Once you've returned from your honeymoon and unwrapped 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 inviting problems.
Assess Your Income and Expenses
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 investments, rental revenue or trust fund distributions. Create a joint account to serve as “ground zero” for all your finances.
Set a Budget
Tackle nonnegotiable expenses first, by budgeting for recurring bills such as rent or mortgage payments, car payments, cellphone bills and insurance premiums. Because these payments remain steady and predictable, they’re the easiest to budget around, so address them first.
Next, 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. You can adjust this amount from one month to the next as you get a more realistic picture of your finances.
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. Also provide discretionary spending budgets to both members of your household. Although you’ll need to set clear guidelines that define discretionary spending and nondiscretionary spending, providing each spouse with a fixed amount of “me money” can alleviate the hassles of micromanaging each others budgets. Place individual discretionary spending in separate checking accounts to ensure it’s insulated from household funds.
Launch a Savings Plan
Once you've done all of that, you'll want to address your savings. 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.
Follow Up Monthly
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.
- 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.
Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.