Even when not talking about money, relationships are hard. And it becomes more difficult when talking about marriage.
We all come from different financial backgrounds and experiences. You might have grown up in a household that talked about money often (good or bad). Or maybe like me, you gained your knowledge during adulthood through experience.
This year we will celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. Like most couples, we’ve had our ups and downs. And a lot of our conflicts centered around finances. Money is a powerful force that can either push us towards our dreams or cause incredible strife in a marriage.
Money can help bring you to marriage nirvana, or the pits of marital hell. Which will you choose?
Combined or Separate Bank Accounts
There are different perspectives on handling money in marriage. Some will argue for separating finances between each partner. Others feel working together on one budget brings them closer together. There is no right or wrong answer. Different strokes work for different folks.
Benefits to using one bank account:
- More accountability on spending.
- It’s easier to track how money is coming in and out.
- A combined account requires more work for both partners to be on the same page, which increases communication.
- Saving and debt reduction goals become simpler to plan.
- It is easier to cut overall spending and increase savings.
- If one partner is disorganized, they could end up overspending if they have to manage their accounts.
One negative element on using a combined bank account is it can make each partner feel like they are losing the financial flexibility they had before marriage. Whichever option you choose, communication is critical.
I feel like getting on the same page with one budget makes things easier. Plus, being the natural planner in our marriage, I like looking at spreadsheets and ironing out a plan. But if this is true for you, it is vital that everyone is on the same page!
Communicating effectively in marriage can be hard because it requires everyone to be entirely honest. When both partners are not honest with each other, things are bound to explode eventually. But we can prevent this by tackling the core issues in why we can’t be honest with each other.
Earning each other’s trust makes communication simpler, but it can still be complicated. For example, you might trust your spouse on a general level, but you don’t necessarily have faith in their spending habits. Ironing out a budget requires a deep level of communication.
One thing I’ve learned over the last 14 years of marriage is how you discuss and argue about money can drastically affect the general mood of your relationship.
If every financial conversation is contentious, it can bleed into other areas of your marriage. It also tends to make people defensive, since they feel attacked.
One area we want to improve on is having regularly scheduled meetings to talk about money. They help us make sure we are on the same page. And they can prevent larger issues from developing over time.
A few things to cover during a financial update meeting with your spouse:
- Seeing how they are feeling about the current budget.
- Does our budget feel too tight?
- Are we on the same page with our goals?
- Are there any large purchases coming up?
Our Marriage Struggles
There was a period earlier in our marriage where communication was horrible. We were living life without much thought, and it became clear how emotionally disconnected we were from each other. Things got to a point where we had to decide if we were going to solve the core issues and create the marriage we both wanted. Or if things were not going to work out.
At that point, I realized how much Andrea is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. I’ve always loved her throughout our relationship, but I didn’t do a great job showing affection.
We each have our own struggles and quirks (me being the king of quirkiness). But one thing I was confident in: I wanted to grow old with Andrea.
Getting to this low point caused us to take a look at the core problems in our spending.
- Why were we always in credit card debt?
- Were we destined to always fight about money?
- How come we could never seem to save much money, even when we were making more income over the years?
- Was all this crap we purchased worth the cost? Did it make us happy?
- How do we want the future to look?
We got on the same page with priorities and started being 100% honest with each other. No longer did we settle for the emotional canyon of despair that was growing between us. However, this led us to a place where we are closer than ever. We are continually tweaking our budget and figuring out how we want to use our money to reach our goals.
I’m not saying we now have a perfect marriage. But we are at such a different spot than in the past. We are more gentle with each other and enjoy talking about how we want to achieve our dreams. Getting to this low spot showed us the light and where we want to go.
If your marriage is not where you want it to be, don’t lose hope. How we look and feel about each other is often formed over time. And that process can be reversed if we don’t ignore the problems and talk about what is bothering us.
Hopes and Dreams
If you are married, it isn’t a good sign if you aren’t actively talking about the future. Maybe your partner is thinking about how their future could look without you! When your thoughts start wondering to these dark places, this can quickly lead to an emotional separation (if it isn’t there already).
We all have individual wants, dreams, and needs. Coming together to figure out each other’s hopes and dreams helps iron out current priorities and goals. And these kinds of conversations can bring you closer together.
You might discover things both of you enjoy. Maybe you realize that your partner also wants to live in a large city that is more walkable. Or perhaps you learn that you both dream of having a small cottage in the mountains.
When you start thinking about what you would do as a couple if you didn’t have to work for money, this can make the future exciting!
Financial freedom gives you options. And when you create a list of all the things you want to do together, you start talking about how to get there together.
Figuring out where you want to be in 5, 10, and 20 years also creates accountability. You realize that you have someone on your team that can help make sure you both are moving towards your goals together.
For Andrea and I, this process has helped seal our bond.
Stop Judging Me!
