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Five Steps to Creating a Unified Budget for Couples

By Joanna Crain

Happy Couple after Working on Finances

Budgeting for Couples

It is hard enough to create and stick to a budget on your own. Add another person to the mix and you have some major work ahead of you. Many couples have actually broken up or divorced over finances, and it can be a very touchy subject for many. Dr. Dorree Lynn, author and co-founder of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Psychotherapy says, “Studies show that money issues are the highest cause of marital conflict and cause for divorce. Conflicts over money and money management outweigh conflicts over sex (including affairs) and differences over raising children as the greatest trouble area in a marriage.”

We bring into relationships beliefs about money developed from our childhood experiences and how we learned to handle our finances once we got out on our own in our 20s. It is very hard to meld two separate belief systems together into one, but it can be done with an ample amount of courage, patience and understanding. I’ve given you five steps to better understand each other’s money beliefs and create a budget that works for the both of you.

1. Agree to discuss long-held money beliefs without fear of judgment. This creates a safe environment for you to be able to share your financial beliefs and experiences without being criticized or feeling inferior. For some, our first memories about money are not positive ones. Be sensitive to a partner who was raised in a poor financial environment or who has not developed solid money management skills.

2. Come to an agreement that you are both going to be honest about your spending habits. Honesty goes a long way when discussing and creating a financial plan for the future. Everything needs to be laid out on the table. Each of you should gather up all of your respective financial documents and receipts (all means ALL, don’t try to hide anything). This will give you both a fresh start and relieve any guilt you might be feeling because your good and not-so-good spending habits will be revealed.

3. Identify how you are spending money. Review the records together and be truthful about any areas that you feel you personally have a problem controlling. For example, maybe you have a habit of overspending when it comes to beauty products and your partner tends to spend a lot on the latest tech gadgets. This can be a tough thing to admit to yourself especially if you are attached to spending money in this area due to extenuating circumstances. For example, he might be trying to keep up with his best friend who seems to always have the latest technology or you feel inferior socially if you don’t have the latest make-up, sunglasses, or clothing. Remember, some spending habits are tied to deep emotions, so again, be sensitive when determining where you and your partner’s money is going.

4. Set spending and savings goals as one unit. Once you’ve come clean about your spending and determined where your money is going, you can then work together to decide what are the most important areas for improvement and what you would like to save for. Spending and savings goals may be different for each of you, but you will be deciding together as one cohesive unit how you will each spend and save to meet them.

5. Track spending to make sure you are both staying within your goals and meet on a regular basis. No matter whether it is weekly or monthly, plan and agree on a time that you will sit down together and review each of your spending and savings activity for that time period. This needs to be done in the same safe zone that was applied to the other steps so that each of you trusts that you will not be attacked or judged.

Take it easy on yourself and your partner. The budgeting and goal setting process can be grueling and the review process is no walk in the park, but the hardest thing each of you will face will be sticking to the spending and savings goals you set for yourselves. Holding yourself accountable for your part of a budgeting two-some will make you stronger individually. Going through this together will make you stronger as a couple, which makes the pain of the process worth it for the both of you.

(photo credit: Ian Sane)

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  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    Dealing with money within a relationship is a tough chore…no matter how little, or how much is involved. It’s been a tough issue in my own marriage and one that is still unsolved. I was brought up in an upper-middle class home, but was taught to be thrifty, so I am very careful with money. She was the opposite of both. If two people can meet eye-to-eye on this issue, that’s a huge step to happiness.

  • Brenda S

    My DH and I have been trying for the last year to keep to our budget. It is not a source of conflict but it can be frustrating when we seem to agree on the same thing and then do different things. I am not sure how to remedy it. I don’t know if the problem is with me or him. For example last week we decided we would spend $50 on our daughters b-day party, including gifts. Then he went out and spent $55 on a gift for her. I was so frustrated. But then again if I find a killer deal on something and its not budgeted I will purchase it anyway. I am sure it frustates him. We will keep at it and maybe one day it will get easier.

    • Winston

      It looks like both of you have this same problem with budget. It is very tough to stick strictly to budgets when we are surrounded with so many temptations. No need to fret if the over spending is only several dollars..

  • http://www.yourfinances101.com/blog David/Yourfinances101

    All great sutff–but how often does this happen? Money can become a “real” sticking point for some in a marriage, and when people say that it can end a marriage, they are not kidding.

    I think the key is to discuss these points BEFORE getting married, and to be able to speak your mind when something bothers you.

    If not, you could be in for a lifetime of “issues” or a not very long marriage.

    • Winston

      It is easier said than done. Not a lot of people are comfortable talking about money with their spouse. They would avoid it if they can or until the confrontations become inevitable.

  • gina

    Money is one of those subjects that is not always easy to talk about. I agree it should be a topic that is discussed before getting married. That being said, things can change as time goes on (financial goals, loss of jobs, etc). The lines of communication do need to continue to be open.

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