8 Money Tips for Couples
Moving in with another person and/or getting married throws a wrench into almost every gear in your life. Your routine is suddenly adjusted as you account for someone else’s needs, desires, and schedule. Your spotless home now has another person adding to the mess (or, alternately, the mess that you don’t usually mind suddenly rubs another person the wrong way each day). Inevitably, one of you will eat the last cookie or forget to replace the toilet paper.
It’s easy to see, then, how issues can easily arise when two people decide to combine finances. But are there steps you can take to make the transition a bit easier?
Love and Money
If you’re young when you start managing finances with your significant other, you are probably still figuring out your own path with money. Maybe you haven’t yet bought a home or even opened your first credit card. You might not have ever taken out an auto loan, monitored your credit, or started saving for retirement. This means that you’ll not only learn your way through each of these lessons (with a hefty dose of trial-and-error), but you’ll be doing it with another person.
If you’re older, you likely don’t have the same issues. You are probably established in your career and have already started saving for retirement. You have probably bought a car before and/or tracked your credit score, and you might have even bought a home of your own already. While this gives you a leg up on your personal journey with money, it also presents you with some unique problems when you go to combine finances with someone else: you might be stuck in your ways.
The first year of my own marriage was a big shock. He had to learn how to cut expenses and make money decisions deliberately–rather than just flying by the seat of his financial pants. We started talking about buying a home together, which meant that his credit score was suddenly a matter of interest… something he’d never actively tracked. As for me, I now had to run my big money decisions past someone else, which was a huge adjustment. He agreed to cut the cord and I agreed to give up the weekly cleaning lady–neither of us was spared.
If I could go back and do it all again, though, I would save us both a lot of trouble with the following money tips. With them, new couples can easily make the transition from flying solo to a joint account, and everything that such a shift entails.
1. Establish Roles
The first way to make life a bit easier when combining finances with your significant other is to establish roles. Just as you probably do in your home already–he takes out the trash every Monday, she does the grocery shopping, etc.–you can assign “jobs” with money, too.
This has a two-fold effect. First, it ensures that balls are not dropped, which can be a big source of contention (and also have a negative impact on your credit or bank account). If roles are established, it helps you avoid the issue of, “I thought you paid the electric bill last month!” You will lower the chances of incurring late payment fees on accounts, getting services interrupted, or snagging yourself a late payment notation on your credit report.
Secondly, if everyone has a job in terms of money management in the home, it allows things to run a bit smoother. Maybe one of you is better with managing budgets/investment portfolios/savings accounts. Great! Then that person can be in charge of monitoring the progress and keeping both of you on track. Maybe the other person actually enjoys paying the bills each month–by giving them this job, you ensure that it actually gets done and that no one is resenting their role.
Money “jobs” in the home might all fall in one person’s lap or be split between the two of you. Either way, establishing roles makes the entire process run smoother in the long term.
2. Establish Goals
It’s difficult to make progress (or even gauge the progress you do make) if you don’t have a goal in mind. With money in particular, you need to ensure that you and your spouse are on the same page with where you’re headed financially.
It’s okay if one of you is a spender and one of you is a saver–in fact, many marriages are set up this way and thrive. What’s important is that you both have the same goals in mind and each do your part to work toward them.
If one of you enjoys shopping each month and the other would rather save every penny he or she makes, that might cause small problems. If one of you wants to save for the down payment for a house while the other believes in traveling the world as much as possible while you’re young, you’ll probably run into some bigger problems. If one of you doesn’t have any trouble charging over-budget purchases to a credit card while the other would just as soon cut up every piece of plastic in the house? Another big issue.
Having different spending styles is okay, and even provides a checks-and-balances system of sorts. Even having different priorities is even alright, such as women worrying more about emergency accounts and men worrying more about investments. Just make sure that you and your significant other are at least on the same general page about the future goals, and that both of you are willing to compromise. Otherwise, you’ll run into some serious issues.
3. Figure Out Your System
Similar to tip one, you need to figure out a money system within your home if your finances are going to run as smooth as possible. This can be as broad or detailed as you need, based on what the two of you decide.
Your system might be that one person manages everything money-related; they figure out the budget, pay the bills, and tuck away savings. Or maybe your system is that one of you manages investments, the other tracks monthly bills, and you both share in managing the budget. Whatever works best for your home is the right choice.
