The essential budgeting guide for couples.


Before my partner and I got married in 2018, we tackled a lot of tough financial questions—like how much were we willing to spend on everything from the dress to the meal, to the wedding favours. And the even tougher questions, like how were we going to pay for it all. But it wasn’t until we got a piece of valuable feedback from my father-in-law that we realized we hadn’t considered the most important financial question of all: how would we manage our finances as a newly married couple?

Of course, we’d been together for more than seven years and had already gone through many different budgets as we’d graduated university, travelled abroad and started our careers. But we realized that this next big step called for an earnest discussion about how we would manage our finances—and take steps toward our financial goals—as a newly married couple.

Tina Cheung, a Vancity Wealth Advisor, shares that budgeting can be challenging and overwhelming for many couples. “Adding another party to the equation can make it a bit more difficult because everyone’s priorities and aspirations are different,” she says. “One may prefer to pay off their mortgage as quickly as possible with any surplus they have in their cashflow, while the other may prefer to have those funds invested toward their RRSP and/or TFSA. The most important takeaway,” she adds, “is that there isn’t a right or wrong approach. The goal is to support each other’s perspective in achieving financial freedom by linking common goals.”

Here’s what my husband and I came up with, and what we recommend now, looking back.

First, merge your finances.

Before getting married, we’d maintained separate chequing accounts, which made balancing our budget and paying bills tedious: who paid for what and from which account?

“As a best practice, start with listing joint household income and expenses, estimating how much each individual will put toward their savings, and discussing what’s important to accomplish as a family in the short, medium and long terms,” Cheung advises.

Vancouver bride shares actual wedding budget
Photo: Shauna Danielle Photography

Track your spending and savings together.

Previously, we had tracked our individual spending in an expense doc (we used Excel, but there are lots of free templates and apps including Vancity’s budget tracker and YNAB). We dutifully marked the ‘personal’ spends (a solo trip, coffee, shopping, etc.) and the ‘household’ spends (hydro, groceries, shared meals out, etc.)

At the end of each month, we’d balance our household spend and ensure we each contributed half. At the time, our incomes were similar so it was an even split, but when my partner got a raise, he started contributing more. If you aren’t sure how to go about budgeting, this six-step process is a good place to start.

Open a joint bank account.

At this point we recognized that having separate accounts no longer made sense. We opened a joint chequing account and credit card, and ‘my money’ became ‘our money’ as we switched our deposits, day-to-day banking and payments to the new account.

Since then, payments have been a breeze. And with the exception of savings, everything goes into—and out of—one account.

It is very normal to have different philosophies. Discuss your financial aspirations openly, set priorities that matter most to you and come together to find a common achievable and obtainable goal.

Tina Cheung, Wealth Advisor

Choose a financial institution you both agree on.

My parents and I have been members of Vancity for as long as I can remember. And with my partner being new to Canada, Vancity was the choice that made the most sense when we decided to combine our finances, partly because we both love what it stands for. Plus, our deposits are 100% insured! At least that was an easy decision!

Have frequent, honest conversations about money.

For many people, money and finances remain a taboo topic—one they avoid altogether. But ignoring your finances is a surefire recipe for disaster in the long run.

It took my partner and I several years to get to a place in which we felt comfortable having frank discussions about our money. But it’s more important now than ever to have these difficult conversations. “As we have seen the cost of living in Metro Vancouver increase significantly,” says Cheung, “coming together to discuss household income and expenses will set couples up for financial success.” Discuss and prioritize needs over wants. This can ensure you’re both making conscious decisions on spending.

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Understand each other’s risk thresholds.

My partner is a lot more risk averse than I am, and our risk thresholds have been the focus of many of our financial conversations. The biggest risk was our mortgage, and it took years of crunching numbers with our mortgage advisor for me to convince him it was the right choice.

Understanding each other’s risk thresholds also applies to financial investments. Meeting with a wealth planner is a good way to get a sense of the available investment options that align with your risk thresholds and expectations for returns.

Review your finances regularly.

To prepare for unexpected expenses, we review our household cash flow annually—or whenever we have a big payment (buying a place) or a life change (new job). Our financial review includes breaking down our take-home pay, fixed expenses, and saving and investing goals, while balancing outstanding debt.

