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Budget for couples make a plan with your spouse

Budget for Couples

You can make a budget plan with your spouse by deciding how you will combine your bank accounts and then calculating how much joint income you have. Knowing how much money you two have for saving and discretionary spending can make it easier for you to set financial goals and strategize how best to achieve them. 

Many couples join forces by combining their income. In fact, 52% to 65% of couples in Western nations report using only joint bank accounts.1 Sharing one account can make it easier to establish a financial plan with your spouse. 

Keep reading to learn how to budget and set financial goals with your loved one. 

Essential Budgeting Strategies for Couples: Navigating Finances Together

CategoryTips for Couples Details 
Financial Goals Set short-term and long-term goals. Short-term: Savings for a vacation, paying off a small debt. Long-term: Retirement savings, buying a home. 
Income Management Allocate income proportionally. Instead of a 50/50 split, allocate expenses based on each partner’s income percentage to maintain fairness. 
Emergency Fund Build and maintain an emergency fund. Aim to save at least 3 – 6 months’ worth of living expenses to cover unforeseen events. 
Expense Tracking Regularly review and adjust expenses. Monthly check-ins to review spending patterns and adjust as necessary. 
Investment Planning Collaborate on investment decisions. Discuss and decide on investment strategies together, considering risk tolerance and goals. 
Debt Strategy Prioritize debt with a plan. Focus on high-interest debts first (avalanche method) or smallest debts for quick wins (snowball method). 
Savings Contributions Automate savings contributions. Set up automatic transfers to savings accounts to ensure consistent savings growth. 
Discretionary Spending Set limits for individual discretionary spending. Agree on a monthly limit for personal discretionary expenses to maintain control over individual spending without compromising personal freedom. 
Financial Literacy Invest in financial education together. Attend workshops, read books, or take online courses together to enhance financial knowledge and make informed decisions. 
Communication Establish a “no surprise” policy on spending. Agree to discuss and approve any expenditures over a certain amount to avoid financial surprises and maintain trust. 
Lifestyle Adjustments Align lifestyle choices with financial reality. Regularly assess lifestyle choices (e.g., dining out, subscriptions) to ensure they align with current goals and capabilities. 
Disclaimer: The information provided in this chart is intended for general guidance and educational purposes only. It should not be considered as financial advice, and couples are encouraged to consult a financial professional for specific advice tailored to their individual circumstances.

The Importance of Budgeting and Setting Financial Goals

Some of the best memories in life are made with a partner. Traveling, choosing a place to live, raising pets, raising a family. These are the milestones that people look forward to. They’re the reason parents work so hard to provide for their families—so their kids can experience the same kind of love but even better. Creating a budget for couples is essential for organizing your finances together.

As wonderful as planning a future with your partner is, it can also be stressful. It’s one thing to have your personal finances under control and make your own financial decisions. It’s a completely different thing to do the same with a spouse. 

Balancing income, necessary bills, and general living expenses can be tough enough on your own. And it’s likely that by the time you’ve found someone to share a life with, you may have just gotten the hang of it.

Think of budget planning with your partner as learning a new skill: it might be difficult at first, but with compromise and practice, it helps make your life the best it could be. Luckily, there are easy ways to figure out your ideal household budget percentage.

Joining Forces

So the wedding is over, and you’re back from your honeymoon. Or maybe you decided to nix the honeymoon to put the funds towards a home. Whatever the case may be, there is likely some recovery work to be done. 

Joining lives means you are joining forces. For many people, this means no more separate accounts. This means everything from daily spending, monthly income, installment loans, student loans, and everything in between is now the responsibility of the two of you.

Say you both spend your own money on the wedding or home or have already begun setting funds aside for your joint account. All wonderful things to be able to do, but now you need to start the process of gaining control over both your finances and creating goals to save money together.

A key part is communication. It’s no secret it can be difficult with varying opinions. Making sure that you and your spouse are communicating about where funds are coming from and going is the first step in the right direction. It’s important to start on the same page, and you do that by communicating. 

Planning for the Future

This communication can begin with taking a detailed look at both your incomes. Being in a dual-income household can be very exciting but also very tricky. Yes, collectively, there is more money involved. But there may also be more bills. It’s important to discuss your existing finances at length before diving into how you can form a single plan. It’s also crucial to avoid common budgeting mistakes.

