Spreadsheets and Budgets Are the New Chocolates and Roses

Couples who budget together are happier, and – well, let’s just say they do more together.

When it comes to relationships and money, there's more to the story than we often hear.

While it's true that research consistently finds financial disagreements are "the strongest disagreement type to predict divorce," there's also a happier story about couples who proactively talk about money.

Happy Couples Talk About Money, Budgeting, and Debt

Many "couples find it harder to talk about money than sex.” And 18 percent say money is a "taboo subject" in their families.

But ample research consistently finds the happiest couples talk about money together.  

For example, the popular site Budgets Are Sexy recently published a link to a study revealing “couples who regularly track and discuss a household budget are 50% more likely to report being ‘extremely happy’ in their relationship, and over 33% more likely to report having a great sex life.”

A large 2016 Ameriprise study on couples and money found that among couples who are in sync about their finances, 68% describe communication over finances with their spouses/partners as “perfect” or “very good.”

  • 82% of couples have discussed retirement and have similar views on how to approach it.

  • 68% rate communication on financial matters as good or perfect.

  • 50% believe money is an important factor in their relationship.

But it’s not all honey in paradise. About 73% of individuals have money management styles different from their partner’s. And they squabble over it, too. About 31% of couples — even the happiest ones — clash over finances once a month. The most common points of disagreement:

  • Major purchases (34%)

  • Decisions about finance and children (24% of respondents with kids)

  • A partner’s spending habits (23%)

  • Important investment decisions (14%).

An important point, however, is that 82% of these happy couples work to quickly resolve their differences.

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As always, communication is key.

Today, couples live together longer before they get married. They also get married later. They’re more likely to come from different backgrounds, with different money values.

About 62 percent of Americans talk about money with their partner at least once a week. Perhaps not surprisingly, millennials talk the most. A TD Bank survey on love and money found 74% of millennial couples talk about money weekly.

That’s a good thing. We’ve previously written about how people in successful relationships tend have a few habits in common when it comes to their finances:

  1. They communicate about money

  2. They focus on goals and dreams

  3. They work on awareness

  4. They sync their values

  5. They make a plan

Taking it to the sheets. (Spreadsheets, that is.)

A recent Lifehacker article notes that the “most important part of budgeting as a couple is transparency.”

For many couples, transparency doesn’t have to involve sharing or tracking every penny or expense. But it does mean syncing up about core values, goals, and major liabilities.

Indeed, it’s incredibly bonding to sit with your partner for the first time to figure out a budget. You’ll see what you earn together, which is certainly more than you earn alone. You’ll see what you can spend together, invest together, and save together - if you choose.

Put another way, you'll see what you have to invest in the relationship, on dates, travel, and shared experiences. 

During this process, you might learn you have much more or far less than you expected. Either way, at least you’ll be on the same page, on common ground.

Making a simple budget reduces uncertainty and brings a bit of peace of mind and equality to the relationship.

Getting Started

We recommend making your first simple budget in a Google Sheet template. It’s very easy to share (and eventually automate with Tiller, nudge nudge). We’ve created an example workflow here for couples who share expenses but not accounts.

I also like the free 50/30/20 budget from Nerd Wallet. Over a glass of wine, my fiance and I used this simple tool to get a glimpse of how we might budget our combined incomes.

Guide Your Money Conversation With These 5 Questions 

As reported in the New York Times "How to Have a Better Relationship" guide, David Olson, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota identified five questions you can ask to find out if you are financially compatible with your partner:

  1. We agree on how to spend money.
  2. I don’t have any concerns about how my partner handles money.
  3. I am satisfied with our decisions about savings.
  4. Major debts are not a problem
  5. Making financial decisions is not difficult.

Dr. Olson's research found the happiest couples agreed with at least four of the statements. Couples who didn't see eye to eye on three or more of the statements were less likely to enjoy marital happiness. He also found that debt is the biggest source of marital conflict.

"Couples who can focus on money problems and reduce their debt may discover that they have also solved most of their marital problems."  -  Dr David Olson