Financial Resource Center

Money Management

For a happy marriage: Budget

April 6th, 2015

NEW YORK (4/7/15)--A loss of a job is one of the leading life events that can lead to a divorce, but any money problems can put stress on a marriage.

Learning to communicate with a spouse or partner about money--how it's spent and how it's saved--is one of the most crucial skills for a healthy marriage.

An April 1 Business Insider article proposed that one of the five statements to consider in order to determine if your financial picture is a happy one is, "I communicate regularly and effectively with my spouse/partner about money."

Talking about money openly not only helps couples avoid festering resentments, it can clarify joint financial goals. The first step is to develop a budget that both can agree on and stick to--which means building in some elasticity.

  • Set up a modern envelope system. Most online banking platforms allow you to open multiple accounts and give them names that correspond with the different categories you're budgeting for--an update of the tried-and-true method of putting cash in different envelopes earmarked for specific expenses. Having multiple accounts allows you to easily shuttle money back and forth between them;
  • Have a "spend on whatever I want" category. In order to avoid arguments, agree on a set amount that each of you get to spend on whatever you want. As long as you're setting aside enough for expenses, savings, and needs, this gives you some financial freedom and avoids arguments over indulging guilty pleasures; and
  • Keep the budget minimal. If you're just starting out with a budget, making it as simple as possible will help you stick to it. In her book "All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan," now-U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recommends allocating your paycheck--assuming taxes and retirement savings have been automatically deducted--accordingly: 50% to needs (bills and groceries), 30% to wants (clothes and entertainment), and 20% to saving or paying down debt.

These guidelines can help making budgeting easier and feel less punitive, but they also assume you're doing relatively OK financially and have a steady income. If you're drowning in debt or your income is irregular, your priorities will need to adjust accordingly.

Regardless, sit down and talk about money solutions that work for both of you.

For related information, read "Couples and Money: Reconciling a Spender-Saver Money." 

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