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How to Get on the Same Page as a Couple

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Whether you’re engaged, newly married, or in a long-term relationship, having candid conversations about financial goals is crucial. Not surprisingly, many couples let financial stress put a strain on their relationship. A recent study by AICPA found that 73% of couples express feeling some tension over money matters, with nearly half (47%) admitting it impacts their intimacy.1  Further, 7 in 10 Americans married or living with a partner (69%) have disagreed with their companion about finances. Disagreements most often revolve around needs vs. wants (36%), spending priorities (28%), and making purchases without discussing them first (22%).2

Dual-earner couples are on the rise. According to Pew Research, in 63% of couples with children in the United States, both partners work. Many couples are dual-career couples, meaning both partners are highly educated, work full-time in demanding professional or managerial jobs, and see themselves on an upward path in their roles. When both partners dedicate themselves to work and to home life, evidence is mounting from sociological research that they reap benefits such as increased economic freedom, a more satisfying relationship, and a lower-than-average chance of divorce.

Whether one or both partners in a couple are working, creating a solid financial plan as a team can be a game-changer. Getting on the same page can help you work towards shared goals. Plus, when you both aim for the same financial targets, staying in sync with your spending habits is easier. Whether keeping your accounts separate or pooling your resources, working together to build a plan that sets you up for financial success can strengthen your relationship. We present some steps to get you started and tips to consider along your journey to prevent financial decisions from coming between you as a couple.

Start the Conversation 

Be open about where you stand financially; don’t avoid sharing the details of your financial situation. If one of you is struggling with debt or has very specific financial goals, you should talk about it openly. This conversation lets both people know what they’re getting into. Honesty upfront about your financial history can pay off in the future, allowing you to strategize together to handle any existing issues and plans.

Discuss your money habits (and quirks) as well. Chances are you are both bringing financial habits into your relationship, and there are likely to be some conflicts. Try to learn about each other’s habits, discuss which habits are working and which might be harmful, and create an approach that incorporates the good habits and works to reduce or eliminate bad ones.

Your attitudes about money don’t have to be identical, but some compromise may be required if there are differences. It’s better to identify and talk about potential issues rather than letting them cause misunderstandings or arguments later. This conversation can set the tone for future open and honest discussions. Regularly check in and share your thoughts as you work towards your financial goals. 

Develop a Budget

A simple joint budget you can refine and work on together is an excellent place to start. A budget can help improve your spending habits, pinpoint areas where you can lower your overall expenses, and build savings. Start by discussing your income and reviewing your financial documents. Identify all your expenses, including housing costs, utilities, car payments, debt payments, taxes on non-salary income, savings, commuting costs, average grocery charges, and other spending money you’ll need for daily activities. Subtract your monthly expenses from your monthly income.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing your budget as a couple. You’ll need to decide how best to combine finances for your relationship. Some couples choose to keep separate spending accounts. Some couples have a joint bill-paying account where both contribute, while others combine it all together and then just spend cash on non-essentials, which helps to control overspending on wants. Apps, such as HoneyDue or Goodbudget, are designed to help couples keep on track with their finances. While we don’t endorse these specific apps, we realize that finding a system that enables you to manage your budget as a couple can enhance communication. We recommend finding an app what works well for you. 

Create A Financial Plan

Budgeting as a couple can sometimes lead to overspending, especially if you are both earning and your combined incomes add up to more than your individual needs. Before adjusting spending to match the higher income, you’ll need to create a financial plan to reach your goals. While your budget helps you understand and prioritize how you and your partner spend money, a financial plan is meant to act as a roadmap for your journey through life. It considers your starting point (where you are today) and your ideal destination (the financial goals you want to achieve). It lays out a realistic plan to get there.

Understand Your Current Situation

The first step in creating your financial plan is to sit down with your partner and understand your current situation. By knowing where you’re starting from, you can better understand what you need to do to reach your goals. Begin by accessing your debt (which includes all forms of debt such as student loans, car loans, personal loans, mortgages, and credit card debt), cash and investment account balances, and insurance policies. This assessment and your budget lay the foundation of your financial plan.

Establish Your Financial Goals

Once you clearly understand where you are today, you and your partner are ready to discuss your financial goals. It’s easier to achieve your goals if you know what they are. Not sure what your goals are? A good place to start is defining your core values as a couple. Ask yourself: What matters to you most in life? How do you want to live your life? By defining your core values, you can then think about a financial plan you can develop to enable you to live the kind of life you want to live. 

Prioritize Your Financial Goals

As a couple, establishing both short-term and long-term goals will help you decide how the money in your shared and individual accounts will be used. While long-term goals such as retirement are important and tend to get a lot of attention, it’s also important to consider your short- and medium-term goals. Some common goals for couples include building an emergency fund, paying off debt, buying a home, potential career changes, and hobbies and passions.

With your core values and financial goals established, the next step is to prioritize your goals based on what is most important to you as a couple to help you build a strong financial foundation. A good rule of thumb is to pick at least two and no more than four goals to work on at one time, especially as you begin building your financial plan.

Implementing Your Financial Plan 

Creating a financial plan as a couple enables you and your partner to align on what you want to accomplish and empowers you to make progress as a team to make your dreams come true. Once you have your prioritized list of goals, you can create a budget that will allow you to work toward these goals. Remember, when you’re working toward shared goals, it can help you both stay on the same page with your budget. Consider setting a quarterly date to review your budget to see what went well and what went wrong and to know if you need to make adjustments to meet the goals of your financial plan. It’s also a good time to discuss upcoming expenses such as vacations, holidays, or home repairs.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help: you’ll likely have questions or hurdles. Consult a knowledgeable, licensed financial advisor to help you plan for your specific financial circumstances. They can provide expert guidance regarding taking more technical steps, like combining or sharing accounts, estate planning, saving for retirement, etc.3  Whether you’re just starting out or are in a long-term relationship, Treehouse Wealth can help you navigate your financial journey as a couple.



1 Relationship Intimacy Being Crushed by Financial Tension: AICPA Survey, February 4, 2021, 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, American Institute of CPAs

2,3 Love and Money: 5 Steps to Help Couples Strengthen Financial Compatibility, 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, American Institute of CPAs


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