Top 3 personal finance resolutions every couple should make


By Doug Matus, personal finance writer

The key elements of successful finance for couples boil down to communication. As with all hallmarks of a healthy relationship, a positive shared financial outlook depends on an ability to communicate, share, and delegate responsibilities. When problems inevitably arise, those with developed communication skills know how to calmly discuss matters and find a mutually beneficial solution.

Money is a loaded topic, however, and is one of the top ten reasons cited for divorce. Because of this, most couples have some work to do in the approach to a mutually beneficial financial partnership.

As you begin the New Year with your partner, you may have some resentments and lingering issues about financial matters. You may also have an unequal burden, or simply bad habits that lead to shared stress and problems. Regardless, if you’ve made 2017 the year that you and your loved one finally wrestle with your money, then these three couples financial resolutions should serve you well.

1. Delegate responsibilities

When couples share finances, it’s important to delegate responsibilities to avoid confusion and ensure that all bills get paid. Even if you maintain separate checking accounts, one of you should become the primary bill-handler. This person keeps track of bills and performs the actual payments, each and every month.

The two partners should sit down together to decide how much money gets owed by each, and the bill handler submits these shared funds to pay for rent, utilities, and any other bills that require a single payment for both parties. To simplify finances further, you can combine additional plans into one payment. In many instances, you can even save money by doing this.

“Take inventory of all your ongoing expenses to see if there is room to combine plans,” says Micah Pratt, a financial consultant for Obrella.com. “Take car insurance, for instance. By combining multiple cars on one policy, drivers can receive anywhere from 10-25 percent off annual premiums.”

Obviously, paying all the bills is a big responsibility. It remains to every couple to decide how the non-handler can compensate for this effort and time. Perhaps they do more chores around the house, or take responsibility for the kids more often.

Before this arrangement can function effectively, both partners must resolve to iron out a budget. This requires some foundational work, but makes it much easier to stick to any additional financial resolutions. To create a budget, first collect complete data about each partner’s income, taxes, and personal expenditures.

Next, figure out how much net income is available each month to spend, and figure out the necessities — such as rent, loans, or child care — that must get paid. You then need to look at bank statements and credit card histories to determine how much gets spent on other expenses throughout the month. Input all of this information into a spreadsheet or accounting app, and use it as a guideline moving forward.

2. Create emergency accounts

Along with your resolution to create and stick to a budget, consider the value of emergency accounts. As a measurable goal for couples, monthly savings plans to emergency accounts foster a sense of discipline in regards to money, and help create security against life’s unexpected calamities.

“This year, resolve to create an emergency savings account,” says Sallie Mullins Thompson, CPA and PLLC. “A two wage earner family should have at least three months of living expenses in an emergency savings account, and I tell all my clients to make this a top priority for any financial plan.”

The amount of your emergency account should include all monthly costs — not merely the mandatory bills — included in your budget. To get started, open a shared savings account with your partner, and set up automatic monthly transfers from your checking. These transfers should continue at least until you’ve reached the goal amount, and can continue further to pad your savings.

Ideally, you want a brokerage account where the money gets invested into market funds. This way, even if you stop your contribution, you can rest easy in the knowledge that your money will continue to work. If you find yourself still struggling to meet your goal after a year, raise your monthly transfer amount as the next year’s resolution. Finally, do not use your emergency account for anything other than emergencies. If you want to make a major purchase, like a home or car, open a separate savings account.

3. Commit to helping one another

New Year’s resolutions do not get accomplished overnight. The benefit of taking them on with a partner comes from mutual support and reassurance. As you build a life with your partner, you rely on their good faith and trust. These qualities should also come to bear on money, and provide the support both parties need to build the financial life they want.

Resolve, first and foremost, to create your shared money goals. These can be both short-term and long-term, but should also reflect your greater goals in the relationship.

“Start first with making a goal statement,” says Carrie Krawiec, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic. “Good goals should be positive, specific, and future-focused. They should also be broken down into daily objectives.”

One difficulty that many couples must navigate comes from divergent incomes. In particular, the partner who makes less can find it difficult to max out an annual 401k contribution. As you build a life with another person, however, you should make retirement a shared goal. This situation provides the perfect opportunity to build a better financial life together.

“The lower income spouse foregoing the 401k doesn’t help the couple, as they will lose out on tax breaks,” explains Abby Eisenkraft of Choice Tax Solutions, Inc. “For both to get federal and state tax breaks, which can amount to thousands of dollars, couples should resolve to work together to maximize 401k contributions.”

If you commit to helping one another, you’ll find it much easier to realize your couples financial resolutions. An atmosphere of cooperation and transparency will also circumvent the financial disagreements that plague so many relationships.

Written on January 3, 2017

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