Couples & Money

Help! We agreed on our budget, but we're still fighting about money!

Dave Larsen
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“When I helped empty the groceries, I just about lost it. I couldn’t believe how much she spent on organic produce. I mean, I get it. It’s healthier. But it’s so expensive. And we’re trying to save for a vacation. I just don’t get it. I don’t get why she can’t just buy the regular stuff. I don’t get why she can’t just be more frugal.”

Does this sound at all familiar?

For many couples, money is a major source of tension. The differences of opinion about how to spend money has a huge impact on everyday life. So it’s no surprise that opposing ideas about money can lead to real conflict.

Many couples turn to budgeting as a way to manage their finances and reduce conflict. The idea is that by making a deliberate plan, you can avoid disagreements about money. However, agreeing on budget categories is just the beginning. It doesn’t iron out all differences of opinion or judgment.

The Role of a Budget

Having a written budget is a great step in the right direction. It helps you find out exactly what it will take to live within your means.

For couples, allocating specific dollar amounts to expenses and savings goals may bring differences to the surface.

One of you may want to save more than the other. One of you may want to leave more room for health than the other. One of you may want to spend more on entertainment or eating out than the other. One of you may want to save for a vacation while the other wants to save for a new car.

The Limits of Budget Categories

But while categories set boundaries, they don’t address the nuances of daily spending decisions. For example, you may agree that $200 per week is a reasonable grocery budget, but you may have different ideas about what that means. One partner might prioritize organic groceries while the other focuses on cost-saving bulk purchases.

And because sticking to a budget is hard for everybody, it’s easy to start pointing fingers when things don’t go as planned. You may find yourself thinking, “If only you hadn’t bought those expensive raspberries and extra snacks, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

Budget categories also don’t address how adjustments should be made when unexpected expenses arise. For example, if your car breaks down, should you dip into your vacation fund or cut back on dining out? If a friend invites you out to dinner, should you say yes and adjust your budget later?

Understanding Each Other’s Perspectives

The heart of the issue is this: budgets don’t typically account for the “why” questions very well. When you review your bank statement, you see the “what” and the “how much,” but you don’t see the “why.” You don’t see the stories behind the spending. And when money runs short, it’s easy to see your partner’s decisions in a bad light.

To truly understand each other’s perspectives, you need to go beyond the numbers. You need to share the context of your financial decisions. You need to share the reasons and emotions behind your spending choices.

Tools for Better Communication

Keeping a spending journal can help couples share the context of their financial decisions. By writing down a few notes you start to account for the stories behind your spending. And that story allows you to better understand each other’s perspectives and priorities.

You also need to have regular check-ins to discuss spending patterns and adjust the budget and decisions as needed. Use these meetings to share your spending journal and discuss the stories behind your spending.

Finding Common Ground

Throughout this process you need to embrace flexibility and a willingness to compromise. It may be the case that you don’t end up agreeing on every spending decision. But by understanding each other’s perspectives, you can find common ground.

Shared goals can also help you align your spending decisions. If you both have a strong “why” in mind, you can each make decisions that support your long-term objectives. It helps you put your own spending choices in perspective. It helps you be willing to make sacrifices for the greater good.


If you experience conflict about money, that’s probably a good sign you’re normal. Budgeting is a great first step to open up communication and understanding. By going beyond categories and understanding each other’s perspectives, couples can navigate their financial journey more harmoniously.