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First comes love, then comes marriage … then comes the inevitable fights about money and spending and saving and dang! This is hard! Finding your one person is hard enough, but then learning how to manage money together? No wonder money fights are a leading cause of divorce. It’s not as easy as playground nursery rhymes suggest! However, I have some tips and strategies to help you manage your money as a team, get on the same page with your financial goals, and juggle money and marriage gracefully.
First, let me say – I can only write what I know. I am neither a marriage expert nor a money expert. But I have successfully gone from drowning in debt and fighting about money every single day to living in an exceptional marriage where we are building wealth and working towards big dreams. So, if that’s ‘expert’ enough, keep reading!
Why is money so tough to talk about?
There are many reasons that this topic causes challenges in relationships. The biggest, I believe, is the cultural taboo that has been draped around the subject. If you are taught, early on, that money/debt/finances are not a topic of polite conversation, then you never develop the skills to talk about it in a healthy way. Part of why I write here, like an open book about all things money, is to undo that stigma. This is real life. If we don’t talk about it, how can we learn and get better??
I also think that historically speaking, men are expected to be the providers and the bankers in the household. So there may be a level of ancestral pride at play.
Finally – no one wants to fail. It can be embarrassing to own the balance of your credit cards or the missed payments on the cable bills. You want to appear to have it all together. And when you don’t, it is often more comfortable to hide it or ignore it than to discuss it openly.
You do what you know
In my experience, people learn to handle money from their parents. So if you were raised in a home where dad handled everything, you might turn that control over to your husband. Or, perhaps, there was mom’s money and dad’s money. They were both responsible for managing their own funds and paying for their assigned expenses.
What if the financial role model you were raised with didn’t set you up for success? Or, what if your idea of money management doesn’t match your new partner’s?
I recently had a conversation with someone who told me they have no idea what her family’s money situation is. Her husband handled everything, and she got an allowance each month for groceries and her personal expenses. An. Allowance.
Similarly, a friend witnessed this exchange at a group dinner. Several couples were out. Bills arrived. Her friend’s husband paid the bill, and then turned to her and asked her to etransfer him her share. Oooof.
Maybe I have described your situation. And if it works for you, good! Great, even! You have to do what works for you.
What if your husband tragically passes away, and you don’t even know the banking login information? This happens a LOT. It hurts my heart to think about – as if your grief isn’t overwhelming enough, but now you have to figure out how to manage your money?
Or, because you manage your money separately, you are shocked to your core one day when the bank forecloses on your home because your spouse hasn’t been keeping up with the bills and was too ashamed to let you help?
Teamwork makes the dream work
I believe that your best chance to win with money and marriage is to work as a team. That means money comes into and goes out of a shared account. You both have access to all financial information and are both aware of the expenses you face each month. You set goals together and then work as a team to achieve them.
Are you reading this and thinking I’m a crazy woman? If this is the exact opposite of how you’ve always organized money together, then it may sound like a daydream (or maybe a nightmare) to try to shift to this new mindset. But. When you are sharing your life with another person, it makes sense to share your money.
With that said, I know that that plan does not work for everyone, for a variety of reasons. But certainly, if you live with someone, you can have an account that you both contribute to and pay for joint expenses from. And no matter what, it’s crucial to have open conversations and shared dreams when it comes to your money.
Strategies that help us successfully navigate money and marriage:
First and foremost: you have to be honest with each other. No going out and spending money on shoes and hiding the receipts. No buying new golf clubs and lying about it. You have to be honest with each other for this to work.
When I was first delving into the world of financial literacy, I heard Dave Ramsey talk about financial infidelity – when one spouse spends money and covers it up or lies about it to keep it secret from the other. I love that this term packs a big punch – infidelity is a big emotional trigger, and when you relate that to your finances, you can see why so much marital strife stems from money.
How to avoid this? Honesty, always. We all make mistakes, but owning up to it and choosing to live with honesty in all areas is the key to a healthy marriage. Money included.
After honesty, I put open communication at the top of my list. It’s hard to be honest when you can’t talk openly about your mistakes. It may take time and practice to be able to communicate about your financial situation and your goals. But it’s worth the effort.
Talk about your goals, your debts, your bills. My husband had NO idea how much money was being wasted on interest each month, because he isn’t in charge of paying the bills. That number helped him jump on board our mission to debt-free living, and I can’t help but wonder where we’d be if I had just shared that sooner?
When you said I do, you shared a dream of a life together. You imagine growing old together, rocking side by side on a porch. Or whatever your dream future might look like. Don’t wait until you are sipping iced tea in your twin rocking chairs. Discuss and work towards your shared dreams now. Talk about what you want in your life.
For us, we want to be financially independent – enough so that we can both do work that we love, travel often, and not be burdened with debt or mortgage payments. It wasn’t until we really discussed and then committed to this dream that we were able to be successful with our finances. When we were working towards the same vision, both of our choices matched that goal.
But that wasn’t always our story.
Many years ago, when I was plagued with anxiety from our gigantic pile of debt, I decided that we were going to get out of debt. The mistake: I decided. We weren’t on the same page. One day, my sweet husband came home from work, having purchased an insanely expensive bottle of scotch. Ok, in the world of scotch, it wasn’t really. It was about two hundred dollars. But!
My goal was to get out of debt. I was committed to putting every extra dollar we had towards paying off our credit cards. And Dan’s goal was to keep living life like normal. And so when he got a bonus at work, he felt justified in buying himself this gift. To him, he had worked hard and earned the money and deserved a treat. To me, it was a slap in the face of my dreams and plans. I was insanely hurt and mad, and it was easily the worst season of our marriage.
In retrospect, though, he wasn’t wrong. He was doing what he had always done. We hadn’t set a plan together. I had made a plan for both of us, and barely even communicated it to him. How could he be expected to get on board when he didn’t realize it was happening?
When we finally got on the same page, we understood that spending that kind of money without talking it through was disrespectful. But because we were working towards the same goal of being debt-free, it was way easier to make choices to support that plan.
Just like your dreams need to be shared, your budget should be too. One person can’t dictate how much money will be spent on any one thing. It needs to be a team sport.
With that said, that doesn’t mean it has to be a huge thing each month. We set up our budget together for the first few months, and now I manage it, but we always talk about shifting expenses and plans.
In the beginning, you may want to carve out an hour at the end of each month to get your budget for the next month ready. Pour a glass of wine, enjoy a snack, and actively create your plan together. Turn off the TV and make it fun – an at-home date night that you can look forward to instead of dread. Then, decide together how your money should be spent for the month ahead to support your goals.
Even though everything is shared, you may want to each have money available to spend without checking in with anyone first. Each partner can have a sinking fund that money gets budgeted into, and they can choose to spend it; however they want, without critique from their partner.
Money and marriage is a complicated topic, and there is no single right answer. However, I believe that the strategies I have shared will set you up on a path to relationship bliss (and financial freedom)!
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