Even the most successful married couples experience some difficulty navigating their finances. Especially at the beginning of a relationship, it can be a challenge to get on the same page when it comes to matters of money.
There are so many elements that make up one’s own financial philosophy, including how you were raised, how much you make, and your future financial goals. As your relationship evolves past the point of debating whether or not you should split the bill and into how much you need to save in order to buy a house, how you handle finances both individually and as a couple becomes more important.
"Finances can be a challenging subject in marriage because many of us didn’t grow up in an environment where we could have relaxed, open discussions about money," says Winne Sun, a financial advisor. "Still, to this day, some think it’s taboo to talk about things such as how much you paid for [something], your credit score, financial blunders, etc."
Meet the Expert
Winnie Sun is an award-winning financial advisor and managing director of Sun Group Wealth Partners, a trusted financial consulting firm on the West Coast. She has more than two decades of experience in managing money for high-net-worth individuals, as well as advising companies and small businesses.
It’s rare for couples to have the same ethos regarding money. In most cases, someone is always the spender while the other person is the saver. But even if you don’t have the exact same outlook on money, it is possible to get to a level of financial compatibility that helps you navigate these difficult topics with ease.
As couples deepen their commitment to each other through marriage, money troubles will inevitably come up. With the help of our expert, we’ve rounded up our best pieces of advice for dealing with marital finances to continue leading a happy, healthy marriage.
Why It’s Important to Handle Finances as a Couple
Money is the number one issue married couples fight about. "Money is a very personal topic," says Sun. "[When] asked about their finances, [some people] fear being judged, possibly for having debt, feelings of not earning enough, or not being able to provide."
As a couple, you both enter into the relationship with preconceived principles on how to spend and save your money. It’s important to come together with your partner and decide on a new financial strategy together that works for your lifestyle and goals. Couples can achieve more together, like pay off one partner’s student loan debt faster to avoid costly interest fees, or save up and splurge on a dream vacation. Marriage can be the key to unlocking financial freedom if you’re willing to work together on a game plan to save for your future together.
Financial Tips for Married Couples
Here are our top tips for managing your money as a newly married couple.
Find the best way to combine finances with your spouse.
There’s no singular "right way" to split bills with your spouse. Every couple does it differently, and it often changes throughout the course of the relationship as each person changes jobs or household roles.
Sun doesn’t necessarily recommend making the leap and putting everything into one account. She suggests newlyweds start with a "you, me, and we" account structure when it comes to combining finances.
"This doesn’t mean you don’t love or trust your partner. It just allows you to still feel some sense of financial independence which I think is quite healthy for any partnership," says Sun. "The 'we' account can go to fund your mutual expenses like rent/mortgage, utilities, and even planning that vacation you’re both excited about."
Set up short-term and long-term goals.
Financial goals help chart the path forward and keep couples accountable. Short-term goals can be anything from upgrading household appliances, small home improvements, or padding your emergency fund. Long-term goals can include things like buying a house, saving for retirement, or family planning.
"The best way to start is to sit down individually and write down your goals and then rank them from most important to least important," says Sun. "Finally, rank them from the time that these goals will be due."
While saving up for something big like a house may be your most important goal, it doesn’t happen overnight. Sprinkle in a few short-term goals you can achieve within six to 12 months that will add to or enrich your life as you work towards those big-picture goals.
Evaluate and reprioritize your goals each year with your partner to track progress and make sure you’re on the same page.
Create a budget that allows for some level of financial independence.
It doesn’t matter how much or how little you make—all couples can benefit from budgeting to help them reach financial milestones faster. Budgets don’t have to be complicated. All you need to know is your monthly income and your average monthly expenses.
The 50/30/20 budgeting rule is a great place to start. It suggests that 50 percent of your monthly income goes towards your needs (things like rent, car payments, groceries, etc.), 30 percent goes towards your wants (shopping, eating out, and/or hobbies), and 20 percent goes towards savings.
Budgeting does not have to mean micromanaging every purchase. Following the 50/30/20 budgeting rule allows for some flexibility for each partner to decide how to spend their half of the 30 percent. Financial independence among couples is important for maintaining the individuality that healthy, supportive relationships are built on.
"You need to be able to make smaller purchases without consulting your partner every time," says Sun. "There needs to be some level of trust with your finances, but it’s a good idea to have an open discussion about the bigger purchases. Talking openly, comfortably, and without judgment about your budget and spending habits is essential for a solid marriage."
Be open and transparent with your partner.
"The best way to avoid financial issues in a marriage is to avoid misunderstandings which then leads to building financial trust," says Sun. "Be transparent, share openly, and let your partner know that you’re committed to sticking to a budget you both agreed on. Incorporate money discussions organically into your daily conversation."
Avoid experiencing financial friction by getting ahead of the issue and talking about potential bumps in the road as they come up. If you have a slow month at your commission-based job, have to take an unexpected trip, or if you’re having a hard time sticking to your side of the budget, don’t wait to talk about it. Get in the habit of talking about money often—not just at the end of the month when the bills are due.
Remember that you’re on the same team.
There’s no sense in keeping things from your spouse when it comes to your finances. They’ll inevitably find out if/when you file your taxes jointly at the end of the year. Marital finances are a team effort, and when you work together, you win together.
"Set your ego to the corner," says Sun. "This isn’t a competition; this is an opportunity to build something better for both of you."
The rules can change as your relationship, financial goals, and life circumstances change. If you want to reach those goals faster, look for opportunities together to bring in more income through a side gig. Plan some positive goals so that you can save together.
"Treat money as a tool to help you—as a team—build a better present and future life together," adds Sun. "And, when the time is right, seek out a trusted, experienced financial advisor to take you to that next level."