financial management for couplesFinancial management is one of the top causes of stress in a relationship and can be an extremely sensitive issue for couples. Whether you and your partner are just starting to share your finances or have been married for many years, it’s important to be sure you are both comfortable with your arrangements. There are as many ways to manage your finances as there are couples, so you don’t have to follow particular rules if they don’t work for you. Instead, work out a financial plan that addresses the following topics.

How Much Do We Earn?

The first step in financial management is share your paychecks. You don’t necessarily have to put all of the money into a shared account, but you do need to let each other know what you can contribute to the joint expenses. You should also discuss what kind of pay you get – hourly or salary, weekly or monthly, dependent on commissions or bonuses – even if the family has only one source of income.

How Much Do We Spend?

This is the second major part of setting a financial plan, and one that many people underestimate wildly. The fixed bills like mortgage, utilities, and even groceries may be easy to track from month to month, but occasional expenses like clothing and entertainment can vary widely based on your activities. Be sure to include discussing and planning for annual or generosity expenses such as gifts, social events, travel and charitable giving.

Financial Management for Couples - CheckbookHow Much Do We Owe?

Some couples joke they are lucky their wedding vows didn’t include the line, “Till debt do us part.” It’s up to you to decide if the student loans or credit card bills from before your relationship are the responsibility of just one or both of you, but you must first acknowledge they exist. If one of you earns more money but also has more individual debt, recognize that person may not be able to throw as much into the household account. Once you have agreed how to address the bills that are “yours,” “mine,” and “ours,” talk about which bills you are most eager to pay off first. Some prefer to clear out the credit cards every month, while others want to pay off the mortgage principal faster. Make sure you are on the same page so you can watch those balances get closer to zero.

What Are We Saving For?

Ask one another, “What are our priorities?” Label your dreams and desires, which can range from a vacation in Europe, to long-term investments, such as an IRA, to big purchases like a house or car. Your priorities will depend on your family’s needs and long-term plans, so make sure you and your spouse are talking frequently about what will be coming up in the future as well as what you hope will happen.

What Happens If ______?

You will want to work with your spouse to have the best financial plan in place for any eventuality. Savings account, credit cards, savings bonds, other liquid assets, might all be resources you can discuss. You should plan for what happens if you lose one or both of your incomes, if one of you has an accident or illness that results in hefty medical bills, if your home or car requires extensive repairs, and other potentially life-changing circumstances. Make sure you each have access to the other’s assets if necessary.

Whatever your financial habits and priorities, talking openly about financial management with your partner can you help you both feel more prepared and united. If you find these hard conversations would be helped by the presence of a neutral party, consider a few sessions with a marriage counselor to make sure you stay on-topic and focused on your financial future.