Creating a budget is a critical step toward your financial goals, but it’s especially relevant for couples who are having trouble managing their money. Budgeting as a couple involves a variety of challenges that single people don’t have to worry about.
This article will cover some of the most effective ways to manage their budgets and keep track of their money each month. Keep in mind that consistent, gradual changes are more likely to succeed over time than immediate transformations—don’t expect to completely change your money mindset overnight.
→ Related reading: How to Create a Budget That Works
1. Develop Common Goals
Most financial experts recommend working toward long-term financial goals, and couples need to come up with a set of shared goals that keeps them both motivated to stick to their budget. Your goals could be anything from early retirement to buying your own home or starting a family together.
Without common goals, it’s difficult to stay committed to your spending targets and hold each other accountable for saving more money. It’s also impossible to determine whether you’re succeeding if you don’t have a measurable goal.
Let’s say you want to take a trip twelve months from now that will cost $3,000. You’ll reach this goal in one year’s time if you save $250 per month. With a clear goal of $250, it’s easy to identify how much you need to cut back spending and identify your successes and failures. This is a great starting point for your new budget and helps you feel like you’re making progress toward a larger goal every time you save money. To reach your goal you could get rid of cable, switch to a cheaper wireless provider, reduce grocery expenses, eat fewer meals at restaurants, or take advantage of stay-at-home date ideas rather than going out for an expensive evening.
2. Compromise Individual Needs
Once you’ve identified common goals, it’s time to start looking for ways to adjust your individual spending and saving habits. Both sides need to be willing to compromise some of their desires in order to reach their mutual targets.
Couples often disagree about which things they can do without, so it’s critical to respect your partner’s needs and understand that they want to spend money on certain things that you don’t think are important. If you pool your earnings together, consider giving each person an allowance so that they can spend money as they see fit without having to explain purchases to the other side.
On the other hand, keeping your money separate doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss your finances openly. It’s crucial for each side of a relationship to hold the other accountable and help them adjust their habits to improve the couple’s financial future. Make sure to keep these conversations positive and supportive rather than letting them devolve into a fight about money.
3. Reevaluate Your Progress
Starting a new budget can be exciting, but things sometimes get more difficult after this initial feeling wears off. It’s tough to stay consistently motivated every month, and it’s easy to fall back into your old spending habits if you lose sight of your goals.
With that in mind, it’s critical to consistently meet with your partner in order to review your recent statements and talk about upcoming financial obligations. These meetings put you on the same page and prevent small issues from going unaddressed and becoming major problems.
While you might need to talk more frequently over the first few weeks, you should be able to meet just once per week to discuss any recent changes. The most important thing is to find an approach that you’re both comfortable with and that aligns with your common financial goals.
4. Track Expenses Together
There’s nothing wrong with monitoring your spending separately and then talking about your progress during budget meetings, but some couples find it easier to track their spending in one app so that they’re always aware of the latest changes. You can connect your bank accounts to a shared account using most budgeting services.
→ Related reading: 7 of the Best Budgeting Apps
Keeping track of your budget in a shared account is a great strategy for couples who are working toward a common goal. If you’re trying to save $10,000, for example, you can monitor your joint progress rather than comparing results separately.
5. Give Yourself Time
Everyone wants to reach their financial goals as soon as possible, but you shouldn’t expect setting a budget to solve all your financial problems overnight. Unrealistic expectations only lead to frustration, and it’s more difficult to reach your goals if you aren’t committed to the long-term process of adjusting your money mindset.
If you save $150 instead of $200 in your first month, for example, don’t get in a fight or give up on budgeting because it didn’t work immediately. Instead, acknowledge the progress you have made and look for ways to build on those changes.
If you’re consistently having trouble reaching your target, review your statements to see what went wrong and consider adjusting your goal if it no longer seems attainable. While larger goals sound great, it’s much better to identify a more manageable goal that you can stick to each month.
6. Think About Major Purchases in Advance
Couples often make large purchases together including things like homes, cars, and travel. Instead of trying to budget for all of these things in the same month, try to identify them a few months in advance so you can spread the financial impact over a longer period of time.
If you want to buy an $800 TV, you could budget for it by saving an additional $100 in the eight months before the purchase rather than going over budget by $700 in that month. Large unplanned purchases can destroy a budget and make it extremely difficult to get things back on track.
Depending on the specific purchase, you might be able to give yourself even more time by looking at different financing options. The more time you have to make the payment, the easier it will be to adjust your budget.
7. Start an Emergency Fund
While that strategy is perfect for purchases you can predict, some expenses are entirely unplanned and don’t give you any time to change your budget. The best way to prepare for these unexpected circumstances is to set up an emergency fund to cover anything that might come up.
You might have trouble building your emergency fund if you have other financial obligations, but you should try to save at least $500 before thinking about anything else. A small amount of emergency savings is arguably the most important step toward financial security.
If you’re managing debt, for example, you might be tempted to pay off your balances before focusing on saving. On the other hand, an emergency fund will prevent you from going further into debt and losing the progress you’ve made.
After you’ve put together around $500, you can start putting that extra money toward things like debts and retirement savings. You should always prioritize your 401(k) if your employer matches contributions—these programs give you the opportunity to effectively double a portion of your income.
Once you’ve settled other obligations, you should continue to build your emergency fund until you can cover several months of expenses in case you lose your job or experience another life-changing event. Starting your emergency fund today will help you reach this goal more quickly.
Many people assume that budgeting as a couple is the same as budgeting on your own, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. These tips will allow you to meet the unique challenges that couples face when budgeting together and create a financial plan that aligns with your shared goals.