Budgeting as a Couple: How to Make it Work

Money plays a huge role in all of our lives, but it can become such a weird, complicated subject when it comes to relationships. Did you know that money is one of the leading causes of stress in relationships and is considered one of the main reasons many married couples end up divorced?  In my opinion, this is a sad statistic.

I am no relationship expert, nor am I a money “know-it-all”, so I won’t pretend to know the reasons why money is such a painful point in so many relationships, or what exactly couples fight about when it comes to finances.  I can, however, tell you about my own personal experience with my own relationship.  It was actually my fiancé’s idea to write a blog post on this topic.

“Maybe you should write about overcoming the difficulty of budgeting with a new partner,” Danny said.  My snarky response was, “Maybe you should write it since you’ve had the most difficulty with it.”  Good thing he laughs at my sarcasm.

I have always been “on top” of my finances.  I work hard at saving and I always try to make really wise spending choices.  I set goals and do what I need to do to achieve them.  I love organization and lists, so budgeting and tracking my expenses is how I keep things in order.  But, sometimes I can drive myself crazy because I try really hard to stick to a budget, that I often feel deprived, from you know, living.

Danny will tell you that he has never been that great at saving money.  Until he learned the value of budgeting and paying himself first, he just concentrated on living in the moment and having a good time with friends and family.  He mostly worried about working hard, making sure his bills were paid and eating good food.  Although he had a clear vision of what he wanted his future to look like, he just took each day as it came. While I’ve always admired his fun nature, flexibility and ability to just go with the flow, he will say he never lived comfortably when he was on his own, and felt nervous when it came to his finances.

One day, my organization met his flexibility, and I will admit, it was challenging for both of us.  I don’t remember exactly when we had a real “money talk”.  It was probably around the time we decided to move in together and opened a joint savings account to save up for a down payment.  When we finally bought our townhouse together, we started to actively budget and manage our money together.  I’ve always done this my way, so learning to do this with another person was the hard part.

When I asked him what tips he has for couples who are struggling with budgeting together, he said patience, communication, and finding a system that works for both people.  These may seem like obvious tips, and they pretty much are, but if they were easy to implement, you wouldn’t be reading this post right now.

Patience

When you start budgeting and managing your finances with another person, you’re mixing your habits and perspectives with someone else’s, and these habits and perspectives are formed over the course of many years from his or her own experiences and upbringing.  Be patient with one another and try to understand where each person is coming from.  Rather than take the “my way or the highway” approach, remember that you are a team.  Frustration will come, but how you deal with and react to that frustration matters.

Communication

Knowing how money can potentially cause tension in relationships, open communication is crucial. Danny and I have always been pretty comfortable talking about money.  Now, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but we’ve both put great effort into making money just another piece of the puzzle because we don’t want it to be a bigger determinant of the success of our relationship than it needs to be.  When discussing money with your partner, don’t get defensive. Actually listen to what he or she is saying, and wait to form your response until it’s your turn to talk. Try your best not to blame or criticize.  Don’t use the other’s spending habits as a weapon.  Communicate without judgment and be honest (Read: 5 dos and don’ts of discussing money with your partner)

Finding a system that works for both of you

I know how we manage money isn’t the only way to do it.  It’s just the way it works for us.  With patience and communication, you should work to find the system that works for you and your partner.  Again, without the “my way or the highway” approach.  If one way doesn’t work for you both, try another.  There is nothing wrong with experimenting with different money management techniques and budgeting strategies to find the one that works best in your relationship.  You may have separate accounts and split everything in half so you work with your own budget, have your own accounts, but also a joint account to pay for joint expenses, or just combine everything together and work with one budget.  It really doesn’t matter as long as it works for you.

If I had to add to Danny’s tips, I would say compromise and keep your goals in mind. 

Compromise

When couples start managing money and budgeting together, they each have to come to terms with the fact that the way they managed money in the past as one person, may no longer work for two people. People don’t like change, but some change is necessary to succeed as an individual and as a couple.

Danny probably sometimes wants to tape my mouth shut when I talk about budgeting and planning too much, but I know he appreciates this part about me and knows that it will only help us get where we want to go.  Just like I sometimes I don’t understand how he can be so nonchalant about freely spending money, but I know I need to recognize that money is made to be enjoyed, and being too tight with it will only cause both of us to get frustrated.

Keep your goals in mind

When discussing money with your partner, it’s also important to set goals.  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”  When planning your finances, consider where you see your relationship going and use money to get you there.  Make your money work for you, don’t let it work against you or the success of your relationship.  If you find that you both have completely different goals for the future, then another tougher discussion is in order.

Now, if there is financial infidelity going on in your relationship (i.e. your partner racked up $60,000 in credit card debt without your knowledge or has a savings account with hundreds of thousands of dollars in it that you never knew about), that’s a different story.  But, if you’re just having a hard time managing your finances with your spouse or partner, it’s important to get on the same page and implement some of these tips, together.

Need help getting started on a budget? Check out How to create a successful budget and stick to it.

Do you have any of your own tips for budgeting in relationships? We’d love for you to share them. Leave them in the comments below.

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