Marriage and Money
Editor’s note: This blog was originally posted in March 2010 and has been revamped and updated.
I believe that most couples discover that a lack of money, a lack of spending control, or a lack of fall-back savings eventually causes other problems in a marriage. Little things grow into much bigger things, however, future arguments over finances can be avoided by simply communicating, creating an understanding of expectations, setting objectives and agreeing on a financial roadmap.
Over 43% of all married couples argue over money issues, making it one of the major reasons couples fight. I think it is very important for people planning on getting married to do several things:
- Don’t have secrets – I am absolutely amazed by the high percentages of couples who don’t discuss their finances or credit before walking down the aisle. I have personally known couples who have disclosed to their spouse after getting married that they have in excess of $25,000 in credit card debt. A successful marriage is one that starts on a solid foundation. I really encourage full disclosure by both individuals.
- Decide on Joint or Individual Accounts – Newlyweds need to decide if they are going to pool their money together into a joint account or keep their money in individual accounts. Best practices that I have seen are when couples choose a system that incorporates both a joint account for household expenses and individual accounts for personal expenses and former debts. There are advantages and disadvantages, but the key is decide together how the finances are going to be handled.
- Set Financial Goals Together – Set specific financial goals that you would like to achieve. This could include retirement, building an emergency fund, getting out of debt, and purchasing a home. It is very important that the two of you create a strategy and a timeline so that you can realistically achieve these goals in a timely manner.
- Create a Budget – Most people are afraid of creating a budget because it creates accountability. A budget does not have to be “cast in stone”, but should be a spending road map or guideline. I have found that those couples who create a spending plan are considerably more likely to meet and achieve their financial goals. I would encourage sitting down together on regular basis to review your spending plan. These are checkpoints that allow each of you to see if you are doing ok or if you need to make adjustments.
- Most Important – COMMUNICATION – COMMUNICATION – Effective Communication often emerges as the most difficult obstacle to establishing goals and expectations, and developing a financial plan. Most people have been taught since childhood that discussing money is somehow inappropriate. This is so wrong. Couples must understand that it is not only appropriate but absolutely necessary to managing finances in a marriage. You must communicate in spite of any difficulty.
I inform couples that it is ok if one person manages the day to day expenses and checkbook, but they should sit down together monthly to review their actual expenses compared to their spending plan.
I truly believe if couples did this before they got married they would really increase their chances of not arguing over financial matters.
My key thoughts for couples are:
- Spend less than you make
- If you don’t control your money it will control you.
- Develop a shared Spending Plan and Agree to it.
- Communicate Openly and Honestly – NO SECRETS
- Encourage one another
I believe “Managing Money” is one of the most challenging things for individuals and Couples. Most couples learn it from their parents, who learned it from their parents and the cycle goes on. I think managing your financial matters is a key life skill and I would like to see more of this skill taught in our local school systems.
I have been teaching personal financial classes for over 10 years, have gone into schools to discuss financial matters and have personally coached couples on a regular basis for managing their money.
Before I start working with a couple or teaching a class I tell them “I don’t know anything about you, but if you let me look at your checkbook I can tell you what your priorities are and if you are headed for financial disaster”. This is very frightening to people and it should not be.
I really try to get couples to fully understand the pitfalls of Credit Card Debt. This continues to be a growing problem for people. I show couples that they will spend on average about 25% if they use a credit card versus paying in cash. Paying in cash is a great visual because if something cost you $15 and you pay with a $20, you immediately know you have $5 left to put back in your wallet. However, if you pay with Credit Card you are more likely to spend more because there is no immediate feedback – until you get the dreaded credit card bill at the end of the month and wonder how the heck are you going to pay it off. Normally, you don’t and you just pay the minimum payment, so over time, that $300 stereo system ends up actually costing you over $600.
There are a great deal of resources for couples who need or want help. However, they don’t want to take the time, or only one person from the couple feels that it is important, or they just don’t know where to go. Look for a financial planner, talk to your bank, look for a church that teaches financial classes or find an organization that supports Marriages.
Living in an Unceratin Economy: Five Frightening Financial Facts:
At age 65:
45% are dependent on relatives
30% are dependent on charity
23% are still working
2% are financially independent
80% of all Americans owe more than they own