Outstanding Monthly Expenses

You can begin the conversation with outstanding payments (i.e., loans and credit card debt). Discussing the accurate balance amounts and reasons may be scary and embarrassing. But it’s all very necessary.

Once you’ve been able to discuss outstanding balances, you can dig into the nitty-gritty of what needs to be paid. If you both have car payments, that comes with maintenance and insurance. Many times, to be budget-forward, couples will opt to keep one car and sell the other—or sell both cars and get something more cost-effective. If this is the case, refinancing, and selling ability is another conversation to have. 

Other payments can include housing and living expenses. It’s smart to talk about what spending habits will affect your partner. If you typically spend more money on food than your partner, then that’s a good place to start balancing the budget. The same goes for other items like toiletries, clothing, etc.

Plan for Savings

Once you’re able to plan out where those expenses go, you can proceed to plan where and when to set aside funds for savings. 

For example, one category of savings could be for retirement. You should discuss whether or not either of you has begun a retirement savings plan with your past or present employer. Savings for retirement in this manner usually involve an account called a 401k.

A 401k is a savings account designed for retirement funds. Many companies will allow their employees to invest some of their paychecks prior to taxes being taken, making this type of account contain financial assets one can use to invest in the future.

If you are unsure about whether or not your company provides this, refer to your offer letter or speak with an HR representative at your company. While you’re speaking with your HR representative, be sure to mention in the conversation that you now are in a dual-income married household, as that will make significant changes in both your retirement plan and health/life insurance as you create your shared account.

You may wonder when the average American starts to worry about retirement. The truth is, you should start saving as soon as possible to secure your financial future. If you don’t have a 401k, inquire with your HR representative to get started. 

Another thing to consider in planning for your savings is whether or not you wish to set large purchase goals. This can be anything from a future vehicle, a home, or a big move. It’s important to hold each other accountable if these savings goals are to be met. 

Setting Goals

Something you should take from your personal budgeting habits into your budgeting-for-two experience is goals. Goals not only allow you to become more organized in your spending and saving, but they also give you realistic views of where your money can be spent.

You may have used this in school or work, but setting SMART goals is perfect for financial planning. SMART goals are “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based.” Let’s set this against the backdrop of budgeting.

Make Sure You and Your Partner Are on the Same Page

Being specific when budgeting with irregular income can mean several things. Many people utilize spreadsheets and itemize their daily spending. You can do the same with your goals. Itemize them and give them specific purposes, timelines, and supporting factors. For example, say you have a big-picture goal to pay off one of your student loans.

To get into the mindset of specificity, you can instead say: I’d like to pay off my subsidized loans from my first two years of college by next December. This way, you know which loans you are setting this goal for and when you’d like to achieve it.

Measurable

When you set a measurable goal, you are giving yourself and your partner a marker by which you will know your goal is achieved. For example, if you are saving for a home, say you’d like to set a goal to save for your down payment by putting $2000 into a separate savings account every month for the next 8 months.

Should you stick to that cadence of saving, you will have met your measurable goal. You broke down what you needed for the down payment, calculated a realistic monthly contribution, and set a time by which you would reach the necessary amount. 

Achievable

Setting an achievable goal is much more difficult than you may think. Many goals feel achievable when you say them out loud, but it’s important to evaluate them to make sure that they really are.

When you make a goal achievable, you are giving yourself and your spouse an assurance that the goal is within reach—no need for miracles. For example, if you recently got a better-paying job and want to pay off your payday loans, this can be very possible if you’re contributing to your savings.

Compare your spending and decide on a weekly or monthly contribution amount to add to your savings. Make sure you give yourself ample time so you’re still able to eat and afford rent while you track expenses.

Realistic

When you set a realistic goal, this means that in order to achieve it, you may need to give a few things up. Things like time, if you choose to work longer hours at work for overtime. Or even selling a valuable piece of property to continue contributing to your savings. 

Though sacrifice may be involved, it’s important to realize that you can achieve your goals if you are giving yourself realistic expectations.

Time-Based

Just because a goal may be lofty doesn’t mean you can keep moving the deadline forward. One part of setting goals is holding ourselves accountable. It may even be wise to get a calendar to make your goal time-based. As you create a goal, make sure you provide yourself with a reasonable amount of time, but stick to it.

