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You, me and money: How to budget as a couple

What we'll cover

  • Ways to handle money with your significant other

  • Budgeting options for couples

  • How to use financial budget templates

It’s no secret that finances can be a touchy subject for couples. You and your beloved might not always agree on how to handle your money. But creating and sticking to a budget together can not only help soothe monetary skirmishes, it can actually strengthen your relationship.

As with many aspects of a romantic relationship, there is no one “right” way to budget as a couple. The key to success is finding an approach that works for both you and your partner. Check out these options for budgeting as a dynamic duo.

What’s mine is yours

Some couples combine all their earnings and expenses, approaching their budget as a totally united entity. A benefit to this approach is that it simplifies the upfront calculations when creating your budget. Once you and your partner settle on a budgeting method that suits you, simply combine your incomes and move forward laying out your expenses – no need to split, assign, or track who’s funds covered what.

There are many reasons a couple might choose to fully blend their finances, especially if both partners share similar outlooks on how to track, save, and spend. This approach also can help you feel a sense of shared responsibility for accomplishing your financial goals and increase your motivation to work as a team. However, if you and your partner have different attitudes toward saving and spending, this approach may be a bit tougher to implement.

If “what’s mine is yours” sounds like a good approach, start by finding a budgeting method that works for both of you.

One benefit of separate budgets is that it gives autonomy to each
partner and eliminates the need to agree on a single approach

Yours and theirs

For some couples, sharing really isn’t caring. If dividing and conquering sounds more appealing, you and your partner can separate shared expenses into two groups – “yours” and “theirs.” There are many ways you can divvy up the bills (one person can pay the mortgage while the other handles other housing expenses such as utilities, cable and internet). Then any individual expenses (like personal debt payments, shopping, car payments and outings) get covered separately. 

One benefit of separate budgets is that it gives autonomy to each partner and eliminates the need to agree on a single approach. This can be especially useful for couples that enter their relationship later in life with their own established financial habits and preferences. 

Whether you separate your finances or comingle them, separate budgets can act as a helpful tool for couples who thrive best when they have more autonomy and independence over their wallets. 

Graphic with title, Yours and theirs budget worksheet. Not everything is meant to be shared – but you and your partner can still work together with a budget that lets you manually divvy up shared expenses while making room for shared goals. This approach keeps things flexible but still organized.

Proportionate budgeting

Another option is to use a proportionate approach to budgeting. In this scenario, expenses are paid proportionately from each person’s income. For instance, if you make 60% of the household income, and your partner makes 40%, you each pay a proportionate amount toward your shared expenses. Any money left over can be treated individually or shared (depending on your preference). For example, you might choose to pool the remaining funds into a joint savings account, or maybe you each have different goals for what’s left in your paycheck after the bills are paid. 

Proportionate budgeting can also be a good option for households with variable incomes. With paychecks that fluctuate month-to-month, this method allows your contribution to adjust accordingly. On a high-earning month, you might pay proportionately more of the bills, and then on a low month, you can still stash some savings after paying your fair share.  

For some couples, the ability to have some money that’s “yours” even as you work toward shared financial goals can go a long way toward avoiding much of the conflict that many couples face when it comes to money matters. 

For couples that love to share but can’t quite agree on discretionary spending, proportionate budgeting can bring flexibility to the regimen of family finances.

Graphic with title, Proportionate budget worksheet. If you want to tackle goals together but maintain some autonomy over what’s left after the bills are paid, this approach will allow you to divide monthly expenses based on your respective incomes and ensure even distribution and flexibility when you need it.

Raw contribution

The raw contribution method is pretty straightforward – each partner chips in a flat amount and keeps any remainder of their paycheck separate. You can include any shared savings goals within your budget, such as saving for a trip together, but the main idea here is an equal (or at least static) contribution toward shared expenses. 

For example, if you make $3,500 a month and your partner makes $5,600 a month and you’ve calculated that your shared bills come to $4,600 – each of you would contribute $2,300. This would potentially leave you with $1,200 discretionary and your partner with $2,300. There are many reasons a couple might prefer this approach. For some, it can be based on a shared view that equal is most fair. It can also be a simple solution for couples with similar incomes. Raw contribution can also act as a helpful tool for couples who don’t share assets (for example, if one of you owns a home outright but the other is the higher earner, this method can help level the field). 

While raw contribution is often described as equal parts, realistically, you and your partner can work out contribution amounts together and move forward from there. Keep in mind, this method can be difficult to implement if your expenses have significant fluctuations from month to month. 

Graphic with the title, Raw contribution budget worksheet. If complicated percentages and fractions aren’t your thing, this approach to shared budgeting can help. Each month you and your partner contribute a flat rate toward shared expenses (it can be the same, proportionally based on income, or whatever you determine is fair).

Budgeting for three or more

As a couple, you may encounter situations where your budget needs to account for more than just the two of you. Boomerang adult children, aging parents or roommates may require you to reconfigure your budget for three people or more. Many of these budgeting approaches can be modified to accommodate the unique and evolving needs of your household.

Leverage apps to make the most of your money

No matter the method you choose to manage your finances, technology can lend a helping hand. Here are some of the best apps to help you budget effectively as a couple. 

Put a modern spin on a classic budget

The envelope method is a tried and true budgeting approach in which you divide up your money toward specific expenses. For example, you’ll have an envelope for rent and one for groceries.  You can make this simple system digital with an app like Goodbudget . Divide up expenses

If you’re splitting up expenses, it can quickly get confusing. If you need help parsing out who pays for what, try a budget app designed specifically for couples like Honeydue or Zeta

Make saving simple 

To stay on track in saving for a big goal, consider an app like Simplifi , which calculates how much you need to save each month and features engaging visuals to keep you motivated. 

Budget for happily ever after

Relationships are not always easy, and facing challenges together is just part of being a couple. Budgeting for two (or more) may seem daunting, but with a little research, planning and compromise you can find a budgeting approach that’s as perfect for you as you are for each other.

Whether you prefer to save together or divide and conquer, smart savings tools like buckets and boosters (a feature of Ally Bank Online Savings accounts) can help you reach your goals faster. 

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