Marriage can be hard. I get it. Money problems can make it any harder. But, by being proactive in making a plan with your money, you can help limit the stress that it can bring. Here are 3 tips I recommend for anyone wanting to feel in control of their finances.
Open a Joint Bank Account
When you get married, the two of you become one. Why should your finances be any different? Keeping your finances separate can be a recipe for disaster. By having all your money in one place, you never have to worry about who’s paying for what. It’s easier to keep track of one single budget for all your money, then one for each of you. We’ll talk more about budgeting later one…
If you’re worried about having to ask your husband about EVERY single dollar you want to spend, consider giving yourself an allowance. You can use your allowance to buy different things that you might want for yourself, or gifts for your husband. You can still keep a separate bank account for your own “fun money.” My husband and I have an automatic bank transfer set-up, so every other Friday (on my husband’s pay days) our allowance automatically transfers into our own individual accounts for our allowance. We can either withdraw it or keep saving it up for a bigger purchase. This helps us avoid the arguments over “you bought WHAT?!” and we don’t have to check in with each other before buying things we want.
Create a Budget
The word “budget” tends to make a lot of people cringe, but it shouldn’t! A budget is nothing more than just a written plan where you tell your money where to go.
Before you can begin to create your spending plan, you need to know how much money to have to work with. Estimate how much money you will be bringing in this month. If you make a salary, this step will be relatively easy. But, if you’re hourly or paid on commissions, use a reasonable estimate. I would recommend to error on the low end. There’s nothing worse than having a spending plan for money you didn’t actually make.
Sit down with your significant other and just start by making a master list of all your expenses – list everything you can think of that you spend money. Start with a list of all the regular things you spend money on each month (rent or mortgage payments, utilities, groceries, fuel, date nights, etc…). After that, start making a list of all the less-frequent expenses that come up – think annual memberships, subscriptions, car insurance and car tabs – and the months in which you pay them.
Once you have a complete list, write down how much you spend on each of these categories. Some of these categories will be easier than others. But, just do your best. Looking at a prior month’s bank statement might be a helpful resource if you need it. Your list doesn’t need to be perfect, and you can make edits to it later on as you learn.
At the beginning of each month, take a look at your Master list, and create your monthly budget from there. Do NOT get in the habit of using the same budget from month to month. You will get frustrated if you try a “one size fits all” approach, because money never works that way. It needs to be customized each month.
Finally, total up all your monthly expenses for the month, and compare it to the income you’re bringing in. Hopefully, your income is greater than your expenses! If not, take a second look at your expenses, and see if there’s any that you can cut back on.
If your income is greater than your expenses already, great work! Now, it’s time to budget for that “extra” money. Remember, I said a budget is a written plan where you tell your money where to go? That means you tell EVERY dollar where to go. If you have extra income, that doesn’t mean you can increase all your spending categories. Choose to invest it or save it. You never know when you might need it later.
Now, a budget won’t do you any good if you don’t follow it. Commit to tracking all your spending for the month, and compare it to your budgeted amounts. At the end of the month, you can edit any budget categories as necessary to fit your actual spending habits. I personally use the Pro Version of the EveryDollar app to track my spending, but Mint is another good (free) option. Both of these will sync to your bank account so there’s no excuse to miss recording a transaction!
Build a Savings
It’s always good to be prepared for the worst. Maybe a car breaks down and you need to pay to get it fixed. Maybe one of you loses a job, so you lose an income stream. Either way, a savings will help you get past these things. Personally, we’re working on building up 6 months of expenses into an “Emergency Fund”. If we need to tap into it because of an emergency, we’ll work to rebuild it as quickly as we can.
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These things are easy to implement, but they’re also easy not to. Make the commitment with your spouse to take charge of your finances, and see how making these simple steps can improve your marriage.