What couple doesn’t need some relationship budgeting hacks? Money is uniquely hard to figure out when you’re in a relationship because we all place such different values on it. Now, obviously, I’m not talking about the monetary value. I’m referring to the “big V” Values — what it means to us. How you approach money is so totally shaped by your upbringing, your job, your family's values, your own values, your friend’s values… The list goes on. As a result, we all have very different feelings about money and when it comes time to deal with managing not only your own money but someone else’s too, things can get tricky really quickly.
I know that different couples decide to start sharing finances at different times but for this article, I’m talking to couples who start splitting the finances when they start living together. Before then, you might have some shared expenses but once you move in together, you’re sharing everything from groceries to shower stuff to utility bills. Oh yeah, and that big expense called rent.
So here are some budgeting hacks I’ve figured out in my years both as one half of a couple and a person who has been more or less broke for her entire professional life, up until very recently. Trust me: I know how to pinch a penny.
1. Make A List Of Joint Expenses
Grab a couple of good beers and sit down to talk out exactly what your joint expenses are. Start by listing each thing — groceries, meals out, rent, utilities, etc. — and then come up with an approximate amount that each costs every month. This is going to be a major pain in the ass, but it’s necessary for almost all of the rest of the hacks listed here so don’t slack on it. (That’s why I said grab a beer. It’ll make it like, 20 percent more enjoyable than it would be otherwise.)
2. Talk About What’s Important To You
After you’ve got the list of shared expenses, talk about the extra expenses that are important to you. For example, when my boyfriend and I were first dating, he was really clear about the fact that he wasn’t into taking the city bus everywhere and would like to take cabs a little more often. I — who was, as I mentioned, very broke — told him that I couldn’t afford to take cabs, so if we were going to do that, it was going to come out of his pocket. We agreed that I would cover some of the cab rides, but not as much as he would.
Maybe you really care about organic fruits and vegetables, but your partner couldn’t care less. Or maybe high quality bedding is at the top of your list, whereas your partner would be fine sleeping on a bare mattress. Make sure you’re both aware of the other’s higher cost priorities (and work out how to deal with them) so that there are no nasty surprises later on.
3. Create A Joint Account
For joint expenses — groceries, cat food, utilities, or whatever else you two pay together — create a joint account that you both contribute to. You can either agree to both put in the same amount per month or you can do it based on how much you each earn. (So, if you’re pulling $3k a month and your partner is pulling $2k and you agree to each put in 20 percent of your paycheck, you’d be putting in $600 a month and they’d be putting in $400.) It’s up to you to determine what makes the most sense for the two of you.
Take a look back at that joint expenses list you made and agree that only things on that list will come out of that account. For this to work, you both have to really commit to not “occasionally” using it for personal things. That’s a fast way to mistrust and anger.
This “account” doesn’t have to be an official bank account either, although each of you having a card that pulls from that account definitely makes things easier. It could be a shoe box under your bed that you take cash from when you need it, as long as you’re both keeping track of where the money goes.
4. Set Aside A Monthly “Splurge” Fund
Even if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it’s important to treat yo’ self sometimes. A good way to do that while still staying within both of your budgets is by setting up a “splurge” fund. Set aside a certain amount each month and use it for awesome dates. Go to the spa together. Go for a baller dinner. Buy some sexy shoes. Whatever it is, use that money to not only treat yo’ self but also have some fun together! The daily grind of being a grown-up can get to even the tightest couple, so support each other by splurging every once in a while.
5. Track Your Expenses
My boyfriend and I use Splitwise to track our joint expenses. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good way to make sure we’re both spending about the same amount on joint stuff. Without a record like the one you get with Splitwise (or whatever method you guys work out between you two), it can get really easy to fall into resentment, where both of you think you’re always spending more than the other. Having it all clearly written out means you never have to have that argument.
6. Commit To A Big Goal Together
Another great way to make sure you and your partner stay on the same financial track is by setting a big goal together. It could be a nicer apartment or buying a house or a dog or even going on a trip together. By committing to a big financial goal together, you’ll be reaffirming your commitment to each other and also putting aside money for the future. Double score!
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