First comes love, then comes commitment, then comes financial partnership.
Individuals who come into a relationship with solid money habits have an advantage, but to make love work, it's essential to merge skills to make the most of dual incomes and hit shared goals and dreams. Financial planning can be a source of frustration and friction when you have different attitudes toward saving and spending or aren’t sure where your money should be going.
Being a financially effective couple has nothing to do with being rich. It has to do with managing the money you have and allocating it effectively toward the things you value and want to do in life. It also comes from knowing you and your partner’s money stories and money personalities.
There’s no handbook for how couples should manage their money effectively because, well, each couple wants different things out of life. Still, there are ways to grow your money together while keeping arguments to a minimum.
Here are 10 habits that can help you become one of those couples that “have it together” when it comes to their money — and tips on how to get there.
10 Money Habits of Highly Effective Couples
Understand You've Shared Vs. Personal Expenses
This can help you eliminate spending on some things you’re both paying for (it happens!) and get a sense of your actual shared bills to utilize your joint account better and start spending as a team. Get out a spreadsheet or pad and paper and start making a list of your shared and personal expenses.
Not sure what they are? Your shared expenses are consistent expenses that you both pay every month. An example of shared expenses is the rent, mortgage, and water and heat bill. When you have that done, you can start thinking and talking about other expenses that the two of you share each month, such as groceries and other monthly subscriptions.
Then start making a list of your individual expenses, the kind that you each pay independent of the other, such as gym memberships, gifts for family members, and how much money you tend to spend on the things you want.
Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Let’s face it; not everyone comes into a relationship with all the financial know-how. Rather than expect the more free-spirited person to become the master of spreadsheets, think about how they can best contribute to the financial relationship.
For example, if one of you is naturally more organized, that person can be the designated chief financial officer. The other can help by bringing in extra income or making sure that the other doesn’t become too face-down in the numbers that they forget to enjoy the little things in life, like the occasional dinner out.
Figure out how each one can own a financial role that feels joyful and not a miserable chore.
Understand Your Needs, Wants, and Goals
Couples that manage their incomes effectively juggle their short-term and long-term goals and allocate their paychecks into the near and distant future. By creating buckets, for example, using the 50/30/20 rule (50% on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% to savings), you can start effectively planning with your money rather than just saving and spending sporadically.
For example, a couple making a combined yearly income of $80,000 after taxes could begin by each earmarking $800 a month toward shared monthly bills and expenses (a need), $200 a month toward a big anniversary trip to Australia in 2021 (a want) and $300 a month into their emergency funds and retirement accounts (savings).
Learn Each Other’s Money Stories
We enter into our relationships with a lot of baggage when it comes to our money. Our parents may not have taught us good values or how to handle personal finance. Maybe they just weren’t good with money and weren’t role models. Your money story explains who you are financially and how you got there (and where you want to be in the future).
Taking the time to learn each other’s money stories and how their attitudes developed over the years can help couples build intimacy and understanding. There are fun ways to learn each other’s money stories.
Consider starting with a fun game of 20 questions, and you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn about each other.
Set Up Monthly Money Dates
Most couples would rather take a dentist trip than sit down and spend an evening talking about their financial situation. And who can blame them? Conversations about money can be really stressful and end with fights and recriminations. A solution is to set up a monthly money date to soften the tough topics' blow and make them more regular so that there are no jolts or surprises.
A money date should happen once a month at an agreed-upon time after the dishes are done and with a glass of wine or a comforting dinner. Taking an hour to go through your goals, debts, and feelings, as well as your long and short-term goals (and your progress towards them), can help make tough money talks easier to approach and help you tackle tougher topics down the road, keep your money flowing in the right direction, and make for real positive change.
Start Automating Your Finances
Couples who let automation take on the burden of paying bills and certain shared expenses have more time to spend doing things that are actually, well, enjoyable. Automating your finances means that you don’t have to write yourself a note to manually transfer money into your joint account or bug the other to pay your bill. But automating your finances is more than just simple convenience.
Automation allows us to reduce what behavioral economists call ‘the pain of paying. Combined with a lot of communication, automating your finances can help you save and spend together and separately.
Start Understanding Your Money Merge Style
There’s no one way for couples to merge their finances. Take time to figure out what your money merge style is. Do you want to throw all your income into a big pot and pay your bills, shared, and individual expenses from there?
Cool! Or maybe you want to allocate a portion of your money into a shared account while keeping a portion of your income for yourself to spend as you please. However you choose to merge your income, it’s essential that you both feel like you have access to your money in a way that makes you feel like you have financial independence and a healthy role in your financial decision making.
Get to Know Your Money Personalities
Think a spender and a saver can’t find financial happiness? Nonsense. Opposites can attract as long as they agree on the bigger picture. In fact, research has shown that two savers may not be as financially compatible as one would think — one person may eventually become more drawn to spending.
Taking a money personality test is a fun way to help you figure out your spending and saving style. Let each person bring their superpowers to do what they do best, so financial planning doesn’t feel like a chore. It can also establish more trust between the two of you and understand ways to make your money personalities complimentary versus at odds with each other.
Prepare for the Unexpected
No one can predict the future (hello, 2020). That said, couples who know that there will always be rainy days on the horizon keep a healthy emergency fund if one partner loses a job, faces a big medical bill, or is confronted with a sudden change in life circumstances.
Many schools of thought about how much to put aside, but a good rule of thumb is three to six months' worth of shared expenses that keep the lights on — rent or mortgage, minimums on credit card bills, and car payments. Automating your paycheck toward your emergency fund can make creating and growing it a lot easier.
Find Things to Celebrate
Even in the leanest times, the most financially successful couples celebrate something positive in their relationship. Telling the other person how important they are to you and how you value them doesn’t cost anything. It’s okay to agree to disagree as long as you take the time to come to solutions that don’t end in sulking or passive aggression.
Financial harmony comes from celebrating all the good that the other brings into the relationship and not harping on the things holding you back. If you schedule a monthly money date, be sure to end it with something fun and loving, such as a bowl of ice cream or a snuggle on the couch.
Remind each other that you’re a team and that you’re here to support each other through thick and thin is the most important thing that successful couples can do, financially or otherwise.