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How to Budget as a Couple

Are you wondering about the most effective way to manage your finances as a couple? Look no further. In this post, we explore simple yet effective budgeting strategies tailored for couples, along with practical tips.

By Austin Payne


February 2, 2024

In relationships, love often takes center stage, with finances playing a supporting role. We know it’s difficult to openly talk about money, but we’re here to help you kickstart the conversation, which will help you build and maintain a long-term, healthy relationship with your partner—and so much more.

Creating a healthy relationship with money involves many moving parts. One of the most important parts? Budgeting together. There comes a point in every relationship when couples realize — oh wait, it’s not just me anymore, and our budget should start reflecting “us together.”

But where do you even begin? Joint budgeting can look much different than budgeting for yourself, and it’s something that requires learning, love, and compromise. Don’t worry though — we’ll help you start this journey. 

Start by assessing your situation 

Before you build something, first you have to know what you want to create aka the end product. Then, you figure out how to get there. 

As a starting point, dive into the current state of your finances. 

  • The basics: Look at income and expenses. You need to know what money is coming in and what is going out. Jot down your combined monthly income and expenses over the past few months. The simplest way to do it? Look back on your bank statements (transaction history) together and add up your incomes and expenses by category. Or, even better: Use Origin.

  • Evaluate how you’re currently tracking money: Even without a formal budget, you’re somehow tracking money (somehow), even if it’s just by checking your account balance. Note what you’re currently doing to track your money as an individual and a couple.

  • Be transparent and open: Keeping money secrets can be detrimental to any relationship. Make sure everything is out in the open— be honest and open as you’re both learning about your joint relationship with money. 

🔑 Top tip: Origin’s Spending feature is the simplest, most impactful way to track your spending together. You can add a partner to Origin at no additional cost to jointly budget and track expenses. 

Setting financial goals together

After assessing your current state, you’ll want to identify where you want to go from here. What does that mean? It’s time to set goals. 

Set forth specific financial targets you want to reach and make sure you’re both on the same page. Maybe your first goal is building an emergency fund, maybe it’s buying a home, or even being financially prepared to have children. Whatever your goals may be, take time to discover them together and most importantly write them down and keep track of them somewhere. Once you put pen to paper, you can turn your goals into realities.

How to align on goals: A house divided just works against itself. Above all else, ensure you and your partner are on the same page with the goals you set. This might look different for every couple but largely involves a lot of thorough, honest discussions about what each of you wants to see in your financial future. 

Some guiding questions:

  • “What does financial freedom and financial success look like to you?”

  • “How do you feel about debt? How soon do you want this paid off?” 

  • “Do you see yourself being a homeowner? Is this the location where we want to settle down?”

  • “Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?” 

For example, let’s say that the two of you have $50,000 in total student loan debt. You might decide that your number one goal is to pay off that debt over the next 3 years. Once you’re aligned on the end goal, now you can collaborate on the strategy. Evaluate your income and expenses and decide how much you’ll dedicate to paying down that debt each month. 

Create a joint budget 

Now it’s time to make a joint budget that helps you work towards those goals. 

A joint budget is unique from a personal one — it combines the money, goals, and individual and joint situations of two people, not just one. 

Here are a few tips on building a joint budget: 

  • Communication, communication, communication. It’s at the core of all healthy and successful budgets and ultimately leads to sustained success as a couple over time. Take the time and do the work to create an environment of acceptance, accountability, and transparency around your money as a couple. It’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate.

  • Choose a budgeting method that works for you both. Whether it’s a 50/30/20, a zero-based budget, or a pay-yourself-first budget, what matters most is that you align on one budgeting strategy together.

  • Collaborate heavily on categories: A common point of contention among couples is disagreements on how much should be spent where. They say $500 on groceries, and you say $350 — who’s right? Neither, what’s important is that you come together on a set amount you can both agree to, which may involve compromise on both sides. It might take a little bit of time (and spending) to nail down the right budgeting number. 

  • Joint accounts can make joint budgeting easier. “The easiest way to create and manage a joint budget is to have both partner's incomes go into a joint account and pay all expenses from that account. Then, the specific budgetary methodology can be whatever you agree on! Whether that's 50/30/20, FIRE savings strategy, or just a loose structure of fixed costs vs variable expenses,” says Matt Shapiro, Origin financial planner. Some couples may want to only share joint expenses like utilities and groceries and will want the remaining income to be controlled at the individual level. This can be most easily handled by having a joint account and two individual accounts. 

