Love and Money: What Budgeting Looks Like at Every Relationship Stage

A couple embrace outside.
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Nothing says romance like an intimate discussion about personal finance. 

Just kidding. It can be uncomfortable to confront the truth about your own spending habits, credit score and debt — let alone share that with your significant other. 

We get it.

But if you’re in a serious relationship (or hoping things get to that level), you shouldn’t shy away from talking about money.

That doesn’t mean you ought to grill a first date about their salary history. The money discussions you’ll have early on in your relationship will look different from how you’ll handle household budgeting as an old married couple.

Here are a few tips to tackle money management for couples in various relationship stages.

When You’re Newly Dating

Who pays for what is a common question that’ll come up when you first start dating. But an equally important question you should be asking yourself is if you’re staying within your budget when dating.

Of course there’s the desire to impress your new boo. But if you’re overspending to the point that it’s derailing financial priorities, like paying bills on time or building an emergency fund, you need to reassess your decisions.

“Bachelor in Paradise” alum Derek Peth, who’s a fintech exec when he’s not competing for love on television, told The Penny Hoarder that being upfront about your financial situation can strengthen relationships while protecting your budget.

He suggested discussing things in terms of goals and limits if you’re not at the point where you feel comfortable digging into hard numbers.

“You can say something like, ‘I’ve got a lot in student loans. I’m really trying to focus on that and my goals right now, and I’m kind of limited on what I can do,’” Peth said.

Dating only has to be expensive if you make it that way. There are plenty of cheap date ideas that fit into anyone’s budget and are still fun. 

Pro Tip

Browse this list of 100 free things to do for more budget-friendly date ideas.

In addition to making sure you’re not financially overextending yourself in a new relationship, take time to scope out how the person you’re dating handles money. Do they seem to be a spender or a saver? Do they take time to save up for a big expense or just pull out the AMEX?

When You Decide to Move in Together

Sharing a household means sharing household bills. Once you’re at the point where you’re thinking about living together, it’s time to have a serious money talk

Decide how you’ll pay for your collective expenses. Will both your names be on the lease and utility accounts? Will you split your living costs evenly or come up with percentages based on how much each partner makes?

Will you merge finances and get a joint account? Will you keep your money separate and reimburse each other? Or will you each be in charge of different expenses? 

When you share the same address, it’s important that you start budgeting as a couple. It may be clear how much you need to fork over for fixed costs like rent and utilities, but how much are you comfortable spending on variable expenses, such as groceries and entertainment? Don’t forget short-term goals, like saving up for a nice anniversary trip.

Set aside time for a budget meeting each month — or more frequently if you desire. Call it date night with numbers, break out the wine and discuss your plans to keep your spending in line with your goals.

Pro Tip

Take your budget with you everywhere you go with one of these budgeting apps for couples.

When You’re Headed to the Altar

Your wedding is one of those days you’ll remember forever. But that doesn’t mean you ought to spend forever paying it off.

According to wedding experts at The Knot, couples spent an average of nearly $34,000 to get hitched in 2018. If you’re engaged and planning a wedding, sticking to a wedding budget is a must.

Pro Tip

These couples share how they spent less than $10,000 on their weddings.

When determining how much you can spend on your big day, consider what you already have in savings, how much you can save each month leading up to the wedding and any contributions from family and friends. Set a date that’ll allow you enough time to put aside the money you need.

Your wedding budget will include various categories, like the reception venue, attire, photography and food. Talk to your partner about what matters most for your big day. Splurge on a couple big things and find ways to cut costs on the rest.

These tips to save thousands of dollars on your dream wedding will help you lower your expenses.

When You’re Living Out Your Happily Ever After

Tying the knot makes you and your partner more of a team than ever before. You’re in it for the long haul, financially intertwined for life.

“His” and “hers” becomes “ours.” It’s time to file taxes together and tackle debt as a team.

Hopefully by now you have a strong foundation of financial teamwork. It’ll come in handy as you prepare for other big events in your life, like buying a house or starting a family.

When you’re ready to trade renting for homeownership, turn to this guide to buying a home for the first time. Before baby makes three, read up on how to budget for your new arrival, so you’re not caught off guard by all the cute-but-expensive costs that crop up when you become parents.

Feeling overwhelmed? Create a budget that works for you with our budgeting bootcamp!

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.