Budget As A Couple

[PERSONAL] Managing Finances as a Couple: 3 Things That Worked Well for Us!

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Studies say you don’t necessarily need to be married to be happy, but in my case, sharing my life with my partner is one of the best experiences, I’m enjoying it 🙂 He’s a good man – I guess my approach to dating worked 🙂

So, obviously, as a married couple, we now run a household together, and jointly responsible for our finances. This article breaks down how we are managing finances as a couple, in a way that works for us. Under no circumstances I want to imply this is the best way for everyone, just the best way for us.

Here are 3 things that worked really well:

#1 – We took the Financial Behaviour Test

Money as a topic came up often during the dating stage (it’s not like he didn’t know he was dating a personal finance blogger…), and we had a lot of conversations about it, including on camera, when we did a Boyfriend Tag: Should We Combine Our Finances? & Other Money Questions video.

However, everything really came together when we both took The Financial Behaviour Test. It was an amazing AHA moment for both of us – only then we understood why we behaved the way we did with money.

The best part was the Financial Behaviour Comparison Report, showing his and my tendencies side-by-side. I am very happy to discover that we are mostly aligned – we are both low risk takers, savers (as opposed to spenders), and happy to pursue a content life (as opposed to an extravagant life) 🙂

financial behaviour report

In fact, it was because of his high score in financial relationship management (second line) and preference for financial advisors that I got him a professional financial planning session as a birthday present. He loved it <3

I would happily recommend the Financial Behaviour Report to everyone. You can even turn it into a date – Buy the Financial Behaviour Report for you and your partner and go through your results together 🙂 Individuals can do it too and learn more about yourself.

Buy it here >> Financial Behaviour Report (Individual RM49 /Couple RM99)

#2 – We decided on ‘I pay for this expense you cover that one’ approach (for now)

There are so many ways of managing finances as a couple. Some swear by joint bank account, some do the ratio approach based on income, some give total financial responsibility to the husband, etc.

As mentioned in my Thoughts I Have About Marriage (and Money Management) article, both of us were raised in families where all the women and men earned money, so we are now living the DINK lifestyle (dual income, no kids), with shared as well as individual expenses.

Individually, our financial situations are healthy, but different:

My situation:

  • Self-employed so income fluctuates a lot – some months five figures, most months four figures
  • Multiple sources of income
  • Healthy amount in savings, no consumer debt
  • Well-funded but extremely high-risk investment portfolio; additional funding via lump sum method – every six or so months

His situation:

  • Employed with stable income
  • Single source of income; currently learning additional skills
  • Healthy amount in savings, no consumer debt
  • Paying for mortgage (yet to receive key) and car loan
  • Building up investment portfolio; additional funding via dollar cost averaging method – monthly deductions

We thought of having a joint account at some point, but at this stage, while we’re waiting to move into our permanent home, we have decided to split our expenses this way:

  • Me: Cover Groceries and Rent (plus the bills – electric, aircon, water and Indah Water)
  • Him: Cover Mortgage and Car loan (plus petrol, parking and car maintenance)
  • Both: Cover other individual expenses that we have

This separation works well – we don’t have to transfer money to another account and responsibilities are clear. Later, after we move and no longer have to pay Rent, we’ll probably have another chat about shared expenses and maybe set up that joint account, if necessary.

#3 – We organised our financial documents

Conscientiousness describes doing one’s work well and thoroughly; the ability to be orderly and organised when required because it gets the job done.

Which is kind of important for personal finance, and as it turns out, is one of the best traits in a partner and in a marriage too.

Honestly, I would have married him anyway even if he’s not particularly conscientious, because boi I fell hard for that face and love makes you stupid in, like, a biological way.

However happily he turns out to be quite organised as well, so guess who had a genuinely fun date night just compiling our insurance policies in one place??

How are y’all managing finances as a couple?

Obviously, we are not going to pretend we have this whole thing perfected. I am very well aware that as newlyweds, we have much to learn about each other, and go through together. Maybe the way we handle expenses will change in the future, but I think we have a pretty good start at it 🙂

And now I would love to hear some advice from readers with longer experience. Married/cohabitating partners, what method(s) do you use for managing finances as a couple? What worked, what didn’t, and what changed over the years?

Please leave your wisdom in the comments section below!

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  1. Thanks for the article. It’s a good read.
    As a couple, we approach the budget using the boss-worker mindset. Just like a worker who brings value to the company and the boss pays for the work done.
    Except for personal expenses that we gladly foot our own bill, as a couple with so much work to be done/bills to pay. We ask only 2 questions.
    1) Who is willing to do the work?
    2) Who is willing to pay for the work?
    House-related matters: The one who’s not good at doing housework/ maintaining a liveable condition will pay for mortgage, utility bills etc
    Food: the one who’s not good at cooking and cleaning will pay for marketing n groceries
    Child care n education: The one who thinks the other partner can do the work better will pay

    Conclusion: As a couple, we can either choose to pay or do the work hahaha
    However, there are also occasions where the work is too overwhelming especially the never-ending housework. That’s when the person who’s responsible for that part will outsource n pay for it

    Of course, it’s not all the time like that, there are also times where we are happy to pay and do the work as well usually during special occasions when we want to make our partner feel happier 😁

    So far, so good and this approach serves us well for more than a decade 😊

    1. Thanks Vivien for commenting here 🙂

      Very interesting way of simplifying finances in relationship. And hey if it works, it works!

