It’s happened. You’ve fallen head over heels in love with “The One.” The one who knows you better than anyone else. The one with whom who you want to spend all of your days. The one with whom you feel comfortable sharing all of your innermost thoughts, feelings and ideas. It’s amazing and all-consuming — and the next thing you know, you’re moving in together and combining your lives.
While sharing your guilty-pleasure music or the fact that you’re not the greatest at keeping the bathroom tidy with this person may seem relatively easy, there’s one thing that may be a little harder to share…your finances.
Why is this? Well, numerous studies and polls have told us time and time again that couples fight more over how to manage their money than anything else. In fact, it’s the leading cause of stress in marriages, not to mention one of the most frequently cited reasons for divorce. Money can tend to bring up all sorts of proprietary/ownership feelings. Kind of scary, right?
There are ways, however, to ease some of the tension, and create harmony in your relationship…and your bank account.
Put in the Time and Communicate
As with anything in your relationship, getting your finances on track is going to take time and effort. First, sit down with your significant other and decide how you’d like to manage your finances. For instance, some couples prefer to use the “Yours, Mine, Ours” method which allows both people to still have their own bank accounts and then a “shared pot” from which all bills are paid, while others like to combine their accounts right away.
Whichever method you choose, take time to create and review your budget frequently (at least once a month). Calculate where your funds are currently going, as well as where you’d like to cut back your spending and redirect the funds to other things.
In doing all of this, communication will, by far, be the most important tool you need. This will mean discussing some “not so fun” topics such as:
- Past spending habits
- Where your money is kept
Keep these conversations open and honest, but not confrontational. Nothing should be kept off limits. Some may be bringing less-than-stellar financial and credit histories to the table, but the way your finances were handled in the past is no longer relevant; this is about moving forward together. These conversations aren’t always easy and it may take some negotiating (example: “Okay…we can put more towards the ‘new TV fund’ this pay period, but next time…that extra cash is going toward the ‘vacation fund’”).
There are going to be disagreements about where money should or should not be spent and they may happen fairly often, but do not get discouraged! As with anything, this gets easier with time — especially if you can communicate well without letting tempers flare. Once you take control of your cash and feel confident, your inner budgeting nerd may come out and you may even enjoy this time together!
Keep Each Other Accountable…To a Point
One of the great things about managing your finances jointly is you have someone to help keep you in line (it’s a little bit harder to justify blowing your budget to buy that additional pair of shoes you don’t REALLY need if there is someone else counting on you to keep your spending in check). That said, this is where the “keeping your dialogue open and honest” plays a huge role. While it’s great to keep each other accountable, you also need a little room to be independent as well. So, factor some “fun money” into your budget for both of you that can be spent on anything — no questions asked, as long as you do not over spend.
Create Shared (Satisfying) Goals
We all know budgeting isn’t exactly the most fun way to spend time with your sweetie, but setting up a few shared goals to work towards may help liven it up! Discuss a few things you would like to accomplish as a couple such as “Save $2,000 for vacation,” “Save $1,000 for new living room furniture,” or “Save $100/month for a nice date night.” The point is to try to find a few things that you will both enjoy and be proud to accomplish, then put away a little bit of money each month towards them. You will both feel a sense of pride as your numbers reach their mark and accomplishing this together will help you bond as a couple. It also works very well as an added incentive to stay on track with your budget.
Just remember that all of this finance-sharing and mutual goal-setting is, at its core, a manifestation of the fact that you have chosen to share your life with someone. Celebrating that fact should make the ongoing “communication and work” aspect of this entire task more palatable – and maybe even rewarding!