Everyone who has lived with a sibling knows that sharing can be hard. Most people get a chance to experience that again in marriage when they work on a family budget. Each spouse has different spending habits and values different things in life. This can easily lead to bitterness, or at the least, long discussions when the budget is reconciled.
Setting a good budget should avoid most of these problems. Each spouse should be clear about how much can be spent in each category each month. Spouses should agree about what items “count as” each budget category. Is it okay to count toiletries bought at the supermarket as “groceries”? These questions can legitimately be answered either way. The important thing is that both spouses agree.
The final piece of designing a good budget (besides accurate income and expense estimates) is to let each spouse be who they are. For large categories where both of us benefit, we treat those the same way most people do: both of us can spend out of it while keeping an eye on the total. We usually talk about big purchases in these categories beforehand.
But there are a number of categories where one person benefits more than the other. For those, we break out separate “his” and “hers” budgets. One example from our budget is His Beauty and Her Beauty, which is spent on clothes, haircuts, specialty products, and other grooming needs. If one spouse spends all of a joint Beauty budget on themselves, the other might feel cheated. Two budgets gives a lot of freedom.
Eating out could be a big point of conflict if it comes out of one Food budget or a joint Eat-Out budget. Imagine a couple where one spouse stays at home and one spouse eats out at work or one spouse has more expensive tastes. His and Her Eat-Out gives your spouse the ability to spend any amount in the budget.
Setting a budget reflects how you think about different areas of your life. In a marriage, nearly everything is shared, so it makes sense to keep most budget categories shared. But some things really do benefit one spouse more than others. When one person eats out alone, it only benefits them.
So when you find an area of your lives that is not shared, work out a way so that you can each be joyful about what is spent there. Knowing the limit (and setting a wise one) gives you the freedom to spend, in good conscience, anything up to that limit. It can give your partner the freedom to enjoy what they truly appreciate.
That’s what you want out of a budget, anyway: the ability to spend wisely on the things that will bring you a better life.