Personal finances are one of the leading causes of stress in relationships. In fact, it is estimated that 70% of married couples argue about their money, or lack thereof[1]. Unfortunately, couples often feel at odds with one another rather than a sense of partnership when it comes to addressing financial problems. “You need to get work,” “you need better paying work,” “you need to stop eating out for lunch all the time…” All of this back and forth banter is typical of an underlying financial problem: you’re likely overspending and need a solid budget plan.

Getting two people to agree on budgeting might be harder than actually budgeting itself! In my own experience, I have seen what the other’s reaction to the “B” word is, “oh no you don’t, you’re not going to interfere in my business!” In other words, it seems threatening, and in a relationship, could even be seen as an attempt at controlling your partner’s behavior.

So where do we go from here?

Like any other problem, you often first need to admit that there is a problem. And in this case it takes two to recognize the problem; one person cannot do it all. That said, it doesn’t mean one person can’t take the reigns. It’s fine if one person is more of the budgeter or purse string holder. The important thing is that both people in the relationship want to improve the situation. Once you can both agree to work for change, putting that change in motion is much easier. The first step will be setting up and agreeing on a budget.

Step one of starting any budget is knowing how much money you make on average in a month. This tells you how much you have to work with and is available for covering your expenses. Next you’ll want to know how much you need to spend in that same time period. I can’t stress enough how important it is to sit down TOGETHER to do this. Those pesky opinions about who spends how much on what, and who makes more can spend more, etc., vanish quickly when you’re just looking at the math. Take this example.

Let’s say that one of my big pleasures in life is my musical hobby. Let’s also say that I make a little less per month than my spouse. Lastly my spouse’s guilty pleasure is doting on the children. We both earn good money and without a budget to measure, we feel pretty justified about spending on our whims. Until that moment when the mortgage and cell bill are due. Wait, we had every intention of paying them both, but we are short. Again.

The financial stress washes over us. We each make our case, “well if you had just spent less on _____ we’d have the money.” It becomes a match of who thinks they are right. Then that quickly escalates to a full blown argument. The truth is neither of us are “right” because we haven’t looked at the whole picture, just our own.

Worse yet, even if you had an idea for a budget for those pleasure items, you probably are making the same mistake so many who try to budget do… you didn’t sit down and look at the math. I can’t say how many times I’ve seen this happen. Pulling some arbitrary number out of a hat based on your part of the income to be your budget for personal spending for the month never works. And that’s simply because you share responsibility with another for the core staples in your life: the internet you share, the electric, HVAC, mortgage/rent, insurance, food… the list is long in any partnership, even if you don’t have children.

Whether you prefer to keep your earnings separate or not, the exercise of looking at all of your “must haves” together with clear contrast to what your combined incomes are will change your outlook. We don’t typically like to plug our own products here, but I must say if you have iPhones, our Banktivity for iPhone app is free, and will give each of you instant access to your budget. There is no easier way to stay on budget than knowing where you stand at any given moment.

Ok, how can I get started on a budget?

There are so many budget systems out there, how do I know which one to try?

For those that regularly read our blog, it will come with no surprise that we recommend a zero-based budget. We’ve got some great advice on what we’ve found in this foolproof budgeting system, so I won’t repeat that here, just click over when you’re ready for more information.

The point I would really like to make, especially if you’re a couple experiencing financial stress is, look at the numbers. They will do ALL the talking. In my own experience there isn’t even an opportunity to argue them. Since the goal is getting rid of that cyclic bill pay stress, both partners easily see what’s been happening, and what needs to be done going forward.

Once my spouse and I started sticking to our budget for a few months I found I didn’t need to hide that equipment purchase for the music studio, and my wife is psyched to share the great deal she found for our daughter’s desperate need for new technology 🙂 When we do really well in a month sticking to our budget, we sometimes have enough for a romantic “date night.” And best of all, it’s guilt free because we made it happen by  working together!


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4 comments on “Couples That Budget Together, Stay Together

  • Great article!

    However, I believe couples budget work better when couples have a joint bank account, and that tends to happen more often when couples are already married rather than dating.

    My gf and I each have our a computer with Banktivity installed separately. I’d really like to see a functionality which would allow for a combined budget so that we could budget together while keeping each others finances separate in a way. Just for now till I pop the question! 🙂

    • Thanks Diego! I’m not sure if this would fit your situation well, but you might try sharing a datafile/document with both of your accounts in it. This way you can create a budget you can both share, but maintain your accounts separately. Best wishes!

  • My spouse and I have used your software for years. This article reinforces our commitment to budgeting. My wife does the work of recording expenses & revenues. Though we began our process with a competitor software we began using yours about eight years ago. We meet every month to discuss details (we are both retired). This meeting often raises biases mentioned in the piece, but as you say, it’s hard to argue about numbers. After we take in the past month’s ‘performance’ we give ourselves a breather (like a day or so) and return to set up the new month’s budget–the past often dictates the future. We’ve been at this for more than twelve years. The process has moved more quickly over time; our numbers have become more reliable, and most important, WE have strengthened our partnership/marriage. Whatever success we have achieved is due to my wife’s routine work and our commitment to meeting each and every month to check results TOGETHER. Thanks for pointing out these valid issues – the piece helped affirm that we are on the right track..

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