You should also decide how the system will work with the actual funds. Will you share a joint account and pay all bills out of that? Will you each retain your own individual accounts? Or will you do a combination of both, using a joint account for household expenses but keeping solo accounts for your own play money?
Again, there’s no right answer here. The system that is best is the one that actually works for you and your spouse.
4. Set a Budget
One of the easiest ways to create money problems is to fail to set a budget. No matter how comfortable you feel financially or how wisely you spend money, your spending can still get away from you before you know it.
For instance, spending an extra $50 a week on groceries can be easy–for me, that’s less than one bag of stuff!–but can set you back over $2,400 a year! That’s money that could go toward savings or paying off debt.
If you don’t have a budget, you also don’t really know how well you’re doing with spending at any given time. There have been times where I felt like I was doing great on fast food purchases, only buying a couple cups of coffee or salads here and there. After checking my spending, though, I found out that those $3 and $4 purchases had actually added up to $300+ for the month.
By setting (and sticking to) a budget, you can easily track your spending and rein yourself in, if needed.
5. Plan for a Rainy Day
The car will break down. The water heater will leak. The dog will need emergency surgery. Sometimes all in the same week.
Life happens, and it doesn’t always fit our budget. That’s why an emergency fund is so incredibly important to have.
The goal for your emergency account is to stash away six months worth of expenses. However, you’re not alone if you don’t have anywhere near that. In fact, a recent survey found that more than 60% of Americans couldn’t cover an unexpected $1,000 expense with their current savings. This means that they would need to borrow funds or go into debt (use a credit card) instead.
One of your goals as a couple should be to pad a rainy day fund. Set an initial goal of one month’s expenses and both contribute to the account until you reach your goal. Then three months’ worth, then six. Before you know it, you will both have a safety net in case of emergencies, offering your family both protection and peace of mind.
6. Be Honest
One of the most detrimental financial moves in a marriage is dishonestly. Whether it’s lying about how much those shoes really cost or gambling away your 401(k), financial infidelity leaves destruction in its path. It starts before you even combine finances, too, in the form of lying about how much credit card debt you actually have to that bankruptcy you filed in your 30s.
Not only will financial infidelity cause conflict between you and your significant other–as any dishonesty will–but it also impacts your entire family’s security. Learn how to be honest with each other about your spending, your past, and your current situation. This allows you to make a plan, change bad habits, and avoid a financial hole that can take decades to climb out of.
7. Allow for Independence
Yes, it’s important to plan for the future. Yes, you’re combining your finances and that requires both honesty and full disclosure. However, you are both still adults who deserve a little wiggle room–and that’s alright.
Tracking every penny you spend or reporting to your significant other every time you grab coffee can be both exhausting and stifling. It can lead to resentment or even force someone to hide their true habits. The best way to ensure that everyone stays content and feels happy contributing to the household goals is to allow for some independence as well.
This might be in the form of play money each month… an allowance of sorts. Work a certain amount into your budget–whether it’s $50 or $500 each–that’s guilt-free. If you want to shop with this money, spend it on nights out with friends, or buy lottery tickets, that’s fine. You don’t have to answer for it. Just like the allowance you got as a teenager, this is your fun money, and you can spend it as you please.
8. Allow for Life
If there’s one constant in life, it’s that things change. Just when you get accustomed to your budget or spending habits, something will inevitably shift. One of you might lose a job, your property taxes might skyrocket, or someone might develop ongoing medical issues.
This is where an emergency account can come into play, for the acute changes. However, it’s important to be able to adjust for life in your ongoing finances, too. This might mean reevaluating your budget every month or two and shifting things around accordingly. Or perhaps it means revisiting your needs as individuals and as a couple, adding in spending for babysitters and date nights if your relationship begins to suffer.
A fat savings account won’t mean much in your 60s if you lived a miserable life to get there. If something isn’t working, sit down with your significant other and figure out what will work. If that means cutting monthly bills in order to save more for a vacation, so be it. If it means downsizing so that you can save for college, alright. Money is fluid, and you can shift your finances around whenever it’s necessary. Just be sure to keep an open mind, and make changes as needed.
Moving in with someone else is difficult. Combining finances, even more so. By utilizing each of these steps, though, you can make the transition as smooth as possible.