Making a Budget Together

Talk to your spouse about money

The adage "opposites attract" can apply to attitudes toward money as well as to personality. To find out if you and your spouse have financial differences that need to be addressed, start by asking these questions:
  • Is one of you a saver and the other a spender?
  • How do you each handle credit and debt?
  • Are you concerned about financial control?
  • What are your individual financial goals?
After you've laid a good foundation for mutual understanding, you can address some of the more tactical issues.

Figure out your current financial position.

Take a comprehensive look at where you stand financially.
  • First: Total up all your assets (what you own) and liabilities (what you owe) in a joint .
  • Next: Make a list of all sources of income and expenses so you can see what your joint monthly cash flow looks like.

Put a plan in place.

From handling daily financial obligations to planning and saving for a home, children, and retirement, the more precise you are about roles and responsibilities, the smoother your financial relationship will be.

Developing a plan will help you come to agreement—and help you stick to your goals. Here are some important things to consider:

Sharing financial responsibilities—Decide how you'll handle expenses. For example:
  • If both of you are earning income, will you share certain expenses (e.g., your mortgage, utilities, groceries, etc.) and keep others separate (such as clothes, personal entertainment, etc.)?
  • If only one of you is earning income, how will you handle the need for personal money for the unemployed spouse?
  • If one of you makes more money than the other, can you agree on a fair percentage of your individual incomes to contribute to the common pool?
Once you've determined where the money is coming from, agree on who will be responsible for actually paying the bills.
  • Where you keep your money and how you keep track of expenses—Some couples prefer to pool everything in a joint account. Others prefer to keep separate accounts for personal expenses and a joint account for shared expenses. Be sure you both agree and have equal autonomy.
  • Paying off debt—If one or both of you have nondeductible personal debt (e.g., credit cards and auto loans), agree to make paying it down a priority. Work together to eliminate all such debt quickly, and consult each other before taking on any new debt.
  • Setting goals and saving—Discuss your goals and how you want to achieve them. What percentage of your income will you agree to save each year? How will you divide your savings between short-term goals like a vacation and long-term goals like retirement? Consider our eight savings fundamentals to help you get started.
  • Creating an emergency fund—Build up enough savings to cover three to six months of living expenses in case of an emergency or other unexpected expense. Keep your emergency fund accessible by depositing it in an interest-bearing checking account, a money market savings account, a money market fund, or a short-term CD. 
  • Investing—Once you have some savings, consider how to invest it. Keep in mind that investable assets should be money that you won't need to access for at least two to three years. You can open a joint brokerage account or separate investing accounts. Together or separate, the goal is to put your money to work and help it grow in a way that works best for both of you.
Don't forget to make retirement saving a part of your joint plan. The sooner you start, the less you may have to save in total each year. Start in your 20s, and putting aside 10% of your income for the rest of your life might be enough. The older you are when you start to save, the larger the portion of your income you'll have to put aside. Learn more about saving for retirement.
Sharing finances—what to do first.

There can be a lot of details to handle when managing shared finances. Take care of them right away to make your transition smoother and simpler.

If you're changing your name, immediately order a new Social Security card and driver's license with the new name. Notify your employer, your creditors, and all your bank and credit card account providers and insurance agents. Request copies of your credit reports to check for accuracy. You can get free reports at

Consider your tax-filing choices. Check with your tax professional to see whether you should file taxes jointly or separately. Update your W-4 forms.

In most cases, married couples benefit from filing a joint tax return. In general, the only time that it makes sense to file separately is when one person has significant medical expenses, casualty losses, or miscellaneous itemized deductions—or possibly if you're contemplating divorce. Filing separately can be especially complicated if you live in a community property state. Consult a tax professional.
  •  Coordinate health insurance. You and your spouse are probably covered by your individual employers' health insurance. It may be less expensive to cover you both under one plan. 
  • Determine your life insurance needs now and if you have children.  
  • Review and update files for all personal accounts and property, such as retirement accounts and insurance policies.  
  • Create or update your estate plan.  
  • Create durable powers of attorney for finances and health care so each of you can make financial and medical decisions for the other in the case of an incapacitating injury or illness.


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