Financial Couples Therapy: How to Create a Budget You Can Both Live With

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There’s an old saying — “opposites attract.” When considering how couples often deal with personal finance, that saying may hold true. Tess Zigo, a certified financial planner at Emerge Wealth Strategies in Florida, told AARP: “Most of my couples have a spender and a saver.”

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If this sounds like you and your partner, how might you reconcile these differences to create a budget you can both live with?

The solution could be as easy as considering three simple steps.

Communicate with Your Partner

Although many couples may believe they are adequately communicating about finances with their partner, that might not always be the case. One Fidelity survey found that about 39% of respondents didn’t know their partner’s salary.

While a substantial number of couples claim to communicate quite well when it comes to finances, when you take a deeper look at the data, the numbers indicate that many have a discomfort level when it comes to talking about money. “Even couples who say they are totally comfortable discussing their finances don’t always dig deeply enough to make sure they are truly on the same page,” Stacey Watson, head of life event planning at Fidelity Investments, previously told GOBankingRates in an email interview.

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When you discuss money, don’t shy away from the big topics. Ask questions about your partner’s childhood and the spending and saving attitudes they grew up with. In doing so, you may gain some insight as to what drives their decision-making processes today.

Bring up the topics that bother you, and ask what financial behaviors your partner would like you to work on changing. Only with open communication can you make progress.

Lay It All on the Table

Once you’ve discussed the big picture, it’s time to get down to the details. Sit down and list all your income sources, fixed expenses, and flexible or variable expenses. Don’t forget to include retirement savings and emergency savings as part of your necessary expenses.

When you’re listing income, make sure to include money from all sources. And when you’re tracking expenses, be realistic. Don’t stifle yourself or leave no room for discretionary spending. If your budget allows it, each partner should have some room for personal spending that they don’t need to justify.

Marguerita Cheng, a CFP at Blue Ocean Global Wealth, told AARP that your budget should allow for differences in priorities, especially when it comes to spending on hobbies and other non-essentials. Adopting a “yours, mine, and ours” mindset can help, she told AARP.

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Some couples find that using a budget tracking app like Mint or You Need a Budget (YNAB) can help.

Watson, likewise, agreed on the importance of a budget that takes both partners’ needs and wants into consideration. “Building a financial plan together gives each partner an equal opportunity to understand their financial needs and how to get there,” she told GOBankingRates.

Watson also emphasized the importance of keeping both individuals in the loop when it comes to finances. “It’s important that both partners in all relationships become active decision makers when it comes to their money. It’s okay to delegate, but don’t abdicate. We strongly encourage all couples who have a partner taking the lead in certain money decisions to make sure their other half is aware of what’s going on and prepared to jump in and take over, if need be,” she said.

Seek Help if Necessary  

If you and your partner are having a hard time agreeing on the basics of money, such as how to spend it and how much to save, it could be time to bring in a financial planner with experience in counseling couples.

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“If extra help or guidance is required, a financial professional can often help sort through the important points to consider and facilitate agreement,” Watson said.

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About the Author

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, e-commerce, technology, and real estate. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include Bankrate, Lending Tree, and Chase Bank. She is the founder and owner of GeekTravelGuide.net, a travel, technology, and entertainment website. She lives on Long Island, New York, with a veritable menagerie that includes 2 cats, a rambunctious kitten, and three lizards of varying sizes and personalities – plus her two kids and husband. Find her on Twitter, @DawnAllcot.

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