The dual income advantage: Money management for couples
Managing money together can help couples make decisions that can benefit their financial future. Connect with your significant other and get started on some practical money management methods today.
Money management can be a difficult subject for couples to talk about. And could be even more challenging if you are considering marriage. Maintaining a good relationship often comes down to how well you communicate with one another. The dynamic of your partnership is unique to you and your partner — budgeting for couples is no different.
How do couples with dual income handle finances and maximize the benefit of two income streams? This article arms you with the tools, support and education to help you plan, manage your money and budget like a team. Together, you can manage your money thoughtfully and with discipline. Taking a look at the before and after picture of your finances may help bring some clarity and confidence to the conversation.
Talk about budgeting with your partner
The approach you take needs planning and, most importantly, communication. The focus is to talk about your goals and create a baseline together from there. You're basically building a financial foundation to help budget, plan and make decisions that work best for your shared future. Understanding the psychology of spending money and why a person spends can help build good financial habits after you are married.
- Finding your rhythm. Ever hang out with another couple and realize how very different you and you partner are in comparison? It's not a judgement about who's better or worse. It's just a realization of your differences. Every couple is unique. Lean into what makes your relationship special and start building a better budget, together.
- Put it all on the table. Managing money as a couple requires the perspective of each partner for it to work. Talk about your goals and how you want to achieve them together. Be open and honest and you can figure out a budget that works for both of you.
- Make it a date night. Make budgeting fun and plan a date night to talk about finances with your partner. Make and keep time for the two of you to work on your money plans together. These dates could turn into a great habit where you both have time to see how well your shared plans are going, make adjustments, celebrate and keep going. The fun part is you can bake your date night right into your budget!
To do: Plan a sensible date night to talk specifically about budgeting.
Taking stock of the dual-income edge
- Increased financial stability. Having two sources of income can provide a higher level of financial security. This stability can help you meet your basic needs, cover unexpected expenses and save for the future.
- Enhanced standard of living. Two incomes can make it easier for you to afford leisure, entertainment, travel and the ability to enjoy a broader range of experiences.
- Debt reduction and wealth building. It’s also often easier to pay off debts, such as mortgages, student loans and credit card balances. Additionally, dual-income households can help save and invest more, building more wealth over time.
Getting the most out of dual income means you need to be on the same page about your goals for the future.
Goal setting tips for couples
Setting goals with your partner takes a healthy mix of commitment, communication and collaboration. Listening to your partner talk about their dreams could open an entirely new layer of communication for your relationship.
- Consider the short, medium and long-term. Being in a relationship implies some form of longevity between you and your partner. With that as a baseline, think about how you plan to reach your individual and collective goals together — both short-term and long-term.
- Consider account structure. Will shared checking and savings accounts work best for you, or should you weigh the pros and cons of separate accounts?
- Set clear and actionable goals. Specifics matter when you set goals. Make them clear and actionable so you know when and what it takes to accomplish them. For large purchases and financial goals, be specific in both dollar amount and deadline. This is a great tactic to use as you plan to pay off debt or save for a down payment.
To do: Write out your short (within 12 months), medium (one to five years) and long-term (five years or greater) goals. Make them clear and actionable by including a specific dollar amount and deadline for each.
Team up to customize your budget
There are key elements that differentiate budgeting as an individual as compared to budgeting as a couple. Once you have a foundational understanding of budgeting, you can make adjustments to customize your budget. Use this Money Management for Couples Worksheet to help you start a budget.
Building a budget
- Get to know your expenses. When you create a budget, there are regular monthly fixed and variable expenses you plan for. Also, create and discuss a budget that includes both monthly and non-monthly expenses. Get organized and categorize every expense.
- Fixed expenses are set amounts you owe every month. Examples are car payments and rent or mortgage payments.
- Variable expenses cover non-set spending amounts like date nights, vacations, groceries, gas or even personal spending. To calculate an amount for variable expenses in your budget, figure out the average of your last three months of spending. That should get you close but monitor it and make any necessary adjustments to keep your budget sound.
