Skip to main content

For better or worse: Navigating
financial setbacks as a couple 

What we'll cover

  • How to get on the same page financially 

  • Tips to help you and your significant other align on budgets

  • The importance of emergency savings 

Life has a habit of sending financial curveballs your way when you least expect them. Whether it’s a pricey car repair, a surprise hospital visit or an unforeseen round of company layoffs, nobody is immune to setbacks that can make staying on track with your money goals difficult. 

For couples, navigating these moments means you have a partner to weather the storm with, but that can look different depending on your life stage and financial circumstances. Read on for our tips on preparing for and working through financial setbacks with your partner. 

By regularly speaking about money and establishing routine check-ins when things are hunky-dory, it’ll be far easier to broach the topic during moments when finances are in the lurch.

Keep communication open

You’ve probably heard it 100 times before, but it’s worth repeating: Communication is key. When it comes to the financial side of a partnership, this is especially true. Regardless of how you choose to manage your finances as a couple ( shared or separate accounts), it’s important to keep an open dialogue and feel comfortable discussing things like debt, savings, retirement and other financial goals. 

By regularly speaking about money and establishing routine check-ins when things are hunky-dory, it’ll be far easier to broach the topic during moments when finances are in the lurch. 

Buy in on a budget together

Creating a budget with your husband, wife or partner is a great way to establish a shared financial framework. Whether you create one shared budget or agree on individual ones, budgeting is essential to working toward goals. Having a budget also allows you to understand where your money is going each month. 

If you experience a financial setback, you can go back to your budget(s), make adjustments and look for areas to cut back spending or put more into savings. Also, practicing sticking to a budget during good times can make it easier to pull in the reins when you need to. 

Align your priorities 

In a long-term partnership or marriage, both parties are hopefully on the same page when it comes to major life goals and lifestyle choices. If you haven’t had the money talk, now is the time. Put it all out there so you can work together to achieve goals, without the friction of differing or competing interests. 

It’s also a good idea to be aligned on financial goals and priorities. Knowing what is most financially important to you and your family can help guide you when money is tight, and you must make certain spending decisions. For example, you and your partner might decide that staying out of credit card debt is priority number one, saving for your retirement is priority number two and saving for your child’s education is priority number three. If one of you loses a job and your income is limited for a time, you know you both remain committed to these three priorities and they would be the last areas you’d make financial concessions. 

Lean on your available resources  

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Financial setbacks happen. It’s more important to get back on track than to pretend nothing is wrong or let pride get in the way of using the resources available to you. 

Start by having a conversation with your partner to discuss and research where you may be able to receive financial assistance. For example, there may be government resources available, family and friends willing to help, grants or other assistance programs from your workplace, or resources from your financial institution that can ease your immediate financial strain. By knowing what is available to you, you can make more informed decisions and create a plan to strategically work through your situation — rather than fall into deeper trouble.

Set up emergency savings

The best way to make it through a negative monetary moment is by being prepared. A solid emergency fund is a critical pillar of financial stability and can help you move through a setback without having to sacrifice your other financial goals.

Whether you can direct a lump sum of money (perhaps from a wedding gift or bonus at work) to an emergency fund, or you need to build it over time by contributing a smaller amount monthly, it’s smart to make building a fund of three to six months’ worth of expenses a shared goal in your relationship. And remember: It’s never too late to begin growing your emergency savings. 

Come back stronger

The first time you and a partner go through a bout of financial trouble can be a jarring experience, even if you’re prepared with an emergency fund and a plan. Unexpected expenses or loss of income can impact more than just your financial life — they can put a strain on relationships, mental health and more. Remember that you and your partner are committed to each other for the ups and the downs, and tough times aren’t forever. As you navigate a setback, try to remember what worked and what didn’t so that you can approach it as a team even more successfully if something happens in the future. 

Explore more

Save Protect Budget

Read next

Money solutions and strategies sent straight to your inbox.

Tips and tools to help you build your best financial future.

Let's Connect