A serious relationship can change a lot in your life. Adjusting your living arrangements, social habits and responsibilities to accommodate the lifestyle of a whole other person can be a real shock to the system. Then there’s the question of sharing finances – if your relationship is fifty-fifty, does the same go for your financial contributions?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to money and relationships. Ultimately, your individual situation will determine what is best for you and your partner, so make sure you take the time to speak with your other half and make those decisions together.

If you feel ready to take the plunge but just want to start with baby steps, here are three ways you can start a financial relationship with your partner.

1.   Open a joint bank account

Opening a joint bank account is a big step in a relationship and comes with both risks and benefits. On the one hand, shared bills and payments may be easier to manage, but allowing someone unrestricted access to your money requires a substantial amount of trust.

Before making any decisions, do a bit of research and talk things over with your partner. If you’re both on the same page in relation to your spending habits and each have a similar income, a joint account may help streamline your finances.

It can however become trickier if your individual attitudes towards spending and saving are quite different or if there is a significant disparity between your income levels. In these situations, it may be better to keep your personal accounts separate and open a joint account for shared bills or a mutual savings goal, such as a wedding or holiday.

2. Apply for a joint credit card

As with a joint bank account, a shared credit card requires a significant amount of trust from both parties. Be sure to carefully consider your options and set ground rules prior to signing up – you and your partner should be clear on what the card will be used for and how it will be paid off before making the commitment.

Whether you decide to apply for a joint card where you’ll each be equally liable for any debt owed or you nominate someone as a primary card holder and add the other partner as an additional cardholder, it’s a smart move to initially request a modest credit limit to provide some level of protection in case things don’t quite go to plan.

3. Merge your health insurance

Switching from singles to couples private health insurance is another way to demonstrate commitment to your shared physical and financial wellbeing. It will also encourage you to discuss important topics like whether you’ll need cover for things like pregnancy.

Have a think about the level of hospital cover you both need and if you require any extras – you may find that your partner has different health requirements or priorities to you.

Your life stage will also determine the type of cover that is best suited to you – a young, healthy and budget-conscious couple will have different needs compared to an older couple looking to start a family. Think carefully about your current situation and your priorities for the next couple of years to ensure you both benefit from your shared policy.

The decision to merge your finances is a big step in a relationship and more likely to be successful if you are honest, flexible and openly communicate with each other. Remember that while there are many ways to handle love and money, there is no set formula, so your decisions are likely to be as individual as your partnership.