Step 1: Review Your Financial Situation and Goals Together
The first step is to just sit down together and figure out where you stand as well as what your spending and savings goals are. If money has been a contentious issue for you as a couple, agree with each other at the start to talk openly about money and your spending habits without fear of being judged.
Take a look at the big picture together and discuss what you both want your money to go towards: for example, traveling the world, buying a house, or having a child. Establishing and regularly reviewing our financial goals reminds us why we're bothering with all the budgeting and money tracking in the first place.
Writing down and reevaluating your top financial priorities can increase your chances of achieving… Read more Read more
Tools. The Financial Goal Worksheet and Financial Priorities Worksheet from Money Management International can help you figure out what you both want and need to achieve financially—or at least get the conversation started.
Step 2: Create a Budget or Spending Plan
Keeping in mind your financial priorities, it's time to create a plan for your savings and spending. Often the reason people hate budgets is because they're too rigid to follow or time consuming to set up, but there are lots of different ways to create a budget. ranging from the zero-based budget that accounts for every penny and the classic envelope budget method of divying cash in envelopes to using webapps like Mint for budgeting .
The Getting Finances Done weblog has a great post explaining how to set up and implement a… Read more Read more
Perhaps the most straightforward way to set up a budget is to tally up your income and then subtract your fixed and necessary expenses and savings to make sure you're not spending more than you're making. With any surplus, you can allocate the money to discretionary categories like dining out or entertainment. Also, for more flexibility, set aside some money from the surplus for each of you to use as "fun money" to do with as you like (an allowance of sorts for adults!).
For an accurate assessment of your expenses, it's helpful if you can both track your spending—every single receipt—for about a month or two. Or you can go through a few months of bank and credit card statements together to see where the money is going. A service like Mint can
also automatically track your spending.
Tools: Paper and pen work fine for a simple income versus expenses review, as do spreadsheets (Here's a Simple Budget Planner and a much more detailed Household Budget Worksheet on Google Docs). I really like LearnVest's simple yet elegant Budget tool. which accounts for your monthly income, necessary expenses, and savings goals (free membership required to use the tool).
Step 3: Keep Track of Your Spending
With your budget in place, now's the hardest part: following it—as a team. Deciding to use a shared bank account and the same credit cards can simplify keeping track of your spending on the shared budget. (Some credit cards like American Express also offer helpful categorization of your spending.)
To keep tabs on your budget on a day-to-day basis, these family-friendly budget apps—that are cross-platform—can help:
Easy Envelope Budget Aid (EEBA) is a great tool designed for shared budgets. It's based on the envelope budgeting system, where you assign monthly and annual budget amounts across different categories and can see what's left. The free account syncs the webapp to up to two Android or iPhone devices for tracking your spending on the go.
Toshl Finance is another cross-platform (web, Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia, and Windows Phone) budgeting app. It features really quick expense input, tags for expenses, and great visuals. You can share your account with your family. The best features of Toshl, however, such as adding more than one income, are restricted to the pro account, which costs $19.99 a year.
Finally, You Need a Budget (Lifehacker readers' favorite personal finance app ) is a robust budgeting tool that works on Mac, Windows, Android, and iPhone, with data syncing across the devices. You can import bank statements, split transactions, and easily make adjustments to your budget (e.g. "borrow" from next month's allotment). However, the software is not cheap, at $60 (which covers all your computers) and $4.99 for the iPhone and Android apps each (the desktop client is required).
Personal finance applications usually aren't the topic of much debate, but when we asked you… Read more Read more
The most important thing is that you both actually use the tool to enter your transactions, so pick one that you both like. Whichever tool you decide to use, be sure to set aside a regular time (perhaps monthly or even weekly) to review your goals and finances together.