- Non-monthly expenses are set payments that you know you'll have, but don't happen every single month. Examples include taxes, holiday gifts or license plate renewals. Generally, couples budget for non-monthly expenses by estimating the amount they need and divide it by the number of months they need to save.
- . As you organize your money, set some aside for when those unexpected events turn up. An emergency fund could deter you from using a credit card or tapping into a line of credit. Think of it like "insurance" for your monthly budget. In moments like these, you really appreciate the effort and discipline you put into your budget and the advantages of a dual income. Using a savings calculator can be helpful in determining the amount needed.
To do: Identify your expenses and start an emergency fund.
Talking through budget changes
You're probably picking up on the main point — communication is key to budgeting as a couple. This next section reinforces this fact after you've tried your budget for a while. Once you create a budget and test it, then you can come back and make any necessary adjustments.
A budget is a living document
- Know what's working… and what's not. After living with your budget for a few months, you might be able to identify what's working well and what needs an adjustment. Have discussions whenever the time is right. You don't necessarily have to wait for a date night when you know something isn't working.
- Be flexible. Be honest and make smart adjustments as you go. This can help you build a strong and healthy budget.
- Pay attention to expenses. Budgeting isn't a one-and-done effort, especially as a couple. Pay close attention during the first several months of trying out your budget and take notes about what adjustments you need to make.
- Talk about what is working. Most importantly, talk through what's working and not working. Keeping the communication lines open and making adjustments along the way will help you both create a plan that sets you up to reach your goals.
To do: Set a date on the calendar when you and your partner can talk about your budget to gauge successes and struggles. The goal is to make good adjustments and customize your budget to help you reach your shared goals.
Find the right budgeting tools for you
In a dual-income partnership, you may be in a position where one of you can take a chance on a new business, personal growth or career advancement. As always, communication about goals and expectations is key to help make sure both parties are looking at the opportunity from the same vantage point. Financial tools can help level set when budget changes are on the table.
There's no shortage of financial tools out there. And much like anything else in the real world, there's no perfect tool for budgeting. The reality is — you may have to test different things to find what works for you.
Helpful budgeting tools
- Look for a budgeting tool that works for you. From new apps to pen and paper, choosing a system that works is a decision only you and your partner can make. Try what sounds good to you and don't worry about dropping the ones that are just not working. Be willing to compromise or split duties if you can't come to a shared conclusion. There are plenty of options out there, so take the time to pick and choose until you find the right budgeting tools for you. For example, our spending calculator can help you compare what you're spending today and how much you can save if incremental changes are made with your spending. The goal is to figure out what works, together.
- Consider simple strategies. There are some money management systems that have generally worked well for people.
- Cash envelopes: Use cash for certain budget items, like personal spending, to help prevent overdrawing your accounts. Simply put cash in labeled envelopes for the month and only use that money for what it's assigned to. Once the cash is gone, you're done spending on that item until the next month.
- Spreadsheet: Make a spreadsheet — free tools online could help here — to build out the categories of your budget and align money accordingly. Electronic spreadsheets are easy to build and adjust. You can also set up equations to help you tally totals and keep your money balanced.
- Allowances: An allowance can help you stay within the limits of your budget. Give you and your partner an allowance to spend or save as you wish. It can be a healthy way to treat yourselves while also protecting your budget.
- Refine as you go. Every six months, or as a major life change occurs, do a complete overview of your budget with your partner. Start by reviewing your goals and progress, and then make any necessary adjustments to help keep you both on track.
To do: Choose a few different budgeting tools to try this month.
Understanding how to manage money as a couple can help you build for your future. If you feel you may need professional advice, you might consider a financial advisor.
At State Farm® we have calculators to help you throughout your financial planning. Here are a few calculators related to this article.
There’s no question that dual income offers many advantages to couples. It's important to note that they can also come with challenges, such as managing work-life balance, potential childcare costs and coordinating household responsibilities. Open communication in financial planning and mutual support between partners are essential to make the most of the benefits of a two-income household.