Managing household finances as a couple can be stressful. Suddenly, you have to merge different spending habits and savings patterns. Both partners need to agree to a shared system of bill payment, savings and budgeting. Although the percentage of U.S. households with dual earners hit 60 percent in 2012 from just 25 percent in 1960, according to Pew Research, money is still a source of contention in modern families. In a recent survey by Chase Bank, three out of four millennials and Gen Xers admitted to conflicts with their spouse over money matters. Working out the differences won’t be an overnight process, but if both partners are willing to search for the middle ground, you can achieve your financial goals together.
No couple is perfectly balanced in terms of savings and income. Deciding how you’ll divide up the bill payments and savings contributions may depend on a host of factors such as each partner’s income, child care and grocery preferences. First, set goals for the big items, like 401k savings, a down payment for a house or kids’ college funds. Next, take a look at what’s left, and set up a budget for spending. Lively debates may happen, but talking through money issues is important, as is arriving at a solution you’re both happy with.
Couples don’t necessarily need to join every account from the get-go, but in some cases, combined accounts are a better fit. Evaluating the benefits of both combined and separate accounts can help determine which option works best for you.
If you’ve decided to gradually combine accounts, start by opening one joint account and diverting an agreed-upon portion of your paycheck. Set an amount for discretionary spending that you don’t need to talk about as a couple, and leave it at that. As you grow more comfortable with each other’s spending habits, you may be more willing to pool your resources toward a greater goal.
To promote efficiency, one of you may take over management of household finances. Alternatively, you can split the work — one person handles bill payment, while the other takes on investments, for example. Make a list of your monthly expenses to ensure nothing slips through the cracks. Money management takes time and effort: Both partners should acknowledge this, no matter who ultimately does the work.
A lifelong savings strategy helps both of you keep the end game in mind. Ideally, you want to retire comfortably together and support your family financially. Put together a clear savings plan, and arrive at big financial decisions together. Even if you aren’t the person actively managing household expenses, take an interest through active discussion so that everyone’s aware of your current financial picture.
As part of a couple, you’ll need to work toward common goals. You’re no longer facing life’s financial ups and downs alone. Teamwork is the best way to get you where you need to be, no matter how you decide to iron out the details.