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Everything You Need to Know About Spending Plans for Spouses

Building a spending plan with your spouse is not only about managing finances; it's about creating a shared vision for your future, fostering communication, and strengthening your relationship. This post will share everything you need about how spouses can build successful spending plans. 

Everything You Need to Know About Spending Plans for Spouses

The Importance of a Spending Plan in Marriage

A spending plan allows couples to align their financial goals and priorities. It helps ensure that both partners agree on spending habits, savings objectives, and long-term financial plans.

Spending plans can be confused with a household budget. The difference is that budgets fail to provide the long-term flexibility needed to account for our financial lives' ebbs and flows without creating stress and anxiety. When this happens, it is not uncommon for people to feel they have failed and give up on budgeting altogether. 

Spending plans are less about numbers and more about making informed choices about where to spend your money. There is a plan that allows for changing financial circumstances in our lives, making it easier to stick to the plan.

A spending plan is not a long-term diet. Planned choices to spend money are not guilty pleasures but planned happiness. Couples can reduce financial stress and promote peace of mind, knowing that their spending plan helps them work together.

Your Spending Plan Essentials

The most useful resource or tool spouses can use to build a spending plan is a complete history of their financial choices. 

A checklist to collect your transactions over the past few months

Checking account transactions

Most banks also allow you to download transactions into a CSV file. If not, you must download the monthly statements in a PDF. This will capture all transactions through your checking accounts, such as debit cards, checks, and ATM withdrawals. 

Credit card transactions

Most credit cards allow you to download transactions into a CSV file. Doing so will save you time and headaches when you organize your transactions. 

Savings account transactions

You can likely download your records just as you did with your checking account. Be sure not to double account. For example, if you moved money from checking to saving and then spent that money from your checking, this should only be one total withdrawal. 


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Cash on hand

Whether it is the penny jar or piggy bank, you'll need to estimate how much you spent using cash that is not reflected in any bank account withdrawals. 

You'll need to categorize each transaction as a debit (money out of your account) and credit (money into your account). Do not double-count credits, such as paycheck deposits and transfers between accounts. 

3rd party mobile wallet transactions

Download withdrawals from contactless payment options such as Apple Pay and Venmo. You'll need to cross over transactions to ensure they are not double-counted between the app and the connecting bank account. 

Brokerage account transactions

These accounts are typically considered investment accounts commonly used to buy and sell securities (e.g., stocks, bonds, mutual funds). There are no penalties or limits for withdrawing, and some brokerage accounts have services similar to checking accounts. 

Clarity on Your Incomes 

Salaries, bonuses, investments, and passive income from businesses are all ways of making money. Regardless of how you and your spouse earn income, two essential considerations are your income after deductions and inflation-adjusted costs when calculating your spending power.

Gross vs. net income

Gross pay is how much someone makes before taxes, insurance, retirement contributions, and other deductions are taken. 

On the other hand, an individual's net pay is what they get home after all deductions. Federal, state, and local taxes, Social Security, Medicare, health insurance premiums, retirement contributions, and anything else you're allowed to withhold are usually included. 

It is crucial to budget only your net pay, not your gross pay, for what you plan to spend. 

Audit Your Previous Spending

Choose your tool to organize your transactions 


Hands down, the most efficient way to audit your previous spending habits is to use The Tiller uploading process. Here is the step-by-step process:

  • Subscribe to Tiller for free for 30 days.

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

  • Spend quality time getting everything to run automatically and have a money date. Download three months of transactions using the "autocat" feature.

  • [Option] 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.

Excel Spreadsheet / Google Sheets

My wife is in the payments industry and lives in Excel, and I love to customize tools for us. We have tried each of the above apps, but Sheets works best for us. Click here for your own customizable Google Sheets Spreadsheet

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Spending Tracker

The Spending Tracker tool is included in the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection's Your Money, Your Goals: A financial empowerment toolkit. 

This tool is ideal for folks who prefer paper/pencil. It will require more work because all spending decisions must be recorded manually. Moreover, it might not be dynamic enough for married couples to use. 

Select a Spending Plan Strategy

50/30/20 Spending plan rule

Everything You Need to Know About Spending Plans for Spouses

Line item budgeting

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

Zero-based budgeting

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

Establish Your Spending Plan

Think of a budget as a roadmap with detours along the way. It is counterproductive when you don't give yourself and your spouse grace as you navigate your financial journey. Many factors are at play not found on a spreadsheet.

Schedule a Money Date 

Couples are not spreadsheets. You're people with emotions. Put time aside to build your plan together and consider what you enjoy spending money on the most. Write down your preferred spending choices separately, then meet to find out what you have in common.

Work through this process with your partner in a comfortable and peaceful environment. Schedule enough time not to feel rushed. 



Focus on Your Financial Wellbeing

The CFPB found that financial wellbeing includes the following elements:

Control over your finances

Having control over one's finances in terms of being able to pay bills on time, not having unmanageable debt, and making ends meet.

The means to absorb a financial shock

Having a financial "cushion" against unexpected expenses and emergencies. Having savings, health insurance, and good credit.

Progress toward established financial goals

Goals include paying off student loans within a certain number of years or saving a particular amount towards retirement.

The ability to make choices to enjoy your life

Choices such as taking a vacation, enjoying a meal out now and then, going back to school to pursue an advanced degree, or working less to spend more time with family.

You can assess your financial wellbeing using their financial wellbeing interactive tool.

Establish Shared Values Guided Goals

Prioritize establishing shared value-guided financial decisions when living your life today. Perhaps you and your partner value experiences, travel, or philanthropy. Whatever it may be, the values you and your partner share should be your daily experiences.

Consider The Psychology of Spending

Spending behavior is heavily influenced by our biases, often without our knowledge. Cognitive biases can significantly impact our perception and financial decisions. 

For example, we might get confirmation bias if we seek information to confirm our preconceived notions about a product or investment. This might make us spend less. Other biases, such as the empathy gap and mental accounting, can also affect our perceptions of value, risk, and reward, shaping how we allocate our finances. 

Understanding and acknowledging these biases can empower us to make more informed and rational spending choices.



Categorize your expenses 

To reduce your spending, categorize your fixed and variable expenses. 

Fixed expenses

Fixed expenses do not change from payment to payment. Common examples of fixed expenses include fixed-rate mortgages and auto loan payments. Low fixed expenses help manage life's financial uncertainties.

Variable expenses

Variable but automatic expenses—often paid automatically, but with increasing costs over time—are a great place to start cutting costs. Examples include subscriptions, insurance, and cell phones. 

Variable expenses can vary day by day. Consider how frequently you or your spouse order from Amazon, eat out or attend a sporting event. 

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.

Self paced online courses for couples designed by national financial therapy and financial planning experts

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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