I love you but…you spend like a 12-year-old with a credit card.
I love you but…I hate living like we’re broke college students.
Sound familiar? Budgeting is hard enough when you have only yourself to answer to, but toss another person to the mix and it can feel like you’re busting two rocks together to form a sculpture. It’s one thing if you and your partner are on the same page, but what if you each maneuver through life with entirely different money approaches?
Let’s say you’re a penny-pincher while your partner is a spendthrift. Or you’re wary and analytical about your money situation, whereas your significant other is emotional and optimistic. Or maybe they like to show affection toward your kids by showering them with lavish presents, while Prudent You would rather save for their college fund.
If you live on different ends of money management spectrum, there are tactics to come up with a spending plan that works. Here’s how to do it:
Know Your Comfort Level With Different Money Scenarios
Are you in tune with what causes you stress and gives you joy? On a personal level, you’re constantly monitoring money situations that are discomforting, relaxing, or somewhere in between. From a scale of 1 to 10, how stressful would you feel if you only had $100 sitting in the bank? And under what circumstances would you feel okay with spending $500 on a pair of boots?
You can liken it to individual pressure points. What creates stress, and what can alleviate that stress? Expand this knowledge to your relationship, and you’ll gain insights on how to create a shared spending plan to meets both your needs.
For instance, I’m usually wary about my money, and terrified about not having enough in my future, almost to a fault. So I’ve long been extremely frugal, and will forgo enjoying luxury items so I have robust funds stashed for Future Me. However, I’ve been with people who live in the here and now, and hate feeling constrained.
See how tension can easily build up? While I would like to think that my way is the right way, to create a shared spending plan, you’ll need to start by being sensitive to your partner’s needs and responses to different financial situations. Then, you can plot a road map of sorts on how you can address your needs, wants, and concerns with money.
Have a Heartfelt Discussion
Schedule a proper sit-down and openly discuss what each of your goals are, suggests Stacey Shieh Lee, a financial coach and founder of Solve Your Finances. During such convos, practice deep listening to understand why particular goals are important to your significant other. “When couples listen to each other without an agenda is when they can actually hear with their heart,” says Shieh Lee. “It’s only then that you can save for a big goal and create a shared spending plan, which leads to joy and true partnership.”
Have a chat about every single one of your money goals, whether it’s saving for a new gadget, building an addition to your home, or for something more far-off, such as retirement. By discussing each of these goals, you hold a space for you and your partner to voice both your needs.
Focus on Shared Values
Because a big part of relationships is building a life based on shared values, include joint goals that reflect what you both feel is important in your spending plan. Figure out what you’d both like to save for, when you’d like to save by, and how much you’d like squirreled away.
To help guide you in your discussions, consider looking through recent bank and credit card transactions to see exactly where your money is going. It’s one thing to say that you value X, and therefore spending accordingly, and another to actually do it. My partner and I want to do more traveling together, so we set up a shared goal to visit Vietnam next year. Not only does it reflect what’s important to us, but it helps us learn to communicate more freely about money matters.
Stagger Your Goals
A good friend of mine would complain about how her husband wanted them to save as much as they could for an emergency fund. While she acknowledged the importance of having “just in case” money stashed away, she also wanted to enjoy her life with couture fashions and fine food.
One person’s need for security can feel like a death sentence to the other. And one partner’s tendencies to blow half their paycheck on a nice night on the town can incite panic. Experiment by staggering your goals.
So if you and your partner can’t agree on whether to put that $5,000 in an emergency fund or spend it on a Caribbean vacation, then make a pact. For every $1,000 saved for emergencies, $200 can go toward something fun and frivolous. Once you hit a goal, you can move on to a new one.
Have Personal Spending Accounts
If you and your partner’s conflicting money mindsets have caused tension, then opening separate personal spending accounts might be the answer. That was the case for Laura Coleman and her husband. Coleman saved money because she craves security, and material items aren’t as important to her. While her husband isn’t exactly a “material man,” he spends because he loves to see people happy with what he’s gifted them.
It turns out they just had different love languages. For the unacquainted, love languages are ways you like to give and experience love. For instance, your love language might be words of affirmation, quality time, or gifts, acts of service, or physical touch. Coleman and her husband then realized that having separate spending accounts, where they each had their own account to buy whatever they pleased, was what they needed to feel fulfilled.
With your separate spending accounts, figure out how much you can each afford to put in to it suggests Coleman, an AFC® and financial coach of Family Money Coaching. Of course, this is decided after the bills are paid. Then, each month, auto-transfer the funds from your checking account to each of your personal spending accounts. Set up rules to help you not fight over money. As the that person is master of the account; it’s entirely up to them how they want to spend their money.
“Our personal spending accounts have helped us cease from nitpicking each other about what we spend our money on,” says Coleman. “It’s also helped my husband feel in control of money and gives him empowerment, despite the fact that I’m the one who pays all the bills. I feel more secure knowing that his spending won’t affect whether or not I can cover our bills.”
There’s no real secret sauce to drumming up a spending plan when you have different money management styles. The key to budgeting together is communicating, working toward a shared life and understanding one another’s needs, fears, and hopes. And ultimately it’ll bring you two closer together.
Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer. Her work has appeared in Investopedia, Magnify Money and The Bold Italic, and she’s been featured in Money, Kiplinger, Forbes and Woman’s Day. She runs Cheapsters.org, a blog to help freelancers and artists with their money, and to balance their passion projects and careers.