A couple of years ago, when my husband and I first started merging our finances, we looked for an app that would allow us to keep an eye on each other’s accounts and understand our overall financial picture without making all our bank accounts and credit cards joint.
I’d read about the concept of a “financial threeway” in Manisha Thakor’s book “On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance.” We both liked the concept of yours, mine and ours, since we’d spent our 20s managing our money separately before we got together.
Because of that, we wanted to maintain some autonomy even while working toward shared financial goals such as buying a house and saving for vacations.
For example, what good is it if we’re both paying for Netflix or other expenses we could share?
Apps tailored to the needs of couples
At the time, we found plenty of budgeting and saving apps but none specifically addressed this need. With most of these apps, we found that if your name isn’t on the account, you can’t add it to your dashboard.
At Fincon (a conference for personal finance writers) earlier this year, I heard about an app called Honeyfi (available for iOS or Android) that addresses this pain point.
That got me curious if other apps now serve this niche.
So, I did a little more digging and uncovered Better Haves (alas, no longer available in the US iTunes store and its social media accounts are no longer updated) and Honeydue (available for iOS or Android).
Since this blog post originally published, I’ve learned about a few other personal apps for couples.
Twine, which is from John Hancock Personal Financial Services, helps couples save for a vacation, a home purchase or other expense with a joint savings account “You can contribute separately but track your progress together,” the Twine website says.
“All it takes is $5 and a couple of minutes to start growing your money,” the Twine site says. For goals in invested accounts, the annual fee is 0.60 percent of an invested account’s average daily balance that is charged monthly.
Zeta, which is in beta (you can join the waitlist), is an app that “helps you stay on top of your finances together by helping you understand where your money is going.” In one place, you can track all of your accounts – whether they’re your own or held jointly with your spouse or partner.
When I first asked around for other examples on social media, I received some skepticism in response.
Why can’t couples just use one of the budgeting apps that already exist for individuals?
Others wondered: Do they really need a special app?
Yes! I insisted. Budgeting as a couple isn’t the same as solo budgeting.
Scott and Bethany Palmer, co-founders of the Money Couple, agree with me.
How couples handle budgeting
Scott Palmer says issues such as financial infidelity and lack of transparency in your relationship around money can be marriage killers. “We love these apps so much because it takes that out of play,” he says.
Money disputes are a leading cause of divorce even for high-earning couples, so it’s important for both people to get on the same page.
“One person says brew coffee at home for 25 cents, and the other says I can’t live without my Starbucks,” Bethany Palmer says. “Simple things like that are tearing our money relationships apart.”
Apps like Honeydue and Honeyfi promote communication around spending decisions. Both allow you to sync credit cards and bank accounts to your dashboard, mark them as joint or individual and choose if you want your partner to see transactions, balances or both.
Viewing balances but not transactions or blocking certain transactions might be helpful for the account you use to buy gifts for your partner, for instance. In both apps, you and your partner can comment on each transaction, opening up the lines of communication around money.
Both parties must work together
While the Palmers support these apps and the communication they foster, they also stress that both partners must be on board.
“We are seeing couples fight now about the fact that one person is committed to the app, and the other person isn’t committed to the app,” says Bethany Palmer.
If you’re more gung-ho about it, don’t bring up transactions or questions at every opportunity, because that’s likely to annoy your partner. Instead, she suggests setting aside time once a week or once a month to discuss financial matters in real life.
The Palmers also stress the importance of reading app reviews and choosing a trusted app that fits your needs.
“Where do you struggle the most as a couple, and what are your money goals?” Bethany Palmer asks. “Those two things are absolutely crucial to determining which app is going to be best for you.”
Test drives of Honeyfi and Honeydue
When I tried out Honeyfi and Honeydue, I found both stressed budgeting and automatically categorize transactions, but someone who wants the ability to set up recurring bill reminders (for just you or both people) might favor Honeydue, while someone who wants more emphasis on tracking their net worth might like Honeyfi.
I also noticed that Honeydue uses the more secure two-factor authentication with your cell number when you’re setting up your account. Couples might also find that they prefer one user interface over another.
‘Save these apps’ for marriage
Although the Palmers support transparency around money, they also caution against too much transparency too soon. While some couples live together or even buy real estate as a couple before marriage, they don’t recommend using these apps before tying the knot.
“We tell people all the time ‘Save these apps for when you have a legal piece of paper that legally binds you as a couple,’” Scott Palmer says. “You don’t want them knowing everything on your credit card balance and suddenly you break up, they know your super personal information.”
With divorce, there’s a legal process for dividing up assets, but break-ups with unmarried partners can fall into more of a gray area.
If you are sharing expenses with a partner before marriage, apps like Splitwise (available for iOS and Android) might be more suitable, since they’re designed for friends or roommates and don’t divulge as much personal information.
But for couples who are ready for this level of transparency, “we couldn’t be more supportive of the idea of a tool to be able to bring your finances together,” Bethany Palmer says.
See Related: 5 apps that pay you to get active, Financial infidelity: 12 million Americans admit to hidden account, 3 ways couples who live together can protect their finances,