The following is a guest post from Brian at Goodbudget. I have been using Goodbudget for a while now and it’s my favorite envelope-based budgeting website. Check it out here or read my full review!

“Hey honey, I want a motorcycle.”

“But I want a kitchen remodel.”

“Umm, but I want a motorcycle.”


He wants the motorcycle. She wants the kitchen remodel. How to decide?

When you and your spouse talk about money, there’s potential for arguments disagreements, value clashes, and colorful conversation (to put it lightly).

This step-by-step guide will help you two figure out how to make a budget work for your life together.

Step 1: Move past the taboo

Yeah, it’s taboo…talking about money.

All the bad feelings it brings up like guilt or inadequacy or fear aren’t exactly fun to deal with, especially if you’re not in the best financial situation at the moment.

So…how do you make it okay to have this conversation in your marriage?

Marriage Spouse Money Talk

Don’t do this. There are other conversation starters.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, you choose to talk about it even when it gets uncomfortable or feels awkward or there’s tension.

You’ll be pushing up against the taboo of our culture, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. You can “be on the same page about money with your spouse” or “never fight about money again.” True story, we’ve heard it from tons of couples we’ve seen learn how to handle money together.

Alright, now on to step 2…

Step 2: Make the time to do it

You don’t want “we’ll do it later” to creep in. Put a date and time on the calendar and do it. If needed, hire a babysitter for the night to create a gap of time without interruptions. Oh, and no TV!

Step 3: Discuss what’s important to you

Time for the big meeting! This includes steps 3, 4 and 5.

Some ground rules:

  1. Listen to each other
  2. Ask good questions
  3. Be honest
  4. Listen to each other

Don’t worry about exact numbers at this stage in the process. The main thing you’re trying to figure out is what’s important to you and why.

Okay, now onto some specific questions to get the conversation started:

  • What’s important to us?
  • What’s NOT important to us? Not important stuff is things you spend lot of money on but you don’t actually care about at all.
  • What kind of home would we be content with? Ask yourself: Why is the home I have in mind more/less expensive than yours? Remember to listen to each other.
  • What kind of transportation would we be content with? Why is the transportation I have in mind more/less expensive than yours? Try and understand the “why” for each person.
  • How much do you like eating out? Eating at home?
  • Do we want to save? How much? Why? How come I care about saving more/less than you do? You must be one of those saver types huh?
  • How much are we going to spend on hobbies? Why are your hobbies more expensive than my hobbies? Is that okay with us?
  • Um why do you spend so much money on Lord of the Rings DVDs?
  • How come this is important to me? What’s behind it? Why do I care about it so much? Be honest with each other.

A good way to frame your answers are “This ______ is important to me because _______” as opposed to “I care about _____ and that’s that.”

Wait, but if we don’t agree?

Pillow Fight

Don’t agree? Have a pillow fight! It solves everything.

Then some other questions you can ask are:

  • Why are we disagreeing right now? Phrases like “Help me understand why…” or “I want to understand why…” might be helpful.
  • How can we come to a consensus on this?
  • What’s best for us as a couple?

Dialoguing and being honest are what’s important.

OK PAUSE: What’s coming up? Tension? Anger? Resentment? Fear? If the bottom of the iceberg starts coming to the surface, this is a chance for you to move past the taboo. Or, take a break if needed and breathe.

Remember, you love each other 🙂

Once the conversation gets going, head to step 4…

Step 4: Put what’s important to you down on paper

When you start talking about the real deal numbers (next step), you’ll refer back to this list of what’s important (and NOT important) to you to make sure your budgets and your values line up.

Here’s an example:


  • Travel – “we care about learning and seeing the world through other people’s eyes”
  • Brewing beer – “my husband loves brewing beer, it’s rejuvenating for him”
  • Eating out – “it’s the convenience factor for us, eating out costs us more but we save tons of time and effort”

NOT IMPORTANT (again, these could be important, it’s just asking the question of what is important):

  • Moving to a bigger home – “our current home is fine”
  • Random stuff from Target – “we don’t need most of this stuff anyway”
  • New cars – “we’re fine with used”

Step 5: Then talk about the numbers

Envelope budgeting is the way to go when you’re nailing down a budget. Hands down. Kalen wrote a quick guide to using the envelope budgeting system (great work, Kalen!).

Envelope budgeting

Use more than one envelope!

It’s a cash system that’s stood the test of time. The way it works is you put cash into envelopes for each budget category, spend out of the designated envelope for each category, and stop spending when you run out of money in the envelope. Super simple.

Carrying around a lot of cash in this age of debit cards and credit cards isn’t really convenient. An app like Goodbudget (why yes that is our app) based on the envelope budgeting system gives you virtual envelopes for all of your budgeting categories.

To help you spend less than what you earn, a good rule of thumb is to use a 50-30-20 breakdown for your budget. Start with your after-tax income –the amount that goes into your bank account each paycheck– and break it down into three parts.
50% Needs: Expenses you have to pay, like rent, utilities, and groceries.
30% Wants: Expenses you choose to pay, like eating out, and entertainment.
20% Savings / Debt Reduction: Money you save, or use to pay down debt.

Goodbudget Pie Chart

So, if you take home $2,000 a month, set a budget that allocates $1,000 to your needs, $600 to your wants, and $400 to your savings or debt reduction.  Keep in mind that these are just guidelines. If you have to spend more than 50% on your needs and/or adjust other categories, then do so.

What Envelopes make up each of these categories will vary depending on your personal circumstances, but if it helps, feel free to use the Envelopes mentioned above as a starting point. If you’d like more help creating categories to fit into a 50-30-20 budget, you can check out this helpful site by MSN Money which suggests some spending categories for you.

Step 6: Live with your new budget for a month

The first few months of living out your new budget won’t be perfect. That’s okay. Really. You’re learning about your spending habits and can adjust along the way. No biggie.

Step 7: Tailor your budget to real life

After the month is over, sit down with your spouse (and your bank statement and your Goodbudget envelopes) to look at your spending and adjust as needed. It’s important to ask the questions:

  • Are we spending or not spending on what’s important to us?
  • Where can we adjust?
  • How’s this going?

Making adjustments, polishing your budget, and refining the numbers is normal. So, expect changes. And if “we spent so much on this or that” guilt starts creeping in, cut it off because it’s counterproductive and your budget is a work in progress. Instead, move forward.

Step 8: Live. Tailor. Repeat. Celebrate

From here on out, just live, tailor, repeat and celebrate that you’re living out a budget that works and is in line with what’s important to you in life.

Do you need help with your budget? This should help!

Photo Credit: Sean, MattysFlicks, Donato Accogli, Jake Slagle