Talking about finances and marriage is one of those hot-button topics that elicit responses ranging from “It’s a subject we avoid” to “Our household budget is completely transparent”.
Many couples have issues with finances in their marriage; in fact, money ranks at number three on the list of reasons couples divorce, after communication issues and infidelity.
Money does not have to be the root of all evil, especially as far as your marriage is concerned. If you do some preemptive work, you can manage any money-related problems that may occur in your marriage. Here are several tips to help you keep arguments about finances at a minimum, starting with exercises to do before you say “I do.”
1. Start talking about money before the wedding
You can do this on your own, but if you are participating in premarital counseling, let your counselor guide this discussion. You will want to disclose the debts you already have, such as student, auto or home loans, and credit-card debt.
If this is not your first marriage, share with your partner any alimony and child support obligations you have. Talk about your bank accounts and what’s in them: checking, savings, investment, etc. Decide how your individual finances will be managed once you are married: joint account, separate accounts or both?
2. Examine your relationship to money
Do you and your partner have differing views on money? Is one of you a saver, the other a spender? If you aren’t aligned with how you think your money should be spent (or saved), you need to work on finding a finance-managing system that satisfies the both of you. Maybe decide on a spending limit, say $100.00, and anything above that amount needs mutual pre-approval before the item is purchased.
If you prefer not to have to build consensus for large purchases, you might want to keep separate, self-funded “fun money” accounts, to be used for when you want something for yourself, such as clothing or a video game. This can help cut down on arguments since you aren’t using money from the common pot.
3. Use debit cards instead of credit cards for expenditures
Will this make a difference in how your household budget is managed if your salaries differ significantly? Do either of you feel shame at how you spend your money? Have you ever, in the past, hidden any purchases or gotten in too much credit card debt due to overspending? If this is the case, perhaps cutting up your credit cards and using only debit cards makes good financial sense for you.
4. Define short term and long term goals for your money
You should both be in agreement regarding saving for retirement and establishing an emergency fund in case of loss of a job. How much would you like to put into a savings account each month? Discuss how you might save for your first home purchase, buying a new car, or vacation or investment property.
Do you agree that establishing a college fund for your children is important? Revisit your short and long-term financial goals at least once a year so that you can take stock and review if these goals have evolved (or, better yet, been met!).
Talk about what your contribution will be towards supporting your parents, now and in the future when their healthcare needs will increase. Be transparent when “gifting” a member of your family with cash, especially if that family member relies on your generosity rather than getting a job himself. Make sure your spouse is aware of and in agreement with this arrangement.
Discuss aging parents’ needs and if you would be open to moving them closer to you, or even into your home. How will this affect your financial situation?
What are your thoughts about allowances? Should children be paid for tasks that contribute to the smooth running of the household? When they are old enough to drive, should they be given a car, or should they work for it? Should teenagers work part-time while still in school? And college? Should they help contribute to tuition? Take out student loans? What about once they have graduated from university? Would you continue to allow them to live rent-free at home? Would you help with the rent of their first apartment?
These are all good topics to discuss with your spouse, and revisit as the children grow and your financial situation changes.
7. What if only one spouse works at a wage-producing job?
Having one stay-at-home-spouse and one wage-earner can sometimes lead to money conflicts, as the wage-earner may feel like they should have more voice in how money should be managed in the family.
This is why it is important for the person staying at home to have some type of job where they, too, feel a sense of control over money. There are many possibilities for stay-at-home-spouses to bring in a little cash: eBay selling, freelance writing, private tutoring, in-home childcare or pet sitting, selling their own crafts on Etsy, or participating in online surveys.
The goal is to feel like they are also participating in the financial health of the family, and to have some of their own money to do with as they like.
It is important for the wage earner to recognize the contribution of the non-wage earner. They keep the house and family running, and without this person, the wage earner would have to pay someone to do this. You are a team on equal footing, and even if only one of you works outside of the house, you both work.
Examining finances in your marriage can be a sensitive area, but the best thing you can do is be open, honest, and dedicated to continual communication about this subject. Start your marriage off on the right foot by talking about good financial stewardship and coming up with a reasonable plan to deal with budgeting, spending, and investing.
Establishing good money management habits early on in your marriage is an important part of a healthy, happy and financially stable life together.