with me here.

Let’s say you aren’t up for sharing accounts, but you and your partner (or roommate) decide that between the two of you, you’ll spend $500 on shared food for the month.

If you’ve got a spreadsheet set up, you can track your spending (seriously just do it) every time you buy something you consider part of that budget.

Restocking bananas? Totally goes in the food budget. Getting your nails done? Probably not.

All you have to do is add the transaction to the spreadsheet, including as much or as little detail as you want.

True life confession: one of my line items in our shared spreadsheet, to describe a trip to Sobey’s, literally said “I don’t even remember, probably vegetables”. Still went into the “Groceries” category, still had an accurate number… but my description was a tad vague. Got the job done though.

You’ll both have full visibility

Here’s the thing about sharing spending with one or more other human beings: unless you have some kind of futuristic notification system set up, you probably have no idea how much the other person is spending until the end of the month when it comes time to settle up or check in on the numbers.

Hi, “read your grocery receipts” is actually one of my best real-life ways to save money on food, so you might not even know how much you’ve spent on food in this situation if you’re not paying attention.

If you update a shared Google spreadsheet every few days, both people can easily see how much has already been spent, and on what, this month.

Which will help you do the next thing.

You’ll be able to make better decisions

When you’re planning to go out at the end of the month, or buy someone a gift, or buy a new winter coat, or do a massive Costco run, how often do you know how much money is left in that spending category in your budget?

Hmm? What’s that? Never?

If you’re not tracking your spending, that’s totally normal. Mental math is not easy, and neither is keeping a mental running tally of your spending in every budget category for an entire month (which actually sounds like the Worst Game Ever).

But if you did have that information at the tip of your fingers, let’s say in some kind of shared spreadsheet, you could easily check to see if this is going to be one of those “let’s buy all the things!” Costco trips, or more of a “we are STICKING TO THE LIST” Costco trips.

Both valid and useful Costco trips, but one has much more of a place in a tight end-of-month budget.

You can divide things “fairly”

Oh boy, this is so not where I lay down the law about how you should share expenses—although I’ve always been a fan of the percentage-based system if there’s a sizeable discrepancy in incomes.

What counts as (and what feels like) a fair split of expenses is really, incredibly personal, and should be something you decide with your partner, not with a stranger on the internet (that’s me).

That said, if you’re using a spreadsheet, you can make the math of it a h*ck of a lot easier once you’ve made the choices.

All you have to do is add up who paid for what, and apply the percentages you’ve decided you each want to handle. You can set it up so that the spreadsheet will tally up what each partner already spent, and it’ll give you an exact dollar amount that one of you needs to send to the other to “settle up”—or how much you need to withdraw from your joint account to do the same thing.

(Or you can download the simple tracking spreadsheet I made for you, and all you’ll have to do is update the percentages. Easy peasy.)

Is this exactly what we do with our money?

Yes and no.

Our spreadsheet is the heart and soul of our shared daily finances (and it’s fancy af and The Fiance must really love me because he built us such a great spreadsheet) but we do also have a joint account, a joint budget, and joint savings goals.

The joint account is one we both contribute to, based on our shared budget for the month—which we came up with together. We get paid into our individual accounts, and we also save monthly in separate savings accounts for shared goals, like funding the wedding (which yes, we also budgeted for together).

But if you asked me to rank the importance of each tactic involved in our joint financial lives, the spreadsheet is hands-down at the top of the list.

See, thanks to the spreadsheet, we could get rid of our joint account tomorrow if we wanted to, and all we’d have to do is update a few cells in the spreadsheet, and a few transactions linked to that account.

The decision-making, and the money-allocating, all happens in the spreadsheet, so the other pieces matter a whole lot less.

But the “how” isn’t all that important

The biggest, most important—and hardest—part of sharing finances is always going to be balancing two different people’s wants, needs, and spending habits within a not-unlimited amount of money every month. Not to mention the whole Trust Thing.

The accounts and the tools? Totally secondary.

Keep that in mind the next time someone tries to tell you that your chosen setup is inherently wrong… except me, because you need a spreadsheet, or at least a way to stay on track with your spending. (But realistically, people get a lot more righteous about joint accounts than they do about spreadsheets.)

So while I couldn’t care less how many accounts you share, take this post as just another piece of my lifelong mission to get people to track their spending.

It’s good, and it will help you make better money decisions—either as a duo, or on your own. Do it.

Desirae is on a mission to demystify and un-boring financial info for millennials, so that we can all save more money, spend on stuff that matters to us, and still have a latte or two along the way. Money is literally why we can have nice things, and Desirae is committed to helping make sure you know just enough to make the right calls for you. (She’s also committed to her expensive dog, her side hustle, and her retirement fund.)

11 Comments on “You Don’t Need a Joint Account, You Need a Joint Spreadsheet”

  1. J Savvy

    You’re right, you know. It literally doesn’t matter how you share your finances if you don’t actually know what is going with them them. I’m recently married and, even though we have been talking about and sharing our finances since we were engaged, are still figuring out what works best for us.

    It’s always a learning process!

