This is one of our favorites from the YNAB Archive, originally published in August 2017
If you are sharing finances with your partner, then you should be budgeting together. If you are at all normal, this probably freaks you out a little bit.
Money is often blamed as one of the top sources of tension among couples, so, of course, it’s a little scary. Maybe you try to tip-toe around money talk, or just avoid it altogether.
But the irony is, that in most cases, money isn’t the real problem. The root issue is different perspectives, histories, and habits, and the inability to identify and communicate about it without the whole thing blowing up in your face. It isn’t so much the money, but rather, the fact that you and your partner aren’t communicating about your habits, your fears, your dreams, your expectations, your weaknesses (debt!), your risk tolerance… all the things that money impacts.
If your partner is skeptical of the whole budgeting thing and doesn’t yet see the value, don’t give up. This is a long game. If you’d told your partner you wanted to spend the rest of your life with them when you first met you probably would have scared them off. One must approach budgeting with the same strategic reserve.
Perception Is Everything
If you come right out with, “We need to start budgeting!” Chances are, your partner will hear, “Stop spending all our money! We cannot have nice things! We can never eat out again!”
Which will, in most cases, lead to some form of hard feelings, resentment, panic, and so on and so forth. Defenses will go up. The tension will be thick and hard to navigate, making any chance of healthy communication a long-shot.
Delivery is everything and if you lay it on too thick, too strong, too fast, regardless of what smart or responsible thing you say about budgeting, your partner will hear something like this:
Hey, let’s imprison ourselves financially by doing this budget thing.
Hey, I think you spend too much, so I’m going to build this infrastructure and then have that in place to where I can check on you at all times and point the finger at you when you do spend money so you know how guilty you actually are.
Hey, I do this really well but you do money really wrong, so I’m going to have us budget so I can point out all the places where you’re doing it really wrong.
Hey, you know how when we talk about money, we argue all the time? Well, I would like to make it a more formal time where we can make sure to really argue on a regular basis. That’s why I want a budget.
So, stop talking about budgeting—don’t even use that word.
Focus On The Positive
Start with a shared goal.
Don’t broach the subject of money as it relates to this goal for at least a month. You’re just slowly working it in.
If your partner wants to go somewhere on vacation, you just start talking about that vacation—really talking it up. Meanwhile, quietly put away a little bit of money each month for that vacation and then, at one point, you can say, “Guess what? I’ve been saving money every month so we can take that vacation and now we can! I’m so excited we can finally just let loose a little, have a lot of fun, not worry about the money. We’ve got the cash. We won’t have to put a single thing on a card. No guilt. It’s going to be so great!”
There is a solid chance your partner will suddenly be more curious about this whole budgeting thing you’ve been so excited about…
Or maybe there is a big bill that surprises both of you, maybe it even caused a fight. So, you just start setting aside money for that bill every month, secretly even. Not like you’re hiding money from your partner, but just go about it quietly. And then if/when a similar situation pops up again, you can be like, “Oh yeah, no worries, started setting aside $20 each month to make sure we’d be OK next time. So, we’re all good.”
You just got their attention.
Show Not Tell
The key is just to start small and keep the focus on positive outcomes.
Instead of nagging your partner about budgeting, show your partner, what budgeting can do, how the little things add up, and how good it feels to spend money on the things that matter most to you.
Accept that there will be a learning curve. For both of you. Be strategic and as you plan, knowing it’s a long-game, stay focused on celebrating positive outcomes, both big and small.
No One Wants To Be The Budget Cop
So, don’t use the B-word if it’s a trigger or a dead-end. Instead, work toward creating a safe space to talk about what you want your money to do and how to get there. Take the time to really talk through what is most important to you, as individuals and as a couple, and commit to working toward those things. Then no one has to be the bad guy, it doesn’t have to be a whole new fight every time. It is just a matter of priorities—deciding what’s most important, committing to those things, and working together to make sure your money is headed in the right direction.
When you agree about what is most important and accept that you’re working with a finite amount of money, it makes spending decisions much more straight-forward.
As you are able to show some little wins, you might find the door creeping open to more communication. Keep talking. Stay focused on the positive outcomes. Keep wrestling with your priorities. And over time, the power of the budget will be undeniable and impossible to resist!