The countdown to my wedding day was mostly a blur. My fingernails were brittle and my hair was coming out in clumps—in retrospect, signs of stress. Planning a wedding definitely was not (and is not) my life calling.
Money was very much on my mind—mostly just trying to make sure all the costs fit within the wedding budget . But after the wedding? How we’d actually settle into the financial day-to-day of our married life? That was far, far down the list of things on my mind (even below finding a basket to hold travel-sized bubbles as we traipsed away to our honeymoon).
The financial details of our wedding have long since paled (well, mostly. The horrifyingly expensive peony bouquet? So worth it. The over-my-budget dress? Worth it. The fact that my husband was actually a better wedding planner than I was? Oh, that one got better with age). But while the finer details of wedding expenses have disappeared from my memory, the financial details within our marriage have grown all the more vivid.
The first few years, there were arguments about receipts, and accusing looks when I walked in with yet another iced chai. But now, almost a decade later, we feel like we’ve hit our groove with money as a couple. The arguments have less of a sting. The purchases are less judgy on both sides (um, Brian? Can you confirm?). So, let me tell you what I learned—and maybe you’ll hit your groove a few years before we did.
Here are six things I wish I had learned as a newlywed:
1. One of You May Gravitate Towards Household CFO
More often than not, one person will gravitate toward handling the finances (whether you use joint accounts or not).
These are things like:
- Who will pay the bills?
- Who is doing the day-to-day budgeting?
- Who will drive our retirement plan?
- Who is the point person on insurance?
- Who is driving a debt payoff plan?
- Who handles taxes?
You’ll settle into your groove, and play to your strengths. And that is perfectly OK! In fact—that’s a big perk of marriage, you no longer have to do the stuff you don’t like doing (g’bye paying the water bill! I’ll never remember your login info again!).
When we got married, my husband fell right into the role of day-to-day budgeting (he’s had a budget since 5th grade. The guy knows how to budget). But not long after we got married, we realized he didn’t actually like managing all the details and minutiae—and I dug my heels in slash often “forgot” to bring home receipts for his budgeting system. So, we switched. I’ve been CFO ever since, and it’s a better setup for us both!
I’d encourage you to have a candid discussion on who will take the reins (and feel free to divvy up responsibilities if you’re both raring to go on the financial side of your lives). This division of labor will have a clearer delineation if you have joint accounts or joint finances, but even if you keep them separate—one person will typically be the go-to guru for all things big picture shared financial life.
Want more questions about money to ask your honey? (It rhymes, I couldn’t help myself). Check out our list of 84 questions no matter what stage of love you’re in.
2. Not the CFO? Sit in the Passenger Seat, Not the Back Seat
For the non-CFO of the household, there’s a huge temptation to totally detach and sit in the dark on all things finances. This might be because it gives you a queasy feeling, you don’t want to be bogged down by such things, or it all just seems so darn intimidating—totally fair, totally valid. But you’ll be better off together if you both have an understanding of your financial setup in both the worst-case scenario and to feel more like a team with your money.
It can be as simple as a “keep me in the loop” check-in. This could be things like:
- Maybe you sit down together with your favorite drink for a weekly or monthly budgeting meeting.
- Put all your relevant financial passwords and logins in a shared folder that you both know where it is located (this brings more relief than you’d expect).
- For us, I send my husband a monthly financial summary (budget status, upcoming expenses, how we’re tracking on our goals). We talk about it for about 5 minutes. It’s remarkably effective and incredibly nerdy.
- For joint finances, have a predetermined “spending limit” where you won’t buy something without consulting the other over a certain limit. For some couples, this might be $50—for others, it might be $5,000.
- Write down a list of your financial goals and post it somewhere you see it.
- Switch roles as a “CFO for a Month”—this essentially gets the other person into the tools you use so they know how to login in and are familiar with the setup. This puts your other half into your family’s financial sphere in a low-pressure, non-committal way. We tried this experiment last October where my husband ran our budget for the month. Sure, we ended up with a red sports car by November 1 (‘twas the WAM of all WAMs), but we’re so much closer in sync with our priorities once he saw what a budget could do. And I’ll be honest, the sports car is pretty fun.
