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When we get married, we have an important decision to make. Do you merge your money or keep it separate? Well, what if there was an option in the middle?
I’ve invited the Founder and CEO of Zeta, Aditi Shekar to discuss different ways to manage your money as a couple. We’ll also learn about how their new financial tool is supporting couples with this big decision.
Andy Hill: What are the different ways we can manage our money in marriage?
Aditi Shekar: One of the things we’re seeing, especially with millennials, is that they’re totally redefining how money and relationships work. And one of the most important aspects of money in relationships is how they actually merge their finances.
And we’ve seen 3 discreet models sort of appear in this segment:
All in it Together
The first is the one that we all kind of know about which our parents used to combine all of it together. Put it into one account, have a checking account and a savings account, and everything was just available and accessible to everybody.
The other model that we’re seeing, which is the total opposite of that, is that people are keeping it totally apart. So couples have their own sort of saving accounts, their own checking accounts, their own investment accounts, and their own debt.
Yours, Mine and Ours
But the third model that we’re actually starting to see emerge is what we call the “Yours, Mine and Ours” approach, where couples are pooling some of their resources together, and they’re choosing to keep some of them apart. So it’s a totally new model that’s really been driven in popularity by our generation (Millennials) in particular.
What are the pros of the “All in it Together” model?
The “All in it Together” model is really an easy model to go after. It allows you to treat everything like you’re a team, and you as a team are trying to figure out how to navigate your finances together.
There are also a lot fewer accounts to manage. Much easier to just have one savings account, one checking account, and one investment account and hopefully one debt account. And as a result of that, it’s a lot easier to track what you’re earning, what you’re spending, and what you’re saving.
But one of the values of trying some of those other models is you get benefits that we’ll talk about that are totally, totally different than what you’d get access to in “All in it Together”.
Related Article: 3 Reasons Newlyweds Should Merge Their Money
What are the benefits of “Yours, Mine and Ours”?
So full disclosure, that’s the approach that my husband and I took. And one of the reasons that we took that approach and we hear other couples take that approach, is that it allows you a little bit more independence along your personal preferences.
In the “Yours, Mine, and Ours” approach we see two different styles. There’s one style where people will pool their income into a shared checking account and then pull out personal allowances for themselves. And there’s another style where people will put everything into their personal accounts and pool a shared allowance together. Either of those approaches is totally dependent on the couple and what they want, but one of the things that it allows you to do is really have control over where your money is going.
Our generation is more of a dual-income couple than our parent’s generation. 70% of our parents had a single income. Whereas in our generation, 70% of us have two incomes. And so what our partial model allows couples to do is have that control, but at the same time be able to build shared assets and shared liabilities that they can feel as a team on together.
And one of the things that really surprised me is we’ve actually heard a lot of women recommend this approach to their daughters because they encouraged them to have a little bit of financial independence in their marriages.
Does there have to be separate accounts to make this work? How about just separate budget line items?
Totally fair question. And we’ve seen both. We’ve seen folks who are like, “I just need a separate budget line item.”
But what we find is sometimes having transparency into somebody else’s transactions, even if you have the separate budget line item. You’re still able to say, “Hey, did you just spend $300 to get your hair done? That is insane.” And there are judgments in that already.
Whereas if it’s on a totally separate account and the transactions aren’t visible to your partner, it changes the game.
How about “Completely Separate”? Who does that work for?
We’re big fans of the totally separate approach when you’re living together. A lot of our generation is moving in together well before they get married and they have pretty significant shared expenses like rent and utilities that come up. And so we’re huge fans of this approach because we don’t actually want you to put any of it together until you’re really married and start holding joint accounts.
However, the caveat here is I’ve seen many, many married couples continue this approach into their marriage. And what we find them do is even if they maintain separate accounts, they’ll trade off taking responsibility over large expenses.
So we’ve seen some couples say, “I’ll handle childcare if you handle housing or I’ll handle that if you hand some other aspect.” And so they create this sort of divide and conquer dynamic while still maintaining full control over their finances.
