Five tips for combining your finances with a spouse
Start with your shared dreams, then get realistic about how you’ll reach your goals.
In the rush of an engagement, wedding planning, and the honeymoon, couples too often avoid talking about finances. If you’re like most couples, you have a general idea of your significant other’s finances and spending habits prior to saying “I do.” Some pastors even include finances as part of their pre-marital counseling sessions with engaged couples.
But as things start to settle down after the wedding, you and your spouse have a new challenge ahead – figuring out how to make financial decisions together.
Whether you are married or plan to be married, the following five tips offer productive ways to talk about finances with your partner.
1. Visualize and verbalize shared goals
Talk with each other about your shared goals, big and small. Of course, each of you will have individual goals but try to focus on collective goals during this exercise.
Make a list of your collective goals as a couple; if one person does not feel invested or included in a goal, remove that goal from your list. An example of a collective goal might be to buy a house in five years or less, or another goal may be to make a career change to provide an opportunity for one person to work in the home raising children. It’s also helpful to differentiate between goals that reflect your wants and those that reflect something you need. These goals should reflect God’s purpose for your marriage in both the short and long term.
2. Examine both of your financial realities, while limiting judgment
Now it’s time to put your finances under a microscope. Be open and honest about your finances; share information freely, without judgement or criticism. Vague financial conversations are typically unproductive and may even create fear or anxiety.
Record each person’s debt, income, and general monthly expenses (in addition to your shared expenses).
Debt can be embarrassing – if your partner seems guarded or unwilling to share, be encouraging and talk about how they are feeling and remind them of your collective goals (the reason for examining each other’s current finances is to reach your collective goals). Take it slowly and don't make critical statements about your partner’s spending habits or debt. Some couples prefer to have a financial professional help during this difficult step, because he or she can mediate the conversation by asking the right questions and providing guidance.
3. Decide who does what, managing your finances
Clarify who’s responsible for regular financial tasks such as tracking the spending, managing the bank account, writing checks, and adding auto bill payments, etc. If one of you has an interest in managing the day-to-day finances of your household, let that person claim responsibility for financial matters. Alternately, you could split the tasks between the two of you.
No matter how you decide to manage the responsibilities, be accountable to your spouse. Regularly check in with each other about your personal finances. If one of you doesn’t understand personal finances, the other spouse should engage him or her in the in the process by relating your finances to your goals.
4. Start making moves
After establishing your collective goals, it’s time to put legs under those goals. Some couples may wish to create a joint bank account. Other couples may choose to have separate bank accounts for discretionary spending. Talk about the best strategy for the two of you and your level of comfort with shared or separate bank accounts.
Create a spending plan with specific categories to help you accomplish your collective goals. Here are some options for tools to help track spending and savings; try a few methods until you find one that works for both you:
- Download an Excel spreadsheet
- Try an online budgeting calculator
- Use a budgeting app available for mobile phones (Mint, YNAB, Good Budget are popular options)
- Place cash in envelopes labeled for your spending/saving categories and don’t spend more than the amount allotted for each envelope at the beginning of the month.
5. Know when to ask for help
It can be hard to admit, but sometimes you may just need help with your finances. When it comes to complex financial topics like reducing debt, investment management, estate planning, charitable giving or responsible stewardship practices, it can be helpful to work with a professional. He or she can help provide guidance as the two of you work toward your goals and figure out how to manage your finances.