We have all heard about the scary high divorce rate in the US. According to the CDC website’s most recent data, the number of divorces was 46% of the number of marriages in a year. Those aren’t good odds. Financial issues have been listed again and again as a major source of stress and conflict for couples. The craziest thing about this is that so many of these issues are avoidable. I’ve been married for 5 1/2 years so I certainly don’t claim to have everything figured out, but Chris and I almost never argue about finances. We have our disagreements, but they are not about money. Over the years, we have noticed different patterns amongst couples that either set them up for frustration or success when it comes to money management. We recommend the following six habits of financially conscious couples to keep your marriage strong as you work on your goals together:
Have Shared Checking and Savings Accounts
Keeping your accounts separate and dividing up the bills is a far more separate-but-equal philosophy than a what’s-mine-is-yours. We want to keep the latter attitude when it comes to marriage. If you’re really committed to doing life together, sharing money is part of it. Keeping funds separate can breed division and may even lead to jealousy or bitterness if your incomes are not equal. I understand that when you first get married you both have separate accounts and spending habits. Combining and compromising when it comes to finances is certainly an adjustment, but it’s worth it. It’s an important part of starting your life together as a couple. Shared accounts keep you both on the same page and accountable to one another for your spending. It ensures that the lines of communication are open and money conversations are frequent. I will admit that birthday surprises are a little harder to pull off this way, but you can figure something out.
Pay Debt Together
Big secrets in a marriage are never a good thing. Make sure that you lay it all out on the table and be very honest about your debt so that you can approach this as a team. When we got married, I had $0 of debt and my husband had $16,000 of school loans. We decided to pay that off together to get rid of it as quickly as possible (read all about Our Story next). I was the only one with a full-time job at that time because Chris still had one semester left of college. He was working as much as he could in the evenings and on weekends. If I had let him pay that off himself, the loans would have continued to accumulate interest for another year and would have cost us more. There are a couple caveats to this message:
- This advice is for married couples. That’s the level of commitment I recommend before you start paying off each other’s debts.
- Do not consolidate your loans. Attack them jointly, but leave them officially listed separately so that you are not legally required to pay your spouse’s loans in case of death or divorce. Check your state’s stipulations about this.
This one rings true for all aspects of marriage and yet solid communication remains elusive for even the best of couples. Start talking about your financial goals when you begin talking about a future together and continue discussing it until you plan your nursing homes. We kept a very tight budget for our first few years of marriage. This meant that our meals were planned in advance. During graduate school, Chris would often call me to ask what he should eat for lunch. People thought I was some kind of crazy, overbearing wife who dictated what her husband could and could not eat, but it was nothing like that. We just needed to communicate clearly so that our groceries would last all week. He knew that I likely had a plan for most of the items in the fridge and that the others were fair game for lunch. We also made it a point to discuss with one another before we made plans that involved spending. We didn’t always say “yes” when we were asked out to dinner or to the movies with friends. We have a practice of calling each other before we make expensive purchases. Our limit for discussion now is anything over $50-100, depending upon the purchase. It used to be more like $4 when our budget was tighter. This keeps us accountable for our spending and provides a second opinion about the necessity and value of the purchase before any money leaves the account.
Make Goals Together
We sit down periodically and discuss our big-picture goals to remind each other what we’re working toward. It’s so important to talk about these things. While it’s usually true that one person is more involved in the number crunching than the other spouse, both are making sacrifices for the budget and everybody needs to know the plan. Our first months of marriage were spent trying to pay off debt. The next few were spent trying to save cash for a used vehicle. Then we were saving for a move and graduate school. Next we were budgeting to live on one income during school. Most recently we were saving for an adoption and now for a house and vehicle (again. Here’s the post about our current Savings Budget). During any of those stages, we could have both told you what the goals were. We had agreed upon them together. Your saving endeavors are not going to be successful if your spouse is not on board. Unless you can both recognize the need to save and then develop a plan together, you’re not going to reach your goals.
Encourage Each Other
Budgeting is not always fun. Let me assure you that your marriage will suffer if one of you is always doing the encouraging and the other is always complaining. This is a give and take. Everybody has moments of weakness and you won’t get the encouragement you need from our consumer-driven society. You need each other’s encouragement to stick to the budget (learn how to Create a Budget first). Chris and I used to call one another about $4 purchases in the beginning not because we needed permission, but because we wanted the other’s blessing to buy a small treat or their encouragement to refrain. Stay positive and focused on your goals for the benefit of your spouse even when you aren’t necessarily feeling that way for yourself. Pat each other on the back when you stay strong and forgive when you make mistakes. If one or both of you are working extra jobs right now, this is very important. Working more than a full-time job is exhausting and it’s so tempting to give it up. Other people won’t understand why you’re working so hard, especially if you’re making good money. It’s up to you to keep each other motivated.
Respect Each Other’s Jobs
Recognize that you are each working hard to pay off debt. Whether that job is a traditional out-of-home job, a work-from-home job, or a stay-at-home-to-save-on-daycare job, they’re all important for your money-saving goals. Sometimes your husband may come home to a house in complete disarray because you spent hours planning meals, cutting coupons, and getting great prices on your groceries while trying to wrangle the kids. He needs to be understanding about that. You need to understand when he can’t return your texts at work or when he needs to leave the house earlier in the mornings to make sure he is the first one at the office. These habits will help him gain more respect at work and respected employees get promotions. I admit that this one is difficult for me. I have this attitude that, “family is more important than work and, therefore, I should always come first.” That’s not true and I am working to overcome this tendency. Family is always important, but work is as well and Monday-Friday 7:30-5:30, it’s my husband’s main focus unless there is an emergency. There are days where my text, “Do you need anything from the grocery store while I’m out?” feels to me like an 911-level text, but my husband doesn’t see it that way and it usually goes unanswered. On stressful days, I have to work not to get frustrated about that (please tell me I’m not the only wife who does this!). Instead of complaining when your spouse has to work late, encourage him to keep up the hard work knowing that it will pay off in the future. Remember that you’re a team and time spent working is for the benefit of the whole family. Don’t make each other feel guilty for working hard.
A couple committed to saving money and paying off debt is paving the way to financial freedom. Each small success fuels the fire for the next one. Instill these habits in your marriage and start working together instead of blazing trails individually. Marriage gives you a financial partner for life; learn to become an unstoppable force together to provide for your family.
What suggestions do you have for navigating finances with your spouse?
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