January 2020… Not only is it a new year, but a new decade! This is the time of year where many people will start to action their New Years’ resolutions. Going to the gym or focus on mental health to name a couple. For some of you, that may include paying off debt or saving for a large purchase. If you are trying to accomplish either of these, you have come to the right place! Even more so, if you are trying to learn how to maintain a budget as a couple, make sure to keep reading!
I would like to share with you my top 4 rules on maintaining a budget as a couple and how to allocate your cash-flow effectively.
What is cash-flow? Well, let me keep it simple. Cash-flow is the difference between your available income (after taxes and deductions) and all of your expenses. Think of it as leftover money once all of your mandatory expenses are paid.
According to FCAC, only about 49% of Canadians have a budget (as of 2019). For those that do have a budget, they are 50% less likely to overspend, compared to those who do not have a budget. Other stats can be found in their official report.
With budgeting being such a crucial part of getting finances back on track, I am going to take you through some of my own best practices. But bear in mind that the following may not be tailored to your individual needs. In fact, I am not a Financial Advisor. If you have general questions, you are always welcome to contact me directly here. That being said, I will always recommend that you sit with a Financial Advisor at your local financial institution to help you assess all of your unique finances.
Rule #1 - Determine your financial goals
The first rule to maintaining a budget as a couple is to figure out what you are budgeting for. Some examples may include one or many of the following:
- Retire by the age of 65
- Purchase a home within 5 years
- Payoff outstanding credit card debt
- Become mortgage-free
- Going on a vacation together
With a better understanding of where you want to be, it will be much easier planning towards those goals as we look at rule #2.
Rule #2 - Layout all income and expenses
Now that you have your goals set, we need to breakdown what your cash-flow looks like today. Ideally, you want to be including every single item/category you spend on for a more accurate plan. Here are some examples:
- Income – salary, bonus, government support/rebates, rental income, pension
- Housing expenses – rent, mortgage, condo fees, property taxes, electricity, gas, maintenance
- Other utilities – phone, internet, cable, streaming services
- Food expenses – groceries, restaurants, work lunches, snacks, coffee shops
- Transportation expenses – gas, maintenance/parts, car insurance
- Personal expenses – grooming products, clothing, entertainment, gifts
- Medical expenses – vitamins, prescriptions, specialists (Chiropractor, Massage Therapist, etc.)
- Savings – education, retirement, large purchase, emergency savings
- Debt payments – credit cards, line of credit, student/personal loans, child support
There may be some additional expenses not mentioned, so don’t forget to add your own if needed!
Bonus tip: If you pay or get paid for different things on different schedules (bi-weekly, monthly, twice a year, annually, etc.) it is best to average everything on a monthly basis. You will need to figure out how many times the item occurs per year. For example, if you get paid bi-weekly, that would mean there will be 26 payments a year. Take that amount and divide it by 12 to get the average monthly amount. Here is a visual of what the math looks like for your income and expenses:
Weekly – cost x 52 / 12
Bi-weekly – cost x 26 / 12
Twice a year – cost x 6 / 12
Three times a year – cost x 4 / 12
Four times a year – cost x 3 / 12
Five times a year – cost x 2.4 / 12
Six times a year – cost x 2 / 12
Annually – cost / 12
Rule #3 - Optimize budget
At this point, you will be in one of two scenarios. One, you will have found you are spending more than what you earn. Two, you haven’t allocated enough of your disposable income.
If you are spending too much, don’t worry! This is where some creativity and determination will help you in maintaining a budget as a couple. Now would be the time to differentiate your expenses between needs and wants. Common expenses that can be easily reduced include food expenses, personal expenses and other utilities mentioned above.
If you have funds that haven’t been allocated, congratulations on not overspending! But make sure you are putting your money to work rather than letting it sit in your chequing account doing no good. Some areas you may want to top up would be savings or increase your debt payments.
Rule #4 - Review progress
This step is often overlooked, even for those that already have a budget. If you really want to learn how to maintain a budget as a couple, then here is where your communication skills can make that happen.
Be supportive of one another when sticking to a budget. It can be difficult getting in the habit of maintaining the budget, especially in the early stages of implementing one. Work together by encouraging your partner to stick to the budget. If you do, reward yourselves. That doesn’t necessarily mean go out and spend a fortune. But could include something like purchasing a high-quality steak and cooking a fancy steak dinner for two (still cheaper than going out for a steak dinner). Compromise, compromise, compromise.
Additionally, your budget may change over time as events occur in your life. As a rule of thumb, you should plan to review your budget monthly (or at least 3-4 times a year).
After going through this entire post, what I hope you have noticed is how quickly expenses can add up. So to share the final/bonus rule to maintaining a budget as a couple… STICK TO THE BUDGET! Of course, your leisure spending is included in the budget you created (hopefully) as it is important to fit in some fun things for you to enjoy. But if you go outside of that, it is very easy to spend more than what you have available to spend. This will likely result in larger debt payments over time and end up costing you significant amounts in interest which is basically wasted money.
Pay yourself before paying others!
If this helped you in maintaining a budget as a couple, please share your experience in the comments below. And as a reminder, feel free to contact us if you have any questions using our contact page!
Happy budgeting and all the best with your New Years’ resolutions!