Some of us avoid budgeting when it's just us. Add another person into the mix, with his or her own opinions on how to spend dough, and others might rather go to the dentist than set up a budget with that person, even if it's our husband or wife.
"Money can fuel some pretty passionate responses and reactions, and each person is bringing in their own money histories and scripts into the marriage," commiserates Mary Beth Storjohann, finance expert and founder of Workable Wealth. "Talking and communicating about money without it leading to a fight can be difficult, and that's one reason why many couples opt to not do it at all, which means budgeting goes out the window as well."
But that doesn't mean you should avoid budgeting with your spouse. If having a budget will work well for you as a couple, there's a way to set one up that won't lead to fights and will lead to financial success. Here's how to get started.
Open up, and be kind.
When you sit down to have your budget talk, "couples should be prepared to have an open, honest, and non-judgmental revealing of their financial pasts," says Elle Kaplan, finance expert and founder of LexION Capital. Adds Storjohann, "review the state of your finances so both of you know exactly what your money situation is." Take note of whether you have enough savings as well as whether either of you is carrying debt into your marriage. "Having both of you aware and involved will help keep you aligned," she says.
But whatever you do, don't play the blame game if you have to make room in your budget for, say, someone's debt. "Playing the blame game will do nothing but halt this positive progress," Kaplan explains. "These issues are just financial problems, not character flaws. Remember, these are goals you can both work through together to better your future."
Set up specific goals.
"Couples should first prioritize their goals, and then tie them to spending," says Kaplan. "Couples should sit down and determine which budgeting issues are important to them, and which ones they don't really care about. You can stretch your budget by spending less on the unimportant costs, and avoid squabbles by allocating more towards hot-button issues."
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Then ask yourself, what exactly are you saving for in that savings account? If you don't know, the time to decide is when you set up your budget. "Are you buying a new home, starting a business, growing your family or simply trying to build your rainy day fund?" asks Storjohann. "Target specific amounts you'd like to stash away and assign a time period for building up the savings for each goal."
Consider the 20-30-50 plan.
If you're struggling with setting up specific goals, the 20-30-50 plan is another good place to start. As Kaplan explains, "the 20-30-50 plan is a great guideline to track spending. And it's especially beneficial for couples because it doesn't involve agreeing on every penny spent." Here's how it breaks down: "The 20 is 20 percent of your take-home income after taxes," Kaplan explains. "This portion is non-negotiable, and it should go towards improving your financial future together, whether that's paying off debt or investing in a 401(k)."
Next, 30 percent of your after-tax income should got toward fun or something you want. "Couples don't have to agree on everything that money is spent on, as long as they are able to keep it in proportion," says Kaplan. And lastly, 50 percent of your income should go toward essentials, such as mortgage payments or electricity bills.
Use an app to track your spending.
Now that you've set up a budget with goals, or a plan like the 20-30-50 one, it's time to track where your money goes to make sure it goes to the right place. "Leverage an online platform like Mint or You Need a Budget to start monitoring your spending for you," suggests Storjohann. "These apps will tell you what you're spending in categories like dining out, entertainment, groceries and more, and you'll be able to see how what you're actually spending measures up against what you thought you were spending." When you spot something that doesn't align with your budget, you can readjust.