How to Budget as a Couple

Couple with laptop paying bills online in living room

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Budgeting as a couple can be a difficult process. It is hard to move from the mindset of caring for your own financial needs to balancing the needs of your spouse with your own. As you sit down to plan out your budget with your spouse, spend time together talking. If your spouse won't do this, you need to look at and address any underlying issues change your financial approach. Here are the four steps that you should take as you set up your budget as a couple.

Determine Your Household Needs

First, you need to determine the household needs. This would include things such as rent or mortgage, utility payments, groceries, car payments, and debt payments. There is wiggle room on how much you spend on these items. You can save money by buying a less expensive car, cutting back on groceries, renting a smaller place. These obligations need to be met before either or you begin to budget in your luxury items.

  • When you are first married, you might need to adjust expectations so that you are both on the same page. One person may want to save more and live cheaply while the other may want a better apartment and cut in other areas.
  • Be sure to prioritize your needs over your wants as you budget together.
  • If one spouse comes in with a lot of debt, make a plan to tackle it together.

Create Long-Term Goals

It is important to set goals that you can work on as a couple. These long-term goals should be part of your financial plan. The plan can help you determine how soon you can buy a house or when to start a family. It can also help you plan for retirement or your dream vacation. When you have specific goals that you are working toward each month, it can make sticking to a budget easier. If you are just limiting spending and saving without a goal in mind, it is easier to justify overspending on a regular basis. Some good beginning goals are to get out of debt and to begin to save for a down payment for your home. You should also make saving for retirement an important part of your financial plan. 

  • Create a plan to pay off your debt. List your debts from highest interest rate to lowest and start paying them off one at a time.
  • Make clear savings goals and determine when you want to hit each of the financial milestones as a couple. A clear plan will help you be ready to buy a home or move onto the next step.
  • Be sure to include retirement as part of this planning process. 

Address Your Individual Needs

Once you have determined your household needs, you can begin to talk about individual needs and wants. These can include items such as gym memberships, clothing costs, haircuts, and other items you may spend different amounts on. You may be inclined to give your spouse a hard time about not cutting back on the amount he spends on video games, while you continue to spend what he may feel is an exorbitant amount on your hair or vice versa. It is important to recognize that your needs and wants are different from each other. It is important to compromise. You may want to set up an allowance to spend on your wants without being accountable to the other person.

  • Listen to your partner to understand what is important to them.
  • Make sure that each of you have money to spend on the things that are most important to you.
  • As long as each partner is sticking to the set amount, there is no reason to argue or fight about how that money is spent.

Set Up Budget Meetings to Track Your Spending

You both need to take part in tracking your spending. A weekly budget meeting usually works for this. During this meeting, you can discuss where you are in working toward your goals. Additionally, you can talk about the how much you have left in each category and any planned expenses you may have. You can adjust your categories as needed. At the beginning, you may need to go over this every night, but eventually, you can do it just once a week. It can help to choose good financial software that you can sync on your phones. As you get better at following your budget, these meetings can be shorter and just as effective.

Additionally, when you are in a meeting, it is important to remain calm. If one spouse makes a mistake, you find a solution and move forward. It does not help to dwell on mistakes to bring them up constantly. 

  • The weekly budget meeting is key to getting your budget to work.
  • Using an app that you can update as you are shopping can help you each stop spending if you are shopping in two different places. 


  1. If your spouse refuses to combine finances, you need to set up a household budget to handle the household expenses. You may want to seek counseling to address the underlying issues behind choosing not to combine finances.
  2. If you are not married yet, you should set up a household budget and wait to combine all of your finances. It will protect you if you split up.
  3. Your budget should always include financial goals that you are working toward, and you should be regularly saving money. Remember to work up to saving a year's worth of expenses in your emergency fund.
  4. Be sure to plan time together too. Cheap dates ideas can help you build your relationship and stay on budget.