Couples and Relationships: 4 Things Couples Should Shape Up Their Mutual Finances

Handling your finances is one of the biggest metrics that determine when you’ve reached adulthood in the eyes of society, your parents, and potential romantic partners. Not having your finances in order is also something that can cause unwanted tension in a relationship, Living paycheck to paycheck has a sort of grunge appeal for those who like the starving artist lifestyle, but anyone who’s been on that diet for a while will recommend getting your act together in a big hurry.

So, whether you’re just starting a relationship, or you’re thinking about popping the question, here are 4 finance basics every couple needs to have on lockdown.

#1: Banking

Unless your wages are so low that you use check cashing services exclusively (which is a reality for a lot of people out there), you probably use a bank. And while you might think, “what’s the big deal? A bank is a bank,” they really aren’t all the same. For starters, ask if your bank requires a minimum balance to keep your account open. Look at the kinds of overdraft fees they charge, and ask if there’s an annual service fee. Lastly, if you have a money market account, or a savings account, look at what sort of interest your bank is giving you. You might be getting screwed without even thinking about it.

#2: Bills

We all know how bills work. They show up in the mail, you send them a check, and everyone’s happy. However, you might be paying a lot more for your bills simply because you’re not looking at them. For example, if you are paying a monthly car insurance or medical insurance bill, see how much money you’d save if you bought your insurance in 6 month intervals instead. That can take a chunk out of your savings for right now, but that hole will fill in pretty quickly over the next six months. Ask your power company if they give you a discount for enrolling in an automated bill paying plan, and see if your Internet provider can cut you a deal on your package. A lot of the time you can spend less just by asking.

#3: Budgeting

If you had economics in school, you know how budgeting works. You sit down, figure out how much money you make a month, and then figure out how much you spend. If you know your gym membership is $19.99 a month, you put that in your budget. If you know your Internet is $39.99 a month, you put that in your budget. Fill out all the things that are a solid fee every month first.

Once you have your known values, you assign the variables. For example, sometimes your power bill is $25, and sometimes it’s $50. You’re better off assuming that it will be $50, because that way you have money left over at the end if it’s low. The same goes for your fuel costs, and any other costs that are central to your life. After that’s figured out, you assign a value to everything else. That’s food, clothes, savings, entertainment, etc.

A word to the wise; don’t budget down to the penny if you don’t have to. A flexible budget is a forgiving budget, and you should be able to cover costs as you need to. Small costs, like a hike in gas prices or needing to get a new pair of shoes for work, anyway. Bigger costs will have to come out of savings.

#4: Plan Long-Term

This one doesn’t start with a B, but it’s no less useful. One of the keys to financial success is being able to plan for long-term goals in your life. For example, rather than buying a cheap $20 pair of work shoes every two months, buy a $60 pair of work shoes that will last for several years. Rather than buying fast food for lunch every day, buy bulk food you can eat for weeks.

A lot of this seems like common sense, but it’s surprising how much money we save once we start knuckling down on our in-the-moment pleasures, and keep our eyes on the long-term prize.

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