Marriage is a complex, often sophisticated activity. It requires understanding, cooperation, and compromise. Both parties must be willing to live with the ups and downs experienced by the other as they go through each day side by side.
One of the most significant challenges that come with living together revolves around finances. Combining two people’s worth of income, spending, and expenses into a single budget can be difficult. When done thoughtfully, though, it can also be extremely rewarding.
Combining Finances By Budgeting for Milestones
Here are a few tips and suggestions for couples that have decided to combine their incomes. Specifically, focus on the strategy of improving your financial situation through budgeting for important milestones such as anniversaries, birthdays, buying a house, and having children.
These can serve as benchmarks along your journey and can encourage you to knit your finances together in a healthy manner.
Start with a Combined Budget
The first thing that you want to do is create a unified budget. By the time you marry, chances are you already know how a budget works. You’re familiar with tracking income, expenses, savings, and the like.
However, it’s important to reevaluate your individual budgets and then create a unified one that you can both get behind. Healthy relationships require balancing you and your spouse’s wants and needs.
Here are a few quick-start steps to help you through the budgeting process:
- Begin by tallying up your combined incomes.
- Next, add up both shared and individual expenses.
- Start tracking your spending in order to see where you can easily save money if needed.
- Create an emergency fund to help you through any unexpected short-term financial expenses.
- Set new savings goals, such as putting money towards retirement, paying off debt, or going on vacation.
- Schedule time to reevaluate your budget regularly to make needed adjustments and ensure that everything is on track.
Once your new and improved budget is formed, you can use it as a baseline to fall back on whenever you have questions in the future.
Lay Out a “Milestones Timeline”
Having a budget is an excellent start, but it’s that “set new savings goals” part that is the easy-to-overlook yet crucial factor over the long-term. If you want your combined financial efforts to yield positive results over time, it’s wise to set clear goals to work toward together.
As already mentioned, some of these can be directly money-related, such as saving for retirement or paying off school loans. However, you can give your financial status a steroid shot if you also set some life milestone goals as well. Some suggestions include:
- Your anniversaries: Whether it’s your first, fifth, or fiftieth, aiming for a specific goal for each anniversary — such as a night away for the first, a cruise for the fifth, or a three week trip to Europe for the tenth — is a great motivator.
- Graduating from school: If you haven’t finished school yet, celebrating your graduation by going on a trip or finally replacing your old clunker of a car can be a great goal to work toward.
- Buying your first house: Purchasing a home together is a prime mover and shaker for many couples. The thought of establishing a home that’s your own is a great incentive to keep your spending in bounds, your savings steady, and your finances on course.
- Having your first child: Starting a family is a huge life milestone. It provides a slew of different expenses — think birth costs, setting up a nursery, and so on — that you can save toward together.
By linking your finances to exciting life goals (and the rewards that come along with them) you can help weave your two budgets together into one aggregated plan that is more exciting than either of your individual ones.
Be Careful Not to Get Ahead of Yourself
The last — and in many ways most important — thing that is essential to success here is to proactively make sure you don’t get ahead of yourself in your planning. Patience, foresight, and endurance are all critical to success here.
For instance, if you start by planning your one year anniversary as a week-long trip to Hawaii, there’s a good chance that you’re putting the cart before the horse. Just because you planned it out carefully doesn’t mean you should be splurging on such an elaborate vacation that early in your financial life together.
Instead, look for affordable-yet-romantic anniversary ideas at that stage, such as staying in for a fancy dinner, recreating your first date, or even going camping. Then, plan the overseas adventures for your fifth or even your tenth anniversary. This will give you time to properly save for the event without pushing other important things — like a house or paying off student loans — to the back burner.
Using Milestones to Succeed Financially
There are many ways to financially thrive as a couple. One of the most effective and exciting ways to do so is by fixing your finances to important milestones. This encourages you to work together towards a reward for both of you. And the best part is, it provides a natural way for you to maintain healthy finances without the need to obsess over them or even feel like you’re sacrificing too much along the way.
Dan Matthews is a freelance writer with a penchant for financial wisdom and solid research. You can find him on Twitter @danielmatthews0 and LinkedIn.