As if dealing with the stress of our own bank accounts wasn’t enough, there’s a lot of money “noise” that comes with being in a relationship. When the honeymoon period fades (sad!) and things get more serious, it often feels less natural to let one partner or the other foot the bill for a dinner date. Instead, you find yourself arguing over how best to split every meal, constantly wondering whether you and your S.O. are really squared up overall. As you integrate into each other’s families and friend groups, you may also stumble over how best to equitably finance birthday gifts, engagement presents, or wedding travel. And all bets are off the minute you decide to move in together. Suddenly, you’re struggling to figure out who pays for the paper products versus the cleaning supplies, and how you can be sure all parties are reimbursed to the exact penny for their equal share of utility bills. Sounds romantic, huh?

While your relationship has clearly progressed to a fairly serious level, we understand that you may not be ready to go ahead and join all of your finances. Opening up official joint accounts is generally a step that comes with marriage, if at all. Still, we want to help ease the money stress in your relationship by pointing you in the direction of some strategies and tools that may help you better tackle the tensions between you and bae. After all, there’s no reason that you should be constantly wracked with guilt and stress over money matters in your love life simply because you’ve opted to keep your finances largely separate. We applaud your independence — but we also want you and your partner to be able to take a deep breath after a date instead of playing that race-to-the-wallet game that we all know so well. Read on for four suggestions that we hope will help you put some of that money “noise” behind you, while also preparing you for the day that you and your S.O. decide that it might be best to fully merge your finances. Always better to ease into things, right?

1. Divide responsibility with clear ground rules. If you’re feeling ready to dip your toe into the pool of joint finances but aren’t quite sure where to start — or whether your partner is even on the same page — invite your S.O. to discuss it over a bottle of wine and some snacks (duh). Assuming your special someone wants to give it a try too, you can start putting together a plan based on what each of you can contribute, with the goal of putting those awkward and all-too-familiar moments of “who should pay for this?” to rest. Perhaps you’ll start covering all dinners out, while your significant other will take responsibility for all groceries moving forward. If you live together, maybe it would be easier for one partner to write the full rent check, while the other foots the bill on all other expenses. Setting these ground rules will eliminate a lot of unnecessary financial banter, and making them a more seamless part of your relationship will serve you well in the future.

2. Start with a joint credit card. If you and bae are living together and constantly divvying up receipts for paper towels and toilet paper — or if you’re still not cohabitating, but are fed up with regularly arguing over who’s paying for dinner or how you should split the cost of wedding gifts — it may be time to open a joint card. You can do this without actively joining your accounts. Randomly choose which one of you will play primary cardholder, but ensure that you each have a copy of the plastic to swipe. Each month, the primary holder will pay the bill directly from their account, but only after receiving half of the balance from their better half. This is a fairly simple way to get a feel for joining your finances, and it will get you accustomed to splitting shared expenses 50/50.

3. Use Zelle to transfer your money. Just launched in September, the Zelle app for iOS and Android is a great tool for swapping cash between partners. Unlike other money transfer apps, Zelle’s transactions typically happen within a matter of minutes, so you and your significant other can practice your financial sharing in real time. Many banks are partnered with Zelle, so you may have already noticed a “Send Money With Zelle” icon in your mobile banking app! Use the platform to pay your partner your half of the credit card bill mentioned above, or to more quickly reimburse them for shared expenses if you’re still not quite ready to share a card.

4. Get more comfortable with financial conversations. In order for you to move toward blended finances (to the extent that you’re comfortable, of course), you need to get more confident talking money with your partner — especially if you’re planning to build a future together. The more you open up about your financial situation to your S.O. — unpaid student loans and all — the less stressful money talks will become, and the more natural it will feel for you to implement our other suggestions or come up with your own solutions.

How do you and your partner manage joint finances? Tweet us @BritandCo!

(Photo via Getty)