Budgeting with a Partner

Budgeting with a partner is one of the keys to achieving financial happiness. But before we dig into exactly what this will look like for you and your partner, it’s important to keep a few key principles in mind:

  • However your finances, and in particular your accounts, are organized in the real world, that’s how they should be organized in YNAB. YNAB should always mirror the real world.
  • If your structure is complicated, that will be reflected in YNAB. Sometimes the best thing you can do is simplify your structure overall.
  • When budgeting with a partner, there are three sets of priorities—Your priorities, my priorities, and our priorities. We like to call these Yours, Mine, and Ours for short. It’s important to have a plan that reflects all three sets.

There are three basic scenarios that most people fall into:

1
All your accounts are shared accounts.
2
None of your accounts are shared accounts. You each have separate accounts.
3
Some of your accounts are shared accounts, and you each have separate accounts.

Tips for Sharing a Budget

This article covers the technical side of setting up your budget(s) in YNAB. To learn more about the art of sharing a budget with your partner and deciding which setup is right for you and your partner, check out this article!

You can also take a look at the Money & Relationships section in the forum to see what other YNABers are discussing. And if you ever find yourself wondering how you and your partner can still surprise each other with gifts when you share a budget, we offer some suggestions in this blog post!


Scenario #1: All accounts are shared accounts.

This option for budgeting together is the one with the fewest moving parts—one single budget will be shared between partners. Here’s the setup:

1
Add all your accounts
2
As paychecks roll in, record those deposits into the corresponding accounts (categorized as  Ready to Assign)
3
Work together to give those dollars jobs.

Scenario #2: All accounts are separate accounts.

In this case, each person will have their own budget and add their individual accounts to their individual budgets.

Often, even with separate accounts, people share expenses.  Let’s walk through an example, where both people pay 50% of the $1200 rent payment.

Keep in mind as we work through this: Always follow what’s happening in the real world. Your budgets should mirror this. Let’s walk through an example where Joe gives Sue $600 and Sue writes the rent check and pays the Landlord $1200. 

1
Sue should create a rent category in her budget (or use the default one) and assign her portion of the rent to that category.
2
Joe should budget $600 to the rent category in his budget.
3
Joe will pay Sue $600. He will record this as an outflow in his budget, categorized to rent for $600, and the payee will be “Sue”.
4
Sue will record his payment as an inflow, categorized as  Ready to Assign. She will assign this money to the rent category, bringing the total amount assigned to $1200.
5
Finally, Sue will write the check to the landlord for $1200, categorized to rent.
Sue's checking account register shows a $1200 outflow transaction for the rent payment

Scenario #3: Some of your accounts are shared accounts, and some accounts are separate accounts.

There are two ways to handle this:

A
Individual accounts feed into individual budgets, and shared accounts feed into a shared budget.
B
All accounts, separate and shared, feed into one single budget, and you use category groups to draw distinctions between accounts.

There are pros and cons to each approach, choose the one that will work best for you.

Option A: Individual accounts feed individual budgets, shared accounts feed into a shared budget.

This method requires you to have three separate budgets in YNAB, the shared budget and two separate budgets.

The shared budget should only include shared categories (groceries, utilities, rent, etc) and shared accounts.

Separate budgets should only include categories and accounts specific to that individual.

Partner #1 and Partner #2 share the following expenses and have one shared checking account (in the shared budget):

Shared budget shows a shared category group with shared categories underneath it

Partner #1 pays for (in Partner #1's budget):

Partner 1's budget shows their own separate categories on their budget screen

Partner #2 pays for (in Partner #2's budget):

Partner 2's budget shows their own separate categories on their budget screen

Pros 

  • This is the cleanest approach because there’s a clear definition of what is shared and what is not shared.

Cons 

  • It can be a little more work to move money between budgets.

Paying your partner for an expense.

Example: Partner #1 bought dinner and Partner #2 wants to pay them back $25.

1
Partner #2 needs to budget for eating out in their individual budget.

 Partner 2's budget shows $25 assigned to their dinging out category

2
Partner #2 then pays Partner #1 and records this as an outflow to their eating out category. 
Partner 2's checking account register shows a $25 outflow transaction categorized as Dining Out
3
Partner #1 records the inflow to the same category that the expense was in (just like any reimbursement), which will offset the spending they did for Partner #2. The money will appear in that category. They could leave it in the category and use it for dining out in the future, or they can move the money somewhere else in the budget.
Partner 1's checking account register shows a $25 inflow transaction categorized as Dining Out
Remember—YNAB is record keeping software, so you still need to write the actual check or Venmo them the money, if that’s how you handle this.

Option B: All accounts, both joint and individual, feed one single budget.

In this situation, individual account money is separated using category groups. Both partners add their accounts to the same budget, like this:

Account Structure

  • Partner #1’s Checking Account
  • Partner #1’s Credit Card
  • Partner #2’s Checking Account
  • Shared Checking Account
  • Shared Savings Account
  • Shared Credit Card

In the shared budget all accounts, both shared and individual, are shown on the left side in the budget

With all accounts in the same budget, all of each partner's money is too. To split it out, categories and category groups are used.

Budget Structure - Category Groups

  • Shared Expenses

A shared category group shows categories for shared expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, vacation, etc)

  • Partner #1's Expenses

Partner 1 has a category group for their own expenses (Their student loan, their car maintenance, clothing, fun money, etc)

  • Partner #2's Expenses

Partner 2 has a category group for their own expenses (Fitness, new bike, their car maintenance, fun money, etc)

Partner #1 assigns the money in their account to categories in Partner 1 Expenses and Partner 2 assigns the money in their account to categories in Partner 2 Expenses.

If they put money in the shared accounts that’s a transfer on the account side.

Example:  Every month, Partner #1 transfers $1000 to the shared checking account to cover those expenses.

1
Record a transfer from the individual checking (Partner 1 Checking) to the shared account (Shared Checking). No category is needed since all of the accounts have already been added to the budget.

Pros

  • Everything can be viewed from one budget.
  • Easier to move money around.

Cons

  • Easier for money to be accidentally assigned to the wrong place or moved without the other person knowing, though this can be addressed by looking at the Money Moves history for the budget.

Special Considerations

If the only thing you share is a credit card, someone will need to “own” that credit card in their budget.  This is admittedly a more complicated situation and we recommend avoiding it if you can.

1
Decide who will own the credit card in their budget. Let’s say it’s Partner #1. They would add the credit card account to their budget and track and categorize all the spending.

Partner 1's budget shows the shared credit card account added to their budget

2
Partner #1 should assign money for all the credit card spending up front to make sure everything is covered.
3
If Partner #2 uses the card, Partner #1 will record and categorize the expense. You can use multiple categories, but it may be easier to have one category called “Partner #2’s CC expenses”. This way, it will be easy to see the total amount.

Partner 1's budget shows a category created for any spending that Partner 2 makes on the shared card

4
Partner #2 would budget X dollars to a category called “Shared CC Expenses” in their individual budget.

Partner 2's budget shows a category called shared cc expenses in their own budget

5
Partner #2 would record an outflow to that category when they pay Partner #1 for the spending.

6
Partner #1 would record the credit card payment.
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