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How to Save Money as a Couple: A 3-Step Plan

01/22/2013 10:36 am ET | Updated Mar 24, 2013

For Women & Co. by Suzanne Rust, LivingWithRust.com

According to data from the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of married adults say that both they and their spouse always try and find ways to save money; however, 30 percent report very different attitudes about saving -- and naturally, therein lies the problem.

In my 20-plus years of married life, talking about finances and savings can be like walking through a minefield. I know I'm not alone. To get some advice, I turned to Jacquette M. Timmons, a self-described "behavioral finance enthusiast," financial intimacy expert, and author of Financial Intimacy: How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Your Money and Your Mate. Here, she shares a three-step plan to help couples save money:

1. Create savings goals, both separately and together.
Remember, you probably had reasons to save before you became a couple! Remember that just because you are now a twosome doesn't mean your individual aspirations go away. Therefore, one of the best ways to honor your relationship is to create "yours, mine, and ours" goals. Set up "money-date" sessions, and list your goals according to yours, mine, and ours.

- Prioritize whose and which goals will be the primary focus of your saved money for the upcoming 6-12 month period, aiming for no more than 3-5 goals for this timeframe.

- Identify the financial aspect of the goals and indicate whether your starting point is $0 or another dollar amount, and decide if you should create separate savings accounts for each goal or each category, which is easy to do with online accounts. There isn't a right or wrong approach. Just focus on what will work for the two of you financially and in terms of helping you feel like the practice of saving is a shared effort.

- For the "our" goals, determine whether the amount saved toward it will be an equal dollar amount or another figure. If you make vastly different salaries, it could be a percentage of your respective incomes. If it's a "yours or mine" type of goal, determine if the other person's support toward that goal is financial or emotional. If financial, how much and how frequently do they contribute? If it's emotional, what does that look like?

2. Track your money!
Think of this as an exercise not for the purpose of creating a budget, but for the purpose of understanding patterns of behavior and choices. By tracking your money -- again, individually and collectively -- you'll be in a better position to locate the financial leaks that need to be addressed as well as the opportunities that might be obscured from your and your partner's vision.

3. Write it down, and make it plain.
Putting the above on paper (or in a computer file) is a great way to visually track your progress and share updates during your money-date sessions. Schedule these on a weekly basis to last between 15-30 minutes.

"It might surprise you that most of my tips related to how couples should save money have little to do with money, directly," says Timmons. "There's a reason. Money, including how to save it, is never just about money."

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