How Joint Accounts Can Help You Spend Smarter

Merging a household comes with a multitude of tasks and challenges, almost all of them worthwhile but work nonetheless. Even when you're making joint decisions about money, though, you don't entirely lose the desire to treat yourself. A new study suggests that being in a relationship can help you budget better — especially when, as the Spice Girls once sang, two become one.

Researchers at Indiana's University of Notre Dame wanted to know more about how we decide to splurge on ourselves when we pool money with another person. Through a series of experiments, they noticed a pattern: It was easier to justify useful purchases ("gas, insurance and electricity") than fun ones ("eating out, alcohol, vacations, and hair/beauty items") when you're spending from a joint account. It makes intuitive sense on a logical level, but the choice to focus on essentials was consistent across all kinds of people.

At heart, it's not surprising. After all, marriage has been a financial arrangement far longer than a romantic one. Even today, we often decide whether to date someone based on financial data — and we learn good money behaviors from our partners way before we decide to move in together. Being able to talk openly about money is one key pillar to a strong and communicative relationship, especially since it's so easy to fall into habits with a partner.

Getting on the same page with impulse purchases matters, although don't give them up entirely. "Hedonic purchases are associated with happiness," said study author Emily Garbinsky in a press release. Money can't buy you love, but it can help with some other things.