- Opening a dialogue about money will get you two off on the right foot.
- Checking in before making big purchases builds teamwork and smart shopping habits.
- Spelling out short- and long-term goals makes you two more likely to achieve them.
- Creating a budget helps free up money for fun stuff.
As soon as you get engaged, friends and families bombard you with advice about everything—including finances. Don’t rent, buy. Combine your accounts. Keep some money separate. It’s enough to make you want to elope! But before you tune it all out, know there is some money advice couples should actually take to heart.
They are strategies for managing finances together, and they may be more important to your security than getting hot stock tips. “The more clarity you have with your current finances, the easier it is for you to create a plan to reach your financial goals together,” says CEO and business coach Kim Perell, author of Jump: Dare to Do What Scares You in Business and Life.
Why is it so crucial to get on the same page? Research shows disagreements about money are stronger predictors of divorce than other types of disagreements couples have. To build a solid foundation, adopt these rules for a happy and financially healthy future.
Inside this article
Rule #1: Talk about money early—and often
If there’s one golden money rule for couples, it is to talk openly about your finances right from the start, says Nick Bormann, PhD, a Certified Financial Planner in Spokane, Washington. “If recently married, it can take some mental adjustment to move from ‘my money’ to ‘our money,’” he says. “Some disagreements are natural, but airing issues in advance can prevent bigger problems down the road.”
Sure, transparency can be scary, but the most important part of any relationship is trust, adds Perell. You’re building that on all fronts when you spill your money secrets and dreams. “Sharing your debt can be overwhelming but it is essential to share it now to set yourselves up for long-term success,” she adds.
If you find it hard to open up about money matters, consider going with your SO to talk through things with the help of a financial therapist or Certified Financial Planner.
Rule #2: Make ground rules together
If you can decide on guardrails in advance, you’re less likely to have money misunderstandings and mistakes happen. “One good rule I’ve seen couples use is always talk to the other person before spending over a certain amount of money at once,” says Bormann. The exact amount will depend on your joint finances and goals, but you might say, for example, that before either of you plunks down a credit card for any item over $1,000, you’ll touch base.
It’s a game-changing strategy from not only a relationship but also a money standpoint. “Big financial decisions impact both people,” notes Bormann, “and having a cool-off period before large purchases can avoid costly mistakes or high-pressure sales tactics.”
Rule #3: Have a 5-month and 5-year plan
All too often, we work, save and spend on autopilot. Consider this, though: The more you think ahead about money goals, the better able you’ll be to make your money work for you. “Couples can achieve more together by creating shared short-term and long-term financial goals,” says Perell.
Start with the near future: Think of what you want to make happen in the next three to six months. For instance, it might be as simple as deciding you’ll sock away $200 each paycheck to save spending money for a summer vacation.
Next, widen your lens and think bigger picture. Perell suggests focusing on goals that might take several years to reach. “What are your priorities in one, three and five years? Write these down individually then review them together,” she says. Do you want to pay off debt? Remodel or buy a house? “Agree on what is most important to each of you and prioritize them together,” she advises.
Rule #4: Prep for an emergency
It’s important to have funds in reserve for a rainy day. According to FEMA, 60% of American households have at least one financial emergency like unemployment, a medical emergency or car damage in a year. A good general rule of thumb: Keep the equivalent of three to six months of your regular expenses saved in an account that is easy to access.
Don’t stop there though: You also want to make sure you two have your financial ducks in a row in the event of a sudden crisis. Make sure all your insurance policies are up to date and keep digital copies of important receipts and documents.
According to Bormann, it’s also key to make sure both of you know the details of all your checking, savings and investment accounts. “If your spouse was in a bad accident and couldn't tell you where to get money from to pay the bills, how would you handle that? Have a system to keep track of where everyone’s money is so that if there is a nasty surprise, it won’t be a financial disaster too,” he says.
Rule #5: Know the 50/30/20 rule
No matter how much cash you have coming in, tracking it via a budget is a fundamental way to keep your finances in tip-top shape. “This can be really simple to start—just comparing money in versus money out on each account,” says Bormann. “If expenses are becoming much higher than savings, it’s best to know about that before there is a serious problem.”
At the same time, you want to make sure you’re not overspending on any front. For this, the 50/30/20 budget rule is invaluable. “The basic rule of thumb is to divide your after-tax income into three broad categories: 50% for needs, 30% for wants, and 20% for your savings and investments,” Perell explains. “Using these guidelines will give you a clearer picture of your spending habits, reveal opportunities where you can cut back, and help you stay on track to reach your financial goals.”