Managing your own money is hard enough, but trying to combine your finances with your partner’s can lead to a lot of stress and strain on your relationship. Although nobody likes arguing about money, many couples do it on a weekly basis. In some cases, each partner tries to stick to their own ways of handling financial issues and are unwilling to reach a compromise. In other cases, financial responsibilities like paying the bills on time fall entirely on one partner. The other just puts the money in the joint account, and that’s it.
Both strategies are not ideal. Believe it or not, money management can help you build more trust and a stronger bond with your partner. Although it may take some work and some discomfort in the beginning, you can develop a system that you both agree on, and that will help you reach your shared financial goals.
You Need to Start Talking About Your Finances
This is the first and probably the most important step of the process. You need to try to be as honest as possible about your current financial situation. We know that you might feel uncomfortable or insecure. Most of us feel that way. You assume that everyone else, including your partner, has it all figured out, and they will judge you. We assure you that this is not true. We’re all “bad with money” to a certain extent. You are both learning, and it will be easier when you do it together.
Remember that the same way you would feel hurt if they judged you for your shortcomings, so will they. You need to approach this subject with love and understanding – same way you should approach any subject with your partner.
For example, let’s say your partner tells you that they tend to give in to impulse purchases when they’re stressed, and this has led to a certain amount of credit card debt. Instead of judging them and telling them that’s “bad” which isn’t very helpful and might only result in them being less open in the future, it’s better to talk to them about why they feel stressed and how does shopping make them feel better.
Then you can discuss alternative strategies for managing stress and how to deal with the credit card debt they already have. You could spend some time looking up how to refinance this debt and save on interest by getting a personal loan. You could also research investment management companies in Canada which will help you learn more about investing and give you an incentive to spend less and save more.
Once you’re clarified your financial situation, you can move to the next step: discussing and agreeing upon a set of shared goals. You should do this before you start working on a budget because it will help keep you motivated. Saying that you want to become ”financially healthy” is much too vague. You need something specific. Make a list where you start small with something like saving $50 per week and gradually move on to bigger and better – both short-term and long-term. Here you want to include things like getting out of debt, making some updates to your home, saving for romantic getaways, retiring early and so on.
The best part about having shared financial goals is that since you’ll both be contributing to, you’ll be able to reach them faster. You’ll have someone you’re accountable to and who will encourage you when your initial enthusiasm starts to dwindle.
Working together towards a common goal will also strengthen your relationship and teach you how to plan for the future as a team. During your conversations, you may discover that your long-term financial goals don’t always match. If they’re not completely irreconcilable, talk through how you can find a compromise.
Track Your Expenses and Create a Budget
Ok, so by now you’ve discussed your financial situation and set common goals. Now it’s time to create a budget you both agree on. You’ll first want to track your joint expenses for a few months. This means bills, rent, child care, insurance etc. During this time, you’ll each want to also track your individual expenses – things like hobbies, going out, personal care, because even the smallest things can add up, and we’re trying to find patterns we can optimize.
After you’re done tracking both joint and individual expenses, see if you can create a budget that allows you to live below your means so you can achieve the goals you agreed on in the previous step. Don’t forget to allocate some money to an emergency fund that will cover unexpected expenses such as medical bills, car repairs and so on. It’s generally recommended that your emergency fund covers all your expenses for six months in case of a loss of income. This will give you more financial security and protect your relationship from any unnecessary strain.
Since this is a joint budget, you’ll want to divide expenses into broader categories such as bills, debt, food, entertainment. Remember what we said in the beginning about approaching this subject with love and understanding. You’ll also want to address and include individual needs in your budget. It’s easy to tell your partner to cut back on something you don’t care about – here we mean things like gym memberships, video games, clothes and so on – but you need to consider what it means to them. To avoid fights and hurt feelings, you’ll want to make sure you understand why it’s important to them and why it brings them joy. You never want to force your partner to give up something they care about. Every goal you have has to be achieved with the voluntary cooperation of each partner.
Work as a Team and Share Responsibilities
When managing money as a couple, you want to create an atmosphere of trust. There will be setbacks. If your partner makes a mistake and overspends on a purchase or they give in to peer pressure and spend too much when you’re out with friends, you don’t want to nag them. This makes it more difficult to be honest. You’re a team, you learn from each other, and you support each other in forming healthier spending habits. The same if you make a mistake. Don’t lie to your partner, be honest and take responsibility. You each have to admit to your strengths and weaknesses and help each other rather than compete.
Speaking of responsibilities, we mentioned in the introduction that in some couples, one partner takes charge of all financial matters and how this is not a good strategy. It’s very important that you share responsibilities because this system carries the risk that if the “financial” partner gets sick or finds themselves unable to continue fulfilling this role, the other partner can feel lost and overwhelmed.