Individual vs. joint accounts? 

Should you have individual or joint accounts as a couple? This debate is a long-tenured one with varying degrees of views surrounding it, and there’s not necessarily one correct answer. 

The pros and cons of joint accounts

  • Pro: It’s easier to manage and make shared payments from one centralized account — things like rent, a mortgage, groceries, electricity, etc.

  • Pro: It’s great for transparency and trust-building — joint accounts embody the mantra of no financial secrets. 

  • Con: Sometimes, partners prefer to keep at least some of their money in a separate account only they have access to, just for a little independence.

  • Con: It’s a little difficult to surprise your partner with a gift when they can see your transaction history, right? 

So, when should you have a joint account?

While there isn’t one right answer here, there are a few different approaches to this that can likely meet everyone’s needs. 

  • Have both: The best of both worlds is having both personal and joint accounts. You can open a joint account for expenses that come out of your combined income, separate accounts for personal expenses, and specialized accounts for things like taxes, savings, investing, etc.

  • For married couples: As a general rule, a married couple should always have a joint account, and how they use it is up to their discretion. Having a joint account doesn't eliminate the ability to also maintain an individual account — which may be necessary in some cases. 

Managing debt and savings as a couple 

One of the most difficult parts of budgeting is deciding how to balance saving and paying off debt — which should come first?

  • A general rule of thumb: You should aim to establish an emergency fund as a couple of a minimum of $1,000 before using extra money to pay off debt. This might sound counterintuitive, but it prevents you from taking on even more debt in the event of an unforeseen expense. 

  • From there, you can begin dividing up your extra income across different fronts. Depending on how burdensome the debt is, you might want to throw 90% extra cash onto the debt, and 10% to savings, or any allocation in between. It ultimately comes down to your situation. For example, $20,000 of credit card debt that’s tagged with a 29% APR should help you get more of your extra cash than a credit card with a 0% introductory APR.

  • The most important part? Align on your strategy. Come together as a couple and outline your playbook — for example: building an emergency fund and committing $X amount to debt until it’s gone, and so on.

How do you divide up your incomes together? It’s a personal decision. When it comes to putting money towards financial goals like debt and savings, especially if there is a large income differential or one partner has significant debt and the other does not, fairness can be a delicate balance. Some couples manage their goals in such a way that they each contribute a fixed amount to all the joint expenses and goals, and then split the rest of their incomes between their specific goals and expenses,” says Matt Shapiro, Origin financial planner. 

Revisit your budget 

A budget isn’t a set-and-forget system — it’s something that you should review as a couple quite often, making adjustments as both your life and your money evolve.

  • Set up regular check-ins: Just like relationships require communication, so does your budget. Schedule regular check-ins to review your financial progress together. This can be a monthly or quarterly activity where you both sit down, go over your expenses, and incomes, and progress toward your goals. We recommend adding this check-in to your calendar so you make it a priority. You can even use your Origin financial planning session as a check-in as well.

  • Adjust goals as needed: When you encounter unexpected expenses or if your income increases, revisit and adjust your goals accordingly. This ensures that your budget remains realistic and achievable.

Actively track spending together: Make use of the Spending feature in your Origin app to get a quick breakdown of how you’re pacing each month. Tracking your expenses not only helps you stay within budget but also promotes transparency. 

Next steps

Budgeting as a couple might seem like an inconsequential afterthought, but successfully navigating it will pay dividends over time. This deep dive reveals just how intricate (and impactful) setting up a high-quality budget together can be. 

And it doesn’t have to be something you tackle all alone. There’s no better helper out there than your Origin account — filled with resources to help you manage your finances as a couple. 

Origin wants to make this easy. That’s why you can also invite your partner to join you on Origin at no additional cost to manage your finances together. You can track joint expenses, understand your holistic net worth, set and manage a budget, and invest together with no AUM fees. 

Disclaimer: Users granting Partner Access should be aware that partners have full impersonation capabilities, which may include (but is not limited to) a partner modifying a User’s account or transacting on a User’s behalf. Any action taken by a partner through Partner Access in a User’s account is authorized and binding and is considered as if it was performed by the User. Users are responsible for any consequences resulting from partner-initiated transactions. Neither Blend Financial Inc. DBA Origin Financial nor Origin Investment Advisory LLC (collectively, “Origin”) is liable for any errors or discrepancies arising from partner-initiated transactions.