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 the ideal household budget percentages.
To get you and your partner started, CreditNinja has some helpful insights to share.
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 essentially means you are joining forces. For many people, this means no more separate accounts. This means everything from daily spending, monthly income, outstanding balances, 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 a 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 create goals to save money together.
A key part of gaining this control: 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.
You can begin the conversation with outstanding payments (ie. loans and credit card balances). Discussing the accurate balance amounts and reasons may be scary and perhaps at times 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 insurances as you create your shared account.
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.
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 S.M.A.R.T. goals are perfect for financial planning. S.M.A.R.T. goals are “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based.” Let’s set this across the backdrop of budgeting.
Being specific in budgeting 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 exactly which loans you are setting this goal for and when you’d like to achieve it.
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.
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 you and your spouse an assurance that the goal is within reach—no need for miracles. For example, if you make $60k a year and wish to pay off your car, this can be very possible if you’re contributing to your savings.
Compare your spending and come up with a weekly or monthly contribution to your savings and give yourself ample time so you’re still able to eat and afford rent while you track expenses.
A realistic goal may seem like obvious criteria, but truly this can be tough. 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 chose 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.
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 saving 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 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 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. So it’s best to be prepared.
If you’re using budgeting apps to keep track of your income tracking, use the same system to keep track of your monthly spending. If you have a calendar/tracking system, or budget app, 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.
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.
Looking at the big picture of life can be eased by capturing the financial picture and assuring yourselves that it can be managed. The most important thing is that you’re tackling these tasks together, and working on your budget as a couple.