6 Steps to Financial Planning for Couples
Financial planning for couples requires communication, commitment, and consistency. Finances may not have been a main topic of discussion before you said “I do,” but priorities change as you grow and work towards new milestones in your life.
Along with date nights and romantic gestures, managing your money together can actually strengthen your bond and improve marital satisfaction. This is because solid financial planning for couples reduces stress and conflict in your relationship, and helps you prepare for a bright future together.
Here are our six tips to financial planning for couples:
1) Discuss your finances openly
Communication is key to a happy relationship, and that especially applies to finances. Both individuals come into a marriage with their own unique money management strategies and skills. Some of these may be very effective, and some may be less than ideal.
A big part of financial planning is to come to a mutual understanding and to have all the facts. You must understand why your partner has developed their existing financial habits. Here are some key questions to ask and answer together:
- What bank accounts do you use?
- What debts do you carry? Examples are credit cards, student loans, child support or legal payments, etc.
- Have you set aside money for savings?
- What kinds of purchases should be discussed as a couple before proceeding? For example: Should we check in before spending more than $100 on an item?
- What kind of lifestyle do you envision at different life stages? For example, in our 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and in retirement?
2) Solidify your financial goals
Now that you have an understanding of your partner’s attitude towards money management and of their overall financial situation, the next step in financial planning for couples is to set goals together.
Your goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
Below are a few goals you may have as a couple:
- Put a down payment of $20,000 on a home in the next 2 years
- Prepare financially to keep one spouse home with a new baby for a period of time
- Build an emergency fund or nest egg
- Improve one or both partner’s credit score to a specific rating
3) Agree on bank account arrangements
Not all couples use the same bank account setup. Review your options, along with their benefits and drawbacks:
One joint account for all financial transactions
With this arrangement, both partners have their paychecks and expenses going to and from the same checking account.
This option can simplify budgeting, increase financial trust in your marriage, and make things easier when there’s a large income gap between both partners.
Some couples find this limiting to their personal autonomy. Couples with a high level of independence may not find it comfortable to use one joint account.
Separate bank accounts
Keeping separate accounts may ease marital disagreements for some, as long as expenses are being paid and agreed-upon financial goals are being met. This arrangement also offers some protection against the unfortunate (but uncommon) possibility of one partner exiting the marriage with all of the funds.
While supportive of each person’s independence, this arrangement can make it easier for you or your spouse to conceal spending habits or purchases that may not have been agreed upon.
4) Budget together
Designing and agreeing upon a budget plan is the best way for your financial planning to come together. Start with the basics:
- How much money is coming in? If you have a consistent salary and pay schedule, this is relatively simple. For those whose work is seasonal or on a contract basis, you will need to create different budget plans for different income scenarios.
- What are our fixed monthly expenses? Fixed monthly expenses are bills that need to be paid regularly, and are usually about the same amount. Some examples are rent/mortgage, utilities, car payments, and student loans.
- What are our variable monthly expenses? Variable monthly expenses are must-haves that can change in amount, like groceries or gas.
- What is a reasonable amount to spend on non-necessities? Dining out, shopping, gym memberships, and leisure activities fall under the non-essential category, but that doesn’t mean you need to skip them! You deserve some just-for-fun purchases, but having a budget keeps you from overdoing it.
5) Tackle your debts
Debt can put a strain on your finances and on your marriage. Credit card debt, student loan debt, and more can add up, causing a “treadmill effect” where you’re using one form of credit to pay off another. Many couples find relief in focusing on tackling debt before taking on other financial goals.
After you’ve completed your budget, look for ways to put more income towards your debts. The faster you pay them off, the less you’ll pay in interest. As your financial wellness improves, you’ll have fewer disputes over money management.
7) Save for emergencies
Along with paying down your debts, building a savings account plays a key role in financial planning for couples. In fact, a savings account helps keep you debt-free by giving you a cushion for unexpected expenses, so you’re less likely to turn to credit.
Your emergency fund can pay for things like auto repairs or medical bills, and even protect your finances in stressful situations like loss of employment. The peace of mind of having a savings account can translate to peace of mind in your relationship.
Still have questions about financial planning for couples? Reach out to a trusted advisor at your local bank for personalized advice and insights. Best of luck on your journey together!