If you keep moving the finish line, your chances of that goal being achievable start to dwindle. For example, if you are making it a goal to increase your vacation budget by $10k next year, you need to have a starting time for your savings and an end. By starting with $200 a month for the next two months, I can slowly increase my contributions to meet my goal by next summer. 

Strategize Discretionary Spending as a Couple

As you begin to discuss your financial means at length with your partner, set goals, and organize your daily spending, you’ll find that reaching success in your budgeting journey doesn’t come without a strategy.

When it comes to strategizing for larger goals, you are simultaneously preparing yourself and your family for emergencies or unexpected events like job changes, moving, or illness. Though it may seem strange to think so far into the future, the reality of this is that emergencies hit you when you least expect them. So it’s best to be prepared.

If you’re using a budget app like Mvelopes or YNAB to keep track of your income, use the same system to keep track of your monthly spending. If you have a calendar/tracking system to keep an eye on a savings account you’re using for home purchasing, the best budget app for this is the same one you’re using to track your other large purchase goals. 

Keeping the same mindset of consistency, be sure you and your partner are regularly communicating any changes in your plan in addition to regular status updates. Commit yourselves to weekly or biweekly tracking “dates” (a fun name for a budget meeting) and set rewards for yourselves for staying on track.

For example, if you’ve been consistent in your $500 weekly contribution towards a vacation fund, reward yourselves with a nice dinner—maybe even keep it in the theme of your dream vacation. As silly as it may sound, little celebrations keep motivation high.

FAQ: Creating Spending Categories and Budgeting For Couples

What is the role of a Certified Financial Education Instructor in helping couples create a budget?

A Financial Education Instructor can provide expert guidance to couples on how to effectively manage money, create a joint budget, and improve their overall financial health. They offer personalized advice tailored to the couple’s financial situation.

How can budgeting apps assist couples in managing their finances?

Budgeting apps help couples track their combined monthly income, categorize spending, and monitor debt payments. Many apps allow synchronization across up to five devices, ensuring both partners have access to their financial information.

What are the benefits of opening a joint bank account for couples?

Joint bank accounts simplify managing combined income and expenses. It allows for easier tracking of joint budgets and is useful for handling regular household expenses and savings goals.

Why is it important to categorize spending when budgeting as a couple?

Creating spending categories helps couples understand where their money goes. It allows them to identify necessary expenses versus discretionary expenses, aiding in making informed decisions about where to cut back if needed.

How should couples calculate their after-tax income for budgeting purposes?

Couples should calculate their income by subtracting all taxes from their gross income. This figure is crucial for creating an accurate budget, as it represents the actual amount available for spending and saving.

What strategies can couples use to manage debt effectively?

Couples should prioritize high-interest debts and consider consolidating debts for easier management. Regularly reviewing and adjusting their budget to allocate sufficient funds for debt payments is also key.

Can budgeting apps be used on multiple devices?

Yes, many budgeting apps offer the functionality to sync across up to five devices. This feature allows both partners in a couple to access and update their financial information in real-time.

What are some tips for couples when discussing finances?

Couples should approach discussing finances with honesty and openness. Setting regular meetings to review their financial situation, respecting each other’s viewpoints, and working together to set financial goals are essential practices.

How do couples benefit from creating a joint budget?

A joint budget helps couples align their financial goals, ensures transparency in spending, and aids in managing joint expenses more effectively. It’s a tool for planning future savings and investments together.

Should couples combine all their income in a joint checking account?

Whether to combine all income in a joint checking account depends on the couple’s preference. Some may choose to pool all their resources for simplicity, while others might keep separate accounts for personal expenses and a joint account for shared expenses.

CreditNinja: Budget Plans for Couples 

Budgeting is work, just like a relationship. You keep yourselves afloat with communication, consistency, and rewards. As overwhelming as it can be, remember to take your time, slow it down, and take deep breaths. And if you’re struggling to pay the bills, there are online bad credit loans available.

At CreditNinja, we know how important it is for borrowers to have access to financial information. That’s why we answer various personal finance questions on our blog. You can learn how to reduce your monthly expenses, consolidate credit card debt, and set up a joint checking account

References:

  1. One Key to a Happy Marriage? A Joint Bank Account. │ Kellogg Insight
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