So you can think about these models as almost like, it’s a pattern of control, right? We’re putting it all together, you lose the most amount of control in some ways. And keeping it all separate, you maintained the most amount of control. And there’s a balance that each couple has defined for themselves.
Related Article: 16 Questions to Ask Your Partner Before You Get Married
How could a couple transition from “All in Together” to “Yours, Mine and Ours”?
I would rock the boat the least at first. Just start by creating what we call the personal allowance model, which is taking, say, 10% or 20% of your income and putting it into these personal buckets for yourselves. And you can make your own account to do that.
You can also put it on a prepaid credit card or a debit card if that’s the way you want to go. And just start to get a sense for it. Try it for a month or two months and see how you guys feel about it.
Does it make you suspicious of each other? Or do you guys actually like that independence? And if you do, then you can start to evolve into different aspects of the “Yours, Mine, and Ours”. But I wouldn’t make massive changes.
What we find with couples, is that they actually ease themselves into these dynamics rather than trying to make leaps.
How does Zeta help with this conversation?
What’s interesting is when we started Zeta, we thought we were just going to go after the “Yours, Mine and Ours” couples. We thought, “Oh, those are the guys that really don’t have tools for them. Why don’t we build that out?”
But what we’ve been totally surprised by is that the couples on the platform do all kinds of things. There are people who merge everything together and there are people who keep everything apart. So it’s really incredible to be able to serve all of those different couples.
And one of the other things that we’ve realized is that couples are really coming to us at the end of the day not because we do the numbers for them or we help them with these sort of details. The number one thing they just really want help with is communicating better with each other. They’re saying, “Just help us talk about this more. Help us figure out how to navigate some of these decisions. Help us ask each other about money in a way that’s constructive and productive rather than accusatory or judgemental.”
And so what we’ve done is we’ve really focused on the idea that in a modern day relationship there are two people making decisions about money … not one.
And that these two people have to actually interact and ask each other questions about specific transactions or even have independent goals that may not be connected to their shared goals. That’s something that we’ve really, really tried to emphasize because it’s really something that’s near and dear to us to fix in relationships all over.
Is Zeta a budget tool? A net worth tracker?
The simplest way to describe it is it’s having a CFO for your family. A Chief Financial Officer who helps you guys figure out all your finances.
And that includes everything from tracking your net worth to helping you understand your income, your spending, and your saving patterns. And then it also dives into the sort of work evolved around money like managing your bills, figuring out whether you’re on track for your goals and helping you sort through your debt.
All of this is sort of taken over and managed by Zeta. And our goal is to really give you back more time to spend your life the way you want it.
I understand Zeta is free. How do you make money then?
I think it’s a really, really important question to ask. And I should also emphasize, the reason we decided to make Zeta free was we wanted to make financial help available to any couple of any income, irrespective of where they lived and how much money they earned.
However, we do plan to make money, and the way that we’re going to do that is, essentially, creating value-added services that we feel that couples will opt in for. So whether that’s helping you automatically save, or pay off your debt, or even taking over some of those money chores that we talked about. Paying bills, for example, is something that I would happily pay someone else to do. And so those are the kinds of things that we really want to introduce so that couples can opt in to that option but don’t have to do it right out of the gate.
I’m assuming users will be connecting accounts and providing you access to their data. How will you protect their information?
Customer trust is our north star at Zeta, so we don’t do anything that we think will violate that trust in any way. And the sanctity of that data is incredibly important to us.
We start by leveraging bank-level security and encrypting all of the data that you guys give us in any way, shape, or form. And then we also try to avoid collecting any data that might be something that hackers would want. For example, when you link your account to us, we actually use a third-party tool that is an industry standard that many many banks and other financial institutions use so that we never collect your credentials, and we can never touch or move money on your behalf.
And then the last piece of it is we just are very committed to not selling your data to anybody, and that is something that is very rare. It’s hard for any FinTech tool to really look at you and say that with a clear conscience. But that’s something that’s really important to us. We’d rather you keep your own data rather than sell it out to everyone else.