Are you managing your finances jointly with your spouse or significant other? If so, it’s likely that one of you is more of the money manager (maybe you, who’s reading this article?), and the other takes more of a backseat approach to the finances.
That’s perfectly normal, but even the hands-off partner needs to be brought back into the fold from time to time. After all, you are a team, and the best teams have periodic meetings to bring everyone up to speed.
A “budget meeting” admittedly sounds boring, though, so why not spice it up? Try having a “budget date night” instead, such as once a week, biweekly, or once a month.
A budget date night is a perfect opportunity to check your spending, reassess goals, and have fun. We spoke to several bloggers to find out their time-proven tips for having successful budget date nights.
EASE INTO BUDGET DATE NIGHTS
If you haven’t done budget date nights before, the first thing to know is that you don’t have to turn it into some fancy, printed-agenda-laden affair. In fact, the opposite approach is probably better.
“We eased into them at the beginning because we wanted them to be more ‘dates’ than ‘budgets,’” says Jim Wang from the blog Wallet Hacks. “If one partner isn’t super into it, it’s hard to get them involved if you throw a spreadsheet at them. My wife is into numbers, but not to the degree I was, so we had to ease into them.”
You can easily do this by taking a few steps at a time, such as turning the first few budget date nights into planning sessions where you hash out your goals. Or you could limit the amount of time you actually spend chatting about money, gradually building up until you’re able to cover all the things you want to cover with each budget date night.
AVOID PLAYING THE BLAME/SHAME GAME
There’s a reason people don’t talk about money openly: there’s a lot of emotion wrapped up around a few numbers. And when it comes to your budget date nights, this can easily rear its ugly head when you’re going over your purchases or deciding what, exactly, your financial goals are and how to get there.
“The language we used in these meetings was what really made them successful,” says Bethany McCamish from His and Her FI. “For instance, we avoided phrases that blamed and shamed — ones like ‘Why would you buy that?’ Instead, we focused on how we could change in the future and asked, ‘Should we increase personal spending budget for next month or was this a one time purchase?’”
Jessi Fearon also agrees. “It’s super easy for us to go into ‘attack’ mode and get defensive. We had to figure out early on how to talk about money as a team versus seeing each other as the problem.”
That’s exactly how you should view it — as a team working together, rather than as an excuse to get after your significant other because of spending that you don’t agree with. If you find that one spouse is still spending more than the other, consider setting up separate fun money budgets.
DON’T COVER EVERYTHING IN ONE GO
After you have an established budget date night, it’s still a good idea to space apart what you discuss.
“We sit down a couple times a month to review our budget. Most times it’s a quick 15-minute check-in so my wife knows where we stand and to discuss anything that has come up money-wise,” says Jon Dulin from Money Smart Guides. “Then once a month we have a longer sit down with our net worth for the previous month and talk about what is working/not working and if anything needs changing.”
Setting up a schedule ahead of time can help with this. That way, each budget date night isn’t ad-hoc, and you can make sure your bases are all covered.
SWITCH UP THE LOCATION
Sure, you can have a regular budget date night at the kitchen table with a glass of wine. It’s a good way to save money, by not going out. But just like with any date night, if it’s the same thing every time, you’ll eventually get bored and you’re less likely to keep up with it.
That’s why Chonce Maddox Rhea from My Debt Epiphany switches it up on occasion by taking budget date night and her spouse to a coffee shop, dessert place, or someplace similar.
Related: Tackling Debt as a Couple
“What I don’t want to happen is either of us get defensive or not be on the same page. So, I try to make it more interesting and relaxed so we focus on being honest, open, and encouraging instead of being too critical.”
RELAX WITH A DRINK
Similarly, if you like to drink, the budget date night is the perfect time and place for it. Remember — just one drink will do. This isn’t exactly the place to get sloshed, but it can help you relax, says Bryan Vance from Bucks and Cents.
“Budget date nights usually start with cocktails on a Friday night after working a long week at our draconian jobs. We both share how each of our work weeks went which usually leads to a discussion about our retirement.”
Vance’s financial situation is a bit more complex than most, which is why he adds, “all of it can lead into a hot budgetary mess sometimes but that’s why it’s usually done over cocktails!”
RESERVE SOMETHING SPECIAL JUST FOR BUDGET DATE NIGHTS
“One strategy that we’ve used is to buy a special snack or treat that is reserved for date night,” says Dan Miller from Points With a Crew. “That forces us to schedule them because we can’t eat the treat until we have them. We like to either stay at home and watch a movie or play a game together, or sometimes we will go to a bookstore and read together.”
Dangling a carrot on a stick like this can sound silly, but it’s a time-proven way to get things done. After all, it makes the night more fun. Get budgeting stuff done, and then you’re free to focus on the date night part.
FIND WAYS TO CUT COSTS TOGETHER
Use your budget date nights to participate in activities that’ll save money together, or even to earn money. That’s what Ryan Scribner from Investing Simple and his girlfriend do each week.
“Setting a budget is not the most exciting idea for a date night, but it can be fun! My girlfriend and I are a huge fan of coupon clipping,” he says. “On Sunday nights, we sit down and have some snacks and clip coupons together for our Monday night shopping trip.”
Scribner adds that you can save from 10% – 25% off your grocery shopping bill. But remember to only clip coupons for products you’d normally buy.
HOLD ONE BIG ANNUAL BUDGET DATE NIGHT
There’s a lot of day-to-day stuff when it comes to your spending limits and managing your budget. But then, there’s also the bigger-picture things. For these, it can help to set aside a larger budget date night at less-frequent intervals.
“My husband and I have an Annual State of Our Financial Union meeting once a year,” says Amanda Grossman from Frugal Confessions. “It’s the time when we look over our entire financial picture, what worked, and what didn’t work for us in the last year, and talk about anything we’d like to change.”
Grossman even created a free printable for this annual check-in.
HAVE REGULAR RELATIONSHIP CHECK-INS TOO
Last but not least, Jim Wang has one more point: maybe the most important of all.
“Monthly check-ins are a must for couples — you really need to chat about these big issues. And not just money, you should have a check-in for your relationship too!” In other words, you should be devoting just as much time to your own relationship as you do your finances.
It’s easy to settle into a pattern if you’ve been together for a while. And that’s when it’s easy for resentment to crop in. It’s hard to hold budget date nights with your spouse to check in on your finances when you’re still quietly seething at them for not cleaning the toilet or doing the dishes last night.
Related: What is Financial Infidelity?
Remember, you’re a team. Take regular time out of your schedule to communicate about what is and isn’t working in your relationship. This is needed to put your financial life in someone else’s hands. Another reason budget date nights are so important.