Recognize your unique spending and savings styles.

Those who know me know I am a ‘treat yourself’ type of girl. I love to take myself out for a coffee and pastry or peruse a local boutique. It also comes as no surprise that I am an emotional spender. My partner, by contrast, rarely spends money, but when he does it’s on a big-ticket item, like a new computer or gaming console.

In the early days of our relationship, we were often at odds over our different spending styles. After one particularly bad fight, we decided to add up the spending we were arguing about and compare it. Can you guess what we discovered? We spent essentially the same amount.

Accept different approaches to common goals.

Recognizing our different approaches to spending—and saving—was one of the biggest ah-ha moments we had as a couple. And according to Cheung, it’s pretty normal for every couple to have different philosophies around money. The key, she says, is to “discuss your financial aspirations openly, set priorities that matter most to you and come together to find a common achievable and attainable goal.

The most important take away is that there isn’t a right or wrong approach with budgeting. The goal is to support each other’s perspective in achieving financial freedom by linking common goals.

Tina Cheung, Wealth Advisor

Do the math.

It’s easy to think you know just how much you’re spending each day, week or month—but do you actually? I watched a TikTok where the subject joked about how they shouldn’t be let out on weekends because they spend too much money…you grab brunch with a friend, do your grocery shopping, visit a brewery, order takeout, check out a new workout class, and fill up your gas tank—and $500 later, you’ve exceeded your budget for the whole month. Sound familiar?

Along with using a budgeting tracker, a cashflow calculator can help clear up any miscommunication you may have about how much money you’re actually spending.

Commit to living within your means.

Since doing our own post-weekend math, my partner and I have been a lot more mindful about planning—and tracking—our entertainment, along with our other household categories, to ensure we’re always on the same page, living within our means, and able to enjoy our experiences without having to worry about how it will affect our monthly budget.

Stay true to your values.

If you’ve opened Netflix recently, you’ve likely seen a show called How to Get Rich with host Ramit Sethi. In each episode he asks, “what does a rich life mean to you?” Essentially, it’s about knowing what you value.

Going through your values and identifying overlaps with your partner is an opportunity to assess where you’re at in life, how far you’ve come and where you’d like to be. My partner and I have been doing this exercise every two to three years as our lifestyle, finances and aspirations have changed.

Find a values-aligned financial advisor.

Choosing a values-aligned financial partner has given us access to socially responsible financial products that support the things we care about, like giving back to our community, while ensuring the safety of our growing nest egg. And it’s been invaluable in navigating more complex financial matters like mortgage rates and investment returns.

“Going through your values and identifying overlaps with your partner is an opportunity to assess where you’re at in life, how far you’ve come and where you’d like to be.”

Set up your investing plan.

When I met my now-partner, he didn’t save or invest at all. I, on the other hand, came from a family that taught me to invest in myself—and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Seek out financial advice you can trust.

Financial advisors are an essential partner in your investing journey. In this day and age of TikTok and Instagram influencers, I suggest taking the online ‘financial experts’ with a grain of salt and opting for someone local you can sit down with and really get to know. You may have them by your side to guide your investments for years to come, and they can match you up with investments that meet your risk tolerance.

Invest early and often.

Since I got my partner on board with investing, and with the help of our advisor, we’ve automated all of our savings and investments to ensure we pay ourselves first through our TFSA, RRSP, and HISA, as well as Socially Responsible Investing mutual funds and most recently, an RESP for our son.

Looking ahead.

My savings and investment priorities have changed over the years, but my mindset and approach to budgeting and financial planning has remained pretty consistent. And through our 13 years together, my partner and I have realized that strong relationships require a solid approach to joint money management. After all, money can make or break a relationship, but with a little planning and effort, you can ensure your finances support your future together.

Take the first step towards your financial goals today by seeking personalized assistance from a financial planner. Get in touch with Vancity today.

This blog post provides general information only, and does not constitute financial, accounting, tax, legal or other professional advice. We encourage you to obtain personalized advice from qualified professionals regarding your particular circumstances. Please see our Terms of Use.

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