We all need access to money to use however we want. That could be going out with friends, or buying a new iPad. Everyone is going to have things they want to spend money on that are unique to them.
The tricky part is figuring out how to handle these types of purchases in the family budget. Do you pad each budget category to allow enough freedom for each partner to spend what they want? Or do you set aside a specific category for discretionary spending?
We go with the latter approach and call this category “Allowance.” Each of us has a set amount every month that we can use for whatever we want. Some people hate the term “allowance” for this purpose, but you can call it whatever you want. The idea is that both Andrea and I have a set amount every month to do with as we please.
The big question becomes how much to put into this category? That is going to depend on how much money you have to work with every month and what your current priorities are.
If your partner gets a kick out of taking their allowance and literally lighting it on fire, that is their prerogative! If that happened in our household, I might have some questions. But it is their money to use however they want.
The key here is there is a pool of money that is OUR money. Meaning this is money that we are using together as a couple to pursue our dreams. And then there is money that is YOUR money to spend on things outside of the general budget. The primary budget is shared, while the allowance fund doesn’t require accountability.
It is essential that each partner has some discretionary spending.
Over the years we have changed how much much we put into our allowance fund. After we pay off our final personal loan off (and be credit card debt free), we might increase this budget category.
You want to find a balance between what gives you enough money to do what you want to do and pushing towards your shared dreams. It also has caused us to ask questions like “how much discretionary money do we need?” We are at the stage if we padded this category too much, it could prevent us from pursuing our dreams when we want to reach them.
Kids are expensive. We love our two daughters more than anything, but sometimes there are unexpected expenses. And then there are the things that are not surprises, but requires us to figure out how we are going to budget. Which might could include soccer leagues, dance lessons, swim lessons, etc.
I’m not inferring that these expenses are not worth the cost. I want to see my daughters growing up enjoying life and prepared for adulthood. I don’t want them lacking for anything that will help them grow, that we can provide. But I also want to make decisions that will push us towards our end goals, including when they leave the nest.
We recently decided to not spend as much on birthday presents and Christmas presents, unless it is something that brings them value. They get enough “stuff” from extended family, and they don’t end up using most of it. A lot of this crap ends up taking space and gets dispersed throughout the house when friends come over.
Being on the same page with what to spend on your kids, and how to raise your children in general, is critical.
Don’t be an Asshole
This section is pretty much for me, and people who can relate.
There was a long period where I had no problem taking on credit card debt to cover things I wanted, but we couldn’t afford. Which usually ended up being expensive electronics like TV’s or computers. This spending was a big problem in itself, but it also reflected an unfair balance in how I spent our money.
I developed this habit of getting excited about purchasing something I would determine we “needed.”. This involved hours of research and planning, and putting together an argument in how this would benefit both of us. I was very convincing, and given how caring and thoughtful Andrea is, she usually would cave into the request. When I received the purchase, it always ended up not being worth the cost.
In contrast, when Andrea would approach me on the things she wanted, I would become fully aware of how much credit card debt we had, which made me reluctant to go into additional debt. It isn’t that I didn’t want to purchase what she wanted. But I would get anxious about the quantity of our consumer debt, and trying to figure out how we were going to deal with it. It was more natural (and selfish) of me to see how stupid it was to go into credit card debt for crap we didn’t need when it wasn’t something I wanted.
And this was incredibly unfair. I didn’t set out to be this way, but the cycle of going into debt for these purchases, and trying to get out of debt, added vast amounts of strain to our marriage.
It ultimately came down to two main issues:
- My core spending problems. Instead of directing my passion pursuing things I wanted to buy, I should have put that energy towards positive pursuits. And I need to realize buying crap will not make me happy.
- Communication on our priorities and goals was lacking. We need to come together to figure out what we both want, so we can have our money push us towards our shared goals.
I generally think most people ultimately want to be kind and generous with each other. But often our struggles can prevent us from being who we are. We can’t be critical of our partner while ignoring our own problems. It is crucial that we treat each other in a way that we want to be treated.
Marriage can be a beautiful thing. When we learn to be honest with each other and think about how we want the future to look, we become more connected with our partner.
Communication becomes vital for a successful marriage. It can be difficult at times, but the amount we invest in our marriage can reap massive rewards. Thinking about our long-term goals as a couple can also help us learn how we would live if we didn’t have to work for money.
When a marriage prioritizes trust and honesty, with an emphasis on kindness, emotional intimacy becomes easier. Contentious fights become rare, and the future starts to look exciting!
Have you struggled with finances in your marriage? What did you learn?
Chris Roane is a financial blogger who loves to be transparent about money-related issues. He’s paid off massive amounts of credit card debt and is the blog author of Money Stir. His main focus on Money Stir is talking about how money relates to our relationships, personal development, and how to plan for the future we want. He’s been quoted on Market Watch, The Ladders, and other publications.