After you return from your honeymoon and unwrap the wedding gifts, it’s time to start settling into the routine of married life. To avoid falling onto financial hard times, one of your first orders of business as a married couple should be to create a household budget. Although you might have easily lived within your means when you were single, your new hubby may have different spending habits and priorities than you, and without a plan, you could be tempting problems.
List all sources of income you and your spouse receive, and be transparent about it. This includes your paychecks and any other additional income, such as investment income, rental revenue or trust fund distributions. Create a joint account to serve as “ground zero” for all your finances.
Tackle non-negotiable expenses first, by budgeting for recurring bills such as rent or mortgage payments, car payments, cell phone bills and insurance premiums. Because these payments remain steady and predictable, they’re the easiest to budget around, so address them first.
Budget for flexible nondiscretionary spending. Your utilities and grocery bills might vary a little each month, so look back at credit card statements and old bills to come up with realistic projections for each subcategory. It’s always a little safer to shoot slightly higher in your expense projections and have wiggle room in your budget than to discover you have overspent your utilities budget.
Set spending levels for discretionary spending, such as cable and Internet bills, dining out, gym memberships and other nonessential expenses you share in your household. This category of bills includes anything that, if push came to shove, you could comfortably live without.
Set aside a portion of each month’s budget for a rainy-day fund. Separate this money from your household checking account, such as a savings account. This fund can be a useful buffer in case you under-budget in the future, or to help soften the budgetary blows of a major expense, such as a huge mechanic’s bill.
Contribute to savings and retirement accounts with amounts necessary to meet your retirement goals. You might need to consult a financial planner to develop a long-term retirement strategy.
Provide discretionary spending budgets to both members of your household. Although you’ll need to set clear guidelines that define discretionary spending and non-discretionary spending, providing each spouse with a fixed amount of “me money” can alleviate the hassles of micromanaging each other’s budgets. Place individual discretionary spending in separate checking accounts to ensure it’s insulated from household funds.
- Budgeting is an ongoing process, so set aside a night each month to go over your expenses and compare them to your budget. If necessary, modify your plan to fit more realistic spending habits.
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