When you’re working toward financial goals, having someone in your corner to cheer you on can make a big difference. Whether you’re paying down debt, saving for retirement, building an emergency fund, or trying to stick to a budget, the practical steps are easy to understand. Following through can be much more difficult. 

Joshua Schumm, a financial coach who runs Steward Don’t Squander, says that personal finance is 80% behavior and 20% knowledge. “Accountability and focus are two of the most important things you can have,” says Schumm. 

That’s where an accountability partner comes in. They’re someone in your corner who can help you stay motivated and focused, even when you feel like giving up. 

What Is a Financial Accountability Partner?

A financial accountability partner is like a personal trainer for your money. You define your goals and the habits you want to change, and your partner helps keep you on track. 

“Your accountability partner is not there to bail you out, but rather to guide you in being able to make these decisions on your own from a place of knowledge and self-confidence,” says Jennie Webb, founder of Springbok Financial Coaching, which focuses on helping married couples stop living paycheck to paycheck. 

You may want to have weekly or monthly calls to discuss your progress. Or, perhaps you text each payday to make a plan for your money and check in before making big purchases. 

Finding the Right Accountability Partner

Some can double as coaches or mentors if they’re more knowledgeable about personal finances or have gone through a similar journey. However, that isn’t a requirement.

“I always suggest clients find someone to be accountable to besides me as the professional,” says Andrea Clark, CFP®, AFC®, who worked as a military personal financial counselor for 10 years and now runs The Table Financial Planning. “A close buddy is going to have a more accurate accounting of how you really live, especially when it comes to spending your money on weekends and going out.”

You also don’t necessarily need to share every detail about your finances with the other person. But you want to choose someone who you can trust to keep your personal information private, and who you know will hold you to your plan. 

“An accountability partner will only work to the extent they are willing to tell you what you need to hear and not what you want to hear, and your willingness to receive it,” says Webb. “You want to look for a partner who will ask the hard questions without giving you advice.”

She often suggests couples be each others’ accountability partners. However, if couples can’t communicate openly about their finances and personal relationship to money, bringing in a trusted friend or family member can also help. 

Making Accountability Work for You 

It’s important to set yourself up for success before you ask someone to hold you accountable. You also want to set clear expectations for yourself and the other person, even if you have to make adjustments later. 

  • Know your reason: “When I start to work with a client, we start with digging into their why—what are their life goals that they want to support with their financial behavior,” says Schumm. Do the same with your accountability partner. When you’re struggling to stick to your plan, they can remind you why you set this goal in the first place. 
  • Set specific goals: Clark suggests using SMART goals, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based goals, for your finances. “Just like with diet and exercise, you need specific, actionable details as part of your financial goal, including realistic numbers and a timeline,” she says. For example, don’t use “saving money” as a goal. Instead, name that you want to save an extra $50 a week until you’ve built up a $1,000 emergency fund.
  • Tell your buddy what you want: Accountability partners can work with you in different ways, and it’s up to both of you to set expectations from the beginning. “I recommend you set a number on a scale of one to 10 for how much you want the other person to hold you to your goals, with 10 being to push me with all you’ve got,” says Schumm. “However, if you are at a five or less, I would question if you really want to change.”

Tracking Your Progress

An accountability buddy can help you stay focused and motivated, but it’s still on you to do the work and monitor your money. Using a budgeting app to track your finances can make this easy, and you can then quickly pull up the numbers to share. 

As you start achieving your goals, you may be surprised by some of the tangential benefits. “My clients report feeling better, they’re happier, they sleep better, they’ve got a lot less stress, and they feel more in control,” says Schumm. “They’re setting goals and accomplishing them.” In the end, these changes may be just as important as the financial successes you achieve.