    1. Desirae Odjick

      Thank you! (And congrats on your newlywed status, btw!) But yeah, it’s always going to be something that needs attention – every time something major changes (getting married, buying a house, changing spending habits, etc.) your budget needs to adjust, and when that budget is between two people, talking about it and tracking it will be a lot more helpful than a joint account, haha. And nothing against them either! They’re just not a magical solution to everything 🙂

  2. Mrs. Adventure Rich

    I could not agree more! OUr first move post-marriage was not to move banks or open joint accounts… it was to link up our Mint account into one so we both had full visibility to all accounts, balances, and transactions. It was a great way to show our trust and begin to communicate about finances on a deeper level.

    1. Desirae Odjick

      I love it! And yes – YNAB and Mint are also both excellent options to get the same kind of results! Communication is always the most important thing, which means conceding that spreadsheets might not be everyone’s favourite thing, lol.

  3. Felicity (@FelicityFFF)

    You might be a random person on the internet, but you’re one of my favorite random people on the internet. 😉

    100% agreed that accounts don’t really matter, but shared conversations/understanding about money is key (coming from someone in a relationship where everything non-retirement-specific is joint).

    We used to track grocery purchases item-by-item for a month or so, to get a more fine-grained view of how we spent that money, including pretty charts. ^_^ — a bit extra to do all the time, but it was enlightening. I will not divulge the Oreo % of the budget. 😉

    1. Desirae Odjick

      Awwwwww right back at you! (I mean hello, anyone who chooses their dog as their display picture is automatically up there on my list.)

      And omg I simultaneously do and don’t want that level of insight, because I think a hard conversation about how much a Certain Someone likes apples would be brought to the forefront. Healthy, so like, I’m not really complaining, but dang. We probably spend $50 a month on apples, and I wish that was an exaggeration!

  4. ASHLEY

    I agree. Talking money with your person is important, particularly when sharing a household.
    I do share a “household” joint account with my partner. We opened it when we bought our house together. Along with this was a beautiful budget spread sheet. Our household join account covers our mortgage, taxes, utilities, internet, groceries, and household maintenance. We each contribute to this account biweekly, and have budgeted for our contributions to allow for growth. Eventually growing enough to facilitate the Bathroom Reno we hope to complete this winter.
    Having one combined account allocated to our household allows for my partner and I to still have financial freedom, and spreading the financial joys of home ownership between us.
    Having one combined account allocated to our household allows for my partner and I to still have financial freedom, and spreading the financial joys of home ownership between us.

    1. Desirae Odjick

      That sounds like an awesome system Ashley! Although I’m biased because it’s totally what we do too, haha. It’s super helpful when managing a household together!

  5. james@marcopolomoney

    I am loving your blog. It is interesting when we delve deeper into finances, it isn’t often just about the money, is it? This is especially true in the case of couples and their shared money. I really like the transparency and honesty of the spreadsheet set-up, it is a good method for clarity of communications between partners while allowing the independence of separate accounts (if desired). And it is important to have a bit of flexibility in there too, so it isn’t just about the numbers (which can be forgotten by the more “logical” out there), but what the numbers represent – a sharing between 2 equal but different partners in a relationship. This also leads to really great habits as “the family” then grows in net worth, and all parties being on the same page.

    As a side note, something that people often forget, is that once you are common-law or married, all property is shared. So even if one person has money holed away, and the relationship goes south, that other person still has right to it (dependant on lawyers decisions mind you). Thus an even greater reason to be transparent from the beginning.

    1. Desirae Odjick

      That was one of the points made in an article I read recently, about why combining money after marriage is a good option – it basically argued that anyone keeping finances separate “in case of divorce” or “to maintain independence” is living in a legal lala land, haha. Which is totally true! Laws will vary based on where you are though, which is why if you’re not married or protected by law this can be a great middle ground. (Also, I have to say, with all the legal paperwork I’ll have to do after we get married, sheer laziness and an existing good system might keep our current set up in place for a good long time! Every time I read about the hassle of name changes I basically want to fall over and die.)

      And thank you so much for the kind words! My running joke, especially when someone asks me to do mental math or to immediately know some obscure number, is “Yes, I blog about money, but it’s about feelings, not numbers.”

  6. Peter

    I agree that every couple does things differently. I will point out that in my life & professional career, I have seen many many more divorces and separations amongst couples who did not who merge their finances in a joint (or mostly joint) account situation.

    ie, the “one foot in” situation typically led to a lot more thoughts throughout the relationship of “me” vs “us” and this eventually led to finances becoming an additional source of stress as life situations changed over the course of the relationship. And then was the catalyst for them deciding to split when other challenges threatened the relationship… You saw it all the time where one was driving a new car, the other was driving a beater because that was all they could afford. Or vacations became a source of contention because one wanted to splurge, and the other couldn’t afford their 1/2…

    For my spouse and I, we simply took a snapshot financially of what we entered the relationship with, went with a Joint account setup for everything – and eventually over time phased out the individual accounts as they became redundant. Obviously this happened over years, but honestly this is what really committed us to our relationship. There was no more contributing “my” share – we simply contributed what we made and made joint decisions on expenses. It meant that my spouse was able to go back to school full time at one point stress free – because she never worried that she wasn’t contributing “her half”.

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