How to Budget as a Couple

Couple with laptop paying bills online in living room
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Budgeting as a couple can be a difficult process. It is hard to move from the mindset of caring only for your own financial needs to balancing the needs and wants of your spouse.

Before you sit down to plan out your budget with your spouse, spend time together talking about your financial habits, goals, and desires. If your spouse is hesitant, you may need to change your financial approach. Here are the four steps that you should take as you set up your budget as a couple.

Determine Your Household Needs

First, you need to determine the household needs. This includes expenses such as rent or mortgage payments, utility bills, groceries, car payments, and debt payments. There is wiggle room on how much you spend on these items. You can save money by buying a less expensive car, cutting back on groceries, or downsizing. But remember, these obligations need to be met before you spend on your luxury or extra items.

  • When you are first married, you might need to adjust expectations so that you are both on the same page. One person may want to save more and live cheaply while the other may be more of a spender.
  • Be sure to prioritize your needs over your wants as you budget together.
  • If one spouse has debt, make a plan to tackle it together.

Create Long-Term Goals

It is important to set goals that you can work on as a couple. These long-term goals should be part of your financial plan. The plan can help you determine how soon you can buy a house or when to start a family. It can also help you plan for retirement or your dream vacation.

When you have specific goals that you are working toward each month, it can make sticking to a budget easier. If you are just limiting spending and saving without a goal in mind, it is easier to justify overspending on a regular basis. Some good beginning goals are to get out of debt and to begin to save for a down payment for your home. You should also make saving for retirement an important part of your financial plan. 

  • Create a plan to pay off your debt. List your debts from highest interest rate to lowest and start paying them off one at a time.
  • Make clear savings goals and determine when you want to hit each of the financial milestones as a couple. A clear plan will help you be ready to buy a home or move onto the next step.
  • Be sure to include retirement as part of this planning process. 

Address Your Individual Needs

Once you have determined your household needs, you can begin to talk about individual needs and wants. These can include items such as gym memberships, clothing costs, haircuts, and other items you may spend different amounts on.

You may be inclined to give your spouse a hard time about not cutting back on the amount he spends on video games, while you continue to spend what he may feel is an exorbitant amount on your hair or vice versa. It is important to recognize that your needs and wants are different from each other. It is important to compromise. You may want to set up an allowance to spend on your wants without being accountable to the other person.

  • Listen to your partner to understand what is important to them.
  • Make sure that each of you has money to spend on the things that are most important to you.
  • As long as each partner is sticking to the budget, there is no reason to argue or fight about how that money is spent.

Set Up Budget Meetings to Track Your Spending

You both need to take part in tracking your spending. A weekly budget meeting usually works for this. During this meeting, you can discuss where you are in working toward your goals. Additionally, you can talk about how much you have left in each category and any planned expenses you may have. Then adjust the categories as needed.

At the beginning, you may need to go over this daily, but eventually, you can do it just once a week. It can help to choose good financial software that you can sync on your phones. As you get better at following your budget, these meetings can be shorter and just as effective.

Keep in mind that when discussing finances, it is important to remain calm. If one spouse makes a mistake, find a solution and move forward. It does not help to dwell on mistakes or get upset.

  • A weekly budget meeting is key to getting your budget to work.
  • Using an app that you can update as you are shopping can help you each stop spending if you are shopping in two different places. 

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Updated by Rachel Morgan Cautero.