It’s no secret that money can be a significant cause of stress in any marriage or serious relationship. According to a SunTrust survey, 35 percent of respondents reported that money was a primary cause of friction in their relationships.
It can be tough to transition from budgeting for your own wants and needs to combining your finances and managing a budget with a live-in partner or spouse. Taking a straightforward approach to handling your household finances can help avoid future strife.
1. Identify the bill payer.
You and your spouse or partner have probably both been responsible for handling your individual financial households up to this point. When you combine your finances, though, it probably won’t be practical for you to both continue being responsible for writing monthly checks or initiating online bill payments.
Identifying which one of you will be in charge of making sure the monthly bills get paid on time can help you avoid late fees and negative credit reporting. Of course, both of you should understand what is coming in and out of your bank accounts.
Some couples rotate responsibility for managing and paying bills, which can be a great way to avoid the “knowledge vacuum” that can occur if one spouse handles everything from month to month.
2. Use a written household budget.
Because combining your financial households involves more than just combining bank accounts, couples should plan to create a realistic household budget. Instead of just your income, you may now have two incomes for your household. Certain expenses like housing and utilities may be reduced if you’re no longer maintaining two households. Other costs may increase.
Your budget should include all of your monthly fixed expenses and discretionary expenditures. Start by itemizing everything you spend for a one-month period. This can be an eye-opening experience and may help you identify ways to save additional money. For example, you may find you are spending more on work lunches or at coffee shops than you realized.
Although you’re combining households and finances, it doesn’t mean your individual financial needs will disappear. Be sure your budget includes money for clothing, hair appointments, gym memberships, and entertainment.
If your budget is tight, you may also find you have room to cut back on larger expenditures, like housing expenses or entertainment expenses. Talk together about what’s most important to each of you. Moving to a smaller home to save money might sound like a great idea to one of you, but it could backfire and cause more relationship problems if the other spouse or partner wants to move to a bigger home.
Tip: If you aren’t sure where to start, you can find free budget templates online at Mint.com, download Excel budget spreadsheet tools from Microsoft, or purchase a budgeting tool like those offered from SimplePlanning.com or PearBudget.
3. Don’t set it and forget it.
Creating your budget is just the first step. The best-planned budget won’t be worth anything if you don’t regularly track your income and expenditures and evaluate how well they align with your plans.
Treat your household finances like you’re running a business. Look at your income and expenditures on a monthly basis and evaluate how closely they tracked your budgeted amounts.
Don’t get discouraged and throw in the towel if spending was higher than it should have been; double down and make a concerted effort to reach those targets the next month.
It’s tough to have frank conversations about finances, so unfortunately many people avoid doing so. But simply not talking about money can just exacerbate problems if they arise later, fueling feelings of resentment and anger.
When you and your spouse or partner take a thoughtful, deliberate approach to managing your combined household budget, you will be strengthening your relationship for both the near-term and for years to come.
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