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How to Budget as a Couple

Updated: Mar 13

Money is one of the leading causes of divorce and disagreement among couples. The topic itself is already emotional, and money beliefs can make it more difficult to understand one another as a result of our upbringing.

If people only talk about money when facing financial problems or spending disagreements, fights about money are more likely to happen. Yet this seems to be the norm in many homes.

So here are some thoughts and tips we’ve gathered to help your household approach the conversation of budgeting.

Scheduled and Intentional Money Talks

  • Set aside uninterrupted time to discuss money.

  • Find out why your partner thinks the way they do by understanding each other.

  • Respect each other's perspectives and show empathy.

Financial habits are often passed down from generation to generation. So it's worthwhile to dig deep into these conversations to figure out where you and your partner differ in their financial perspectives, recognizing that these perspectives could be derived from childhood. The best way to do so is on a money date.

Money dates are scheduled conversations between you and your spouse in a comfortable environment where you discuss your money goals, values, and relationship. The purpose of money dates is to keep couples on the same page financially -- enabling both partners to control money in the relationship. Some refer to them as household business meetings, but regardless of the way you define it, you should regularly discuss household finances with your partner.

Here are some conversation starters partners can use to get the conversation started about their financial goals and shared values. A budget is the roadmap partners use to get there.

Read What is a Money Date? for an in depth look into talking about money.

Start with Spending Joys

Why start a conversation about money by talking about what you want to cut back on? Spending money is fun when you spend it on what you both enjoy doing.

Be open with your partner about your passions and interests to help your partner gain insight into your priorities and values. You will create a deeper connection with your spouse by supporting and appreciating each other's hobbies or interests.

Additionally, discussing your spending habits promotes financial harmony by ensuring that both partners are on the same page regarding budgeting and financial goals. This open dialogue lays the foundation for trust, teamwork, and financial fulfillment.

Create Clarity on Your Incomes and Spending Power

You can make money from a variety of sources: salaries and wages, bonuses, and passive income from investments and businesses.



Regardless of how you and your spouse earn your income, there are two essential considerations when calculating your spending power: your income after deductions and the inflation and tax adjusted cost of goods and services.


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

An individual's net pay, on the other hand, 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 only budget your net pay on what you plan on spending.



Spending Power

There are three primary hidden factors that make purchases more expensive than the sticker price: sales tax, inflation, and shipping costs if ordering online. Keep all of them in mind when considering the cost of living. These resources can help:

Audit Your Previous Spending

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:

  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.

  4. [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.

Give yourself up to three hours to do this the right way. Investing this amount of time on the front end is priceless. It will facilitate an informed conversation about previous spending patterns, and automate the budgeting process for you and your spouse moving forward.

Establish Your Budget

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. There are far more factors at play than can be accounted for on a spreadsheet.

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.

We might get confirmation bias if we're looking for 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.

The Empathy Gap

The empathy gap is the tendency to underestimate the influence of our emotional state and overestimate the intellectual influence on our decisions.

Learn how the empathy gap plays a role in your financial behavior by reading Forget the Money. Focus on Feelings.

Mental Accounting Bias

Mental accounting explains how we value money subjectively, often violating basic economic principles. Money has consistent, objective value, but how we spend it is often governed by different rules. This is depending on how we made it, how we intend to use it, and how it feels to us.

When influenced by mental accounting, we file money into different categories that mirror a budget, which leads to irrational behavior.

Budgeting Strategies

50/30/20 rule

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

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

20% of income is dedicated to savings and investments. Examples include saving for an emergency fund or a vacation.

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.



Keep it Going

Budgeting is not a sit and forget process. It is ongoing. Keep yourself up to date with the most effective strategies and tools to budget as a couple by following Modern Husbands.

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

🔔 Click here to listen and subscribe to the Modern Husbands Podcast on Apple.

🔔 Click here to listen and subscribe to the Modern Husbands Podcast on Spotify.

Subscribe: 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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