Whether you’re newly wed or in a long-term marriage or relationship, navigating finances as a couple can be a challenge. From the transition to when you first start approaching your finances as a pair, to working through your changing financial situation years down the road, it’s important to make sure you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to money.
We got married in 2020 and were fortunate to participate in the 3rd Decade program around the same time. We thought we were just building our financial literacy, but we also learned so much about ourselves as individuals and as a couple. Now a few years after completing the program, we’re still using what we learned to guide our financial decisions and work towards our long-term goals.
Here are our 5 tips for navigating finances as a married couple!
1. Know your values
The way you spend money is an indicator of what’s important to you. As a couple, we’ve talked about what we want our life to look like, and we continually check in on if our spending and investing reflects our values. For example, we both find travel and shared experiences to be incredibly fulfilling, much more so than material objects or eating out. So we make sure that in our budget, we’re allocating our funds accordingly to support our travel and experience goals.
There are some areas where we have slightly different preferences though, so in those cases, we want to spend our money in ways that are meaningful to each of us as individuals. For that, we each have a dedicated line item in our budget that we call “Fun Money” for each of us to use however we want.
This ensures that we still feel like a team in our financial planning, but that we also have some personal choice on our own.
2. Talk about it
Communication is crucial in navigating the financial transitions that come with marriage. While we talked about money a little bit before we got married, the 3rd Decade program really helped facilitate this conversation as we answered questions we hadn’t talked about as a couple before. We reflected on our own histories with money and learned more about each other in terms of money mindset and what our financial situation would look like as a couple.
This wasn’t just a one-time conversation though. We still check in with each other on a regular basis (we’ll get to more on that later!), and especially at other moments of transition like moving or having a job or salary change, this helps us stay on the same page.
3. Review the options and find what works for you
There’s not one single right way to approach your finances as a married couple. We talked through some different approaches, specifically whether or not we should keep our finances separate or merge them together. Neither of these felt quite right to us, so we went with a hybrid approach. We have a mix of some shared accounts and some separate accounts, with our budget system to help us maintain a holistic picture of our overall finances.
There are lots of opinions out there, so as you’re talking this over with your partner, our advice would be to find what works for your preferences, goals, and your financial situation. It may require some experimenting, so don’t be afraid to mix things up. What works for someone might not work for you, and that’s ok!
4. Stay flexible within your structure
We use a system called You Need A Budget to plan and track our money. This helps us make sure we always have our primary needs covered, we’re making progress towards our goals, and we can spend what we set aside for fun stuff without guilt or worry. Having a budget also helps us communicate, make decisions together, and adapt when our priorities shift or our situation changes.
We regularly check that we aren’t over or under-allocating, but no plan is perfect. Every once in a while, something will come up where one category might run over or we have unexpected expenses. Rather than stressing about things not going to plan or getting down on ourselves for missing our target, we just look at where we have room to adjust, reprioritize, and shift our funds accordingly. We also have a section in our budget called “Stuff We Forgot To Budget For” and it’s for just that purpose!
5. Put it in your schedule
With both of us working full time, plus Jacob studying for his certifications and Mary running her proofreading business on the side, there’s not much time to sit down and dig into our financial to-dos. For this reason, we schedule regular (ideally weekly, but as the previous point mentions, flexibility is essential!) money dates when we talk through our budget, check in on any ongoing financial action items, and plan for upcoming needs (like taxes or a bigger spending month).
This helps us make sure that money stress doesn’t build up and evens out the workload for our financial responsibilities. We each have different strengths, and we delegate money tasks accordingly. These money dates usually end up being a fun time to take a look at our progress and celebrate together.
We love that we get to support one another in our financial successes and get to enjoy our lives as we accomplish financial goals and spend money on the things and experiences that matter most to us. We hope this was helpful for you and your partner as you work towards your shared financial future!
About 3rd Decade
Founded in 2016, 3rd Decade’s mission is to change financial futures forever, starting today by providing accessible financial education and mentoring and building financially confident individuals around the country. The 501(c)(3) organization’s virtual 2-year program serves young adults, ages 18-35, providing them with financial knowledge, personalized financial plans, and one-on-one mentoring to help them make simple changes in their behaviors and build healthy habits and goals, leading to financial confidence and a secure financial future. 3rd Decade is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. To apply to the program or for more information, please visit www.3rdDecade.org.