      Wishing you and family a lifetime of happiness <3

  2. We combined finances fully. Got married Saturday, his side’s event on Sunday and Monday we were back home and I sat him down and went through our finances. I’m better at managing finances than he is but I’m glad he’s open to listening and changing. We use YNAB which was a new concept to him but he’s a happy user now. By end of this year, we should settle all our debts aside from our mortgage. We both have allowances that we can spend for whatever we like without having to check with each other. This would also allow for surprise gifts to each other and so on.

    This works for us 🙂

    1. Thanks meowmix for the comment and congratulations on your marriage! All the best in your debt repayment plan. I also love the allowances idea 🙂 Enjoy your newlywed period <3

  3. Good read, Suraya. Will you be doing a follow-up on the areas that require more work than expected from the perspective of a new couple – finance-wise? 🙂

    1. Hi Preetha 😀

      Hmm, areas that require more work than expected. Can’t think of one right now. Can you expand what could be some examples? Perhaps this is my blind spot

  4. Love this topic! I found that it is not discussed enough especially among the Malays.

    During our first few years of marriage, my husband and I were both working full time earning about the same amount of salary. Both of us contribute the same amount and we maintain an excel spreadsheet that records all our monthly contribution and joint expenses (house and car loans, groceries, bills, gas, etc). So practically, we split our joint expenses 50/50 and my husband will pick up the tab when we dine out (which cost a lot at that time because we did not have time to cook). Other than that contribution, we manage our personal expenses (personal care, office lunch and coffees, shopping, etc), savings, and insurance separately on our own.

    After a few years, my husband started to earn significantly more than me, we changed our model to deciding who pays for what and how much every month. He started to pick up a bigger portion of the household expenses. I think now we are at about 75/25 of household expense. No more record keeping, every month we just pay what we are responsible for. Not to mention the amount has grown significantly bigger now with addition of two kids too >.< We still keep our personal finances separately and I am now able to grow my own savings and investments. For the kids, my husband pays for their insurance plans while I contribute to their SSPN accounts which roughly equate to the same amount yearly.

    I think this has worked for us so far. One thing that works at one time might not work in the future so we have to be flexible in it. And it is so important to be open with our partner when discussing about finances and setting common goals. A lot of people are saying that it's the husband's sole responsibility to provide for everything but if it is affecting your quality of life and marriage, then I see no point in doing that if the wife can help to chip in. It does not have to be combined totally, find the middle ground that works for the wife and husband.


    1. Thanks for your contribution, AZ! It’s lovely to see another POV in this, and obviously both of you have open and frequent communication about personal finance.

      Wishing you and family all the best!

  5. Interested to hear how others split expenses when wife makes 2-3x more than husband (mainly driven by the earnings potential in the respective fields we work in). Obviously it’s very common for husbands to contribute more to the joint / household expenses when they make a lot more than the wife but curious if the same applies when the equation flips. 50/50 for all joint expenses has worked well for us, and we are not spenders, so any surplus we have goes into our respective savings/investments accounts, which we then total them up when calculating our FI numbers.

    1. I would love to hear how people do this as well. Logically speaking, if the relationship is strong, then the person who makes more regardless of gender will contribute more. I can’t imagine the resentment if that’s not the case..

  6. We tried the “you pay for this, I pay for that” model at first but:
    1. It was difficult maintaining two separate budgets on YNAB
    2. We were not keeping track of every expense
    3. Due to #2, we ended up with a mid five-figure credit card debt.

    So 3 years ago, we restructured our finances into a single budget in YNAB with household budget items and individual allowances. We:

    1. Kept track of every single expense;
    2. Fully utilized YNAB’s four rules: https://www.youneedabudget.com/the-four-rules/
    3. Set aside future expenses (e.g. car insurance renewals and road tax, medical insurance premiums, Hari Raya expenses, birthday gifts, future trips, etc).
    4. Reconcile budget and discuss budget priorities monthly (usually first weekend of the month when we also pay our bills)
    5. Re-budget items if expenses exceeded a particular budget item.
    6. Small purchases within the budget limit just don’t get discussed. Larger ticket items are discussed, then budgeted separately and when reached, we purchase it.
    7. Every single purchase must be backed by actual cash in the budget. If we don’t have the budget, we either re-prioritise existing budget items, or simply save until we have the cash.

    This approach made us very aware of debt and we’ve not created any new debt. We have also paid-off half the five-figure debt that we have, and technically we have the cash to pay it off outright now (but doing so incurs a penalty due to consolidating them into a single personal loan). Due to moratorium and bonuses, we’ve also essentially increased our net worth by 251% since 3 years ago, because we reduced our expenses during this pandemic.

    I personally think fully merging our finances was the correct move, but getting to that point required a lot of discussions and agreements on how to proceed.

  7. this article, including the comment section insights are totally new to me, tbh it made me see a different perspective on managing finances. glad that i read this.

    in my household, my husband said that foods, clothes and household expenses (rent and utilities bills) shall fall under his responsibility (nafkah), tho his income is 3x or 4x less than mine. he said he gotta do what he gotta do. (ily!!)

    while me, i do cover mortgage (progressive rate only, since house project still not completed), internet bill, our car loan (and car expenses), eating-out and travel expenses (not to mention, im supporting my parents too).

    feel like i should contribute more, yes i would like to do that but at the same time i wont touch on nafkah part. how do i help him on this? tq Suraya.

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