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Budgeting 101 for Couples

Updated: Jan 4

Updated post: 11/28/23

Original post: 6/15/22

How to budget as a couple

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people that they don’t like.”
– Will Rogers

Setting a budget with a spouse should be a process that begins with a conversation. Talking about money can be very emotional and is one of the most common sources of couples' disagreements and eventual divorce. Money beliefs often originate from our upbringing, making it harder for couples to understand one another, mainly when the topic itself is already emotional.

Discontentment brought on by societal pressures and norms doesn't help. And it's not as simple anymore as refusing to keep up with the Joneses. As our work world has evolved from centuries of deep-rooted bigotry, new challenges are beginning in American homes. According to the US Census Bureau, 38% of wives now outearn their husbands, despite Americans seeing men as the financial providers.

These complex and deep-rooted emotions can be worked out through honest conversations and a pragmatic approach. Otherwise, these emotions can fester. Conversations about money turn into fights, which is significantly more likely if folks only talk about money when reacting to a financial problem or spending disagreement.

We are already budgeting averse culture. And adding the discipline of budgeting to a changing dynamic in the income-makeup between men and women (and therefore many households), can certainly lead to tension.

At Modern Husbands, our mission is to drive healthy conversation, habits, and build a community around brave couples and families that are willing to take on financial responsibility together.

So here are some thoughts and tips we’ve gathered to help your household approach the conversation of budgeting. We also created a free customizable budgeting tool for couples to better budget together. A video tutorial of how to use the tool is below.

Budgeting 101: Money Marriage U Budget

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive free access to Money Marriage U Budget. The course and the budgeting templates are specifically designed for couples.

Budgeting 101: Tiller

My wife and I use Tiller to manage our finances, and we love it! Here is why:

Time saver

Keeping track of transactions on an app or manually is extremely time-consuming. Once our accounts were linked to Tiller and we categorized three months of transactions, Tiller was updated daily without additional effort on our part. A review of each transaction from the previous day is sent to us every morning.


Tiller does not share personal data or advertise other products.


Easily identify spending patterns with Tiller.

To help users take control of their finances, Tiller leverages spreadsheets' flexibility and familiarity. You can track income, expenses, and financial goals in real time as it seamlessly integrates with your bank accounts.


Budgeting 101: Communicate

Before diving into the details of a budget, set aside uninterrupted time dedicated to conversations about money. Concentrate on understanding each other and why your partner thinks the way they do. Partners should appreciate each other's perspectives and have empathy for each other.

Like we mentioned above, financial habits are passed down from generation to generation. So it’s important to dig deep in these conversations, and try to identify where your own financial perspectives, vs the opinions and habits you and your partner may have inherited from family. As with many aspects of our social-emotional makeup, understanding root causes is necessary and can help build essential empathy and understanding.

The financial destination for partners is established by identifying financial goals and shared values. A budget is the roadmap partners use to get to the financial destination. Here are some conversation starters partners can use to get the conversation started.

  • Were your parents' savers or spenders? How does that influence how you behave with money?

  • How much money do we have to have in a savings account for you to feel financially secure?

  • What is your first memory of money, and why does it stand out to you?

  • What do you enjoy spending money on the most?

Managing money in your marriage is as much an art as a science. Read How to Manage Money in a Marriage for a more in depth approach to teaming up with your spouse to manage money together.

Budgeting 101: Identify your income streams

Income can come from various sources: salary and wages, bonuses, and passive income from an investment or business. Dive into last year’s records to pull it all together. You will need tax forms such as a W2. If you are considering changing careers, look at this engaging and illustrative tool from Data USA.

Talking about how much you earn with your spouse might not be easy. You will pick up some good ideas after reading How to talk to your partner about what you earn.

Budgeting 101 Explore your previous spending habits

The Tiller uploading process is the perfect tool to use to explore your previous spending habits.

  1. Subscribe to Tiller for free for 30 days.

  2. Gather the usernames and passwords needed to connect your financial accounts and automate the process.

  3. Spend quality time getting everything to run automatically and have a money date. Download three months of transactions using the "autocat" feature. You can customize your categories and then use their intuitive tool to review every transaction over the past few months. This will enable you to easily present your spending patterns to your spouse.

For anyone new to budgeting, it can be helpful to get an idea of norms using the MIT Living Wage Calculator. This free tool provides line item amounts for spending on necessities and is specific to family size and location.

Budgeting 101: Set your budget

Before beginning, it is necessary to understand the Mental Accounting bias. Money should be fungible – a dollar is a dollar, and every dollar is interchangeable. When influenced by mental accounting, a bias is stuck in our heads, and we file money into different categories that mirror a budget. This can lead to behaving irrationally.

For example, a purchase made just because it has been budgeted for but is not needed. Say a baseball hat or a new jacket. On the flip side, it could also mean sacrificing something that is a necessity because it violates the budget cap for that category, even when it would not lead to a budget deficit for the month. It could be something as important as seeing a doctor.

Treat a budget as a map toward your financial destination; sometimes, the trip includes a few detours.

Download our free customizable budgeting sheet for couples. Partners should review and discuss the following common budgeting strategies and decide what works best for them and how to apply it to our free budgeting sheet.

50/30/20 rule

50% of after-tax income is budgeted on needs such as rent or mortgage payments, vehicle payments, food, insurance, health care, minimum debt payment, and basic utilities.

30% of after-tax income on wants such as new designer shoes, vacations, concert tickets, or an upgraded iPhone.

20% of income is dedicated to savings and investments. Examples include saving toward an emergency fund or vacation. It also includes investing for retirement.

Line item budgeting

Use our spreadsheet to fill in every category of income and spending. Draw from past spending behaviors, shared values, and financial goals to earmark expenditures by category.

Zero-based budgeting

Partners develop a new budget from scratch regularly rather than relying upon the same budget yearly, even after making modest adjustments.

You will be very impressed by our 10 part budgeting series if you are looking for a more detailed budgeting process.

Final Fact: Money Management Strategies > Budgeting

People who are good at self-control structure their lives to avoid having to make self-control decisions, that is according to the paper Beneficial habits mediate the relationship between self-control and positive life outcomes.

You may be surprised by the ease of some of these strategies. Read Why Budgets do NOT Work to find behavior based money management strategies that actually work.


Learn More

Couples who learn more, save more, and spend more on what is important to them.

For engaged and recently married couples who want to manage money and the home as a team.

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Winning ideas from experts to manage money and the home as a team. 2023 Plutus Award Finalist: Best Couples or Family Content

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