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Strategies for Managing Financial Ups and Downs in Marriage

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Essential Considerations for Transitioning into Marriage

Discussing money before marriage helps prevent financial surprises after tying the knot, such as paychecks changing from month to month. Conversations about money must begin before marriage, and the month-to-month income expectations of each partner are vital topics.

Many couples face the challenge of managing income volatility. This can manifest in various forms, such as unexpected windfalls like large tax refunds or sudden setbacks like job losses. Balancing financial stability while navigating these ups and downs requires careful planning and proactive strategies.

This blog post will explore some effective ways couples can manage income volatility and maintain a solid financial foundation.

Understanding Income Volatility: Insights from the Aspen Institute

Income volatility refers to the irregular changes in a person or household's income over time. It can occur due to various factors, including fluctuations in employment, changes in business income, or unexpected financial events. The Aspen Institute's research suggests that income volatility is increasingly common, affecting households across the income spectrum.

Income and Benefits Tracker
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According to research released by the Aspen Institute

  • 55% of American households experienced a significant income drop of at least 25% within two years.

  • 40% of households experienced a job loss or reduced work hours during the study period.

  • 33% of households experienced fluctuations in self-employment or business income, leading to irregular changes in their overall income.

  • 25% of households experienced unforeseen expenses, such as medical emergencies or major car repairs, resulting in income volatility.

Income volatility affects households across the income spectrum. The Aspen Institute's research shows that it is not limited to low-income families, as even middle- and upper-income households experienced significant fluctuations in their income.


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The Importance of Budgeting for Emergency Funds

Creating and adhering to a budget is crucial for managing income volatility effectively. A well-structured budget allows couples to track income, expenses, and savings, enabling them to make informed financial decisions.

Establishing and maintaining an emergency fund is a vital budget component for managing income volatility. Financial Diaries, a research project focused on the financial lives of low- and moderate-income families, emphasizes the significance of having a safety net to cushion against unexpected income fluctuations.

An emergency fund should ideally cover three to six months' worth of essential expenses, such as rent or mortgage payments, utilities, groceries, and insurance. By setting aside a portion of each paycheck, couples can gradually build their emergency fund and be better prepared to weather financial storms.

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The Budgeting Process

To begin budgeting, couples should first assess their fixed expenses, such as housing, transportation, and debt repayments. They can then allocate a portion of their income towards variable expenses, such as groceries, entertainment, and discretionary spending. It is essential to prioritize savings and factor in potential income fluctuations while establishing a budget.

Before committing to significant fixed expenses, such as a mortgage, long-term lease, or car payment, couples should consider the financial security of low fixed expenses. Couples who already experience significant income volatility, such as tipped and bonus-based career compensation, should particularly pause before making any important fixed expense obligations.

Creating a Cash Flow Budget
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Seek Professional Guidance

During periods of income volatility, it can be beneficial for couples to seek professional financial guidance. Consulting with a certified financial planner or advisor can provide valuable insights and tailored strategies based on individual circumstances.

A financial professional can help couples optimize their budgeting, suggest appropriate investment options, offer guidance on debt management, and provide assistance with tax planning. By leveraging their expertise, couples can make informed decisions and work towards achieving long-term financial stability.

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Managing income volatility as a couple requires proactive planning, open communication, and a willingness to adapt to changing financial circumstances. By understanding income volatility, building emergency funds, budgeting effectively, diversifying income sources, and seeking professional guidance when needed, couples can navigate the highs and lows with greater confidence and financial resilience.

Remember, financial stability is a journey that requires ongoing effort, and employing these strategies can help couples establish a solid foundation for their shared financial future.


Learn More

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Aspen Institute. "Understanding Income Volatility: How Income Volatility Affects Families and Communities." Aspen Institute,

Aspen Institute. "Financial Security and Mobility." Aspen Institute,

Financial Diaries. "Building Financial Stability for Low- and Moderate-Income Families." Financial Diaries,

U.S. Department of State. "Personal Budgeting Basics.",


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