Navigating finances in a relationship can be tricky.
You may think everything is progressing smoothly. But your budget and savings account say otherwise.
Talking about money and budgeting with your partner isn’t the most romantic way to spend time together, but it can actually make your relationship stronger.
Whether you use a budgeting app, an Excel spreadsheet or a pen and notebook, it’s important to discuss with your partner where the money is going without it devolving into icy silence or a screaming match.
Take a little time at the beginning or end of each month to close out your budget as a couple. This is your time to reflect on joint spending and saving, then determine whether you need to make any adjustments for the month ahead.
Here are some budgeting questions to get you started.
4 Conversations to Have With Your Partner When You Budget
Before we get started, it’s helpful to understand how to budget as a couple.
You’ll want to see where your money has been going to get an idea of where it needs to go in the future.
Make sure to account for:
- Your income: How much do you both bring in each month? Note the combined total of your income from your jobs or businesses. If one person makes significantly more money than the other, talk honestly about how to handle it. Each couple should figure out what works for them.
- Your fixed expenses: List out bills and obligations that must be paid each month and rarely vary. This includes things like rent, car payments, student loans, utilities, life insurance, cell phone bills, internet bills and retirement contributions. These are the costs you have already committed to paying each month, and they likely come with a contract.
- Your variable expenses: This is anything that doesn’t have a monthly payment, but you need to buy anyway: groceries, gas for the car, pet supplies, clothing and household goods like shampoo and sandwich bags.
Once you have all the numbers in front of you, it’s time to ask a few important questions.
Here are four budgeting questions to ask your partner to help strengthen your wallet and your relationship.
- How do we feel about our spending?
- How do we feel about our savings goals?
- How should we handle personal spending and savings goals?
- Do we need to adjust our budget to reach our goals?
1. How Do We Feel About Our Spending?
This is the most obvious question you and your partner should consider as you both reflect on spending from the past month.
It’s helpful to compare how your actual spending matches up with your planned budget. Look at each spending category, such as food, entertainment and transportation.
Where did you overspend? Where did you spend less than anticipated? Where do you want to spend more or less?
If you spent more money than you anticipated, analyze what factors contributed to overspending. Talk to each other about what you can do differently next month.
You should also adjust your spending limits if you’re consistently coming in over or under budget in a particular category. It’s better to be practical than stick to a number that doesn’t work for you.
For example, if you budget $350 a month for groceries but keep coming in around $450 despite efforts to cut food costs, consider making an adjustment to a more realistic level.
The reverse is true, too. If you put $100 a month in your budget for car maintenance and only spend $25, what do you want to do with the extra $75? Do you want to reallocate that money or roll it over to save for more expensive maintenance?
2. How Do We Feel About Our Savings Goals?
Paying your bills on time and having enough money to cover daily necessities is great — but don’t neglect your big-picture goals as a couple.
When money is left over at the end of the month, are you both in agreement with where it should go?
For example, maybe you want to save up for a house down payment but he wants to put extra money toward a trip to Europe next summer. Or maybe you both have a significant amount of student loan debt you want to eliminate in the next five years.
You may not have enough money to save for multiple goals, which is why you should align your financial priorities as a couple.
You can create a sinking fund by putting a specific amount of money away into a separate account each week or month. A sinking fund is a pool of money you regularly contribute to so you spread out the cost of an upcoming expense over time.
When you have clearly defined financial goals you’re working toward as a couple each month, it can make it easier to stick to a budget.
3. How Should We Handle Personal Spending and Savings Goals?
You’ll both have personal things you want to spend money on or individual savings goals. You may spend $80 on your hair each month, for example, while your partner spends $80 on video games.
One way to avoid conflict is to create a “no-questions-asked” allowance for each of you.
Whether you can afford $10 each per month or $300 each per month, everyone needs a little money to spend, save or invest however they choose without being accountable to the other person. Just make sure you both agree on the personal allowance amount in your budget.
Or if you’re not comfortable combining your finances, you can take a more hybrid approach.
You can create a joint account for household expenses and other shared goals (like vacations or a wedding). Each partner contributes to the joint account but keeps the rest of their accounts separate.
4. Do We Need to Adjust Our Budget to Meet Our Goals?
After sitting down and creating a budget as a couple, start identifying ways to save money each month and potentially even make money.
This is especially important if you’re saving up for a big goal and the numbers in your budget make it unrealistic to reach that goal in the time you want.
You’ll have more wiggle room in your budget if you can eliminate unnecessary spending, like subscriptions you don’t use anymore.
Don’t just focus on your discretionary spending either. Look through your essential expenses and identify one way you can cut costs.
For example, you can call your Internet provider and ask for a better rate, or ask if they’d match a competitor’s quote. Or you can try lowering your utility bills by reducing your water and electricity usage.
If you’re both already super frugal, it may be time to discuss ways to bring in extra income.
You can increase your income in a number of ways. At work, you could ask to take on more hours, work overtime or negotiate a raise.
It’s important not to point fingers or emphasize income inequalities during these discussions. You may live in a one-income household because one partner is taking time off work to care for the kids — and that’s OK.
It never hurts to brainstorm ways to generate income, even if it’s just an additional $200 to $500 a month.
Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.