For many couples, talking about money can be tricky. But if you live together or share any finances, it’s essential to have consistent check-ins about where you are dollar-wise to be sure you’re on the same page. Being open about money with your sig-o will help your relationship—and it doesn’t have to be that serious or scary. Here are three exercises that can help you navigate these conversations.
Take a financial selfie—together.
This “financial selfie” means sitting down and getting nitty gritty about where your money is going every month. When you’re first starting these conversations, it’s a good thing to do this every week or so. Past that, shoot to check back in on this every month.
Keep these things in mind as you do:
– Be real with yourselves about housing costs. Ideally, housing expenses shouldn’t exceed 35 percent of your monthly income, (whether you’re living on one income or two). If your financial selfie reveals a higher percentage, it’s a good time to discuss how that impacts the rest of your budget. Does your housing cost come to more than 35 percent, but you’re living closer to work and saving on transportation? If so, look at shifting some of the money budgeted for transportation into housing. Set on staying where you are (even if rent is coming out to more than 35 percent) but aren’t saving money in other areas? Time to look at where you can cut back to accommodate it. This might mean dining out only a couple times a month vs. a couple of times a week. Because while it might feel awesome to get an insane place (that’s half your salary), it’s not going to be so awesome when you’re there eating ramen with no electricity.
– Ask how your groceries can go the distance. Spending tons of money at Costco since you’re now shopping for more than one? You may think that you’re saving big, but it might mean you’re wasting food. Maybe getting part of your produce from a farm-share is a better fit right now. Forgetting to plan out grocery trips and ordering in way more than you should be? Figure out a way to plan your meals together each week so you can shop smarter.
– Find the cracks where money is slipping through. Weekly and monthly subscriptions can add up quickly, especially the ones that are $5 here, $9 there. Are you and your partner getting the most out of your Hulu subscription, or do you pretty much only watch Amazon Prime? Is that monthly wine box worth it, or would getting a box of wine do the trick while saving you $50?
Discuss who is paying for what.
If you live with your partner and haven’t discussed who pays for what, do so now. Write down all your combined household expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, pet costs, etc.) as well as how much you spend on each monthly. Spreadsheets or even a simple checklist are super helpful here. A shared Google doc or sheet should do the trick and is an easy way to keep track of expenses as things change. Start here: note all the combined household expenses in one column, how much you spend on each per month in another column, and who pays for what in a third column (including what is a shared expense or comes out of a shared account). Revisit this discussion/edit whenever needed, but make sure you’re doing so after any significant household changes (like getting a new pet) or changes in salary.
Split it up, and come together.
From the work I’ve done helping couples navigate finances, I’ve seen that it’s helpful when partners have both joint and personal accounts. Think of it like “What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is yours, and what’s mine is mine.”
Here’s how to break it down:
– “Yours” will include your partner’s personal discretionary expenditures (aka fun stuff, like workout classes, clothing, etc.) and personal debt, like credit card and student loans.
– “Mine” will include your discretionary expenditures and personal debt, like credit card and student loans.
– “Ours” will include all household expenditures, like rent, utilities, car maintenance, groceries, pet supplies, etc. It also includes shared debt, like a mortgage or a car loan. This is an excellent time to discuss how much you’ll each be contributing from your separate paychecks, and who will take the lead on paying those bills. (Note: It’s best to be allocating 70% of your individual take-home pay for your Essentials, aka rent/mortgage, bills, food, etc. 15% of that paycheck should toward your Endgame, aka retirement and savings; and 15% toward Extras: that’s whatever does it for you–dining out, shopping, etc.) When deciding how much you’re both putting into the “ours” account, remember that everything doesn’t have to split 50/50 necessarily. If you’re bringing home a bigger paycheck than your partner, but they’re better about weekly cleaning and laundry, maybe it makes sense for you to be putting a little more toward rent since they’re pulling their weight in other ways. Take things like that into consideration.
Making sure to stick to what’s “yours and mine” will help the household run more efficiently as no one has to wonder why you’re $40 short for pet food that month.
Things come up, and they will…that’s just part of the crazy world that is love (and money). I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: money is the number one reason couples fight. But if you’re being proactive and consistently checking in on your household finances frequently, it’s pretty simple to keep things running smoothly. Music to every couple’s ears.
A version of this article was originally published on MindBodyGreen.