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You and your significant other might want to skip the romantic dinner out and get right down to business this Valentine's Day. The business of shared finances, that is. Light a few candles, pour some wine — and download a budget app.
In fact, there are specific budget apps for couples that help you learn more about each other’s expenses, debts and investments. These tools track your spending so you and your partner can reference the same (objective) information.
"It’s 100% truth — no hiding," says Denver-based certified financial planner Addie McHale. "Otherwise, you're in this land of financial vagueness."
So, rather than suspecting you’ve been spending too much on takeout or that one of you is a little click-happy on Amazon, you can consult real numbers. The two of you can see exactly how much each is spending on what, as well as how those expenses change over time and fit in with the rest of your financial picture.
If this sounds like something you and your partner could benefit from, consider checking out these apps.
Budget apps for couples
Honeydue, Firstly (previously Honeyfi) and Zeta Money Manager are designed specifically for couples and are available in the iOS App Store and Google Play. They’re similar in the following ways:
Both partners can sync their financial accounts and see each other’s transactions and balances. But each of these apps also allows users to keep certain finances private.
Users can sync their checking and savings accounts, as well as credit cards, loans and investments.
Users can track bills and get reminders of upcoming due dates.
The apps provide a customizable household budget or allow users to set limits for specific spending categories.
Users can communicate with each other within the app in some way, like commenting on an expense.
Here’s what makes each app stand out on its own and how it differs from the others:
For starters, this app is free. (Honeydue asks you to "tip" it a few bucks on a monthly basis, but you can choose not to do so.) In the App Store and Google Play, Honeydue has the most reviews of the three apps, as of this writing. It also has the highest App Store rating of the three. Most reviews are positive, but some users complain about technical issues and the app maker’s customer service. Unlike Firstly and Zeta, Honeydue doesn’t provide a way for couples to collaborate on savings goals, but it does offer a joint bank account.
Firstly, previously known as Honeyfi, is also a reputable family budget app with free access. It has only a few hundred reviews in the App Store and Google Play at the time of this writing, but Android users rate it the highest of the three apps. Firstly has the most robust goals feature among the three apps. Users can set rules specifying a certain amount of money to be regularly transferred from a checking account to a separate FDIC-insured account. Note that Firstly users must link a financial account. Honeydue and Zeta recommend linking accounts to get the most from the apps, but they allow you to skip that step and manually enter transactions if you'd prefer.
3. Zeta Money Manager
Among the three apps, Zeta has the fewest reviews and lowest ratings, with some users (mostly in Google Play) noting that the app has glitches. That said, Zeta is also free and offers features similar to Honeydue and Firstly. Couples who use Zeta can use its IOUs to track and split expenses and pay each other back with Venmo or PayPal. Zeta also offers its own FDIC-insured joint account that issues two debit cards and makes it easy to merge and share funds.
There are other apps that aren’t designed for couples but could still work for you and your partner. For example, Goodbudget is an app based on the envelope system that allows household budgets to be synced across multiple devices. There are also ways to share a budget in the You Need a Budget app. Learn about these and other tools in our best budget apps list.
How to budget with your partner
No matter which app you choose — or if you go the low-tech budget spreadsheet route instead — talking about money with a loved one can feel pretty loaded. When exploring each other’s finances in tools and conversation, certified financial therapist Ed Coambs stresses the importance of financial empathy. Aim to better understand each other, rather than to identify if decisions are right or wrong.
Part of being empathetic is remembering that you and your partner have had a different set of financial experiences, says Coambs, who’s also a marriage and family therapist based in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area. Even if the two of you have similar financial backgrounds, he says, "there are still going to be subtle micro-differences in what you prioritize or value."
Ideally, you and your partner will get to the point where you can get "financially naked," as Coambs puts it. That means no one is worried about criticism or judgment about their money and what they do with it, he says, and there’s a "shared sense of future direction around finances."
Achieving that kind of transparency is a massive undertaking for many couples, Coambs says. Before using a shared budget app and disclosing your finances, agree to a no-judgment policy. If it turns out that you or your partner can’t quite swing that, maybe it’s not the time to budget together.
At that point, Coambs says, you may want to work on "building the relational skills that are needed to feel safe and secure with each other." That could mean working on communication, listening and empathy, or addressing past traumas.
How to get the most from an app
If you and your partner feel OK forging ahead on a shared budget app, McHale suggests spending the first month or so connecting your accounts, learning how to use the app and letting it track your money. After that, meet with your partner and review the past month’s data.
"Awareness is the gateway to change and is at least half of the battle," says McHale, who’s also the founder of the financial services business Moneyfull. With last month's data as a frame of reference, you can try to spend $50 less on takeout next month, for example.
These kinds of changes aren’t for the sole purpose of depriving you of late-night pizza fixes. They can help you and your partner be more intentional with spending and put your money toward stuff you really want. For example, if the two of you want to buy a house this year, maybe that $50 per month that you save on takeout can go toward a down payment.
"The whole point of the budgeting app is to align your spending with your priorities," McHale says. "That’s how you experience the joy of money."