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There are plenty of resources related to creating a budget as a couple, use them (or wait six months before I create my own, your choice). Today, I want to talk about the art to budget as a couple. 

Anyone can copy/paste a spreadsheet and put in numbers and claim “it’s for couples.” But what about the process of a budget? How will you two be held accountable for budgeting? All of these are valid questions. Every couple has their dynamic and as you progress in your relationship.

The reality is people can get emotional, so try to keep these tips in mind when budgeting as a couple.

Tips to Couples Budgeting

Communication is key!

1. Make the “Joint Bank Account” Talk Happen

The biggest obstacle I see most couples have is that either one or both people would prefer to keep separate bank accounts.

I’ve tried keeping separate accounts and transferring funds to a “joint” statement, and it was too much hassle and keeping track of billing/budgets was another layer of work.

The fact that you and your significant other are getting serious about creating a budget for both of you already implies that a joint bank account should happen. If you aren’t willing to have a joint bank account, then why make a budget for the both of you? Stick to budgeting for yourself in that case.

For a couple that is serious about joining their accounts, you both will be on equal footing in discussions regarding your budget later on.

2. Identify Your “Category Items”

The wife and I have our Mint accounts mainly because we both are anal about how we categorize things. I like to be more granular while she prefers to be more of a more prominent thinker.

But when we first created our couples’ budget, we made it very clear to identify proper buckets of spend.

  • What is defined as “pharmacy?”
  • Does the cell phone bill count as “utilities” or just “cell phone”?
  • Is “personal care” separate from “shopping”?

These are the types of questions you only need to do once. Once you identify your category items, it will be a lot easier to budget around them without any dissonance.

3. Get in Sync in Why You Are Budgeting

Some couples are more eager to share finances compared to others. There is nothing wrong with that at all. But what worries me is the why?

When you speak with your loved one, talk about what you both want to accomplish with the budget. Are you saving for a vacation? Do you want to pay down your debt faster? Or do you want to get your finances in order?

Having a shared goal will allow either of you to address any significant disconnects if one person spends way more than the other. But I find that having a guiding star helps in general in sticking to your budget.

If you are budgeting for the sake of it and you feel like it’s the next step, it might not be a good enough of a reason for your partner to follow the budget without feeling insulted.

4. It’s Okay To Go Over Your Budget

Assuming that you are budgeting to cut cost and save money instead of needing an extra $5 to pay your cell phone bill, prepare to be flexible.

I am not saying to ignore your budget. Budgets are meant to be limits on how much you should spend for an end goal. Emergencies happen. Being human happens. If you have a food budget of $250 for the both of you and the spend is $265 one month, chill out.

Now don’t take this as a way to exploit your budget. By keeping your budget semi-flexible, you can make adjustments as needed.

The last thing anyone wants is to be micromanaged on spending and being treated like a child.

Now if you happen to go over your budget by $100 each month on food, you both need to decide if your budget is realistic or if you can find a way to cut $100 elsewhere.

5. Revisit Twice a Month

Personally, if you both pay a majority of your bills/payments with a credit card, this makes tracking spend super easy on Mint.

Mrs. Debt to Dough and I have the following budgeting checkups.

Mid Month

  • We review our purchases and categorize them
  • Briefly talk about where we stand on our budgets (our 60% of our spend is in the first week of each month)

End of Month

  • We make our final reviews of purchases
  • Categorize all purchases
  • Review our budget for each category
  • Discuss how much income we expect for next month
  • Decide on updating or adjusting budgets based on the current month’s performance

Since I am a contractor, my income varies each month. Some months are slower than others, and we’ll adjust our budgets. If other months are higher (like I need to work 200+ hours on top of side projects), then our food budget will be higher since I’ll be ordering takeout more.

6. Acknowledge Budgeting As A Serious Step

The way I see it, there are five major couple life events that

  1. Being FB Official
  2. Moving In Together
  3. Sharing Finances
  4. Engagement+Marriage
  5. Buying A House

I’m sure “buying a house” can be before the engagement or after marriage, but I digress. The moment you share your finances, you are saying to your partner that you are in it for the long-haul. You both need to take it somewhat seriously.

If your partner wants to share finances but wants you to handle everything, that is fine!

If you’re going to keep your finances separate, that is equally fine (although more hassle if you want to budget).

All of these tips rely on communication, so whenever someone ends up spending more than they should, you can discuss it like adults.

That sound strange coming from me. Maybe that’s why I have been getting more grey hairs in my early 30’s.