Married Money: How to Have Pain-Free Finances as a Couple
By Anna Yen
Money is the most common instigator of marital conflict, but it doesn’t have to be!
When you were building a high-flying career and/or running the household as CEO, budgeting alongside your husband may not have topped the list. In fact, budgeting used to be a downright hassle. Fiddling with passbooks, dealing with joint accounts, and balancing checkbooks probably didn’t seem like a rewarding use of time.
You also needed to comfortably delegate to that husband of yours, who suddenly developed a limited set of talents at home when you were newlyweds. Maybe the last time you dove into budgeting was alongside student loans, but budgeting for married couples look very different from a students single account on solo paycheck.
Fast forward years, or even decades, and you might ask yourself: How many details do you actually know about your family finances?
If your answer is “not a lot” then don’t worry, you aren’t alone. You can get caught in that holding pattern at any age. You can also decide to take an active role in financial decisions at any time. Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, author of Guide to Finances After Fifty, is vocal proof of this. If the talking part is a bit scarier than the money part, read Carrie’s collaboration with her father Charles Schwab, It Pays to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations with your Family About Money and Investing.
Not only has it gotten way easier to budget, but you’re probably better at it. While this may not be breaking news to any woman, studies from the USA, UK, and South Africa have all concluded that women are better savers (while men are spenders) and more effective at budgeting!
Here’s a look at how you can maximize your family finances, even after 50, and budget peacefully as a married couple.
Step 1: Set Financial Goals as a Team
This step can be both a beautiful and profound experience, while also being difficult to follow and deeply confusing. Kind of like a Wes Anderson movie.
You need to understand your financial goals, both as a team and as individuals. You may have joint bank accounts, but you’re still individuals with different perspectives, dreams, and ambitions. Nobody should have to give those up, and with proper financial planning, you shouldn’t have to.
Try to put yourself first for a hot minute.
→ What do you want financially?
→ Looking to be debt-free or build out your art collection?
→ Do you want to put a down payment on a second home?
Give yourself the freedom to express and discover what you want. If you haven’t done this before, it’s time. Priorities determine how you’ll spend money. Maybe you’re down with cheap airline flights, but want to upgrade your home appliances.
Next make your financial plan as a team, piecing as many of your individual goals together as possible. Use empathy and understanding in this stage; it’s okay not to agree on every little detail. It would actually be a little weird if you did.
Set a reasonable timeline to create long-term and short-term goals. Ask yourself, what you want to achieve this year? In the next five years? Ten?
Step 2: Take Stock of Everything
To figure out where you’re going, you have to first know where you are.
Loving and trusting your partner has made it feel safe to hand over the details. But no one really benefits from being in the dark about personal finances. Start with finding out how much income you make as a household.
Beyond income, take inventory of investments through brokerage accounts or private holdings like real estate and alternative assets (ex. physical gold or cryptocurrencies). Can you easily access your account numbers and statements? A holistic picture will include life insurance and retirement accounts.
It’s also important to understand the laws where you live.
→ Do you live in a community property state where you already own half?
→ Is property held with rights of survivorship so that it would pass smoothly between spouses?
Planning for succession can get uncomfortable, but you’re better off knowing where your assets stand.
Next, make sure you know how to check family expenses like joint credit card statements or shared accounts. Tracking spending for at least 30 days gives you insight into household spending habits.
After you have a record of expenses, you can divide them up into categories like Needs and Wants. Once it’s in front of you, it’s much harder to ignore costs that are adding up. This step might take a bit of effort but, much like hot yoga, it’s worth the sweat!
Even if you keep separate bank accounts, honesty is the best policy. Keep the surprises positive.
Step 3: Keep Tracking Simple
Having to dig through file folders for statements is quite unappealing. Thankfully, budgeting apps have made tracking and visualizing progress incredibly simple. Apps like Mint, Honeydue, and HoneyFI link your bank and credit card accounts into one easy interface. You can also set goals and monitor spending easily.
Step 4: Design Your Family Budget Like a Boss
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that life is messy and unpredictable.
If you haven’t already, save three to six months’ worth of household expenses in an emergency fund. Use a savings or checking account where you can quickly withdrawal funds if needed. An emergency fund can be your first financial goal that’s hopefully already done and dusted.
After that, take a look at your most important financial goals and see how close you are. Depending on your priority for achieving those goals, you might need to adjust your spending and savings. If you aren’t on track, go back to your spending and separate the truly essential from the “nice to have”.
Budgeting carefully for the first time (or hundredth) may involve sacrifice. At the same time, don’t suck all of the joy out of your lives. A reasonable budget will help you save money while still staying true to your needs.
Step 5: Set Up Budget Meetings
Unless you make time to discuss money management, household budget discussions might not come naturally. Set aside time to review your finances together, whether it’s monthly or quarterly. You can discuss the nitty-gritty details but also take a step back to review the overall health of your finances. Change takes time and building a finance meeting into your routine means it will be more likely to happen.
Plan those meetings as you would a date night, with something to look forward to. After you’re done, you can watch a movie afterward.
Getting On The Same Page about Budgeting for Married Couples
Close your eyes and picture this:
You and your significant other both locked in on your financial goals, with a clear understanding of where you are, where you want to be, and how you’re going to get there. Pushing each other, holding each other accountable, and supporting each other through the inevitable ups and downs.
Or at the very least, getting on the same page so that you can make a better plan. If your husband has been going it alone this whole time, there is still a strong likelihood he’s just been winging it.
You can do this! All it takes is having the courage to get started.
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