Money issues being the number one reason why married couples fight may not be very surprising. What may surprise you is that, while most married couples do try to address their financial issues regularly, many of them simply don’t know how to do it.
The problem is that most couples haven’t thought things through strategically, so they leave themselves open to emotions and reactive planning which really have no place in sound financial management.
The time to sort everything out and forge a money management strategy is at the beginning of a marriage, where newlywed budgeting should take place. On that note, here are some tips for financial planning for couples:
Introduction to Budgeting 101 for Couples
1. Make it Yours, Mine, and Ours
A lot of newlyweds look at the merging of their bank accounts as a ritual of commitment and trust. The problems tend to arise over issues of control and micromanagement of each other’s spending habits. More bickering takes place over the checkbook than is necessary.
While a joint account is a good way to manage “joint” expenses, each spouse should have their own account to manage their own “personal” expenses. This could include a budgeted amount for any non-essential spending.
2. Manage Your Debt Together
It’s not at all uncommon for one or both halves of the couple to come into a marriage with debt. Problems often stem from one of the spouses not fully disclosing just how much debt they’re bringing with them.
The best place to be before marriage is debt-free; but, if one or both spouses have debt baggage, the couple should treat it as family debt and set a goal to pay it all off as quickly as possible. It is important to note that separate debt brought into a marriage is treated as separate debt in a divorce.
3. Create a Strict Spending Plan
The typical portrayal of a fighting couple often involves overspending by one of the spouses – the wife buys a $300 pair of shoes “on sale” for $200, or the husband surprises his wife with a 70-inch flat screen TV to watch a football game – we’re all familiar with the theme. But overspending can also occur on everyday purchases by both spouses.
The absolute best thing a couple can do before they get married is to establish a spending plan that incorporates a savings goal. If you establish your spending plan around a savings goal, the goal becomes your top priority and your first expenditure. Once savings are set aside, the rest of the plan is based on your other spending priorities.
If your spending plan comes up short, you don’t cut the savings goal, you cut back on other expenses. When you strictly adhere to a savings plan, it is easier to prioritize your spending and stick to a planned budget.
4. Prepare for the Unexpected
Life happens, and much of it is unexpected. When two people get together, the unexpected can happen twice as often. Generally, when people aren’t prepared for emergencies, they tend to make bad choices which are compounded when neither spouse can agree on the solution.
Better to prepare for the unexpected because it will happen. Setting up a six- to twelve-month emergency fund should be the first priority for newlyweds. After that, making sure they each have the proper protection in the form of life, health, and disability insurance.
5. Don’t Keep Secrets
Nothing can devastate a marriage more than infidelity, and the second worst kind is Financial Infidelity. Couple budgeting is important. We’ve all heard the stories about the wife with the hidden Gucci addiction or the husband with the chronic gambling problem.
These are only symptoms of larger problems and, when they are kept from each other, the problems eventually become destructive.
The most common deception on the part of both spouses is the price cover-up. Although we all might do it once in a great while, couples who constantly fib on their spending or finances are destined for major problems.
Money issues should be at the top of a couple’s weekly communication, which should consist of time carved out for planning, accountability, and encouragement, not fighting.
The biggest mistake many couples make is to dive into marriage and then address their finances as things come up. If you know ahead of time that money issues are the root of marital strife, why not spend as much time as needed at the beginning of the marriage to put a good money management plan in place.
Thanks to the internet and smartphones and apps starting a budget has probably never been easier. And honestly, starting a budget doesn’t mean you need to start counting every single penny that goes into or leaves your bank account (though you can if you want!). Once established, you can use it to just generally gauge your financial health.
The Basics of Budgeting
The first step to figuring out how much you can spend is figuring out how much you make. Since most bills are monthly, it’s helpful to think in terms of monthly pay.
If you have a salaried position this is very easy. Look at your last two payslips, add up what you made after taxes, and there you go: That’s how much money you make in a month.
Things get a little more tricky if you’re an hourly employee. If your hours aren’t regular, then it’s worth averaging out the past few months, or even going off your leanest month, just to be safe.
Half, or 50% of your monthly pay should be geared towards “necessities” — that is rent, bills, food, and home stuff like toilet paper and soap. A fifth, or 20% should go towards savings and paying debts. The final third, or 30% is your fun money — money you can spend to go out, or buy a new bike or things that you definitely do not need but certainly want.
Once you have your budget down on paper, you may be trying to figure out how to track your budget. You can track your budget with paper for a while using a Financial Planner, but once you get into the swing of things, it’s nice to have a program that tracks your budget more efficiently than you can on pen and paper.
If at any point, you find that once you start to track your budget on an app or a website, that you stop updating it, then abandon the app or website and go back to paper. The best way to track your budget is to use whatever method you will actually do. There’s nothing wrong with a paper budget.
That being said, I love the convenience of using a program to do the work for me. There are 3 budgeting programs that I recommend:
#1 Mint: It’s free and easy to get started, and they connect to almost every US financial institution connected to the internet. In just minutes, you’ll see where your money is going and get ideas on how to stretch it farther. Mint automatically updates and categorizes your information. From your bank accounts and credit cards to retirement accounts and more—they’ll crunch the numbers as they happen so you know where you stand.
#2 Honeydue: To get started with Honeydue, individuals simply need to download the appropriate application for their mobile device, open the app, and enter the information requested. The initial user then adds information about his or her partner, including a valid e-mail address, and a message is sent to them so they can also download the app and start using it. The mobile application is free for all users.
#3 CalendarBudget is a web-based online personal finance software that runs in your browser or mobile device. It is designed to be easy to use and to allow you to both TRACK and PLAN your money in the past and future. It’s an easy to use online money planner with no complicated system that takes weeks to get used to – just walk up and use!
But, if you prefer the good old paper budget where you don’t have to go through the hassle of struggling with technology, I highly recommend THE LIVING WELL PLANNER to help you create a budget, set monthly goals and manage your finances better.
About The Author
Jeff Gitlen is a content associate on Lendedu. He likes traveling around the world, playing golf, and crying with Tom because of the Jets.