3. Only Talk About Money When You’re Rested, Fed, and Calm
Ugh, if you only take one lesson from this list, make it this one. It doesn’t just apply to money either—the straightaway ticket to tears and ugly crying was to have a big conversation after 8:30pm.
When the topic du jour is something as thorny as money, this is so important. Build in a proactive process and recurring outlet for your financial conversations (see #2 above). For us, I send my husband an email every month with a summary of our month, big upcoming expenses, and any financial tasks that need to get checked off. The email kicks off a conversation where we can talk about changing retirement contributions, unwieldy spending, or fun big vacations in a way that’s comfortable and relaxed.
4. Leave Some Autonomy in Your Budget
Here at YNAB, we like to call this “Yours, Mine, and Ours.” Even if you’re the perfect match made in heaven, you and your partner will not have the exact same set of priorities. He wants a garage full of collector cars while you just want to buy coffee every week. He wants to go on a snowy winter adventure every year, you want to landscape your backyard.
For a balanced relationship, you need to leave room for each of those separately. Your priorities, their priorities, and our priorities. Separate and together.
The easiest way to do this, of course, is to have a budget (this should come as no surprise for a company called You Need a Budget). You’ll see everything clearly laid out and you know exactly where your dollars are going.
5. Plan for Big Life Goals Together
Speaking of “our” priorities You are now a dynamic duo, a power couple, better together—and just think of all you can accomplish once you join forces!
Take some time to actually talk about what you both want out of life. Do you want to:
- Pay off all your debt?
- Get a month ahead on your money?
- Stop overdrafting for good?
- Take a vacation every year?
- Move back home?
- Buy a house?
- Become financially independent?
- Buy rental properties?
- Pay for part of your kids’ college?
- Be able to live on one income?
- Move to the city?
- Move to the country?
- Buy a car in cash?
- Buy your dream car?
Take some time (rested, fed, calm)—maybe at your favorite coffee shop or just on your couch with some popcorn, to put together your short list. Pick a few to focus on, maybe with different time horizons (within a year, within 2-5 years, more than 5 years). Agree on the list. Put them in your budget as actual line items. You’ll be surprised how some of your surplus spending just falls away once you have your priorities so clearly laid out in front of you.
6. You Need a Budget
The actual logistics of these things might seem cloudy. Like, sure it’s nice to have a list of priorities, but do we just write it down on a piece of paper to be tucked away somewhere? How do we actually make room for my priorities?
Ah, these are all great questions. You need a budget. Yes, You Need a Budget. And before you jump to conclusions about how a budget feels “restrictive” or that you make too much money to need a budget, hear me out one second.
A budget is simply a laid out plan for where you want your money to go. It’s a tool to build wealth. And better yet—it’s an emotionless third-party that puts you and your partner on the same page financially—you’ll be looking at the same information on a screen rather than trying to summon it from each other’s brains without any hard numbers attached.
We had one customer tell us they name their budget and then blame money things on her instead of each other. “Ethel spent too much on coffee this month.” “Ethel isn’t going to like that you went out to eat again.” Take that money angst and channel it—with Ethel instead of your spouse.
I think this quote from one of our customers says it all:
“If you are thinking you don’t need a budget, I can say that I was with you. I never thought I needed to stress myself with tracking every little thing. But the amount of money I am saving simply by being aware is crazy. If you want to feel peace around your finances and spend your valuable time focusing on other things, try YNAB. The return on your investment is beyond worth it.” -Mariah, YNAB user
Before the wedding bells ring and you walk down the aisle to your happily ever after, take a break from the color swatch planning to focus on your financial life together after your stomach ache from all the cake is passed and the sunburn from your honeymoon has faded away. Have a good honest talk about your money together. You won’t regret it.
Want to learn more about budgeting with a partner? No matter if you share joint accounts, keep them separate, or anywhere in between, check out our crash course on budgeting together.