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How my husband and I navigate finances as a couple

Allie Johnson

September 17, 2013

Over the years, my husband and I have taken turns managing our finances. We’ve traded off mainly because we each think our own way of managing money is best.

I tend to jot stuff down in notebooks because I’m very visual, but my scribblings make sense only to me. My husband, Joe, has always used Excel spreadsheets. They’re easy to read, but he likes to rush through money management tasks, which can lead to mistakes that throw off our finances.

But we recently hit on a new system that works perfectly for us: We manage our money together.

Many experts say it’s a good idea for both members of a couple to get hands-on with finances. For example, according to the finance and investment site The Motley Fool, “Managing household finances is a two-person job.” In its online guide for managing finances with a significant other, it encourages couples to answer various questions together about their attitudes toward money and even create a joint calendar with shared financial obligations.

Personal finance experts have told me that approach is smart for many reasons — including the fact that if something happened to one partner, the other one would need to get quick access to money and start making financial decisions right away.

Here’s how our new system works:

  1. We meet on the last day of each month to plan the coming month’s finances. We each put the meeting on our iCal (with a reminder) to make sure we don’t forget. At that meeting, we make a budget and talk about any anticipated big purchases or expenses.
  1. We use a Google spreadsheet that both of us have access to and can change at any time. At the monthly budget meeting, we each use our own laptop to go over the budget and make changes to the spreadsheet. When one of us makes a change, it pops up instantly on the other’s screen. This is great because neither of us has to depend on the other to clarify what’s happening with our finances.
  1. We also discuss our savings goals for that month and revisit our long-term plans — such as house remodeling or vacations. This keeps those goals fresh in our minds. The Motley Fool recommends that couples meet at least quarterly about big-picture money goals and that they discuss money in concrete terms. For example: Instead of saying you’re worried about money, tell your partner you’d feel more secure with a $3,000 emergency fund.
  1. During the month, I check our bank account and credit card accounts online and make changes to the spreadsheet daily, recording what has been spent in each category. If I have questions about a charge I don’t recognize, I immediately send a message to Joe to ask about it. That also will help us spot possible fraudulent charges quickly — something we’re concerned about after a criminal tried to use one of our credit cards a few months ago.
  1. We use the same system, with a separate spreadsheet, to manage any special projects or goals for which we have a budget. We’re doing this for our current house remodel, and it’s helping us prioritize and make trade-offs.

Certified financial planner Ginita Wall, writing for WomenSpeak.com, recommends that couples set goals together, create a savings plan and start now. If one member of the couple has less interest in dealing with money, Wall recommends breaking financial goals into small, manageable tasks — and learning about money together. She writes, “You will become more familiar with money, and that will make it more interesting as well.”