27 September 2023

The price of harmony: Budgeting for two

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Emily Guy Birken* says that couples often struggle to agree on their finances because they don’t have a shared budget or engage in regular conversations about money.

Image: 3D Animation Production Company

Money is the most common cause of stress in relationships, according to a study conducted by The Harris Poll, and fights about finances are often cited as the reason for divorce.

Couples struggle to get on the same page about their finances because they don’t have a shared budget or regular conversations about money.

Unfortunately, avoiding the budgeting discussion will do nothing to improve your money stress or your bottom line.

It doesn’t do much to avert fights about money, either.

But even if you know all this, your spouse may not be willing to embrace the joys of budgeting.

In fact, just bringing up the subject could prompt your partner to leave a person-size hole in the wall as they make a hasty exit.

Here’s how to bring a spouse on board to the necessities of budgeting if they’re reluctant to try it.

Start by dreaming big

Budgeting is really all about figuring out how you can have the things you want most in life.

But most people think of budgeting as deprivation and spreadsheets, which is no one’s idea of fun.

So, to get your unwilling spouse on board with budgeting, start by having conversations about what you both want in life.

For instance, you might ask your partner what they would do with a million dollars.

Not only will this conversation be fun — it’s thrilling to think about these kinds of dreams — but it also provides a great jumping off point for starting a budget.

After your big dreams conversation, you could open a new savings account specifically for the trip to Egypt your spouse has always wanted and start putting aside $5 a week.

This shows your spouse that you’re taking their dreams seriously, and that a cruise up the Nile is more than just a fun fantasy.

Once there’s a real trip or other goals that you’re working toward, it can be a lot easier to get a reluctant spouse excited about budgeting.

Work solo on a budget, but ask for input

In every marriage, there are tasks that one spouse takes over because the other spouse isn’t interested in handling it.

Maybe they handle all the lawn care while you do the grocery shopping and cooking.

So, there’s nothing wrong with creating a budget by yourself if your spouse has made it clear that they’re not interested.

However, even if your partner says they want nothing to do with budgeting, it’s still very important to make them part of the process.

Put together your monthly spending plan solo, but ask your partner for their opinion after you’re done.

Not only will this show them that you care about their input, but they may also have a different viewpoint of various spending categories.

For instance, if your partner handles the cooking, they may recognise when you have over or under-budgeted for grocery shopping.

In addition, you can potentially ask your spouse if there are any places to trim the fat that you hadn’t thought of.

If you’ve already started setting aside money for a big dream you share, this will make this request even more motivating, since your spouse will recognise that you’re trying to reach that dream faster.

Let your budget work its magic

While budgeting is much easier if everyone is on board, you can still improve your bottom line and reduce your stress while working by yourself.

Even if dreaming big and asking for input don’t motivate your partner, seeing a budget actually work can make a big difference.

For instance, let’s say you and your spouse find yourselves stressed and scrambling every six months when it comes time to pay for car insurance.

Since you’ve started implementing your budget, you’ve decided to put aside $75 per month toward that bill.

When it comes due, instead of feeling overwhelmed and panicked like you normally do, the amount of money you need is already set aside and ready.

Simply sharing this win with your spouse could do a lot to bring them around to the benefits of budgeting.

This is especially true if you used to have arguments or stressful scenes every time this bill came due.

Celebrate the wins together

Pointing out the ways that things are improving is a great method for encouraging your spouse to take ownership of your budget.

For instance, if you spend less on dining out because you’re making more of an effort to cook at home, you could ask for their input on how to celebrate.

You might say: “Check out how much we saved this month by cooking at home!”

“I’d like to put most of it toward our credit card debt, but let’s think about how we can enjoy some of this saved money.”

“What do you think we should spend it on?”

Sharing the benefits of your budget with your spouse, even if they haven’t done the same budgeting work that you’ve put in, can help make it clear that your budget is a joint endeavour.

From reluctance to excitement

The majority of budgeting fears stem from a sense that it will be both boring and limiting.

Bringing your spouse on board means showing them that budgeting offers both fun and freedom.

Consistently focusing on big goals, doing the budgeting work yourself while always asking for input, letting the budget do its job, and sharing the wins can all help your foot-dragging spouse to embrace the budget.

In time, your spouse may even say those three little words everyone wants to hear from their sweetheart: “You were right.”

* Emily Guy Birken is a personal finance author. She tweets at @EmilyGuyBirken.

This article first appeared at www.wisebread.com/.

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