When it comes to important relationship milestones, moving in with a significant other gets all the attention. It’s true that sharing the same space with someone is a big deal – and a reliable indicator of a relationship’s future – but there’s an even more important step that usually comes shortly after: combining your finances.
Learning to share your money is one of the most intimate things you can do. By pooling and managing your resources as a team, you’re committing to each other in a deep and lasting way. You might be able to just move out if a relationship falls apart, but disentangling bank and investment accounts is another story entirely.
That’s why it’s so important for couples to learn how to budget together. Here are some of the ways you can make the process easier.
Craft Your Why
Budgeting is like working out. Some people genuinely enjoy the burn and sense of accomplishment they get after leaving the gym. Others may know it’s the right thing to do, but struggle to find any kind of satisfaction from doing it. The difference lies in finding the right motivation.
When it comes to budgeting as a couple, both parties should understand why it’s important. The reason can be something common like, “Have more money to travel,” but it can also be something emotional like, “Pay for our child’s college education.” The more specific and personal your reason, the more likely it is to stick. My husband and I budget so we can save for retirement and other goals, like remodeling our house and traveling abroad. Try to be honest with yourself and don’t judge your reasons too harshly, even if they seem petty or embarrassing. It doesn’t really matter what your reasons are, as long as you have them.
Choose a System
There are many ways to budget, and each couple should find a routine that works for them. These days, lots of people use apps and software like Mint, Tiller or You Need a Budget. Other people prefer a spreadsheet or cash envelope system.
There’s no perfect budgeting solution, especially for a couple with different personalities. The important thing is that the approach works for both parties. If one person has been managing the money by themselves for a while, they should consider switching to a new arrangement if their partner has a strong preference. Take some time to test drive various methods until you find one both of you like.
One thing that seems to work for most couples is to allocate a certain amount of discretionary money for each person. This is money that both people can spend on whatever they want, without judgment from their partner. My husband and I even use separate bank accounts for that money, so our purchases are completely private.
You should also designate a certain time each week or month to sit down and budget together. Some couples even incorporate this into a date night so it’s a fun activity instead of a chore.
Compromise and Communicate
Budgeting as a couple is like a lot of relationship activities – it can bring you closer together or expose your problems. Money reveals our priorities, so it’s important to keep an open mind and avoid getting emotional. When you disparage your partner’s spending, you’re saying his or her needs don’t matter to you.
Use budgeting as an opportunity to talk about your feelings and your dreams for the future. Compromise when you can and acknowledge what your partner does to save money, like batch cooking meals or taking public transportation.
Budgeting should be a team sport, but that only happens when both people realize they’re not competing against each other. It’s OK if it takes some time to find an approach that feels comfortable, as long as you get there eventually.
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About the Author
Zina Kumok is a trained journalist and has covered everything from professional sports to murder trials. Now, she specializes in personal finance and has written for brands and publications such as Mint, Investopedia and Discover. She paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years.