How to work out a budget for your marriage

5 min
Nicky and Sila Lee
Authors of The Marriage Book


According to a survey by the Marriage Guidance Service, Relate, most arguments about money come down to spending priorities. If money causes problems in your marriage, it will be beneficial to make an agreed plan of how, as a couple or family, you are going to use it. A budget is, of course, no magic formula, but the very process of working it out together has a number of benefits. Like any other area of potential conflict, money can either be an issue that comes between us and affects our whole relationship or a problem that we work at together, drawing us closer to each other in the process.

Working out a budget can remove the fear of feeling out of control, the guilt attached to reckless spending and the conflict arising from mutual blame where there is a shortfall. Marriages have been transformed from acrimony to harmony through discussion and decisions about finances. If money is a source of tension, you can work through the following steps. (They sound very obvious and straightforward, but it is amazing how few of us ever sit down and work these things out together.)

1) Discover your true financial position

- Work out how much you own or owe

Find a time when you are not tired or distracted and are unlikely to be disturbed. Then collect bank statements, unpaid bills, savings accounts, credit card statements and so on. Being honest with each other if you have overspent and are in debt can be hard, but it will be well worth it. Anxiety about money can easily become a dark secret. When fears are out in the open, they lose much of their power over us.

Be gentle with each other – none of us gets it entirely right. If you find you are in debt, part of your discussion will need to be about how you can get out of it. Do not be afraid or embarrassed about seeking help from people with experience. The sooner the problem is faced, the more easily it can be solved.

- Calculate your income

In order to plan your spending, you need to know how much money is coming in and where it is going out. The simpler part is working out your joint income. You will need to write down all sources and amounts of income after deduction of income tax and National Insurance. This can then be worked out as an average amount for each month. Enter these figures onto a “Monthly Budget Planner”, such as the one at the end of this post.

- Work out what you spend

Many couples find themselves stretched financially but are not aware of where their money goes. As a result, they can blame the wrong items for pushing them into debt. In order to form an accurate picture of your expenditure, it may be necessary to write down over the course of a month or two everything you spend your money on. This information, together with your bank statements and any credit card statements, should enable you to work out expenditure for an average month. (With expenses that are not incurred monthly, such as car expenses, household insurance or holidays, work out an annual figure and divide by twelve.)

Record this information in your budget planner, creating as many other categories as necessary. Start with those areas of expenditure that are fixed, such as a mortgage or rent, gas and electricity, insurance and travel costs. Then put down those areas where there is room for more flexibility, such as food and housekeeping, clothes, presents, hospitality and sport.

Next, you will need to subtract what you spend from what you earn. (If the result does not tally with your bank records, either the bank has made a mistake or you have left something out!) You may find, of course, that you are left with a minus figure: you are spending more than your income and need to take urgent action.

2) Discuss the future

The next step is to plan the use of your money, allocating specific amounts to different areas. The aim is to set a budget that is within your income and reflects your agreed priorities, putting aside enough for the unexpected.

Sacrifices may have to be made by both husband and wife, but it will always be more productive to plan the future than to argue about the past. If you cannot agree, break off discussions to allow both of you time to consider (and pray about) the other’s point of view. Find another opportunity to talk again when you are at your most reasonable.

The great advantage of reaching agreement is that you can then spend money up to the agreed limit without feeling guilty or having to hide it from each other. If agreeing proves difficult, it is a good idea to seek help from a reliable source.

Once you have assessed your current financial situation and planned the use of your money, allocating specific amounts to different areas, you can decide how to keep control of your finances going forward.