Marriage is work. Anyone who tells you otherwise either hasn’t been married long enough or they’re being dishonest. It can be rewarding work when done the right way, but it’s work nonetheless. And if 100 couples were to list their biggest sources of friction in marriage, almost all of them would put money at or near the top. Those that fail to address money in a healthy way will have serious problems. Those couples may wish for a married couples guide to managing finances. But for the couples that get on the same page, the opportunities for growth and happiness are nearly limitless.
Money: A Source of Heat in Marriage
Divorce is, rather unfortunately, a common occurrence in 21st century America. (Nearly half of all marriages will eventually end in a split.) And though every couple has their own demons, there are certain factors that crop up with a high rate of frequency. Money is one of them.
Consider the following insights and data points as gleaned from a Ramsey Solutions survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults:
- Money fights are the second leading cause of divorce (behind infidelity).
- Nearly half of all couples with $50,000+ in consumer debt say money is a top reason for arguments.
- 1 in 3 people who have had a money argument with their spouse say they hid a purchase from their partner because they knew they wouldn’t approve.
- 63 percent of couples with $50,000+ in debt feel anxious talking about their personal finances.
One of the more interesting takeaways from the survey is that those who say they have a “great” marriage are almost twice as likely to talk about money on a daily or weekly basis (compared to those who rate their marriages as “okay” or “in crisis”). In other words, being on the same page with your finances is critically important to the health and longevity of your marriage.
A Married Couple’s Guide to Managing Finances
We live in a society where it’s considered tacky, rude, and even insensitive to discuss the specifics of your financial situation with others. But all of that goes out the window when you enter into marriage. You might not talk about money with your neighbor, coworker, or even your best friend, but these are conversations you must have with your spouse in order to enjoy a healthy union. In light of this, here are a few helpful tips and suggestions you may find useful in retooling this area of your partnership:
Talk About Your Financial Backgrounds
The ideal time to open up about finances is when you reach a serious level of dating. (Many couples have the “talk” when they’re engaged.) But if you’re already married and have never had open and honest conversations about finances, there’s no better time than the present.
The best place to begin is with your financial background. Talk about how you were raised, what your parent’s financial beliefs were, and how early interactions with money impacted your own ideology. Not only will these conversations help your spouse understand your view on money, but it’ll also force you to confront why you feel the way you do.
Eliminate All Solo Accounts
There’s no room for solo accounts in marriage. Keeping finances separate will eventually tear your marriage apart. It’ll lead to resentment, secrecy, dishonesty, and imbalance. Whether it’s bank accounts, investments, or cash, everything should be lumped together. (The sooner you do this in marriage, the easier it’ll be. If you wait too long, you’ll each get stuck in your ways.)
Have a Monthly Budget Meeting
It’s not enough to have a household budget. If you want the budget to be a blessing to your family, you need to develop it as a couple. This means setting a regular time each month where you come together to hash out the next month’s budget. (The first or last day of the month is typically the best time to have this meeting.)
A monthly budget meeting can be as formal or informal as you’d like, but the following rules are non-negotiable:
- There should be a time limit on the meeting (ideally no more than an hour).
- Both partners should be involved. (Avoid having one person creating the budget and one person listening.)
- Any time you’re projecting new or unusual spending over the course of the next month, come prepared to deliver a “proposal.” This basically means an oral explanation for what the expense is, why it’s important, and how it’ll fit into the budget.
- A budget is a chance to look forward. It can also be a chance to review what happened the previous month. But when looking back, avoid the blame game. The budget meeting isn’t a time to bash your partner. It’s a constructive period where the objective is to grow together.
The first couple of budget meetings may feel strange, but it’ll eventually become a part of your rhythm. Treat it as a consistent practice and your marriage and money will both benefit.
Don’t Buy a House Until You’re Ready
Most couples have a desire to buy a house. And when done in a disciplined and strategic manner, buying a house can be a great financial decision. Buying prematurely, however, can wreck a marriage.
If you and your spouse are interested in buying a house, take some time to discuss the specifics prior to seeing any properties or putting in any offers. In these discussions, Green Residential recommends covering topics like:
- If your budget is $250,000 and your spouse’s ideal budget is more like $380,000, you need to find a way to reach a consensus. Meeting in the middle – perhaps at $300,000 – could be a good way to ensure both sides are happy. (A failure to discuss this beforehand could lead to some serious fights when it comes time to put an offer in.)
- The location of your home is always important. Financially, it impacts real estate values and how much bang you’ll get for your buck. Practically, it has an effect on your commute to work, proximity to friends and family, and access to nearby amenities.
- Do you want a fixer-upper or a turnkey property? Never assume that you and your spouse are on the same page with this until it’s been discussed.
- Ground rules. It’s smart to go ahead and lay out some ground rules. For example, if you both tend to be emotional people, you might make a rule of never putting in an offer on a home you’ve seen until first sleeping on it.
If you’re in agreement on these elements, the home buying process will be much more rewarding and productive.
Stop Checking Accounts Daily
Next on our married couple’s guide to managing finances is to stop checking accounts daily. It’s healthy to stay on top of your financial accounts – including bank accounts, retirement accounts, insurance policies, etc. But there’s such a thing as being obsessive.
For married couples, constantly checking financial accounts typically does more harm than good. It makes you more susceptible to tracking your spouse’s spending and harboring feelings of resentment.
Here’s a better idea: Set up alerts on your accounts so that you’re notified of any major purchases or changes to your account. Other than that, check accounts a maximum of once per week (and do so together as a couple). This approach allows you to remain in the know without letting your finances control you.
Divide Financial “Jobs”
The weight of managing money shouldn’t fall on any one person’s shoulders. It’s best if you divide the jobs and involve both. This means assigning responsibilities for who pays the bills, who monitors investments, who tracks spending, who makes decisions on insurance, etc.
Practically, this prevents any one person from getting burned out. But it’s also a great safeguard to ensure both of you are in tune and on the same page. (If one person controls everything, it’s much easier for something to go wrong.)
Personal finance can be a drag at times. It’ll feel like you’re constantly pinching pennies or planning for the future. But there’s nothing wrong with enjoying some of the fruits of your labor today. In fact, it’s smart to occasionally reward yourselves for making wise decisions.
Rewarding yourself could look like planning a small weekend getaway at the end of each fiscal quarter; splurging on a luxury item at the end of the year; or occasionally eating out at a nice restaurant.
Regularly Cast Vision
Have you ever taken time to vision cast? In the simplest sense of the term, vision casting is where you lay all of your hopes, dreams, wants, desires, and expectations out on the table. In doing so, you restore purpose to your life and give meaning to your time, work, and struggle.
There’s nothing wrong with casting vision on your own, but when you do it as a couple, everything changes. Suddenly money stops becoming about numbers. Instead, it becomes about the value, security, and optimism it can bring into your lives. It also enables you to dream together, which is super healthy for a marriage.
Give Your Marriage a Boost
The last part in our married couples guide to managing finances is to give your marriage a boost. There’s more to marriage than money, but this much is clear: If you want to have a healthy partnership with your spouse, both of you need to be on the same page with your finances.
Money will always be a major source of contention in marriage if it isn’t addressed in an intentional manner. Hopefully this article has given you some ideas to help you strengthen your marriage and your net worth in the coming years.
[Related: How to Protect Your Business when Getting Married]